Varan the Unbelievable, released in Japan as Giant Monster Varan (大怪獣バラン Daikaijū Baran?), is a 1958 Kaiju film directed by Ishirō Honda (drama) and Eiji Tsuburaya (special effects), and their last black-and-white monster film. The title character Varan is one of Toho Studios' least-famed creations. Although shown in Japanese-language theaters in the USA, the film saw general U.S. release in 1962 only after being heavily revised, in the manner of Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, to have all principal scenes reshot with American actors. Indeed, the plot itself was generally revised, and the Japanese material consisted only of special effects, a few incidental shots, and the ending scene.
Originally, the film was to be produced for American television, but the American producers backed out at the last minute. With most of the film already completed, Toho's crew filmed additional scenes, and it was released in Japanese theaters, but not before adapting the remaining spherical footage from the original production to anamorphic widescreen using a one-shot, SuperScope-like process called TohoPanScope. A reconstruction of the TV version is included on both the Japanese and American DVDs.
The 2005 subtitled DVD release of Daikaijū Baran, the original Japanese version, was titled Varan the Unbelievable on the front cover leading to confusion as to which version of the film (Japanese or American) was presented on the disc.
A rare species of butterfly native to Siberia is found in a mysterious valley in Japan, a pair of entomologists go to investigate In response, an expedition is dispatched to their habitat, located along the Kitakami River, to discover why the insects might be living in Japan. Two members of the scientific community helm the expedition, but are mysteriously crushed by something that the police can only describe as "powerful." The nearby villagers of the Kitakami River insist that the deaths were a result of the wraith of their mountain god Baradagi-Sanjin
A larger expedition is then dispatched to the area. This time the investigation is funded by the film company "20th Century Mysteries Solved", an organization that seeks to uncover the truth behind the two deaths to report on it. Staff of the firm are reporters Horiguchi and Yuriko, the sister of one of the men killed, and an entomologist named Kenji from the scientific community come along.
The expedition travels further inland and stumbles upon a village doing a ritualistic prayer to their mountain god. The priest of the village warns the travelers that their presence will make the monster angry. The warnings fall of deaf ears, though, and the problem escalates when Ken, a young local boy, runs out of the village after his dog. Kenji and Horiguchi return to the village to rally the locals to help them, telling them their beliefs are little more than superstition. The villagers, minus the priest, agree, and head toward the lake to rescue Ken. Once there, Ken, along with Yuriko, are discovered. Their reunion is cut short, though, by the monster Varan rising from the Kitakami River. The villagers flee back to their homes, but Varan gives chase. The aquatic monster enters the village, killing the priest who was guarding the entrance. The beast then proceeds to tear apart the huts inside. After the destruction, the monster retreats to his underwater lair.
Reports of the creature's existence are sent back to Japan, and the defense force is mobilized near Kitakami River to prepare for the beast's return. The nearby villages are evacuated, as tanks and ground artillery units move into position. Shortly after the evacuation, the military begins releasing toxins into the river to drive the monster out. The plan is a success, as Varan emerges from the water's surface. Phase two of the SDF's plan is put into operation, as tanks and artillery units began to unleash their destructive fury on the monster. The conventional weapons have no effect, though, and the military is forced to retreat. Amongst the confusion, Yuriko manages to get caught under a falling tree, placing her right in Varan's path. Kenji narrowly manages to save his colleague, though, and the two seek safety in a nearby cave. Varan pursues the two, reaching into the cavern with his claws. Luckily, the military intervenes, firing light bombs over the monster's head. Varan becomes attracted by the light, and climbs a nearby mountain in order to get a closer look. Once at the peak, though, Varan raises his arms to reveal hidden flaps of skins. The creature then leaps from the mountain and glides off into the sea.
As the next day breaks, Varan's reign of terror continues as he capsizes a fishing boat not far from Tokyo's shores. The defense force then remobilizes, sending a squadron of jets to intercept the creature. The jets are met with little success, however, as Varan manages to sink one of them that ventures to close to the water's surface. Pleased with his success, the monster submerges and continues his descent toward Tokyo. The military moves into phase two of their counterattack, deploying battleships to the surrounding waters. Unfortunately, the battleship's artillery has no effect against the creature.
Undiscouraged, the SDF quickly launches a third campaign to try and stop Varan's advancement, this time using mine sweepers to seal off Tokyo. The attack, like the rest, is met with failure, though. Out of options, the defense force again remobilizes its forces to the area around Tokyo bay, lining the water with battleships and dispatching a battalion of tanks near Haneda airport. A large amount of Special Gunpowder, which they hope will have better success at destroying the monster, is also readied. Tokyo is then evacuated, as the military awaits the appearance of Varan.
Day turns to night as Varan finally emerges from the water, ready to attack the Japanese mainland. The creature is immediately shelled by the surrounding forces, but that doesn't deter his advancement on land. Kenji, once again taking matters into his own hands, drives a truck filled with Special Gunpowder to the runway of Haneda airport. Varan advances on the small vehicle, as Kenji escapes to a safe distance. With Varan directly over the truck, the detonate trigger is pulled, causing the aquatic monster to fall flat on his stomach. The SDF celebrates prematurely, though, as the beast rises from the attack seemingly unfazed, and begins an assault on his hind legs. Light bombs are once again deployed to try and attract the monster, while the defense force witnesses Varan eating one of the flares. A new plan is then hatched, as they prepare light bombs filled with the Special Gun Powder.
The bombs are unleashed, as the monster eats two of them out of the night sky. Shortly after, the first bomb detonates, causing the monster to retreat back to the sea. Varan is too late, though, as the second detonates as the creature is underwater and the defense force declares the creature long gone.
Toho Co. Ltd.: Japanese (86 min.; original version)
Crown International Pictures: English (70 min.; released to American theaters)
Crown International Pictures theatrical poster for the 1962 U.S release of Varan the Unbelievable.
A virtually new film was created, using American players for all significant dramatic scenes which now centered around an American military scientist Cmdr. James Bradley (Myron Healey) and his Japanese wife Anna conducting desalinization experiments in the salt water lake which awakened the monster. Except for the final scene, Daikaju Baran was represented only by its special effects, cut to accommodate the new script, and two or three brief incidental shots. Nothing was dubbed as there were no dialogue shots left to dub.
The entire music and sound tracks of Daikaiju Baran were replaced.
All footage showing Varan flying was removed in an attempt to make the monster more believable.
In the US version the name Varan is almost never spoken. Except for one Japanese language scene, involving a military radio transmission, the monster is instead referred to as "Obaki" (from "obake", a Japanese word for "monster").
Varan's attack on Tokyo was much shorter.
Much stock footage from Godzilla was used mostly in close ups of buildings getting crushed and when the planes fight Varan.
Kozo Nomura - Kenji Uozaki
Ayumi Sonoda - Yuriko Sinjo (woman journalist)
Fumindo Matsuo - Motohiko Horiguti
Hisaya Ito - Ichiro Sinjo
Nadao Kirino - Yutaka Kawata
Korenari Senda - Dr. Sugimoto
Fuyuki Murakami - Dr. Majima
Akihiko Hirata - Dr. Fujimura
Minosuke Yamada - Director General of the Defense Agency
Akio Kusama - Colonel. Kusama
Yoshio Tsuchiya - Katsumoto, Lieutenant Commander
Yoshifumi Tajima - Captain Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel
Kin Sugai - Medium
Haruo Nakajima, Katsumi Tezuka - Varan, the Unbelievable himself and a giant, gliding lizard
Myron Healey - Cmdr. James Bradley
Tsuruko Kobayashi - Anna
Clifford Kawada - Capt. Kishi
Derick Shimatsu - Matsu (the boy)
Kozo Nomura - Paul Isoh
Ayumi Sonoda - Shidori Isoh
Fumindo Matsuo - Paul's Friend
Hiroshi Hisasume - Pvt. Seki
Akira Watanabe Special Effects Set Director
Koji Kajita Assistant to the Director
Teisho Arikawa Special Effects Photographer
Keizo Murase Suitmation Effects Director