Originally released in Japan in 1971, Godzilla vs. Hedorah was renamed Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster for its release in the United States. One of the weirder entries in the Godzilla franchise, Godzilla vs. Hedorah nevertheless benefited from all-original monster footage, meaning that the producers did not use footage from previous Godzilla films to pad this film.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah is considered an entry in the genre of environmental horror, given its signature monster, an alien creature that feeds on pollution. Supposedly, director Yoshimitsu Banno was inspired to explore this theme after visiting a polluted beach near Yokkaichi, Japan.
The story centers on Hedorah, an alien life form that feeds on Earth’s pollution. The creature undergoes various phases, from a microscope form to a “tadpole” form to various gigantic forms, from a sea creature to one that is shaped more like a flying saucer. Hedorah’s weapons include the ability to secrete sulfuric acid and use smoke to propel itself through the sky.
It is Dr. Toru Yano (Akira Yamauchi) who first discovers Hedorah, but it his son Ken who believes that Godzilla is the only one who can successfully battle the monster. Hedorah at first attacks oil tankers at sea, using the tankers’ oil to feed on. Such fuel enables the creature to morph into an amphibious stage so that it can move onto land and feed on smokestacks and even automobiles. Godzilla comes ashore and battles Hedorah, a relatively weak opponent who is quickly defeated. However, Hedorah’s true power is in its ability to morph, and soon the monster is back, now in a flying saucer mode that makes it a little more difficult to fight.
In its final stage, Hedorah is a formidable opponent. It can change form at will, uses laser beams from its eyes to attack Godzilla, and secretes sulfuric acid that burns Godzilla and kills people like acid rain (these sequences are truly horrifying). The toxic fumes from Hedorah begin to kill the Japanese populace, so the young people elect to stage one final “going-away” party on Mt. Fuji. While the young people groove to death, Hedorah shows up for one final battle with the Big G.
To help Godzilla, Dr. Yano comes up with a machine designed to “dry out” Hedorah, but the machine requires great amounts of electricity. Fortunately, Godzilla’s atomic breath can power the machine, but Hedorah has a few surprises left, as the creature is close to reproducing.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah is one of the weirder entries in the franchise, and that in itself is saying something. The movie is a bit preachy when it comes to pollution, at times even pulling out of the movie to use animated “bumper sequences” to make its points (these sequences were inspired by the artwork of children using Godzilla to battle Hedorah and pollution). There’s an emphasis on psychedelic culture, with the movie actually featuring what amounts to an early music video. The music is also psychedelic in nature, with the young people more interesting in dancing and partying than doing anything about the chaos surrounding them.
Godzilla vs. Hedorah is the first time that Godzilla uses his atomic breath to achieve flight. These sequences are hilarious and strange, but in the end this eccentricity can be forgiven. On the movie’s plus side is the fact that there is plenty of monster action, with Hedorah proving to be a very interesting monster, one that evolves as it battles Godzilla. Although a relatively weak opponent at the beginning, Hedorah becomes one of Godzilla’s stronger adversaries, although the film fails to fully exploit the monster’s powers. However, Hedorah does more than simple wrestle Godzilla. Hedorah spits toxic clumps of matter at him (at one point blinding one of Godzilla’s eyes), shoots him with laser eyes, burns his hands and face with sulfuric acid, and event tries to drown him in a pit of polluted muck.
Although Banno was pleased with the movie, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka supposedly hated the movie. Banno was never allowed to make another Godzilla movie again, even through he had plans to make a sequel to Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Fans may find that the uneven tone of the movie—one moment lighthearted and the next darkly ominous—makes Godzilla vs. Hedorah difficult to watch. Given the chance, Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a particularly impressive entry in the franchise for its signature monster and the battle scenes.
The Blu-Ray edition of Godzilla vs. Hedorah is the Japanese version (in widescreen), complete with the original Japanese songs rather than the English version, which featured the song “Save the Earth.” The movie can be experienced in the original Japanese (with or without English Subtitles) or with English dubbing. Extras are severely lacking, with only a trailer available.