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Orignal theatrical poster for 三大怪獣 地球最大の決戦 Sandai Kaijū: Chikyū Saidai no Kessenlit. Three Giant Monsters: Earth’s Greatest Battle – TM & © TOHO CO., LTD.

BEHOLD! “Nothing the screen has ever seen before can surpass the thrills of GHIDRAH! THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER!”

      Such was the byline of the American trailer for GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER upon stateside release in 1965. To fans of kaiju eiga, a truer-tagline has never been uttered. The 1964 classic is regarded by many as one of franchise’s finest, right up with MOTHRA vs GODZILLA of the same year and 1954’s timeless classic, GOJIRA. Not only did Toho Studios introduce their most prolific villain in Ghidorah with this classic – but the concept of a shared cinematic universe – as well. Director Ishiro Honda and his creative team were over half-a-century before their time ( as well as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and every other studio struggling to capitalize on its success) when they thought to bring Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra under one banner to battle an extraterrestrial threat. Yet what was that other-wordly threat to be? He couldn’t be just another gigantic, irradiated earth-creature, could he?

An impressive creation was needed in order to challenge the might of Toho’s triumvirate of titanic terrors, and the ultimate fruit of their brilliance became one of history’s most iconic monsters – Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Dragon: Golden in splendor, mighty in power!

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Original Press Photograph Courtesy TM & © TOHO CO., LTD.

His iconic golden form was not the original reveal for the design, however. Even in this early B&W production photo (seen above) you can see the color differences present on his wings – and necks, too, if you look closer. But why?

History shows us that Ghidorah could have been a Tri-Colored Terror!

Passionate fans will be familiar with the scarce images of Ghidorah painted bright blue, with red detailing accompanying his wings; their enormous, billowing shapes striped in blue, gold, and red. Perhaps the most famous of those is this studio shot (below), or the main theatrical poster used for the film’s Japanese premiere in the winter of 1964:

 

Both feature the tri-color paint scheme for Ghidorah – one sporting a blue body and the other, on the poster, gold. What is most important to note about these two images, though, is that they’re – gasp – doctored. Not by fans, mind you, but by Toho’s publicity team – and it is here where the tale of this dragon splits, much like his own tail.  The image on the left has become the predominant vision of Ghidorah’s colorful past alongside the original theatrical poster – and both are, in many ways, directly responsible for the urban legend that is the Tri-Colored Terror… But did either ever actually exist as a suit? And if so:

What was the inspiration behind such a bold choice? And why, ultimately, was it scrapped?

These images, as with most films, came to the public but by the hands of the publicity department at Toho. Neither reflects, in totality, an image of a suit that existed with such vibrant, purposeful colors. Or so we’re told!

When asked for his expertise on the matter, dear friend and industry expert Kyle Yount (of beloved Kaijucast fame) dug into his extensive kaiju eiga library and was able to clarify just why early art for the kaiju features the tri-colored design:

c6005dcf5622cb2253d159d6171e370aGHIDORAH BLUE

“Ghidorah’s blue appearance originates from a publicity photo that was used in the poster image for GREATEST GIANT MONSTER BATTLE ON EARTH or Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster, as we know it in the West. Ghidorah was conceptualized by screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa with a fleshed out design by veteran production designer Akira Watanabe. Sekiawa’s notes described Ghidorah as having 3 heads, 2 tails, and a voice like a bell.

Some sources report that special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya wanted a crimson kaiju, but thought the gold scales would work well on screen – perhaps even abandoning the blue color to avoid problems with the compositing process. Like many of rumors from the early days of tokusatsu, there’s no definitive answer as to why this beast was blue in this instance, but gold forever after. The mysterious origins of the blue King Ghidorah and his rainbow wings are most likely owed to Toho’s promotional department.

Keizo Murase, one of the men who brought the Ghidorah design to life and the principal builder of this first incarnation, insists that the scales have always actually been gold, musing that the blue hue of Ghidorah’s scales was perhaps due to the unfinished suit’s newly painted gold scales against the black latex base coat, or a trick of the light and that Toho’s publicity department “saw blue” and ran with that design. Either during the photo shoot for his debut film, or in the photo’s development, the titular terror was given the rainbow (or more accurately red, white and blue) colored wings.”

  • Kyle Yount, Kaijucast

Fascinating history is never simple, though, is it? The following image comes from the “Complete Works” book published on Murase-san, and includes quite the incredible (and rare) photograph:

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Crew members and their family gather with the Rodan and Godzilla puppets used for G:TTHM, as well as… a very Blue Ghidorah. Photo courtesy of David Eric Dopko.

To us both, Murase-san’s word should be held in the highest regard when dealing with a monster he quite literally built from the ground up. Having said that, the photo above clearly shows… a blue Ghidorah. When asked, though, Murase is very quick to reiterate that “{No], it’s the powder and latex making it look blue.”

Clearly some more digging was needed. To get to the bottom of this, I reached out to friend and founder/head of the world-renowned Japanese figure company X-Plus, Akihiko ‘Gee’ Okamoto. Okamoto-san is a passionate, deeply-knowledgeable fan of tokusatsu himself, as well as a researched kaiju eiga historian. To him, though, the story is much more complicated – and full of many other moving parts.

51210386_2216792611902641_6822126439513456640_n“According to Murase’s book, the suit was blue at first,” Okamoto-san clarified, citing the invaluable ‘Complete Works’ title (his personal copy pictured right).

“The blue dragon is popular in Japanese art,” he added, citing a piece of this puzzle that I, too, find important.

“However, TOHO female scriptor said Ghidorah thought that it was golden because it was a monster from Venus. Venus is written in Japanese as gold star – 金星 -! So Eiji Tsuburaya (famed father of tokusatsu) says that ‘I [know]! King Ghidora is golden because it is a monster from Venus!’ And that He painted the blue color gold.”

“Totally changed!!!” Gee-san added excitedly as he wrapped up his look through the relevant pages of Murase-san’s book.

It is worth noting, too, that Murase-san is still very much alive and well, and remains as passionate today as he has ever been about tokusatsu, kaiju eiga, and his work in general. I had the chance to speak to him about his favorite creation – the original Varan – in Chicago this past year for 2018’s G-Fest, and he was positively beaming with pride. This pride carries directly over into his work on Ghidorah, too, who he has assured many’a’interviewer, was “always, always gold.”

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A gorgeous reproduction of the 1964 Ghidorah suit’s middle head, built by legendary kaiju suit builder Keizo Murase-san – captured here by G-Fest Photographer David Eric Dopko while on display at 2018’s G-Fest in Chicago, Illinois. © D.E. Dopko

While we may never have a definitive answer (given how many hands there were on Toho’s lot past and present, and the passing of so many beloved figureheads of the past), the tri-colored design didn’t simply appear out of thin air – and we’ve now seen the photographic evidence to prove it.

To further clarify, Kyle pointed us in the direction of a fantastic interview fellow tokusatsu expert and historian Brett Homenick conducted with Murase-san. In his interview, the legendary kaiju-builder clarified even further his side of the legend:

“While making the suit, the latex became very sticky, so we put baby powder on it. After tha, perhaps it looked blue due to how the baby poweder reflected light. But it was noth the final stage. It still needed to be painted gold.

We never painted it blue. The SFX scriptor (Keiko Suzuki) once said ‘there was a blue Ghidorah’. She must have been in the studio and seen King Ghidorah before he was finished. But the suit was not finished. When I was at Mr. [Haruo] Nakajima’s book-publishing party, I told her there was never a blue King Ghidorah. But she insisted that she saw it. So I explained it was not finished when she saw it. Even though she wrote that King Ghidorah was gold in the script, she said there was a blue King Ghidorah. So everybody got confused.”

  • Keizo Murase-san, interviewed by Brett Homenick

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Either Toho was rife with miscommunication at the time (which is common with studios & production companies), or the Ghidorah suit used in 1964 was, indeed, meant to be painted much more colorfully at one point – if it wasn’t altogether. Kyle sent the above poster (included with his quotation, as well) along with his expertise – yet another example of Toho’s production office deliberately releasing imagery of Ghidorah as a colorful beast. He’s painted a bright crimson blue within; the undersides of his neck left golden like traditional art of Japanese dragons. So while we may have conflicting evidence as to if an actual suit was ever painted blue, red, and gold, one thing is for sure:

This color scheme, whomever it originated with, was deeply inspired by Japanese Mythology.

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Were magnificent Japanese dragons such as this one the core inspiration not only for Ghidorah’s shape, scales, and face, but the tri-color design as well? There’s an undeniable amount of similarities to be found in Ghidorah and traditional Japanese dragon art already, but once the tri-color concept is applied to him the window becomes completely blown open.

sessen_dōji-zu_by_soga_shōhakuClose friend and G-Fandom photographer extraordinaire, David Eric Dopko, is a student of Japanese Mythology himself, and was able to dig up the above image of a striking traditional Japanese dragon in all his blue, red, and gold glory. This exceptional piece above is but one of countless examples within the country’s cultural and historical artwork. Was Toho’s design and/or publicity department inspired by such imagery – leading them to embolden these color choices for Ghidorah? As any artists knows, it is impossible to ignore the imagery of your surroundings when crafting art of your own – so there is little doubt in our minds that the tri-color concept certainly drew directly from such imagery.

Gee Okamoto-san, too, agrees. In our talk, he reiterated that the “blue dragon is a common sight in Japan,” and sent along many of his personal photos that he sees the Blue Ghidorah reflected in every day:

Indeed, all of Toho’s original saurian-esque designs, Godzilla and Ghidorah specifically, were born of Japanese Dragon Mythology.

showa_king_ghidorah_concept_art
Original Ghidorah Concept Art & Storyboard, TM & © TOHO CO., LTD.

Regardless, where is all of this coming from, you may ask? To answer, the tri-color design has resurfaced almost entirely due to X-Plus’ recent announcement of their upcoming 25cm Toho Large Monster Series Ghidorah 1964 vinyl figure. Gee’s passion for the historic side of these characters comes through tenfold with this release, and his excitement for it shows not only in our conversation, but in the press materials he’s had his company work up for the figure, too.

X-Plus, a giant of the upscale kaiju collector’s market, offers a specialty RIC version of each figure they release, only available in Japan. In Ghidorah 64’s instance – you guessed it – it’s the tri-colored design. Their exceptional work on this exclusive figure, set to release in May of this year (2019), has reignited our fascination with the Ghidorah that could’ve been, and for good reason. Just look at what Gee and his team have been able to do with the concept, giving us our best look yet at what these colors would look like fully-realized on the three-headed dragon:

kinggidorah_lp-01

Basic translation from X-Plus’ RIC JAPAN site lists the following details on their figure:

From Toho Large Monster Series, King Ghydra appeared in “The Greatest Battle of the Three Great Monsters” released in 1964, a lineup.

The characteristic three-neck and big wings, faithfully reproduce the details of the original Gidora, three-dimensionalized with a large volume of about 39 cm in total height and about 66 cm in width.

Also commercialized with coloring of a phantom NG color version that can only be confirmed with posters and some still photographs as a limited edition.
It
is completely different from the image of King Ghidora with a golden body, such as a blue body table and wings color-coded by three colors of red-white and blue .

Please enjoy this King Ghidra by hand by saying that it is a visionary existence.

  • X-Plus

The company, under Gee-san’s supervision, listed the tri-color design as a “Phantom NG color version“. The text goes on to say it “can only be confirmed with posters and some still photographs as a limited edition”. They site, too, the photos we’ve showcased here, alongside the original theatrical poster as major inspiration for this stand-out figure.

Curious isn’t it, then, that such photos and strong art direction should exist if the beast was never meant to become the Tri-Colored Terror at some point in production, yes?

The research shall continue, and this article will be updated as correspondence commences in the future. For now, though, I feel we’ve truly come to an understanding of this legendary design – and find it fitting that it sports many fascinating heads much like the Dragon we all know and love. And one thing is for certain: the appeal of this gorgeous concept isn’t likely to fade anytime soon.

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Jon D. Bumpus with kaiju creator Keizo Murase-san in Chicago, Illinois – 2018 – © Skreeonk.com

Jon D. B.

Skreeonk.com

 

1 Comment »

  1. For more on Keizo Murase and his immensely influential body of work, we highly recommend his book: “Monster Maker: Keizo Murase – Treasured KAIJU Photobook” (怪獣秘蔵写真集 造形師村瀬継蔵 Kaijū Hizō Shashinshū Zōkeishi Murase Keizō), published in September of 2015.

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