When a rare species of butterfly is found in a mysterious valley in Japan, a pair of entomologists go to investigate and find more. However, when they get there they find an uncharted lake and as they are observing it they are caught in a landslide and killed. A reporter Yuriko, the sister of one of the men decides to go to the area to find out what exactly happened. She is accompanied by another entomologist named Kenji and a reporter named Horiguchi. When they get to the village where the men were last seen alive they find out about a legend regarding a giant monster. They soon find out that it is not a legend and the monster named Varan is very much alive. Soon Varan leaves the valley where he has lived for millions of years and is heading for Tokyo.
Directed by: Ishirô Honda
. Starring: Kôzô Nomura
, Ayumi Sonoda
, Koreya Senda
, Akihiko Hirata
, Fuyuki Murakami
, Yoshio Tsuchiya
, Minosuke Yamada
, Hisaya Itô
, Yoshifumi Tajima
, Nadao Kirino
, Akira Sera
, Akio Kusama
, Noriko Honma
. Music by: Akira Ifukube
Don't confuse this original Japanese monster film with its cheap American version called "Varan, the Unbelievable." The American version was a hack job and a half.
Ironically, this original seems to have too much "American" in it as well. The film was commissioned by ABC-TV in 1958 and shot by Toho. Unfortunately, Toho had seen American TV and had noticed that Americans have a penchant for action -- lots of action (i.e., "War of the Worlds," "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers," "Invaders from Mars"). Toho gave ABC what it thought they wanted. A monster movie with little plot and lots of action.
This concept turns "Baran" into a mediocre film. Even "Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" and "It Came From Beneath the Sea" had well-thought out plots and good acting.
The plot (or what is supposed to be the plot) deals with an isolated village in northern Japan. The villagers worship a god called "Baradagi." Two butterfly scientists come calling and get shunned by the high priest. They press on, find a rare butterfly and also find a huge shadow and a massive rock slide.
A reporter who is also the sister of one of the crushed scientists drags another butterfly scientist along, as well as a fat cameraman, to the village. They ignore the priest and rouse Varan, a dinosaur that trashes the village.
Unlike "Gojira" where the tension built slowly, here, there is no tension. The military responds (ineffectively) and then we see lots of attacks by the Navy, Air Force and Army. Finally, a simple solution is found to stop the monster that seems like it should have been easier (like when police launch a massive manhunt for a missing person and then find the person's car three blocks away about three weeks later, making you wonder why they didn't find it sooner).
Too many potential plot twists are left flapping in the breeze. The high priest (Akira Sira) and his villagers don't get enough screen time. The supposed romance between the butterfly scientist (Kozo Nomura) and the reporter (Ayumi Sunoda) was supposed to emulate Emiko Yemane and Ogata from "Gojira" but went nowhere as the two leads had no on-screen chemistry.
Nomura's character is so bland he actually drags down the film. His character isn't very likable either. When he gets to the village, the first thing he does is insult the priest and the village's religion. He breaks village law and rouses Baran. If he wasn't so bland, he might have redeemed himself, but fails miserably. Meanwhile, Sunoda devolves into one of Toho's most useless characters -- the reporter who never reports. Fumito Matsuo is along as the cameraman and provides yet another Toho cliché -- the comic-relief fat guy, though he does get in a classic comedic exchange with other reporters when they retreat from Baran's rampage ("You want the enemy to see your back?" "No, I'm just going to take a picture from a distance." "Good, I think I'll take one from a distance, too.")
There's a scene where everyone's retreating after the initial military attack fails. Yuriko wants to stay to report on the monster, but the scientist tells her it's no place for a reporter. Yeah, but it's obviously a place for a butterfly scientist? More credibility is killed moments later when the scientist has to rescue her from an incredibly slow-moving Varan in a scene with no suspense whatsoever.
The film's best actor is probably Akihiko Hirata as Dr. Fujimora, who supplies a weapon that might help stop Varan. Hirata was Dr. Serizawa in "Gojira" who supplied the weapon that stopped Godzilla. In "Varan," Hirata's character appears out of the blue.
Varan actually flies like a flying squirrel (it's somewhat comical because it looks like the guy in the rubber suit needed to do some stomach crunches), but is shown like that for one scene.
The special effects were okay, blending stock footage with miniatures. Unfortunately, footage was borrowed from "Gojira," thus repeating the same mistakes as that film. For instance, you can clearly see the wires holding up the jets. The scene where the monster's foot crashes through the roof of a warehouse is strangely missing the tail, just like in "Gojira." The worst thing about the special effects was a problem that was all too evident in most Japanese monster films. The miniatures fired at the monster in one take, instead of blending stock footage with close-ups of explosions on the monster. What you got were tanks, jets, ships and rocket launchers that couldn't hit the broad side of a building. About 90 percent of the shots missed. And I won't even get into that most annoying military feature -- the rocket launcher that never reloads.
Also, Varan is never fleshed out, like Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra were. Here, it might be an angry God or a revived dinosaur, but it's never explained. It just attacks and heads for Tokyo. Also, it never gets to Tokyo, just Haneda Airport. Unlike other Toho films, it doesn't take a potshot at Japan or America (like in "Mothra" where the American gas stations get trashed or Rodan, where an American-style car dealership is smashed by Japanese-made cars and buses). It's just a straight-forward monster movie -- monster shows up out of the blue, resists military efforts to kill it, rampages across countryside and is finally taken out. Very by-the-numbers.
Only Akira Ifukube's excellent movie score saves this film.
So, add this to your collection if you're a B-movie fan or like Japanese monsters. Just don't compare it to "Gojira" or even "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" for that matter.
Review by pv71989-2 from the Internet Movie Database.