Toho in America
A Critical Comparison between the Japanese and
American Versions of the Toho Fantasy Films
Sora no Daikaiju Radon
(Rodan, Monster of the Sky)
Released: December 26, 1956
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Released: August 1957 by Distributors Corporation of America (DCA)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Available from Classic Media.
Following their successful releases of Gojira and Gojira no Gyakushu, Toho decided to produce another giant monster movie. Though an obvious move to cash-in on the success of the two Godzilla movies, director Ishiro Honda’s Sora no Daikaiju Radon (Radon, Monster of the Sky) is more than just another film about giant prehistoric monsters. The first of Toho’s kaiju films to be shot in color (though still filmed in standard format), Sora no Daikaiju Radon took the genre into new territory and avoided many clichés that would plague later films. The giant monster this time was bird-like, a type that has been largely ignored in western cinema, The Giant Claw (1957) and Larry Cohen’s Q (1982) being two exceptions. Though Rodan attacks a city, instead of Tokyo it chooses the lesser Japanese city of Fukuoka (changed to Sasebo, another nearby city, in the American version for obvious reasons). And then there are the story’s twists and turns in trying to sort out the real menace; a strange murder, for which a man (Goro) is suspected of committing, turns out to be the work of large prehistoric insects, the Meganurons. Once these creatures are dealt with, the threat appears to be an unbelievably fast UFO, which is revealed to be not just a prehistoric bird, but a pair of mates, the Rodans.
Sora no Daikaiju Radon was purchased by King Brothers Productions, who released the film through Distributors Corporation of America (DCA). King Brothers changed the title to Rodan (often called Rodan, the Flying Monster on promotional material) and altered their acquisition with the intention to make the film play better in western markets. One factor that sets Rodan apart from most Americanized Toho movies is that King Brothers had access to footage deleted from the final Japanese version, some of which made it into the American cut.
While many alterations to Honda’s film are very apparent, there are many more that are undetectable without doing a scene-by-scene comparison. Since comprehensively describing every change made would be too lengthy for the space provided herein (and a colossal bore to boot!), this comparison will attempt to group changes by type and describe typical and/or noteworthy examples. As always, descriptions of footage unique to the Japanese version will be noted with bold text
The American version deletes the first 45 seconds of the credit sequence, including the Toho logo (the rule rather than the exception with Americanization) and a special fade in/ fade out of the film’s title against the same gelatinous background for the rest of the credits. The shorter American credits are timed so that the background changes from red to blue just before the films’ title appears in red, accompanied by Rodan’s roar as in the Japanese version, to good dramatic effect. Added cymbal like percussion precedes the title music, which has been truncated (to match the shorter visual) by cutting out a large part of the middle and editing the remaining beginning and end together. The sound edit here isn’t totally seamless, but it’s difficult to notice unless you know it’s there. The title music fades out with the credits eliminating a musical transition to the first scene of the film.
The U.S. credits are immediately followed by an added sequence of military footage depicting actual atomic and hydrogen bomb tests. An accompanying narration describes the tests and ponders the possibility that such abuse against nature will cause some horrible reaction or aftermath. “This is the story of such an aftermath,” concludes the narrator. Most, but not all, of Akira Ifukube’s score has been removed and replaced by what is probably library music. Some of the same music can be heard in First Spaceship on Venus (1960) and DCA’s Americanized Half-Human (1958. Japanese title: Jujin Yokiotoko/Aboninable Snowman, 1955), which was covered in Kaiju-Fan #5. The main and end titles and some of the music in scenes involving the Meganurons remain. All of the film’s military marches were removed, which would become a common American deletion where Ifukube was concerned, even when the rest of the score was left intact. While the added music isn’t as good as Ifukube’s, it isn’t overly offensive and complements the remaining original score better than one might expect.
A narration by the central character, Shigeru (Kenji Sahara, voiced by Keye Luke in America), was added to the American version. This decision appears to be twofold: to save on dubbing costs and to clarify the more foreign and arcane points of the story. Although heavy-handed compared to Honda’s cut, it is keeping in the spirit of his documentary approach to the film and at times, adds insight and complements the story. The narration is particularly effective during the miners’ descent into the tunnels, “Each time the men boarded the trams, you could almost see (the strange tension) working in them,” Shigeru’s return to the cavern where Rodan hatched, “I could remember the smell of the thing, a cool and foul smell that sent your flesh crawling,” and the film’s ending, “The last of their kind, masters of the air and earth…now they sank against the earth like weary children. Each had refused to live without the other. And so, they were dying together. I wondered whether I, a 20th century man, could ever hope to die as well.” This technique was copied two years later by Warner Bros. for Gigantis, The Fire Monster, but with disastrous results.
The English dubbing of the entire film was reportedly the work of only four people. The various male voices were done by Keye Luke, Paul Frees and, in his first film job, George Takei (Star Trek). Luke and Takei were apparently chosen because they sounded like what American filmgoers of the time expected English-speaking Orientals to sound like. The dubbing is passable, but to modern audiences, the familiarity with Keye Luke’s later work in Kung Fu and Paul Frees’ performances for Bullwinkle, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The H-Man and King Kong Escapes, draws attention away from the story and toward the fact that they’re voicing several characters. Takei’s voice is harder to spot (he voiced Professor Kashiwagi and the young male lover, among others), sounding very little like he did as Star Trek’s Sulu, probably because he was at the age before his voice changed. Takei’s voice would be much more recognizable when he dubbed Gigantis, The Fire Monster
Side-by-side comparison of several scenes reveals numerous minor edits in the American version. A few seconds of a scene, usually the beginning/end of shots, have been trimmed. Also, several exchanges of dialogue that aren’t essential to the story (a miner apologizes to his boss for being late, the reading of several names in the roll call, etc.) or which have been replaced by narration (Shigeru and his boss discussing the problem of over-mining) have been removed. At least one effective scene was a casualty of this tactic; looking through glass, the camera pans, following a group of reporters as they run from one conference room to another via an adjoining door to get a statement from the doctor who examined Yoshi’s corpse. The purpose of these edits seems to be to tighten up the running time without drastically affecting the film. Oddly, a few instances of quick edits within a stationary shot that appear to be cuts are in fact Ronda’s doing; this was a common editing technique in the 1950s. One example of this is when Kyo (Yumi Shirakawa) leaps from the floor into Shigeru’s arms when he enters her house.
The American version also added several dissolves that weren’t in the Japanese version. This was apparently done for numerous reasons, though most appear to have been for dramatic impact. One dissolve, added to a shot of several people running into the destroyed Fukuoka military HQ, appears to mask a bad edit in Honda’s version. Other dissolves, such as the respective transitions between the deaths of the pilot and the two young lovers to following scenes of their be longings being examined, help express the passage of time that must have occurred. The most baffling American dissolve occurs during Shigeru’s egg-cavem flashback: the American version deleted the Japanese dissolve, then rejoins the remaining footage with an almost identical dissolve! It can truly be said that this change, which shortened the film by two seconds, improved the film immeasurably.
Even the film’s sound effects were, reworked. Toho’s stock sounds of military vehicles, explosions, etc. were mostly replaced. Although the sounds associated with the monsters were retained, they were noticeably altered. Rodan’s cry remains basically the same, but is clearly not identical. During the hatching, a sound resembling a bobcat is also used to represent part of the reptile’s cry. Whereas the whine of Rodan in flight is varied in the Japanese version and changes volume as Rodan gets closer/farther away, the American version uses the same brief sample of the sound, repeated constantly.
Although the sequence of events is mostly the same as in the Japanese versIon; the order of some individual shots has been switched around, with footage from one scene often used at another point in the film. Rock slide footage during the cave-in from the mines is actually from the earthquake that occurs a few minutes later. Footage of rural Japanese people watching the skies from Rodan’s raid stands in for shots of people sighting UFOs in Hong Kong and Singapore in an earlier montage. A shot of bats in the cavern as Shigeru first awakens is removed and used later when he returns with the expedition. It is to the credit of the American editors that, in most cases, these insertions aren’t apparent.
In a few cases, the Japanese shots weren’t long enough for the American edit, which used them for purposes not originally intended, such as the aforementioned dissolves. These shots were lengthened by playing the last few frames in reverse. This occurs during the dissolve from Professor Kashiwagi (Akihiko Hirata) to the return expedition to the cavern and in a scene where Shigeru looks out the window of defense HQ to see Kyo. The most obvious case of this is the air control-tower calling to the plane that has just been destroyed; a jet on the runway can be seen rolling forward, only to abruptly start moving backwards!
The American version joins the fight between Yoshi and Goro already in progress. In the Japanese version, this scene begins earlier as fellow workers are pulling the two men apart. After a slight breather, Yoshi again provokes his opponent by yanking an object (possibly a small notepad) from Goro’s shirt pocket and letting it to drop to the floor. Yoshi and Goro grapple again and continue briefly until a foreman steps in and breaks it up for good. The second miner’s death is less subtle in the American version. After trying to call for help on the tunnel phone, the man slumps to the ground in defeat as he watches the creature approach him off-screen from the right. The American version adds an extended fade to black and a final scream of terror.
Two brief shots of the Meganuron inside Kyo’s house appear only in the American version. One shot, an extreme close-up of the insect-like creature, immediately follows the scene of Shigeru and Kyo shutting the sliding door as they flee the house. The other shot is of the Meganuron coming back into the house to attack the police. As a tradeoff, the American version trims one shot of the creature clutching an attacker’s pick in its claw and also deleting a couple of scenes of it crawling outside. Two shots, in which Shigeru spots the Meganuron climbing up a hill, have been removed and substituted with closer shots of the creature from later in the film. In the Japanese version, the first shot is comenendable for its cinematic honesty. Although it’s the second shot that clearly shows the Meganuron moving on the hill, examination of the first shot, which at first glance appears to be of just an ordinary hill, reveals the creature’s immobile silhouette precisely where it is in the second shot.
The sequence of events during the hilltop gunfight has been altered. In the Japanese version, the militia continuously shoot at the Meganuron until it attacks and kills two policemen. In the American version, it’s immediately established that the two policemen are very close to the creature and the gunfight continues as they are attacked. The shots of the Meganuron dragging its victims down the hill has been edited to remove some moments of a Meganuron miniature unconvincingly flipping and tumbling. Lastly, Akira Ifukube’s music for this scene is heard earlier, punctuating the insect’s first appearance rather than the attack on the policemen, as in the Japanese version.
The pilot’s sighting of Rodan and his subsequent death, so dramatically sequenced in Honda’s cut, has been severely watered down in the American version. In the Japanese version, this scene is accompanied by a muted fast-paced march that increases in volume and speed as Rodan overtakes the pilot. As the plane is destroyed, the music reaches a crescendo, trailing off while the scene abruptly cuts to the shocking image of the pilot’s bloodied helmet on a table in the control tower. The American version is blandly scored and places a dissolve before the shot of the helmet.
A series of scenes depicting news of UFO sightings in the Pacific has been expanded in the American version via more military footage and scenes from other parts of the film. This sequence features the same narrator from the earlier atomic test footage. Matte paintings of various locations have been removed. A close up of a teletype, to match a shot of a Caucasian man using one, has been inserted printing text that matches the narrator’s description of the scene.
The cause of the young couple’s death is more apparent in the Japanese version. As the man is preparing to take the woman’s picture, she looks toward the sky and screams. The man steps back in terror and then grabs the woman. They run away from the terrible thing they’ve seen as a massive shadow moves across the ground, past them. The couple continues to run until both fall to the ground. The man gets up and continues to run as the shadow moves past him again. Both are seen lying unconscious on the ground before switching to close-ups of the woman’s shoe, followed by the camera. The Japanese version then cuts to the two objects being examined by the authorities. Besides deleting the shadow effects, the American version inserts a scene (from the earlier jet reconnaissance) of a blurry shape moving across the screen where the second shadow would have appeared and changes the cut to the next scene into a dissolve. Some incidental dialogue has also been added in scenes where the couple’s mouths cannot be seen. There has been much speculation about why the shadow scenes dramatically effective and technically well-done for their day, would have been deleted. One possible explanation is that the King Brothers wanted to milk the mystery of the UFO for a while longer. The shape of the shadows clearly suggests a bird-like creature.
Some tinkering was done to Shigeru’s flashback that doesn’t significantly damage the sequence. A shot of Shigeru looking on in horror, originally followed by scenes of the Meganurons, is followed in the American version by the first shot of Rodan’s egg. The American version features several more Rodan roars than the Japanese version, particularly as the Meganurons are being eaten, which heightens the effectiveness of this sequence. Footage of the Meganuron costumes has also been edited into the sequence of Rodan eating the insects. As the miniature insects here are odd-looking and almost too small to recognize, this change makes it easier to identify what Rodan is eating.
The most extensive changes in Rodan occur in the final third of the film. Just prior to the adult Rodan’s first appearance, the American version places scenes of a helicopter expedition searching Mt. Aso (Mt. Toya in the American version) for the creature; this sequence doesn’t occur in the Japanese version until just prior to the film’s climactic military operation. The American version follows this with scenes of the Air Force taking off and bombing the volcano; again, events that occur later in the Japanese version. By mixing footage from other parts of the film and using more U.S. military footage, the American version makes it appear that the helicopter called in the planes. Scenes of the jets are inter-cut with scenes of the climactic assault on Mt. Aso, making it appear that the jets are firing on the mountain and provoking the creature(s), something that didn’t occur in the Japanese version. By inserting duplicate shots printed in reverse, the American version attempts to introduce Rodan’s mate at the same time the adult male makes his debut. The two versions differ as described below; differences unique to each version are denoted by bold type
– Jeeps arrive at the hill (two shots
– Dirt and foliage are kicked up on the hiill as explosions are heard
– Shigeru and the others run up the hill aand stop at high ground. The reporter (Yoshifumi Tajima) points to the disturbance
– Rodan emerges from crack
– Shigeru points, identifying it as the crreature he saw in the cavern
– Matte shot of people looking at Rodan – Close-up of Rodan using its beak to ppreen itself
– A policeman is sent to warn HQ
– Rodan roars and makes two flapping mootions with his wings
– The policeman starts the jeep
– Rodan takes off causing Shigeru and the others to hit the ground as he flies over them
– Rodan banks to the left
– Jeep leaves
– Shigeru and the others look up while still lying on the ground
– Rodan flies over the jeep, causing it too be blown about until it smashes into a rock
– Shigeru and the others begin to get up <<b>but are knocked down by Rodan’s wind
– Rodan flies over Shigeru and the otheers as they cling to the ground
– Rodan flies off
– Jeeps arrive at the hill (only the second shot is used) as jets are heard
– Jets fly overhead (from later in the Japanese version)
– Shigeru and the others run up the hill aand stop at high ground
– Dirt and foliage are kicked up on the hiill as Rodan’s roar is heard
– The reporter (Voshifumi Tajima) points tto the disturbance
– Rodan emerges from crack (shot is larrger -either a deleted scene or an optical enlargement)
– Shigeru points, identifying it as the crreature he saw in the cavern
– Rodan takes off (shot is enlarged>), causing Shigeru and the others to hit the ground as he flies over them
– Rodan flies off
– Shigeru and the others begin to get up ddr (reversed shot
– Rodan emerges from crack; Shigeru pointss and exclaims; “It has…a mate!” (reversed shots again)
– Matte shot of people looking at Rodan (<<b>reversed shot)
– A policeman is sent to warn HQ
– Rodan roars and makes one flapping mootion with his wings
– The policeman starts the jeep
– Rodan takes off (reversed shot) <<br> – Jeep leaves
– Rodan banks to the left
– Rodan flies over the jeep, causing it too be p brown about until it smashes into a rock
– Rodan flies off (reversed shot) <</p>
In the Japanese version, the second Rodan doesn’t appear until the end of the Fukuoka attack. A similar scene would appear in Furankenshutain no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira (Frankenstein ‘s Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira, 1966. US title: War of the Gargantuas, 1970), in which Sanda arrives to aid Gaira, startling the military with the discovery that two giant monsters exist. The appearance of the second Rodan in Fukuoka, the first time it appears in the Japanese version, is left intact in the American version. However, since it’s already been established that two Rodans exist, the scene’s inclusion is without purpose and anticlimactic. Coincidentally, Continental would cause Rodan to appear earlier via similar editing trickery in Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster
The jet chase/attack following Rodan’s emergence has been extensively re-edited, the main goal apparently being to obscure the fact that there is only one monster at this point (very apparent in the Japanese version). Except for one deletion, a Rodan miniature marking an unconvincing midair turn, the American changes hurt the scene more than help. The sequence of events is confusing, pointless and lacks pace and drama. There is another instance of footage not in the Japanese version that might have gone unnoticed were it not for the sharp eyes of Ed Godziszewski and Peter Brothers. In 1980, both wrote a commentary on Rodan for Japanese Giants #6 which included a comparison of the American and Japanese versions; their article served as an invaluable reference for this study. Following Rodan’s emergence from the river, there is a shot of the monster flying off. While this shot is but a few frames longer in the American version, it is enough to make out several converging shadows of the Rodan flying miniature on the ski backdrop behind. Another second and the miniature would have been seen colliding with the backdrop!
The Fukuoka attack ends in the American version with a shot of both Rodan’s flying away together, which is not in the Japanese version. Inspection of the sky backdrop and a small amount of smoke in this scene make it conceivable that this is actually an out take from the film’s volcano finale. A single shot (from the preceding helicopter reconnaissance scene) of Rodan inside the mountain is utilized multiple times during the final attack. Falling rocks have been superimposed and the shot is reversed. at least once to appear as the second Rodan. As the volcano erupts the shot is again used, this time with the lava superimposed. It is this shot that provides American audiences with the critical clue, not clearly illustrated in Honda’s cut, that one of the Rodans has been fatally wounded. in the Japanese version, it is not clear what caused both Rodans to die, especially since at one point they are seen free and clear of the volcano. In the American version. the re-edited footage and closing narration firmly establish that the surviving Rodan chooses to die when its mate is consumed by the lava.
Ultimately, the American version of Rodan naturally caters more to western tastes and expectations. This results in many changes seeming more effective from a western perspective. The American version id guilty of muddling several well-staged action sequences, yet is better paced, running 10 minutes shorter than the Japanese version, and features a more exciting final third. The American narrative is also much easier to understand, particularly the meaning of the ending, though no room is left for interpretation as in Honda’s cut.
While from today’s perspective it’s easy to favor Honda’s version, one has to wonder if Rodan would have been as successful in America if released in its original form (or something closer than DCA’s cut) at that time. Those of us who saw the American version first must also ask ourselves if we would have been as receptive to Honda’s original had we not first seen the American version that gave us a perspective from which to interpret it.
Analyzed by Brian R. Culver
-Takei, George; To The Stars, 1994
-Godziszewski, Edward & Brothers, Peteer; Japanese Gianrs #6, 1980
©1998 Brian R. Culver/Daikaiju Publishing