Remember, Godzilla Raids Again  immediately followed Gojira and was directed by Motoyoshi Oda. Oda directed over fifty films, but just one within the Godzilla series in Godzilla Raids Again.
Despite the weighty and dramatic approach by Honda to these early kaiju eiga offspring, there simply was no pleasing some of the people. Rodan is a solid work, but the scorn toward the Toho suitmation-created projects would continue to grow overseas.
Oddly enough, according to Stuart Galbraith IV in his book Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!, even actress Yumi Shirakawa [The Mysterians] refused an interview for his book apparently embarrassed by her involvement in these pictures. Was she drinking the American Kool Aid? She's one of those rare actresses in Japan who clearly, like American critics, took a less than enthusiastic approach toward these films. Instead of embracing a look back at her work in Rodan or the science fiction, Honda-helmed classic The Mysterians , Shirakawa essentially shunned her appearance in these genre movies. This is interesting because the simple fact is these genre rich pictures were normally embraced or at least accepted respectfully by serious, top tier actors in Japan. "Top stars," [p.18] like the ones in Rodan, except Shirakawa, normally accepted these films as a nice diversion and accepted good fun from the dramas and comedies of the day. Honda's approach to them playing the material for real, authentic monster tales allow them to stand the test of time. Rodan is a well-designed and directed classic of the day.
Yet, Galbraith notes American disdain for these pictures at the time that established the general consensus toward them going forward. Late film critic of The New York Times' Howard Thompson declared "not one of [them] can act" regarding the cast of Toho's The Mysterians back in the 1950s. Despite these unfairly levelled criticisms films like The Mysterians featured a Grade A list of Japanese actors including among them Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata [Gojira] and Kenji Sahara [Mothra] all featured in Rodan. The late, great Takashi Shimura [Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Gojira] couldn't be a more significant thespian when it came to the world of cinema. To make such bold, ill-informed statements about quality actors only magnified the ignorance of American writers concerning Japanese science fiction and fantasy films. These writers simply hadn't a clue, nor did they make efforts to educate themselves on Japan's affection for these films. So it was commonplace to see the genre maligned by such writers regularly throughout the golden age [the Showa era] of Japanese fantasy filmmaking throughout the 1950s, 1960s and right into the 1970s, particularly with respect to the Godzilla series and the kaiju eiga genre in particular featuring the likes of Rodan.
According to David Kalat in A Critical History And Filmograpy Of Toho's Godzilla Series, the same paper, and perhaps the same writer, indicated Shimura was "the best actor in the world" for his work in Ikiru  by director Akira Kurosawa. Hello? Shimura was a fixture in Toho films from kaiju eiga, science fiction and fantasy films as directed by Honda to the more considered, serious films of Kurosawa. The fantasy film genre generated from Japan, with its dubbed complements, were often relegated or discarded into the trash bins of movie history. They simply weren't taken seriously outside of those of us with young, open minds who witnessed them as children.
The lack of appreciation was a matter of simple ignorance and a good degree of condescension. In Japan, actors were left to appreciate a variety of genre forms. Actor Eiji Funakoshi was well-respected in Japan, but he was also noted for his work in Daiei's Gamera films.
Unfortunately, turning our attention back to actress Shirakawa in Rodan, Galbraith noted in Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! that she "appeared in those pictures only because of her contract with Toho Studios and prefers not to talk about them." This is a generally unusual reaction by many of the actors and actresses that prospered during the period. It's unfortunate too because Rodan, like The Mysterians a year later, is a damn fine film as kaiju eiga pictures go - a legitimate, solid classic.
An unforgettably striking image. The humble Honda often referred to his own groundbreaking Gojira, as something of a fortunate accident, a "basic" [p.22] American type monster film that somehow succeeded because he was unable to largely complete his entire vision of the nuclear creation. It should comes as no surprise that Toho continued its approach to the monster movie originally established by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms  template only to apply it once again to Rodan. Just as Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka approached Honda seeing potential in the kaiju eiga for Gojira, Rodan and Mothra  would quickly follow suit [suitmation too]. Taking a page from Gojira, Rodan and Mothra built upon its strengths with equally strong results. These early era Honda/ Toho fantasy pictures were self-contained monster classics prior to the success of the versus concept that would become the staple for Toho fantasy and the Godzilla series beginning with Godzilla Vs. King Kong .
Honda always added his own unique Japanese sensibilities and historical sensitivity to the films following the devastation of Japan Honda witnessed first hand following World War II and following his return to Hiroshima after being a prisoner of war in China.
So Rodan would become Honda's latest monster picture "patterned" according to Galbraith on Them! . It stands to reason as both films are notable for insect monsters populating their respective stories and respective tunnels.
In Rodan, insect-like "dragonfly nymphs", dubbed Meganuron, pop up inside mine shafts instantly recalling the frightening scenes of ants prowling American sewers following atomic testing. The Meganuron are actually the larvae form of once prehistoric dragonflies.
The story begins through the eyes of miners. Kalat recalled the films of Honda, and the fantasy films of Toho, always left him with something to "chew on." He calls Rodan, "on its face a form of social criticism", a reflection of Japan's own social and political unease as penned by scriptwriter Takeshi Kimura [see footnote].
In the mines, a man turns up dead and the murder is believed to be the work of a man named Goro. Three more men go down into the dark mines to find Goro. All are killed. The use of lighting and lack thereof, the skittering sound effects of the Meganuron and the horrors of what we can't see attacking make for a particularly armchair grabbing sequence. I remember those fears well.
Goro remains the chief suspect as no one has survived a Meganuron attack and lived to tell the tale. Shigeru Kawamura [Sahara] visits Kiyo [Shirakawa] and whilst consoling her concerning her missing brother Goro, a Meganuron is revealed as it attacks them at the seventeen minute marker. Shockingly, Rodan wouldn't rear its ugly head until the fifty minute marker and the film is well beyond its half way point by then. Yet, it's the build up and the mounting tension so well-crafted and executed by Honda that makes Rodan work so incredibly well.
The revelation that is the Meganuron is indeed Honda's take on the classic ants of Them!. But, as Kalat reflected, "unlike the flat, gray, almost cinema verite style of Them!, Rodan is a splashy spectacle in full color." It is the vivid antidote to the darkness that engulfed Gojira. Similarities aside, if there is one thing the Japanese do exceptionally well, it is adapt material made by others and improve upon it making it entirely their own.
Goro is off the hook and you'll get a giggle from the establishing shots of those creature effects. But, the close-ups are remarkably strong. The suitmation is absolutely brilliant.
One of Goro's friends offers to look for him in the mines apparently undaunted by the grizzly trail of the dead. This prompts the mining chief to respond rather naturally, "Are you crazy? It's dangerous!" True. A wise man.
Following the discovery of more of these larvae form Meganuron, a cave-in separates Shigeru from the others and he goes missing. An earthquake ensues. Inside of the massive ground depression Shigeru is found alive. He is hospitalized with complete memory loss.
Rodan appears for a split second to crash a jet and kill a pilot. The body count is significant in Rodan.
One man wonders if it wasn't a UFO. At this point in the development of the kaiju eiga as a genre it's easy to see why people might mistake the attack for a UFO or a foreign secret weapon as the culprit to the pilot's death. Monsters on the loose in the Toho kingdom are certainly not a reality to date. Years from now such speculation would seem ludicrous as the genre would simply pile up a massive roster of Godzilla friends and foes.
All across the globe reports of something travelling at supersonic speeds is wreaking havoc. Also a mystery, it's ability to be in many locations countries apart suggests there may be more than one.
Unfortunately, but as luck would have it, a couple is killed, but their camera is left behind in a crater that reveals images of a Pteranodon [abbreviated to Radon]. The scientists assemble and piece together the information regarding their subject in much the same way they approached Angilas in Godzilla Raids Again. We're not reinventing the wheel here. The Meganuron, too, according to the scientists, originate from the same era as the Pteranodon. Of course, as fans of kaiju eiga, Rodan is not a Pteranodon in the strictest sense. Toho, Honda and Tsuburaya's science fiction fantasies were always fantastical and looked and felt a little different. Toho didn't create just a lizard, or a moth or a prehistoric bird. These were fantastic creations of the mind and we connected to them immediately as something more.
In one of the film's signature sequences, Honda delivers a deliciously classic flashback of Shigeru trapped deep inside the mines and witnessing the birth of Rodan. Upon breaking free of the confines of its life-giving eggshell, it begins to feed on the bug-like Meganuron. It also delivers its trademark Rodan holler-squeal. Shigeru is overcome by the horrors. There's a delightful bit of Japanese production detail in this fantastical sequence too, including the kinds of colorful mushrooms that would one day populate Honda's even more fantastic Matango .
This particular scene is very effective horror particularly to the mind of a child. I remember such terrifying moments well as a young boy. Kalat wrote that "the sight of a giant monster stomping around in a miniature city can be a very abstract image, lacking the visceral horror of a smaller monster menacing a single individual." This is a very insightful point. The intimacy of a small creature terrifying man in a confined and distinctive space can be terribly horrifying a la a film like Matango. Here, in the aforementioned scene, Honda achieves this very instinctive fear within the space of the much grander scale of a kaiju eiga picture. It is a frightening scene and the kind rarely evidenced in these kinds of pictures. The sense of jeopardy surrounding the Shigeru character is real and palpable.
Not the running of the bulls, but the running of the Japanese from kaiju eiga. Funny story, but when I was a child, my dreams were always kaiju eiga because I could run away from these monsters. They were always in the distance. Buildings and other objects were there for my benefit. I ran down those streets and ducked around corners with Japanese civilians in my dreams. It was the intimate terrors that would wake me from my slumber, which was why Matango was so effective.
Shigeru's scene with Rodan is indeed impressive. Honda would adapt a similarly effective approach for his King Kong Vs. Godzilla  using the lovely Mie Hama. Rodan's Kenji Sahara would star opposite Hama too.
Shigeru awakens with his memory intact, jarred by the hatching of two ordinary bird eggs. He confirms Rodan is indeed what the scientists believe him to be and that he feasts on the dragonfly nymphs for nourishment and growth. So yes, the Japanese offer a nice twist to the insect concept of Them! by having its own bugs eaten by a much larger creature. This offers a terrific variation on a film that inspired it. It builds on the mining horrors experienced at the opening of the film and takes ideas into new directions.
A piece of Rodan's massive, thick egg shell is recovered. The scientists, based on the calcified egg shell, estimate Rodan has a 270 foot wingspan and weighs over 100 tons. Rodan can create shock waves with a sonic boom.
One military leader asks how Rodan was born. The question is crucial in allowing Honda to insert always important components of his vision. Honda's films not only wished to see an end to all atomic weaponry, but incorporate science and achievement through cooperation and respect for science and technology. Actor Hirata, one of the leads in Gojira and also in The Mysterians, cites "nuclear bomb testing." This is quintessential Honda thinking and genuinely illustrates the director's frame of mind and reference following World War II. It's critical to putting his films into a historical perspective. All of the films by Honda, Gojira, Rodan, The Mysterians, H-Man and Matango possess narratives that underscore the horrors of nuclear testing. Its impact on the Earth has been profound - land, air and sea. Honda mines and articulates these concerns and themes visually throughout his career.
Just one of the many amazing matte paintings blended seamlessly within Rodan. Gorgeous. Rodan has been awakened from a 200 million year sleep. Hirata's character explains he is uncertain, but one thing is sure, Honda makes it clear he fears such deadly horrors are indeed on the horizon should the world proliferate the use of such weaponry. Rodan is the latest symbol of that warning.
Fears resulting from the impact of the atom bombs on Japan would color the culture from that fateful day in World War II forward. The horrors of nuclear power in one form or another rears its ugly head throughout the films of Honda and Kimura. After all, Godzilla, Angilas, Mothra and Rodan have all come from the very Earth's crust man has assaulted and the suggestion is the ramifications of those actions will be lethal. Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, too, infuses his art with questions concerning mankind's relationship with the planet and nature. Honda, before him, was also in tune with both the nuclear question and its fallout regarding the Earth. This is reflected in his pictures through symbols and images. Creatures are often reigning destruction upon those who impact the mother like Hedorah [The Smog Monster] in Godzilla Vs. Hedora [Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster]. This is part of Japan's identity then, following World War II, and now.
Kalat cites a quote from Richard Lloyd Parry who indicates "If Japan has a national nightmare, it is not the atomic bomb which fell from above, but the earthquake which comes from below" [p.58]. Those are pretty prophetic words when you consider the tragic events of the earthquakes of 2011 and their impact on Japan. The devastating events that were visited upon the Fukushima nuclear plants couldn't be more catastrophic. It was the confluence of a crippled nuclear reactor resulting from a massive tsunami that was generated from an enormous 9.0 earthquake on March 11 of that year. The culmination of events turned out to be horrific and once again, like the days, weeks and years following the bombs, Japan would be left managing the consequences in the wake of the disaster for decades to come. Who knew such an event would be the work of both the Earth and man's development of nuclear power that would lay such devastation across a region. Honda's work and Parry's point are incredibly foreboding.
This sequence offers a snapshot of classic Rodan and certainly a fertile example of the Earth wreaking havoc upon those that would test it. As Kalat noted, these natural forces were there to exact revenge for the Earth.
There are some terrific action sequences in the second half of Rodan. Even the wonderful suitmation is lifted by wires and notable in some scenes, but the costume design of Rodan is doubly impressive.
It's easy to find flaw in special effects from a by-gone period, particularly for a young person raised and reared on computers and exposed and desensitized to fantasy films that have supplanted models and make-up, latex and miniatures and replaced with ones and zeroes, but Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya films stand the test of time. Rodan is a prime example of the care and genuine quality of the aesthetic that went into special effects back in the day by Tsuburaya and others. The work is legitimately breathtaking, detailed and should be applauded and appreciated for its fine craftsmanship. In fact, given the use of all these extraordinary models and miniatures, it's no wonder the Japanese would become such fans of British TV series Thunderbirds. The proliferation of garage kits and models from that series and others demonstrates Japan's enduring respect for the art form. Those with an open mind outside of Japan understand the beauty to be discovered in these pictures.
The devastation constructed in broad daylight for Rodan is the color antidote to the black and white display achieved in Gojira, but color and blue skies does reveal the technical deficiencies [exposed cables] of these glorious pictures.
When another Rodan attacks, the two cause all manner of chaos and annhilation with their flapping wings and sonic wind. The place is positively set ablaze.
The Rodans return to Mt. Aso, their nesting place, and a plan is implemented to bomb their caves and seal them inside. What of Honda's environmental concerns? This may force a volcanic eruption. One man protests as it will harms the forests and trees. The Japanese feel a strong connection to the land and Honda often represents this relationship.
In the end, there is no shortage of bombing, firing, exploding and other random missile and tank chaos. Tsuburaya loved his effects indeed and sometimes they can mindnumbingly drone on a touch too long. The Mysterians made this mistake, but Rodan is generally much more conservative by comparison, efficient and much tighter on the whole.
The volcano erupts and the Rodans take to the sky. One dies landing in a fiery heap. In an impressive move to poignancy, composer Akira Ifukube's score becomes sympathetic and emotional as the second Rodan sacrifices its life to be with its mate. Rodan essentially sacrifices its life out of a connection to the other creature joining its twin in a most emotional finale. This may be the first sign of Honda's interest in projecting anthropomorphic behavior into his pictures. Gojira played it relatively straight with little affection engendered toward the big lizard. Sympathies went to the Hirata character who sacrificed his life, but here there is a chink in the armor toward the kaiju eiga. A family connection seems established as both Rodans burn in the volcanic flame. It's a fairly touching, almost tragic finale to the monster picture.
Still, Stuart Galbraith IV surprisingly considered the film a "disappointment" calling Rodan "merely an excuse to redo ideas introduced in the first Godzilla, this time in color." That may be a fair assessment on a tonal level, but Rodan is still much better than he gives it credit.
Steve Ryfle, Japan's Favorite Mon-Star, accurately proclaimed Rodan, "one of Honda's best films and a masterpiece of Japanese horror moviemaking" and "truly chilling" dubbing it "the best 'flying monster' movie of its generation" [Ryfle, p.66].
As Kalat notes, Rodan's "touching and tragic conclusion leaves an indellible impression on the viewer and makes the film one of Toho's strongest entries." There is "monster movie pathos" there. As one Rodan dies it is the "gesture of love" by the other offering the ultimate sacrifice of its own life to die alongside it that moves us. As Kalat notes, the sheer power of that final scene "audaciously" asks the audience to have "sympathy" for a creature that has just laid waste to people and places for twenty minutes. It is that connection with nature, existence and that inexplicable understanding that life sometimes exists without reason that allows us to accept and forgive these creatures of the Earth. No joy is taken in death.
The Japanese often demonstrate a genuine connection to the natural world. I couldn't help but wonder if there might be older fans of these films sitting in their living rooms and still appreciating these classics like myself out there somewhere under the Japanese sky. Rodan remains a spectacular picture in the annals of the kaiju eiga genre. It is considerably true to the classic monster film first established in America, but Honda creates a genuinely thrilling new monster in Rodan and makes it a [literally] breathtaking creature film. It's colorful, exciting and still looks fantastic in all of its original and ingenius effects splendor. It's somber tone and underlying sadness owes a debt of grattitude to the score applied by Ifukube, but its Honda's execution that makes Rodan so memorable. Beyond the message that the atom bomb has essentially released a world of hurt upon mankind, more intimately the film is sympathetic to a creature that essentially tells us all that we are born to die in very simple terms. But the message of sacrifice by the Japanese is indeed symbolized in the deaths of both Rodans. This isn't the stuff of fun Honda, but rather the tragic, grave, and fantastic stuff. Rodan: B+. Director: Ishiro Honda. Writer: Takeshi Kimura/ Ken Kuronuma/ Takeo Murata.
Additionally, there is an exceptional little documentary that accompanies the feature film called Bringing Godzilla Down To Size: The Art Of Japanese Special Effects [a remarkable 65 minute documentary] actually co-produced and co-written by Steve Ryfle with Ed Godziszewski. The film looks at the art of suitmation and how it has become synonymous with Japanese culture. It takes a particularly close look at Eiji Tsuburaya. He was born in 1901 and ironically hailed from Fukushima, the site of Japan's 2011 nuclear catastrophe. Interviews take place with family and a number of key effects creators who have followed in his footsteps like Teruyoshi Nakano. Other appearances include phenomenal actor Akira Takarada. There is a discussion of Tsuburaya's blacklisting following World War II due to his involvement in Japanese war propaganda films.
The seeds of Godzilla's creation as an "anti-war symbol" and a "metaphor for the atomic bomb" are covered. A franchise was born with "pacifist" Honda at the helm working with producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, Eiji Tsuburaya and Akira Ifukube. The documentary may not shed a whole lot of new light to those well-versed on the subject, but for newcomers it offers a relatively detailed, but condensed version on the legacy of Gojira and those involved in its making. "Do you know why they work hard to build the miniatures? So they can smash them!" This is a crash course on the art form and is a must see documentary for those who love kaiju eiga. "Sets are born to be razed. It's painful if it doesn't turn out right. We always hope for the perfect destruction."
An entire quarter of the documentary is dedicated to three men and three generations of Godzilla suit actors. Interviews with Haruo Nakajima [twelve films; also plays Rodan], Kenpachiro Satsuma and Tsutomu "Tom" Kitagawa [five films] shed considerable light on their underappreciated art form. The segment also talks with one of the actual monster makers for the Godzilla suit.
The feature also makes a great case for traditional special effects versus CGI. Now there's a battle for Godzilla that fans could appreciate.
Writer footnote: Takeshi Kimura [1912-1988]. Rodan offers the debut of screenwriter Kimura in the genre. He was perhaps one of Toho and Honda's greatest assets at weaving social commentary into solid fantasy stories. He was adept at drawing upon Japan's very real concerns about the nuclear age into many of the films coupled with Honda's equally relevant ideas. Takeshi used radioactive fallout to mutate lifeforms into liquified killing machines in H-Man . He took stories like the Lucky Dragon No. 5 and expounded upon the fallout of nuclear testing in a host of films. Relevant themes permeate his stories. Kimura was the pen behind a large swathe of terrific Toho science fiction fantasy films including: Rodan , The Mysterians , The Human Vapor , The Last War , Gorath , Matango [Attack Of The Mushroom People] , Frankenstein Conquers The World [Frankenstein Vs. Baragon] , War Of The Gargantuas , King Kong Escapes , Destroy All Monsters  and Godzilla Vs. Hedora [Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster] . The somber-toned Kimura was said to be the anti-Shinichi Sekizawa, a writer for the Godzilla franchise who was considerably lighter in tone. Kimura believed Matango to be one of his best. He was a member of the Japanese Communist Party.
Actor footnote: Kenji Sahara [1932-present]. The actor was a fixture in thirty of Toho's kaiju eiga films. He starred or took supporting roles in the following films: Gojira [cameo] , Godzilla, King Of The Monsters , Rodan , The Mysterians , H-Man , Mothra , Gorath , King Kong Vs. Godzilla , Matango [Attack Of The Mushroom People] , Atragon , Godzilla Vs. Mothra [Godzilla Vs. The Thing] , Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster , Frankenstein Conquers The World [Frankenstein Vs. Baragon] , War Of The Gargantuas , Son Of Godzilla , Destroy All Monsters , Godzilla's Revenge , Space Amoeba [Yog The Space Monster] , Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster [also Godzilla Vs. The Bionic Monster and Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla] , Terror Of Mechagodzilla , Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah , Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II , Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla  and Godzilla Final Wars .
Composer footnote: Akira Ifukube [1914-2006]. Though the score to Rodan is considered one of Ifukube's weaker efforts, it is the elegiac feel of the final minutes of Rodan dying that really highlights Ifukube at his finest here. The requiem to Rodan is moving stuff. While it has been said that producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda and special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya created Godzilla and the world of kaiju eiga, it was Ifukube who "breathed life into" theses classics with his music, says Steve Ryfle, Japan's Favorite Mon-Star [p.48]. Ifukube lost a brother during wartime to radiation exposure and even Ifukube himself became ill. Ifukube has often been sampled within the genre, but officially scored eleven of the Godzilla films and a host of Toho and Daiei classics including: Gojira , Rodan , The Mysterians , Varan The Unbelievable , Battle In Outer Space , King Kong Vs. Godzilla , Atragon , Godzilla Vs. Mothra , Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster , Frankenstein Conquers The World , Invasion Of Astro-Monster , War Of The Gargantuas , Daimajin [1966; for Daiei, the company behind Gamera], Wrath Of Daimajin , Return of Daimajin , King Kong Escapes , Destroy All Monsters , Latitude Zero , Space Amoeba , Godzilla Vs. Gigan , Terror Of Mechagodzilla , Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah , Godzilla Vs. Mothra , Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II  and Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah .
The prolific composer even created the classic Godzilla roar by rubbing a leather glove across a contrabass and adding echo. The momentous score to Gojira was recorded in under one week and Ifukube always considered it to be his finest moment in composition. There is indeed a thread-like quality through the use of Ifukube as composer throughout the Godzilla series as much as Honda was the thematic visionary for the series so too was Ifukube the sound and the fury. Ifukube is considered the creator of this legendary character as much as Tanaka, Honda and Tsuburaya. Not surprisingly, Ifukube came out of retirement when he was eighty years of age and scored a series of new Godzilla films in the 1990s. A truly remarkable man.