Varan the Unbelievable (大怪獣バラン Daikaijū Baran) is a 1958 Japanese black-and-white science fiction-kaijū film, produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka, directed by Ishirō Honda, that stars Kôzô Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumito Matsuo, and Haruo Nakajima as Varan.
In 1962, for the American market, Crown International Pictures released a heavily re-edited adaptation of Varan the Unbelievable on a double bill with the re-edited, shortened, and retitled version of the East German/Polish science fiction film First Spaceship on Venus.
United States Navy Commander Jim Bradley is sent to Japan to test a new chemical that will desalinate water. The indigenous population, unfortunately, are against the experiments in their salt lake. They fear that the chemical will re-awaken their ancient god, Obaki. Despite their objections, the villagers are evacuated and the experiment goes on as scheduled. As they feared, the chemical reawakens their god, a giant prehistoric monster. The creature destroys the local village and then heads to the city of Oneida.
The warning falls of deaf ears. Kenji and Horiguchi later return to the village to rally the locals, telling them their beliefs are little more than superstition. Without their priest, the villagers agree, just as their god-monster Varan rises from the lake. The terrified villagers flee back to their homes, as the god-monster kills the priest at the village entrance, then proceeds to tear apart its huts. Following the destruction, Varan retreats to his underwater lair.
Reports of the monster's existence reaches Tokyo, and the National Defense Force is mobilized. The villagers are evacuated, as tanks and ground artillery units move into position. Shortly thereafter, the military begins releasing toxins into the lake to drive out the monster.
The plan is successful, and Varan emerges from the water, as tanks and artillery began to unleash their destructive fury. The conventional weapons have no effect on the monster and the military is forced to retreat. During the confusion, Yuriko gets trapped under a falling tree, placing her in Varan's path. Kenji narrowly manages to save his colleague and the two seek safety in a nearby cave. Varan pursues the two, reaching into the cavern with its large claws. The military intervenes, firing flares over the monster's head. Varan, attracted by their light, climbs a nearby mountain for a closer look. Once at its peak, the monster reveals hidden membranes of skin under its arms and leaps from the mountain top and glides towards the sea.
Varan's reign of terror continues, as he capsizes a fishing boat not far from Tokyo. The National Defense Force remobilizes, sending a squadron of jets to intercept. The monster manages to destroy one of them that flies too close. Varan submerges and continues underwater towards Tokyo. The military counterattacks by deploying naval destroyers in surrounding waters, but the ship's artillery has no effect against the monster.
Another attack is launched to stop Varan, this time using mine sweepers to seal off Tokyo Bay, which ultimately fails. Out of options, the National Defense Force again mobilizes its forces around Tokyo bay. It lines the water with landing-ships carrying rocket artillery vehicles, while dispatching a battalion of tanks to nearby Haneda Airport. A large amount of Special Gun Powder, which is hoped will destroy the monster, is also readied. Tokyo is evacuated while the military awaits Varan's appearance.
The monster emerges from the water and is immediately shelled by the surrounding forces, but the assault does not stop Varan. Kenji drives a truck filled with Special Gun Powder to the runway of Haneda airport. The monster advances on the vehicle and Kenji escapes to a safe distance. With Varan now directly over the loaded truck, its detonation trigger is activated, causing the monster to be knocked flat. The military celebrates, prematurely, as Varan rises seemingly unfazed and begins another assault.
Flares are once again used to attract the monster, but this time the National Defense Force witnesses Varan consuming one of the flares. Using dropped bombs filled with the Special Gun Powder, the monster swallows two of them. Shortly thereafter, the first one detonates, causing Varan to retreat back to the sea. The second ingested bomb detonates while the monster is underwater. A short while later the National Defense Force declares Varan finally destroyed.
Varan the Unbelievable was originally planned as a Japanese and American co-production for American television. When American financing did not happen, the film resumed being shot in TohoScope. It was the only film shot in "Toho Pan Scan", a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
During filming, monster suit actor Haruo Nakajima was injured by an explosives mishap and had to be replaced for the remainder of the shoot.
Varan was distributed theatrically in Japan by Toho on October 14, 1958. An English-dubbed version was also produced by Toho, but does not appear to have been released in North America.
The American theatrical release on December 12, 1962, under the title Varan the Unbelievable, has a 70-minute running time. The film's storyline is substantially changed, omitting much of the original dramatic footage, retaining the special effects, and adding new footage. It bears little resemblance to the Toho original. Varan the Unbelievable was directed by Jerry A Baerwitz, written by Sid Harris, and stars an American cast, including Myron Healey, Tsuruko Kobayashi, Clifford Kawada, and Derick Shimazu.
The original Japanese version of the film was released in 2005 to the United States home video market by Tokyo Shock.
In a contemporary review, Variety referred to the film as an "uninspired monster meller for saturation supporting niches" and after Godzilla, Gorgo and Dinosaurus!. The review was of the American version of the film, where they stated that "Neither Harris' scenario nor Baewritz's direction of it can sustain interest."