The first were serious horror and adventure stories, before the genre devolved to the level of "kiddie" entertainment in the 1960s and 1970s. For a time the film was released in the U.S. under the title Rodan! The Flying Monster.
In the small mining village of Kitamatsu, on the outskirts of Kiyushu, two miners have gone missing. The two men, Goro and Yoshi, had brawled earlier that day, and no sooner had they entered the mine then the shaft had quickly flooded. Shigeru Kawamura, head of security at the mine, heads below to investigate. There, he and the local police make a gruesome descovery: Yoshi's lacerated corpse. Above ground, a doctor examines Yoshi, and descovers the cause of death to be a series of deep gashes caused by an abnormally sharp object. As some of the miners comfort Yoshi's wailing wife, the others discuss the possibility of Goro's involvement in the death. The two had never been friends, and had physically fought that morning. Also, Goro was still missing, and could be on the run or still be hiding in the mine. Shigeru warns them not to speak of this until the police investigation begins. Outside, Shigeru meets with his fiance Kiyo, who is also Goro's sister. He comforts her, telling her that he is sure of Goro's innocence. Inside the mine, three policemen stand guard at the edge of the water, knowing if Goro tries to escape, he will surely come that way (as it is the only exit). Suddenly, they hear a splash in the flooded mine, and venture into the water. As they wade deeper into the shaft, they get more and more nervous. All of a sudden, one of the policemen begins to scream and then disappears under the water. As the men are tied together, is is not to long before another is pulled under by something beneath the surface. The last policeman quickly unties himself and flees. However, before he can escape, he is cornered and attacked by someone, or something. Soon after, his body, along with the bodies of the other two policemen, are brought up and examined. The doctor announces that they, too, were killed by a sharp object that simply sliced them apart.
Later that night, the wife of one of the murdered men runs to Kiyo's house and screams threats at her through the door, as she believes that her brother, Goro, is the killer. Shigeru soon arrives and comforts her, telling her that the officers that were killed were Goro's friends, and that he had no reason to kill them. Someone else, then, killed those men. As the two sit together, the answer to the question of who, or what, murdered the men suddenly reveals itself: a gigantic creature, resembling a gigantic insect larva, enters Kiyo's home, and both Kiyo and Shigeru flee. The police enter the home, but the giant insect forces them to flee. When they regroup, they chase the creature to the top of a hill and open fire with machine guns. The monster launches its self down the hillside and grabs two officers, clutching them in its pincers as it flees. It soon drops them and quickly escapes back into the mine. When the police and Shigeru reach the injured officers, they discover that their wounds match the wounds of the murdered policemen and Yoshi. They have found the killer.
Soon after, Shigeru and a group of the metro-police head back into the mine to confront the insect monster and attempt to locate Goro, dead or alive. Unfortunately, as they enter the deepest part of the mine shaft, they discover the butchered body of Goro laying on the floor of the mine. As they approach, the giant insect emerges and chases the men back up the mine shaft. Taking action, Shigeru releases the mine cart, which rolls down the shaft and collides with the insect, crushing and killing it. Shigeru and the others then venture back into the shaft and remove Goro's body. They discover a large hole in the wall that opens up into a large cave. They realize that this is the hole through which the water and the giant insect emerged. As they peek through, they are noticed by not just one, but several more giant insects. However, before the monsters can attack, the ground begins to shake, and the mine begins to cave in. Shigeru is trapped in the cave, and the police can do nothing and the mine collapses.
The next day, the police investigate the recent happenings. Dr. Kashiwagi identifies the giant insect as a Meganulon, an ancient species of dragonfly larvae that had lived on the Earth millions of years earlier. As the doctor reveals his findings, an earthquake suddenly strikes the area. Rumors begin to circulate that Mt. Aso, the volcano that eclipses Kitamatsu, might be on the verge of an eruption. When the police arrive at the base of the volcano to investigate the damage caused by the earthquake, they are shocked to discover a man wandering around the epicenter. When they reach him, they discover that it is Shigeru. However, he has received a blow to the head and has lost his memory. He is even unable to recognize Kiyo. The doctors are not optimistic about his chances for recovery, but nevertheless do their best to try to help him any way that they can.
Several miles away, in Kiyushu, an air base receives an alert from one of their jets. The pilot has observed an unidentified flying object performing impossible maneuvers at supersonic speeds. He is ordered to pursue the object at distance, but as he follows it, the object suddenly changes course and turns around. The object then flies straight towards the jet and destroys it. Soon after, reports from all over the world come in about the UFO. The strange object is observed flying over China and Europe, and rumors of a secret military weapon test begin to circulate. Back in Japan, a newly married couple disappear, as well as several heads of cattle around Mt. Aso. When the authorities develop the film from the newlyweds' camera, they discover a photograph of what appears to be a gigantic wing. They match the photo with a drawing of a Pteranodon, and ancient reptile thought to be extinct millions of years earlier. Although the evidence seems to point to the Pteranodon as the culprit, the theory is dismissed as being too far fetched.
Meanwhile, Shigeru's treatment is progressing slowly, but no one, especially not Kiyo, is giving up. One day, as Shigeru sits silently in his hospital room, Kiyo shows him the eggs that her pet birds have lain. As one of the eggs hatches, a terrible memory returns to Shigeru:
Deep within the mine, Shigeru awoke after the cave in. Suddenly, he realized to his horror that he was surrounded by hundreds of Meganulon. The creatures crawled all around the cave, having survived millions of years underground. Shigeru then looked up and was shocked to see what appeared to be a giant egg sitting right in the middle of the cave. Suddenly, the egg began to stir, and then, all of a sudden, it hatched. From out of the fractured shell emerged a gigantic, winged creature with a sharp beak and a head like a bird of prey. Shigeru watched in horror as the enormous hatchling bent over and began to eat the Meganulon. The monstrous insects that had terrorized the town and had killed his friends were now nothing more than a snack to this new creature. With all of the Meganulon gone, the giant monster spread its wings and roared...
Shigeru suddenly awakens, his memory restored. As he recovers from seeing the horrifying vision, Kiyo weeps with joy.
Shigeru confirms that the creature he saw did indeed resemble a pteranodon, and that it had eaten all of the Meganulon. He and a group of police and scientists once again descend into the mine and enter the cave where the egg had been. They are able to recover a fragment of the shell before a rock slide forces them to flee back to the surface. In the lab, Dr. Kashiwagi is able to determine the size of the egg and its age: 200 million years old. After amassing the evidence, Kashiwagi calls a meeting with members of the town, along with members of the JSDF (Japanese Self-Defense Force) to communicate his findings. He tells the men that the UFO seen flying all across the world at supersonic speeds is a gigantic pteranodon he has dubbed Rodan. The 50 meter tall monster is capable of flying at extremely fast speeds, which create a sonic boom that more than likely led to the destruction of the jet that had first observed Rodan. Kashiwagi still has no explanation as to how the creature could have traversed the globe so quickly, and why reports of sightings occurred in multiple, distant countries at the same time. As to how Rodan could have resurfaced after millions of years is also a mystery, but Kashiwagi theorizes that nuclear bomb testing, which loosened the Earth and opened cavities to long buried crevices and caves, might be the culprit. However, Kashiwagi admits that this is only a guess.
Soon after, Rodan emerges from the ground near Mt. Aso, near where the beast had hatched. The creature takes flight and begins to head for Kiyushu, with a squadron of the JSDF hot on his tail. They pursue Rodan over the city, and eventually succeed in forcing him into the river. The flying reptile soon emerges, but his flight speed has been cut by half. Rodan flies over the buildings at Sosebo, and the sonic wave created in its wake literally tears the structures apart. The flying monster lands in the city and flaps its wings, and the entire city is literally pulled down by its own weight. Fires spread, and the JSDF attempt in vain to fight the creature off. The men, and the machines, are simply blown away. Just when it seems things can't get worse, the JSDF reports that another Rodan has been spotted heading towards the city. With the mystery of the spread out sightings now revealed, the second Rodan to flies over and rips apart the buildings. After leveling the city and leaving the remaining buildings in flames, the monsters Rodan fly away, leaving thousands dead.
The JSDF formulate a plan to attack the Rodans. After assertaining their location at their old nest at the base of Mt. Aso, the military plan to shell the volcano and trigger an eruption that will trap the monsters under the lava and rock. However, Kitamatsu will be completely destroyed in the attack, and the town is forced to evacuate. The army prepares for the attack. Just moments before the strike is to begin, Shigeru looks out the window to see Kiyo climbing up the hill. He runs out to meet her, and she tells him that she has come to be with him. Rather than evacuate, she has risked her life to face the danger with the man she loves. The two leave the area and return to safety, and the military begins its attack. They launch rockets and torpedoes at the mountain, and soon the volcano begins to spew smoke and lava into the sky. One of the Rodans emerges, but is soon overcome by the fumes. As the second Rodan arrives on the scene, the first looses altitude and finally falls into the stream of lava flowing down the side of the volcano. The ancient reptile begins to scream in pain as it burns alive in the lava. The military, Dr. Kashiwagi, Shigeru and Kiyo watch from a safe distance as the still flying Rodan watches its companion dies in agony. Suddenly, the second Rodan descends and lands with the first in the lava, and it to begins to burn. Rather then live on alone, the creature will die with its companion. Whether they be siblings or mates, the two Rodans lie dying together in the flowing lava. Kiyo buries her head in Shigeru's shoulder, and both Kashiwagi and Shigeru watch solemnly as the two monsters, each unwilling to live without the other, die together under the erupting volcano.
Rodan is notable for its action scenes, which are surprisingly well filmed and still excite audiences today. Unlike most of the Toho monster movies, which featured "action" scenes consisting of roaring monsters lumbering across the landscape at a stupefyingly slow pace, the battle scenes and monster rampage in Rodan are thrilling, exciting, and fast-paced; it is much easier for the audience to suspend disbelief and accept the low-tech special effects here. The emphasis on action and thrills, and willingness to scare the audience, has made Rodan one of the more enduring entries in daikaiju eiga.
In the original Japanese version this daikaiju is called "Radon", (a truncation of "pteranodon"). While it is commonly believed that the Japanese Radon became Rodan for the international release due to a translation error, it is likely that the name was deliberately changed to avoid confusion with the chemical element radon (pronounced "Ray-don"). The name Radon is, however, preserved in the English-dubbed version of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993).
U.S. releaseLobby card to the 1958 US release of Rodan. Rodan was quite successful in its first run in the United States. It was the first Japanese movie to receive general release on the West Coast to strong box-office.1 It later received the biggest TV advertising campaign given to a film to that date on New York's NBC flagship station WRCA-TV. 10-, 20- and 60-second commercials were shown for a week before the film's opening.2
It grossed an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 during its opening weekend at 79 theaters in the New York City metropolitan area. Several theatrical circuits, including RKO, announced that Rodan broke the records for a science-fiction film.3
George Takei, better known as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek series, was one of the many voice actors employed for this film. The only other Kaiju film he performed voice work for was in the movie, "Godzilla Raids Again."
For the first time since 1989, in 2002, the U.S. version of Rodan was released on DVD as part of 5-disc set with the U.S. versions of Godzillas 1, 4, 10 & 15. In 2008, Classic Media is going to release the original Japanese version of Rodan as part of the new Toho Master Collection along with the original versions of Godzillas 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15 and "War of the Gargantas".
Changes to the Japanese version:
Some of Ifukube's themes were removed in favor of Stock music. A prologue showing footage of American nuclear tests.
- Shigeru Kawamura (coal mine shaft engineer) - Kenji Sahara
- Kiyo (coal mine shaft office worker) - Yumi Shirakawa
- Dr. Kyuuichirou Kashiwagi - Akihiko Hirata
- Nishimura (Police inspector) - Akio Kobori
- Izeki (Seibu Journalist) - Yoshifumi Tajima
- Oosaki (coal mine executive officer) - Minosuke Yamada
- Ishikawa (Earthquake Research Institute engineer) - Ren Imaizumi
- Earthquake Research Institute engineer - Saburou Kadowaki
- Minami - Fuyuki Murakami
- Journalist - Kouji Uno
- Suda - Akio Kusama
- Hayama - Fumindo Matsuo
- Military Commander - Hideo Mihara
- Professor Isokawa - Mitsuo Matsumoto
- Minakami - Kiyoshi Takagi
- Gorou (Miner/Kiyo's older brother) - Rinsaku Ogata
- Yoshizou (miner) - Jirou Suzukawa
- Tsunesan (miner) - Tateo Kawasaki
- Suteyan (miner) - Kanta Kisaragi
- Senkichi (miner) - Ichirou Nakaya
- Tahei (miner) - Keiji Sakakida
- Air Self-Defense Force commander - Hideo Mihara
- Self-Defense Force signaler - Yoshio Katsube
- Takeuchi (Air Self-Defense Force staff officer) - Mitsuo Tsuda
- Chief constable - Ichirou Chiba
- Tashiro (policeman) - Jirou Kumagai
- Nurse - Saeko Kuroiwa
- Female Honeymooner - Yasuko Nakata
- Male Honeymooner - Kiyoharu Oonaka
- Otami (Yoshizou's wife) - Kiyomi Ichinoya
- Rodan - Haruo Nakajima,Katsumi Tezuka
- Meganuron - Haruo Nakajima (top), Katsumi Tezuka/Others (body)
- Many promotional stills and posters for the film depicted a Rodan that looked radically different from the one in the actual movie. Rather than the appearance of a slightly larger, more upright version of the traditional Pterodactyl, this version bore more of a resemblance to the bird-like Azhdarchidae family.
- The giant insects featured in this film, the Meganula, would later go on to appear in the 2000 film Godzilla vs. Megaguirus.
- This film marks the only time in which Rodan is seen to emit a strange burst of concentrated gas from its mouth as a form of weapon. The inclusion of this seemingly tangential ability was most likely meant to answer the popularity of Godzilla's atomic heat ray.
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