Greetings again! After watching Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again it is time to launch into the third movie in my kaiju marathon: Rodan, the first movie to feature a different monster than Godzilla as well as the first that I have not seen before in the past. How does the flying monster fare against his grounded competition? Read on to find out.
Directed by Ishirō Honda, who helmed the first Godzilla film (as well as many more to come), Rodan was Toho's first real attempt at recreating the same kind of success they'd had with Godzilla with a new monster. Filmed in color, the film also features the return of Akira Ifukube for the soundtrack as well as the debut of Takeshi Kimura as chief screenwriter, who'd both go on to collaborate with Honda many times in the future. And of course the ever-prolific Eiji Tsuburaya returns to direct the visual effects. For all that talent, however, Rodan suffers from one major problem: it lacks a single, cohesive story. Spoilers follow, if that matters to those of you reading about a 57-year old film.
The opening of Rodan is pretty strong, despite the muddledness that comes later. We open in a small town, Kitamitsu, located on the southernmost of Japan's four main islands (Kyushu), where two coal miners have recently gone missing after a shaft was flooded. When one of the miners is found dead, with gruesome puncture wounds along his body, the authorities immediately suspect the other miner, Goro, of foul play, particularly since both had been spotted arguing about something earlier. Shigeru, who's betrothed to Goro's sister Kiyo, is unconvinced and tells as much to his fiance, offering her comfort as he does so.
Because we know this is a monster movie from the get-go, we know from the get-go that all is not as it seems, but Honda and Kimura do a pretty good job at amping up the tension regardless. A police investigation ensues and the cops scour the mines, looking for any sign of Goro. Instead, they encounter Yoshi's true killers: a species of giant, subterranean insects known as Meganulons, who fall upon the search team and slaughter them.
Although the miners once more think this is the work of Goro, they soon learn their mistake when one of the Meganulons surfaces from the mines at night to attack the town, killing several more people in the process before retreating back underground. Realizing what has really been going on the authorities and Shigeru pursue the Meganulons into the mines in order to exterminate them. Their expedition goes haywire, however, when a small earthquake occurs, collapsing the mining shaft and trapping Shigeru deep within.
It's at this point that the movie's plot takes an abrupt shift away from a horror/mystery and towards a more generic monster smash. Out of nowhere, the movie's focus turns toward an unidentified flying object detected flying over Japan, China, and the Phillippines. After several cattle and a newly married couple are killed, we learn that the UFO is the titular monster, Rodan, an enormous pterosaur, which seems to have resurfaced as a result of the seismic activity (and nuclear testing as well Dr. Kashiwagi makes sure to tell us).
The Meganulons are all but forgotten (and are revealed to be little more than Rodan's food supply), as is the entire previous storyline. Shigeru reappears but he spends most of the remainder of the film in a state of amnesia, which is never fully explained and which seems to exist solely to increase drama when Shigeru finally remembers witnessing the birth of Rodan during the earthquake. Rodan meanwhile continues to cause havoc, wreaking destruction with the sonic boom created by his flight as well as more directly killing several JSDF soldiers until the military finally devises a plan to kill the monster.
The first half of Rodan is filled with drama and mystery; although we know from the beginning that monsters are responsible for the miners' disappearance the reveal of the Meganulons is nonetheless exciting and their battles with the police are tense, despite the outdated nature of many of the special effects. Through this arc we have a clear point-of-view provided to us by Shigeru, who is involved in most of the major plot developments. Disappointingly, the second half of the film is much more limp and feels more like a string of action sequences lined up to form a semblance of continuity rather than an actual story.
That is not to say that the action is in any way poorly directed - Eiji Tsubuyara does rather admirably here and taken independently of the context within which they exist Rodan's encounters with the JSDF are exciting and hold up well in comparison with Godzilla's two prior onslaughts. But they feel more absent of meaning than the destruction wrought on Tokyo in Godzilla did as well as less dramatic than the police's earlier encounter with the Meganulons.
On the whole, Rodan is definitely an iconic part of Toho's film history and an important part of the Showa canon. The titular monster is well-designed and fairly convincing as an adversary, even if his appearance is less dramatic than it arguably should be. I will say that I enjoyed both Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again more, but if the second half of the film had lived up to the promise of the first, Rodan might have provided some stiff competition. Sadly, that was not the case and while the film is entertaining enough, it doesn't quite rise to the same level as its predecessors.