Kaiju Profile: Varan
A ～Redux～ version of the Kaiju Profile premiered on June 7, 2020; the 59th overall episode.
Before it got addicted to versus films, Toho produced four solo kaiju adventures from 1954 to 1961. Three of those kaiju would become international superstars, but this video is about the one who got left behind. Greetings kaiju fans, I'm The King of the Monsters, and today we're taking an updated look at the unbelievable Varan!
Varan debuted in a self-titled 1958 film. A Mesozoic reptile known as a Varanopode, he emerged from Kitakami River and destroyed the nearby village before landing at Haneda Airport, where the JSDF killed him by tricking him into swallowing several powerful bombs. The movie was originally commissioned by an American studio as a TV movie, then was hastily transformed into a Japanese theatrical release after the studio went under. With a lower budget and generic script, it proved much less successful than its contemporaries at home and abroad. A 10-meter, 60-metric ton youngster crossed over to the Godzilla series in "Destroy All Monsters" as one of the kaiju interned on Monsterland. Despite his abbreviated film career, Varan's memorable design has given him a sort of cult status among kaiju fans, and he was considered for at least three other roles that never came to be.
Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya initially conceived of Varan as a Godzilla-kappa hybrid, with Akira Watanabe working in the monster's ability to glide. Teizo Toshimitsu modeled Varan's head, the Yagi brothers Kanju and Yasuei handled his body, and newcomer Keizo Murase created his skin, back and claws. Murase constructed the scales on the monster's back out of peanut shells, while its spines were created from translucent tubing which was cut to size and wrapped in sheets of vinyl. The suit's eyes were similarly translucent, allowing built-in lights to shine through. Color photos of the suit show that it was brown, while some publicity stills painted the beast green. Haruo Nakajima wore Varan's suit for most of his scenes, with Katsumi Tezuka stepping in for water scenes. Nakajima suffered his only major injury as a suit actor during filming: the truck that exploded underneath Varan "badly burned" his stomach.
A flying prop and hand-operated puppet (or "guignol"), both roughly 1/2-size were employed to portray the monster in addition to the suit. The filmmakers recycled a few shots from "Godzilla," specifically of the monster's feet and tail, plus a couple of erroneous frames. Either the prop or the puppet cameoed in the 1961 Toho comedy, "Cheers, Mr. Awamori!"
In "All Monsters Attack Directive," an early script for "Destroy All Monsters," Varan had a larger role, fighting alongside Rodan against King Ghidorah. Unfortunately, ten years of decay had left his suit unusable. The filmmakers were only able to salvage the gliding prop, relegating Varan to only a few brief shots. It was featured alongside the movie's other monster suits and props in many publicity stills, highlighting how small it was. To explain this size discrepancy, contemporary sources chose to scale Varan to only 10 meters in height and state that he was a juvenile. A select few "later" or recent sources still give that height and the 60-ton weight, but most simply give the monster the 1958 incarnation's stats.
Shinichi Sekizawa's initial script for the 12th Godzilla film, titled "The Return of King Ghidorah!," featured Varan teaming up with Godzilla and Rodan to battle against King Ghidorah, Gigan, and the alien dragon Mogu. The villains were pawns of the evil alien brain Miko, who operated from the Godzilla Tower. Unfortunately, the lack of a usable Varan suit likely spelled his doom. When Sekizawa refined the screenplay, he initially swapped Varan and Rodan for Anguirus and Mothra, before dropping Mothra as well.
Amazingly, Varan was in contention to be Godzilla's final opponent of the Heisei series. "Godzilla vs. Giant Monster Varan," the first of countless story proposals for what became "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah," featured Varan as the harbinger of the apocalypse, who would emerge to destroy the world in the year 1999. Godzilla and his adopted son were to team up and defeat him.
Varan's last shot came in Shusuke Kaneko's proposal for "Godzilla [Against] Varan, Baragon and Anguirus: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack." Here Varan was an ancient Guardian Monster known as Baradaki, the White Wind Monster, who joined forces with the Golden Freezing Monster Angira and the Red Hot Monster Baragora to defend Japan against Godzilla. The three Guardian Monsters, renamed Varan, Anguirus, and Baragon by the JSDF, would confront Godzilla in Yokohama. All three fell, but they wounded Godzilla enough for the Gotengo to finish him off. While Toho approved Kaneko's story, they requested that he add Mothra and King Ghidorah to increase the film's marketability. Kaneko obliged, giving Varan and Anguirus the axe and retaining Baragon in a reduced role for what became "Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack." But, Varan happened to be the all-time favorite of the film's monster designer Fuyuki Shinada, who sculpted his facial fins onto the heads of the King Ghidorah suit.
To borrow a phrase from AIP, Varan is a triphibian monster. He crawls along solid land with ease, and can move quickly underwater while remaining submerged for an extended period of time. Most unusually, he's capable of gliding flight through the use of winged m embranes between his arms and legs, much like a flying squirrel. Varan glides at a speed of up to Mach 1.5, equivalent to the Showa Rodan's flight speed. The novel "Godzilla 2000" by Marc Cerasini explains that the monster floats by separating hydrogen from water and storing it in sacs along his torso.
Varan's combat abilities go largely untested in the movies. In "Godzilla: Unleashed", his gliding abilities allow him to perform acrobatic martial-arts style moves, and he bested Rodan in single combat in "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth".
In "Unleashed," Varan spits a pink sonic beam from his mouth, explained in the game's manual as an adaptation that allows him to communicate over vast distances. These waves can be weaponized to "disrupt an opponent's sense of balance." He can also emit more concentrated blasts.
Varan's hide is impervious to conventional weapons. Doctors Sugimoto and Majima proposed that his durability comes not from the thickness of his skin, but its flexibility, which allows it to withstand impacts from projectiles and explosives. However, he was stunned when a truck full of Dr. Fujimura's explosives detonated beneath him, and was ultimately killed when they were set off inside of him.
Varan (1958): Following the discovery of a rare species of butterfly native to Siberia in the Tohoku region of Japan, Professor Sugimoto sent two of his students to the remote village of Iwaya to search it. However, both men were killed in a landslide which locals attributed to the local mountain god, Baradagi. Yuriko Shinjo, a reporter and sister of one of the two deceased students, traveled to Iwaya with photographer Horiguchi and Kenji Uozaki, another of Sugimoto's pupils. When they arrived, they found many of the villagers and a local priest praying for Baradagi's mercy. The trio tried to explain that Baradagi was a mere superstition, but the villagers were too afraid to even follow after Gen, a young boy who wandered beyond the village's boundaries to chase after his dog. Once Yuriko found him, Uozaki convinced the villagers to meet them with another round of scientific guilt-tripping. He was immediately proven wrong when a colossal reptile emerged from the nearby lake and rampaged through the village, killing the village elder as he attempted to placate him. Uozaki identified the creature as a Varanopode, a giant reptile that lived from the Triassic through Cretaceous periods.
In the wake of the attack, the JSDF wasted no time forming a defense line around the lake and firing chemical shells into it with mortars. Varan rose from the lake once more, shrugging off their firepower. As they retreated, he chased Kenji and Yuriko into a cave, but Professor Sugimoto saved them by having nearby troops lure him away with flares. Rather than return to the lake, Varan unfurled large membranes between his limbs and glided into the distance. He splashed down in the sea and began approaching Tokyo. Air and naval units intercepted the monster but could do nothing to halt his advance, even with a coordinated depth charge attack. Varan soon came ashore in the Japanese capital at Haneda Airport, with the JSDF's artillery doing everything it could to hold him back. As his hide was too tough to be penetrated with any known weapons, the JSDF made plans to destroy him from within instead. They tied experimental excavating explosives to flares dropped from the sky. The plan was successful, as he swallowed the bombs which subsequently exploded inside him. Mortally wounded, Varan crawled back into the ocean before the final bomb exploded.
Destroy All Monsters (1968): At the end of the 20th century, invading aliens known as the Kilaaks seized control of Monsterland and unleashed its inhabitants to level Earth's major cities. They seemed to neglect Varan, but once humanity severed the Kilaaks' mind control and established a control system of their own, he and the other monsters assembled at the foot of Mt. Fuji to destroy the aliens' base of operations. Varan watched from a safe distance with Baragon and Manda as Godzilla and his allies fought and eventually killed the Kilaaks' trump card, King Ghidorah. After the Big G smashed the base, Varan returned to Monsterland to live out his days in peace.
Varan's next two appearances in kaiju films were even shorter: a stock footage shot at the beginning of "Godzilla: Final Wars" and a skull on a monitor in "Pacific Rim Uprising". He also appears for a split-second in the "Godziban" season 1 finale.
You're Unbelievable: Dallas Productions and Corey Productions severely modified "Varan" for American consumption. Retitled "Varan the Unbelievable" for its 1962 release, nearly all of the Toho drama unit's footage was replaced with the misadventures of Commander James Bradley, who wakes up Varan while conducting chemical tests. Dallas and Corey spent what must have been half of their $5 budget on a prop claw for the scene where Varan corners the new characters in a cave. His name is strangely never spoken in the film, though the villagers call him "Obake", a type of yokai. His Godzilla-like roar was replaced with some low hissing and growling as well.
Prefectural Earth Defense Force: Before he worked on the Heisei Gamera trilogy, Kazunori Ito was fond of inserting kaiju references into his anime scripts. In the 1986 OVA "Prefectural Earth Defense Force", an undercover Colonel Baradagi explains that it's impossible for a teacher to meet her parents because they died eating a flare in Haneda. Cue a brief but lavish recreation of the ending of "Varan".
Video Games: Varan's been featured in several video games, usually as part of a large cast. His most noteworthy roles are as a boss character in "Godzilla: Monster of Monsters!" and as a playable fighter in "Godzilla: Unleashed" for the Wii. He was snubbed by the recent "Godzilla Defense Force" mobile game, although his sprite exists in the game's files, unused.
Books: During the few glorious years when Random House had the Godzilla license, Varan was featured in three picture books, two children's novels, and the young adult novel "Godzilla 2000." He also would have appeared in the aptly-titled "Godzilla and the Lost Continent," which Random House cancelled after the failure of the 1998 TriStar film. In "GODZILLA: Monster Apocalypse," an individual designated Varan II appeared alongside Baragon II and Anguirus IV in Los Angeles in 2030 after the three were attacked by Godzilla in the Pacific Ocean. Godzilla promptly destroyed all three monsters with a single blast of atomic breath. Author Renji Oki admitted that this scenario was inspired by Shusuke Kaneko's original concept for "GMK."
Comics: Varan's comic debut was in a manga adaptation of his movie. He had more luck in picture books than on the screen, popping up in several during the late 60's / early 70's, plus tie-in manga for "Destroy All Monsters" and "All Monsters Attack." In 1990, the monster also appeared in "The Godzilla Comic"'s "Monster Warrior Godzilla" story. Two decades after that, Varan appeared in three comic series from IDW. In "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth," he burst out of a lake in China and proceeded to have quite the busy night, battling the military, Rodan, and Gaira. A later flashback showed that he appeared in ancient times. A mural on Infant Island classified Varan as a water monster, part of the Earth's natural order. At some point, the Trilopods captured him and stored him in their hive, with one assuming his characteristics before facing Godzilla in L.A. After King Caesar freed the monsters, they all joined the fight. Varan helped Zilla kill a Trilopod with Titanosaurus' traits, and even stood up to the colossal Magita. In "Godzilla in Hell," a demonic version of Varan confronted Godzilla in an eternal ocean, but the Monster King quickly repelled him with his atomic breath. In the final Godzilla comic published by IDW, "Rage Across Time" #5, Varan brawled with Godzilla, Anguirus, and Baragon in prehistoric times. Anguirus and the ongoing meteor strikes drove him off.
Though he may well return in season 2 of "Godziban," that wraps up Varan for now.
Varan debutted in Ishiro Honda's "Varan," where he lived in a mountain lake in Japan's Yamanaka region, worshipped as the god Baradagi. Varan weighs 15,000 metric tons, and stands at 50 meters, the same height as the original Godzilla.
While he has only ever been designed with brown skin, it's interesting to note the official movie poster showed him with a blue-ish gray color. Also, Varan is always depicted as having a short snout on a head covered with spikes that descend down his back and tail. His cheeks have three additional spikes that point backward toward his body, and the very top of his head has a few more. Varan is further equipped with five digits on each hand, and a thumb on his otherwise four toed feet. His most notable feature however, are the flaps of skin beneath his arms that allow him to glide.
According to characters in the film, Varan is a type of Varanopode dinosaur that lived at the bottom of a mountain lake for so long that he came to be worshipped as a Shinto Sanjin, or mountain spirit. Other than that, the only other glimpses into Varan's origins that are given are through video game biographies and literature. Godzilla: Unleashed credits Varan as naturally living in solitude. Bandai-Namco's Godzilla: The Game gives Varan's scientific name as Varanus pater, and claims that it is native to the Mesozoic era.
After living for years untold as "Baradagi" in the Yamanaka region's Kitami mountains, Varan became territorial when two scientists ventured too close and killed them. Later, in the wake of a deep fog forming, he rose out of his lake to find humans gathered near it. Being unable to tell that they were there by coincidence, and that they were a rescue party for a child who got lost in the fog, Varan left his sacred ground and decimated their village before retreating back to his lair. News of his existence spread quickly across Japan. Lines of heavy weaponry were set up around his territory, and toxins were released into his lake to force him out of the water. Varan was immediately bombarded with gunfire, but was more interested in two strays from the military convoy who had taken refuge in a cave. While he attempted to attack them, the military launched light bombs at Varan, which proved to be a worthy distraction. In order to see the lights more clearly, Varan climbed out of the valley, and upon seeing the ocean spread his arms and glided to it. On his way to Tokyo, the military tried time after time to stop him with various boats and planes, but none were any use against Varan. Finally, it was decided to drive a truckload of experimental mining explosives right at him. They detonated, but due to their being designed to only explode when inside of something else, they didn't perform to their maximum potential. It was then noticed that Varan was swallowing glowing parachutes with explosive payloads out of the air. They then used the mining explosives on the parachutes, and because of damage caused to his feet by the initial blast followed by immediate bombardment, Varan retreated before exploding.
Oh yeah, and in Destroy All Monsters there is a juvenile Varan living in Monsterland. He doesn't do anything.
In addition to his capability of gliding at speeds up to mach 1.5, Varan has been shown to be virtually impervious to any and all conventional weapons. Also, in Godzilla: Unleashed only, Varan could emit sonic waves that could stagger opponents.
In the 1997 novel Godzilla 2000 by Marc Cerasini, Varan's gliding capabilities are credited to sacs of helium in his skin.
Varan was originally going to play a larger part in Destroy All Monsters, but because his suit had become so deteriorated, only a small, immobile puppet could appear in the film.
Varan was in one of the original drafts for GMK, and was intended to act alongside Anguirus, and Baragon as the nature gods that Godzilla fought in the film.
That was Wikizilla's kaiju profile on Varan. Thanks for watching, see ya next time!