Varan (1958)

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Image gallery for Varan (film)
Credits for Varan (film)
Varan (film) soundtrack

The Japanese poster for Varan
Alternate titles
Flagicon Japan.png Giant Monster Varan (1958)
Flagicon United States.png Varan the Unbelievable (1962)
See alternate titles
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Ken Kuronuma (story), Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by Akira Ifukube
Distributor TohoJP, Crown International PicturesUS
Rating Not Rated
Running time 87 minutesJP
(1 hour, 27 minutes)
70 minutesUS
(1 hour, 10 minutes)
Aspect ratio 2.00:1JP,[1]
Rate this film!
(35 votes)

The demon Varan rampages across the land, seas, and air! The definitive fantasy monster movie! (陸海空を暴れ廻る魔のバラン!空想怪獣映画の決定版!)

— Japanese tagline

The world is amazed by Godzilla and Rodan, but will be knocked for a ghoul by Varan.

— International tagline


— Poster tagline for Varan the Unbelievable

Varan (大怪獣バラン,   Daikaijū Baran, lit. "Giant Monster Varan") is a 1958 tokusatsu kaiju film directed by Ishiro Honda and written by Shinichi Sekizawa from a story by Ken Kuronuma, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced by Toho, it was the company's last black-and-white kaiju film. It stars Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumito Matsuo, Koreya Senda, Akio Kusama, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Akihiko Hirata. The film was released to Japanese theaters by Toho on October 14, 1958. Dallas Productions and Cory Productions produced a heavily re-edited English-language version of the film directed by Jerry A. Baerwitz and written by Sid Harris titled Varan the Unbelievable, which starred additional English-speaking actors including Myron Healey, Tsuruko Kobayashi, Clifford Kawada, and Derick Shimatsu. Crown International Pictures released this version of the film to American theaters on December 7, 1962.


Professor Sugimoto, a biologist, sends two scholars to Iwaya Village in the Tohoku region of Japan to investigate the appearance of a butterfly normally native to Siberia. The expedition ends in tragedy when the two men are killed under unexplained circumstances. The superstitious natives blame the mountain god Baradagi, an angle played up in the press. Yuriko Shinjo, a reporter and sister of one of the deceased students, intends to solve this new mystery and sets off for Iwaya Village with Horiguchi, a cowardly photographer, and Kenji Uozaki, one of Professor Sugimoto's pupils.

While hiking to the village, the trio meets Gen, a native boy, who brings the group to the site of a ritual meant to appease Baradagi's wrath. A frightening noise sends the villagers into a panic and Chibi, Gen's dog, chases after the source of the bellowing sound. Despite pleas from the priest, Kenji leads Yuriko, Horiguchi, and a group of natives into Baradagi's forest to rescue the boy. Gen, his mother, and Chibi are reunited at the edge of the foggy lake. The reunion is short-lived, however, as a monstrous creature, identified as Baradagi by the natives, rises from the water and advances on the mountain village. The natives can only watch helplessly as the monster demolishes their homes before returning to the lake.

Professor Sugimoto deduces the creature is a Varanopode, a reptile family that had lived 185 million years ago, and gives it the name Varan. The Defense Agency dispatches troops to the lake to counter the threat. Chemical explosives are effective in luring Varan from the bottom of the lake but enrage the monster. Varan easily survives the artillery assault and the Defense Forces order a retreat, during which Yuriko is separated from her colleagues. Kenji manages to rescue her, and to evade the advancing monster the two take shelter in a nearby cave. Varan pursues them, finally distracted by the JSDF's flares long enough for the duo to get to safety. The monster climbs the mountain. It spreads its limbs, displaying a thin membrane that allows it to glide away.

Varan is next spotted in the Uraga Channel, heading southwest towards Tokyo. The combined forces of the Navy and Air Force set up a defense line to stop the monster at sea, but bombs, missiles, and depth charges all prove ineffective on the prehistoric monster. Scientists infer that Varan's tough exterior is responsible for its apparent immunity to conventional weaponry. It seems nothing will work against the creature until Dr. Fujimura reveals that he's invented an explosive designed to demolish rocks from the inside out. The Defense Agency gets to work adapting it as a weapon while simultaneously evacuating the coastal regions of Tokyo in preparation for a full-out assault on Varan at Haneda Airport.

Varan surfaces and is met with a fierce barrage of artillery. Meanwhile, the JSDF rigs a truck carrying a payload of Dr. Fujimura's explosive to collide with the monster once it reaches the shore. Kenji drives the truck into position and escapes in the nick of time, but the explosive does no damage to the creature's hardened shell. Now even further enraged, Varan decimates Haneda. A backup plan is devised to make Varan swallow the explosive attached to a flare, but the JSDF has to stall until the new device can be equipped on a helicopter. This second attempt proves successful: the charge detonates inside the monster's body, resulting in massive injuries to the creature. Mortally wounded, Varan crawls out to sea as a second charge detonates, killing the ancient menace.


Main article: Varan (film)/Credits.

Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.

Varan the Unbelievable

Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.

  • Producer/Director   Jerry A. Baerwitz
  • Screenplay   Sid Harris
  • Photography   Jack Marquette
  • Special effects   Howard A. Anderson Co.
  • Supervising film editor   Jack Ruggiero
  • Assistant editor   Ralph Cushman
  • Music editor   Peter Zinner
  • Sound recording   Vic Appel
  • Wardrobe   Robert O'Dell
  • Makeup   Robert Cowan
  • Assistant director   Leonard Kunody[3]


Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.

  • Kozo Nomura   as   Kenji Uozaki
  • Ayumi Sonoda   as   Yuriko Shinjo
  • Fumito Matsuo   as   Horiguchi
  • Koreya Senda   as   Doctor Sugimoto
  • Akio Kusama   as   Military Officer Kusama
  • Yoshio Tsuchiya   as   Military Officer Katsumoto
  • Akihiko Hirata   as   Dr. Fujimura
  • Minosuke Yamada   as   Secretary of Defense
  • Fuyuki Murakami   as   Dr. Majima
  • Takashi Ito   as   Ken
  • Fumiko Honma   as   Ken's mother
  • Akira Sera   as   Village priest
  • Hisaya Ito   as   Ichiro Shinjo
  • Nadao Kirino   as   Yutaka Wada
  • Akira Yamada   as   Issaku
  • Yoshikazu Kawamata   as   Jiro
  • Yasuhiro Kasanobu   as   Sankichi
  • Yoshibumi Tajima   as   Uranami captain
  • Shoichi Hirose   as   Fisherman
  • Toshitsugu Suzuki   as   Fisherman
  • Haruo Nakajima, Katsumi Tezuka   as   Varan

Varan the Unbelievable

Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.

  • Myron Healey   as   Cmdr. James Bradley, U.S.N.
  • Tsuruko Kobayashi   as   Anna Bradley
  • Clifford Kawada   as   Captain Kishi
  • Derick Shimatsu   as   Matsu[3]
  • Hideo Imamura
  • George Sasaki
  • Hiroshi Hisamune
  • Yoneo Iguchi
  • Michael Sung
  • Roy K. Ogata



Weapons, vehicles, and races


Main article: Varan (film)/Gallery.


Main article: Varan (film)/Soundtrack.

Alternate titles

  • Giant Monster Varan (literal Japanese title)
  • Monster of the East: Giant Monster Varan (東洋の怪物 大怪獣バラン,   Tōyō no Kaibutsu Daikaijū Baran, original television version title)[4]
  • Varan the Unbelievable (United States, United Kingdom)
  • Varan, The Monster of the East (The Criterion Channel onscreen title)
  • Varan the Incredible (Varan el Increíble; Mexico)
  • Varan: The Monster from Prehistory (Varan – Das Monster aus der Urzeit; West Germany)
  • Varan, The Monster of the Orient (Varan, O Monstro do Oriente; Brazil)

Theatrical releases


Toho originally prepared Varan as a three-part made-for-television film with American cooperation, following the success of Rodan in the United States. Ken Kuronuma wrote the story, following a request by producer Tomoyuki Tanaka "to come up with something, anything" to fulfill the Americans' desire for another giant monster movie.[6] Shinichi Sekizawa, who would become one of Toho's go-to science fiction writers, handled the script, his first in the genre for Toho.

Two scripts were completed, a preparatory draft and a final draft, both entitled Monster of the East: Giant Monster Varan and divided into four acts. In the former, the initial rocket scene is absent, with Shinjo's and Kawada's death cutting directly to Professor Sugimoto in his laboratory. The name "Baradagi" was also not present until the final draft, with the Iwaya villagers simply referring to Varan as a mountain god. Furthermore, rather than attacking Varan with depth charges at Tokyo Bay, the preparatory draft had the JSDF drop naval mines on the monster using a bathyscaphe at the suggestion of Uozaki. In the story's climax, the flare which was used to kill Varan was transported by a balloon rather than a helicopter.[4]

Because it would be a television production, Toho decided to forego shooting in color (as with Rodan) and Tohoscope (The Mysterians). Principal photography lasted 28 days, a significantly shorter span than most Toho films at the time.[6]

After an American production company backed out during filming, Toho decided to restructure the project as a theatrical release. New footage was shot and all Academy ratio footage that was already in the can was modified as "Toho Pan Scope,"[2] a process similar to SuperScope or Superama in which 1.37:1 footage was cropped during post production to 2:1 and reformatted for anamorphic projection. Akira Ifukube also recorded a brand new score for the theatrical version of the film.[7] Director Ishiro Honda was disappointed with the finished product, citing the difficulty of modifying the story and aspect ratio to Toho's new demands.[6] An incomplete reconstruction of the original television version was included as a special feature with Toho's DVD release of the film and was later ported to the Region 1 release from Tokyo Shock.

Foreign releases

U.S. release

U.S. lobby card for Varan the Unbelievable

The American version of Varan, titled Varan the Unbelievable, was distributed theatrically in the United States by Crown International Pictures on a double feature with First Spaceship on Venus, beginning on December 7, 1962.[3] This version was a co-production of Dallas Productions and Cory Productions with Jerry A. Baerwitz producing and directing a script by Sid Harris.[3] Production of Varan the Unbelievable began under the title Odoroku on October 17, 1960, according to a report in the same day's issue of Daily Variety.[8] Baerwitz's film is radically different from the Toho version. The sound design of all Japanese footage utilized in the American release (totaling some 30 minutes) is either completely jettisoned and rebuilt or left completely intact, suggesting that the production companies might have had only the fully mixed Japanese audio to work from.[9]

Harris constructed an entirely new story with new characters that still manages to follow the basic narrative of the Japanese version.[3] The bulk of the new material is about chemical desalination tests carried out by Commander James Bradley, U.S.N. (played by Myron Healey), on the fictional Japanese island of Kunishiro-shima. These tests ultimately disturb the monster—called "Obake" in dialogue—until it's subdued in the city of Onita (Tokyo in Toho's version). While Bradley and his wife Anna (Tsuruko Kobayashi) become the focus of Harris's screenplay, the Japanese protagonists are still present in archive footage, albeit as "Paul and Shidori Iso," college friends of Anna Bradley. Notably, "Obake" is never seen flying in the U.S. release, although new special effects footage of the monster's claw was shot to replace a similar scene in the Japanese version.[9] Akira Ifukube's score is mostly deleted, with music editor Peter Zinner tracking in library cues such as portions of Albert Glasser's scores for Teenage Caveman and The Amazing Colossal Man.[3] Zinner later performed the same task on John Beck's Americanization of King Kong vs. Godzilla.[9]

New footage for the American release was filmed in the Totalscope process with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.[2]

After its theatrical release, Varan the Unbelievable could be seen on television through the 1980s.[3] Two video releases from VCI (Video Communications, Inc.) followed in the 1980s and in 1994, the latter being the final official release of the American edition. A 2005 DVD release through Media Blasters featured Toho's original Japanese version.[9]

An English version of Varan, possibly different from the Crown International release and produced by Toho,[2] was advertised as available for export in the 1962 Toho Films Catalog.[10]


Varan and Varan the Unbelievable were dismissed by film critics in Japan and the United States, respectively. A critic for Tokyo Weekly felt Varan offered "nothing new," while Variety called Varan the Unbelievable "hackneyed, uninspired carbon copy, serviceable only as a supporting filler."[6][3]

"Even among Americans fond of Japanese monster films," wrote Bill Warren in his book Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, "the name Varan the Unbelievable carries little weight."[3] G-Fan reader polls have consistently ranked it in the lower echelon of Toho kaiju films, never giving it an average score higher than 6.1 out of 10. Elements singled out for praise are typically the Varan suit and Akira Ifukube's score.

Video releases

Tokyo Shock DVD (2005)

  • Region: 1
  • Discs: 1
  • Audio: Japanese (2.0 Mono, 3.0 Stereo, 5.1 Surround)
  • Special features: Audio commentary by Varan suit maker Keizo Murase; lecture from Keizo Murase for High School Molding Seminar (29 minutes); reconstruction of the film's original TV version (54 minutes); two trailers for Varan; trailers for The Mysterians, Matango, One Missed Call, and Sky High.
  • Notes: Out of print. A 2007 re-release in a Tokyo Shock box set called Toho Pack packaged it with the Tokyo Shock DVD releases of The Mysterians and Matango. The box set is also out of print.

Synergy Entertainment DVD (2011)

  • Region: N/A
  • Discs: 1
  • Audio: English
  • Special features: None
  • Notes: Made-to-order DVD-R.

Reel Vault DVD (2015)

  • Region: N/A
  • Discs: 1
  • Audio: English
  • Special features: None
  • Notes: DVD-R.

TOHO Visual Entertainment Blu-ray (2022) [Toho Monsters & Special Effects][11]

  • Region: A
  • Discs: 2
  • Audio: Japanese (DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, 3.0, and 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Japanese
  • Special features: Two Japanese trailers and the international trailer, audio commentary by Varan suit maker Keizo Murase, 8mm set footage (3 minutes), lecture from Keizo Murase for High School Molding Seminar (29 minutes), "Open the Box! Larval Form of the Giant Monster Varan" featurette, reconstructed soundtrack for the film's original TV version, still gallery
  • Notes: Packaged with Gorath, Dogora, and Space Amoeba. Due to the large number of special features in this set, only the supplements relevant to Varan are described above.



Japanese Varan trailer
Japanese international Varan trailer
Japanese Varan newsflash trailer
U.S. Varan the Unbelievable trailer
German Varan video trailer


Academy ratio effects outtakes
Ken Films Super 8 digest version of
Varan the Unbelievable
Analysis of stock footage used in
Varan the Unbelievable


  • Varan was released as a double feature with the Toho film I Am Three People (僕は三人前,   Boku wa Sanninmae).
  • Varan was the first Toho kaiju film to rely on stock footage from previous films to heavily pad out special effects sequences. Much of the final JASDF assault at Haneda Airport is lifted from Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again. Stock footage of Godzilla from the 1954 film is used here to represent Varan's feet and tail smashing into buildings.
  • The people of Iwaya Village seem to be based on 1950s stereotypes of the burakumin people. The initial Toho Video release of Varan on VHS was edited to remove any potentially offensive content (including a line about the village being in "the Tibet of Japan"), although subsequent home video releases have restored the film to its complete length.[9][12]


This is a list of references for Varan (film). These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: [1]

  1. Classic Horror Film Board: "Varan: a 2:1 SuperScope movie all along?"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Galbraith IV, Stuart (2008). The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 149. ISBN 9781461673743.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Warren, Bill (1986). Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Volume II: 1958-1962. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. pp. 708, 710, 771. ISBN 978-0-8995-0170-3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Toho Special Effects Movie Complete Works. villagebooks. 28 September 2012. p. 34. ISBN 9784864910132.
  5. Branaghan, Sim. "Monsters From An Unknown Culture: Godzilla (and friends) in Britain 1957-1980 - Part 3". Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Ryfle, Steve; Godziszewski, Ed (2017). Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film. Wesleyan University Press. p. 148-150. ISBN 0819570877.
  7. CD: Great Monster Varan
  8. Classic Horror Film Board: "VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962)"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 The History Vortex: "Toho in American: Varan"
  10. Toho Films 1962-39 Tsuburaya.jpg
  11. "東宝 怪獣・特撮Blu-ray 2枚組". 30 March 2022.
  12. LD, DVD and Blu-ray Gallery: "東洋の神秘" 大怪獣バラン


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