Rodan (1956)

Rodan (1956)

Most horrifying hell creature that ever menaced all mankind!

A mysterious spate of deaths down in a Japanese mining pit turn out to be the work of large monstrous grubs which are living in a huge underground cave. But what is worse is that the miners also discover a giant egg. With the cave disturbed, the egg hatches and a giant prehistoric monster is released, feeding off the grubs first before breaking free of the cave and heading to Toyko, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

 

With the phenomenal success of Godzilla and its sequel, Toho saw a licence to print money in the giant monster market and started designing new monsters to destroy their country with varying levels of success (Varan anyone?). Rodan was the first of these monsters to get its own film and what follows is one of Toho’s best monster films and arguably the second best solo outing for any monster behind Godzilla himself. It was the first kaiju film released without Godzilla and the first one it ever shot in colour.

Stripping away much of the nuclear messages that Godzilla carried, Rodan plays it more like the traditional monster movie. Well at least when you’ve finished watching, it does. You wouldn’t think that you’re watching a film about a giant monster for the first part. The scenes in the mine with the grubs are more akin to the cheesy 50s American atomic monster movies like Beginning of the End and The Giant Mantis. There is a reasonable amount of suspense and dread built up at the start and these scenes are surprisingly scary and effective. The grubs look creepy and a bit similar to the giant molluscs from The Monster That Challenged the World. In fact it’s almost a disappointment when they do discover the giant egg because you know that this portion of the film will be coming to an end. Rodan quickly shifts into kaiju mode and the change is sudden and a little jarring, going from a more horror-orientated outing to an all-out action fest within the space of ten minutes.

Rodan was the first of Toho’s many famous flying monsters and the monster suit is designed with this in mind. The scenes of the monster flying over and then landing in the middle of Tokyo are rendered with some great special effects. In the air, Rodan is a puppet but when he’s upright on land, he’s the more traditional guy-in-a-suit. I always thought Rodan looked like he needed a good feeding and the skinny and scrawny nature of the puppet in this one makes me smile with relish knowing he’s proven my point. It’s for this reason that Rodan seems to lack the genuine physical presence that Godzilla or his many alien opponents had in future films. Apart from flapping his wings and causing huge gusts of wind, Rodan is pretty useless.

However there is plenty of good old fashioned city-stomping as TWO Rodans attack Tokyo in what may be one of Toho’s best monster attack scenes. For the first time in colour, the extremely detailed miniature sets are brought to life and look surprisingly good, buckling under the gusts of wind from Rodan’s wings. Not only that, but the Japanese army is out in full force too, failing to stop the monsters with their array of tiny toy tanks and stock footage. Some of these scenes were that good that they were re-used time and time again in following Godzilla films – the scene with the soldier being blown in the wind was a common sight in a lot of the series. In comparison to the earlier night time black and white scenes of devastation in Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, these scenes look apocalyptic and highly realistic.

To top it off, the ending is one of the most emotional in the entire Toho canon as legendary director Ishirô Honda gets us to empathise with the monsters as they are caught up in a volcanic eruption. One has the chance to flee the scene but decides to stay after the other one is killed. It’s a touching moment and one which is rare to see in a kaiju film, giving the monsters sentience and character like never before.

 

Rodan is one of Toho’s best films, featuring some of the most impressive monster action that they ever filmed and with some great special effects to bring it to vivid life. Dare I say it but at times Rodan is more exciting than Godzilla was! Rodan would prove to be so popular that the monster was brought back for a further three films in the original Godzilla run as well as sporadic appearances in the later years. Not bad for a spin-off.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

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