This review is of the original Japanese version of the film.
After two Godzilla movies, Toho Studios figured it had something going with this whole giant monster genre, and came up with Radon, an overesized pteranodon with no special powers except its ability to cause destruction with the power of its flapping wings (believe me, it's enough!). When the "Radon" movie was brought to America for its inevitable dumbing down process of dubbing and re-editing, the monster had a vowel movement, becoming RODAN THE FLYING MONSTER.
The film begins as a nifty little sci-fi/horror film as bodies keep turning up in a Japanese mining town, and everybody keeps blaming everybody else except the obvious culprits - giant bugs. The editing is quite effective in this section as we see some sort of attack on a handful of miners, yet before we get the full details, there is a quick cut to the dead bodies being brought into the hospital on stretchers. An even more effective piece of editing occurs later when the flying monster has entered the story. A pilot is chasing this unidentified flying object when suddenly his plane is destroyed - and the next thing we see is a bloody helmet on a table. Nice!
The early "Giant Monster" films were serious stories, but RODAN lacks the anti-nuke subtext of GODZILLA. The young, bespectacled scientist of the film (I guess Takashi Shimura was unavailable) attempts to link Rodan's reappearance after two million years to atomic bomb testing, but his heart just isn't in it. (In contrast, the American version has an anti-nuke opening linking Rodan to atomic testing). RODAN is, at its core, simply a well done giant monster movie in which the search for the smaller monsters who are killing off the miners turns into a Battle Royale with a giant flying monster creating havoc all over Japan. The bittersweet and somber ending is rather touching too.
Of course, there is always the matter of knowing that what you are watching is really puppets and guys in rubber suits destroying miniature models, but that's just part of what makes these films fun. Let's face it - when you're watching a movie with Ray Harryhausen's stop motion effects, you know you're watching stop motion effects. When you're watching THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, you know it's a guy in a suit. The Japanese Giant Monster movie (known as daikaiju in Japan) was essentially a new genre, spun off from the American KING KONG, who, incidentally, would show up twice in the Toho series. Puppets and rubber suits were the way they chose to go with this idea, and you either suspend your disbelief and enjoy these films for their high entertainment value or you don't. I say - do! It's worth it. I wouldn't want a CGI Godzilla - it's rubber suits or nothing for me.
RODAN was the first
Japanese Giant Monster
movie filmed in color, and introduced the first serious rival to
Godzilla. Rodan would be reappear in several
films, often as
an reluctant ally to Godzilla as the series progressed. The film would
followed by MOTHRA, which would introduce the second serious rival to
Godzilla, at which point it became inevitable that monster combo
films (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, DESTROY
ALL MONSTERS, et. al. ad infinitum) would
be one of the ways to keep the genre going. ½ - JB
DESTROY ALL TRIVIA!
Among all the famous monsters created by Toho, Rodan and Mothra have the distinction of being two creatures who had their own film vehicles before appearing with Godzilla in later films. A minor monster, Baran (aka Varan), appeared in his own film in 1958, titled GIANT MONSTER BARAN in Japan and retiitled VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE in the 1962 re-edited U.S. release. While it is true Baran/Varan would later "appear" in a film with Godzilla, 1968's DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, it is more of a cameo than an actual costarring role. Of course, King Kong has his own starring film long before appearing with Godzilla, but he was not a Toho creation.