After the abysmal All Monsters Attack (1969), the thought is it could only get better with the next entry in the series. However, how much better Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) truly is remains a topic of debate. Yoshimitsu Banno stepped in as director in what would ultimately be his only shot at the series. Reportedly, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was so upset at the finished product that Banno never did another Godzilla film again. Personally, while not my favorite, I do think it was a better effort than the previous film but it certainly still had some major flaws.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (better known at the time under the US title Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster), is very much a product of the 70s. Much like the 70s setting ultimately hurt the Hammer Dracula series, scenes of Japanese nightclubs tend to pull you out of the movie. However, it was perhaps the most topical of Godzilla films in years due to the anti-pollution message, itself a very volatile topic of Japanese culture at the time. Our story centers on an alien life form known as Hedorah that feeds off Earth’s pollution, growing in size to become a massive creature ready to destroy our planet and, ultimately, engage Godzilla in battle. It starts life as a sea creature but evolves into a land-based monster. A young boy named Ken, son of scientist Dr. Yano, has visions that Godzilla will come to help them fight off Hedorah. Part of Hedorah’s arsenal is a poisonous gas and the body count starts to pile up. Godzilla fulfills the dreams and it all leads up to the big battle sequences between Hedorah and Godzilla. This is where the issues in the film begin to arise.
I found the fight scenes to be some of the most long-winded in the series to date. I also found Hedorah’s design to be a little odd. But it works in the context of how it was created. We’ve gone from over-the-top lighthearted fare in All Monsters Attack to some severe doom and gloom here, not just in tone but overall appearance. The scenes are darkly lit and seem to drag on. Sure, we have some odd animated sequences to lighten the mood and some groovy 70s tunes to help us relax. We even get a bizarre moment where Godzilla shows us all he can fly. Thankfully, he decides to never use that power again (well, yes he does but he uses his tail in Godzilla vs. Megalon…more on that another day). Most critics hated the music and dark tones while some believed the series no longer held any merit beyond that of a children’s series.
Admittedly, while I did like this one better than All Monsters Attack, it was still a little difficult to muddle through. Perhaps if I had seen the original Japanese language version I may have enjoyed it more. As it was, I didn’t hate it and recommend every Godzilla fan watch it at least once. Sadly, it’s out of print, so prepare to open your wallet. Meanwhile, check out a trailer to see it’s something you want to add to your collection. It was commercially more successful than its predecessor but only barely. Banno had hoped to do a sequel but, as previously stated, he was banned from Monster Island. The series was struggling and clearly needed a boost. Was it time to return to form with alien invasions and proper monsters?