It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all Japanese monster movies are cut from the same cloth and that they’re pretty much interchangeable from one another. And yet Godzilla, a very political movie, that drags it’s massive clawed feet of all classes of people, is tonally significantly different to Mothra, a much more spiritual and ecological minded kind of movie. Much like how different a Batman movie is from a Superman movie, the contents and feel of the story are dictated heavily by the personality and abilities of whatever Kaiju happens to be headlining.
This brings us nicely to Rodan, Toho’s resident giant, super-sonic pterodactyl appearing in his debut movie years before he joined the regular rosta of Godzilla allies. A mining community is being plagued by a series of gruesome death thought to have been caused by one of the disgruntled workers. However the true culprits turn out to be car sized bugs left over from prehistoric times freed by the continued tunnelling and the military is called in to assist. The worst is yet to come, however, as two massive Pterodactyl creatures dubbed Rodan are also released and set about circling around the area, leveling cities with their supersonic wake like an air show had hate-babies with an extinction level event.
Rodan, in it’s early scenes in particular has a very “blue collar” feel, which it’s main human characters not scientists, nor military personal or journalists, just working men trying to make a living in a job dangerous enough WITHOUT killer bugs and giant bird monsters. It’s this that Godzilla director Ishiro Honda utilizes to separate the movie from his other, similar work, this and the rather novel approach (for the Japanese, at least) to give some empathy to it’s beastly bird stars.
Where Godzilla has his radioactive breath and sheer bulk to carve unofficial highways throughout whatever city he happens to be tramping through at the time, EVERYTHING Rodan does is destructive due to the devastating hurricane winds his wings cause. Even a casual fly by levels city blocks for miles around and yet nothing either of the Rodans do, no matter how violent, seem spiteful. Rodan is not some angry metaphor here to punish us for dropping a bomb or some cartoonish creature from beyond the stars sent to subjugate us. No, the Rodans are just animals (they don’t even have the sense not to build their nest in a dormant volcano for christ’s sake) and their ultimate and gruesome vanquishing at the hands of humans plays as utterly tragic. After military missiles kick start the volcano the Rodan’s have carelessly made into their palatial estate and one of the giant Pterosaurs roasts like the biggest Thanksgiving Turkey in recorded history, the second has a chance to escape and even takes flight but instead chooses to burn with it’s mate.
This “humanizing” of the creatures in the final moments give what is essentially an A to B monster movie a bit more depth and pathos, not unlike Frankenstein’s monster in James Whale’s classic. In fact this was the first of Toho’s monstrous menagerie to feel like tragic victims finale much in the vein of King Kong. No plan is put in place to catch these creatures, only to utterly annihilate them despite them being the last of their kind.
Somehow, Toho retconned the movie to have a single Rodan survive and continue to have further adventures fighting Ghidorah on the moon or some such shit but the original, while fairly basic of it’s kind, is still a minor benchmark of the genre.