In the small mining village of Kitamatsu, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, two miners have gone missing. The two men, Goro and Yoshi, had brawled earlier that day, and after they entered the mine to start their shift, the shaft had quickly flooded. Shigeru Kawamura (Kenji Sahara), a tunneling and safety engineer at the mine, heads below to investigate and makes a gruesome discovery: Yoshi's lacerated corpse. Above ground, a doctor examines Yoshi, and discovers the cause of death to be a series of deep gashes caused by an abnormally sharp object. Some of the miners and their families begin to discuss the possibility of the involvement of Goro, who is still unaccounted for, in the death. Shigeru is personally affected by this incident, since his fiancée Kiyo (Yumi Shirakawa) is also Goro's sister.
Two local miners and a policeman are stationed inside the mine, just before the waterline of the flooded shaft. Suddenly, they hear a splash in the flooded mine, and venture into the water to investigate. All three, however, are then attacked and slain by an unseen assailant. Soon after, the bodies of the three men are recovered and examined. The doctor announces that they, too, were killed by a sharp object that simply sliced them apart.
Soon after, Shigeru and a group of the metro police and army head back into the mine to confront the insect monster and attempt to locate Goro, dead or alive. As they enter the deepest part of the mine shaft, they discover the butchered body of Goro laying on the floor of the mine. As they approach, the giant insect emerges and chases the men back up the mine shaft. Even worse, the thing seems impervious to any kind of gunfire. Taking action, Shigeru releases the mine cart, which rolls down the shaft and collides with the insect, crushing it. When the men venture back into the shaft to remove Goro's body, Shigeru is threatened by another giant insect. The soldiers fire at it with no effect; but an earthquake strikes and the tunnel begins to cave in, killing the insect and trapping Shigeru in the mine.
Several miles away, in Kyushu, an air base receives an alert from one of their jets. The pilot has observed an unidentified flying object performing impossible maneuvers at supersonic speeds. He is ordered to pursue the object at distance, but as he follows it, the object suddenly changes course and turns around, flying straight towards the jet and destroying it. Soon after, reports from all over the world come in about the UFO, and rumors of a secret military weapon test begin to circulate. In addition, a newly married couple disappears in Japan, as well as several head of cattle around Mt. Aso. When the authorities develop the film from the newly-weds' camera, they discover a photograph of what appears to be a gigantic wing. They match the photo with a drawing of a Pteranodon, an ancient reptile thought to be extinct millions of years earlier. Although the evidence seems to point to the Pteranodon as the culprit, the theory is dismissed as being too far-fetched.
Shigeru confirms that the creature he saw did indeed resemble a Pteranodon, and that it had eaten all of the Meganulon. He and a group of police and scientists once again descend into the mine and enter the cave where the egg had been. They are able to recover a fragment of the shell before a rock slide forces them to flee back to the surface. In the lab, Dr. Kashiwagi is able to determine the size of the egg and its age: 200 million years old. After amassing the evidence, Kashiwagi calls a meeting with members of the town, along with members of the Japanese Self-Defence Force, to communicate his findings. He tells the men that the UFO seen flying all across the world at supersonic speeds is a gigantic pterosaur he has dubbed Rodan. How Rodan could have resurfaced after millions of years is also a mystery, but Kashiwagi theorizes that nuclear bomb testing, which loosened the Earth's crust and opened cavities to long buried crevices and caves, might be the possible cause.
The JSDF formulate a plan to attack the Rodans. After ascertaining their location at their old nest at the base of Mt. Aso, the military plans to shell the cave opening, and bury the Rodans alive. One resident objects to this plan, fearful it might trigger the volcano into an eruption. Kitamatsu would be destroyed by the lava and rock. The military commander agrees this might happen; but insists that is preferable to letting the Rodans escape. Just moments before the strike is to begin, Shigeru is joined by Kiyo, who stays with him, refusing to evacuate the doomed town.
The two leave the area and return to safety, and the military begins its attack. Soon the volcano begins to spew smoke and lava into the sky. One of the Rodans emerges, but is soon overcome by the fumes. As the second Rodan arrives on the scene, the first one loses altitude and finally falls into the stream of lava flowing down the side of the volcano. The second Rodan descends and also lands in the lava, joining its mate in death on the slopes of the erupting volcano.
- Kenji Sahara as Shigeru Kawamura, colliery engineer (as Kenji Sawara)
- Yumi Shirakawa as Kiyo, Shigeru's lover
- Akihiko Hirata as Professor Kyouichiro Kashiwagi (biology)
- Akio Kobori as Police Chief Nishimura
- Yasuko Nakata as Female Honeymooner
- Minosuke Yamada as Colliery Chief Osaki
- Yoshifumi Tajima as Izeki, reporter of Seibu Nippou
- Kiyoharu Onaka as Male Honeymooner, Sunagawa's friend (as Kiyoharu Ohnaka)
- Haruo Nakajima as Radon (Rodan in English release)
- Shôichi Hirose as F-86F pilot
- Ichirô Chiba as Chief of police station
- Mike Daneen as American Soldier Typing
- Tazue Ichimanji as Haru, Kiyo's neighbor
- Saburo Iketani as News Reader
- Saburô Kadowaki as Sunagawa's colleague
- Tateo Kawasaki as Tsunesan, miner
- Kanta Kisaragi as Suteyan, miner
Veteran writer Ken Kuronuma, who wrote the original story for this film, was inspired by an incident in Kentucky in 1948, when Captain Thomas F. Mantell, a pilot for the Kentucky Air National Guard, died in a crash while allegedly pursuing a UFO.
While shooting the scene in which Rodan flies over the Saikai Bridge (connecting Saikai City and Sasebo City in Kyushu), the pulley from which Haruo Nakajima was suspended broke. He fell from a height of twenty-five feet, but the wings and the water, which was about one and a half feet deep, absorbed much of the impact.
George Takei, better known as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek series, was one of the many voice actors employed for this film. The only other Kaiju film for which he performed voice work was Godzilla Raids Again. The main narration provided by the character of Shigeru was voiced by actor Keye Luke with additional voices provided by veteran voice actor Paul Frees. Voiceover dubbing was done at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio in Culver City, CA. Each of the four voiceover actors dubbing the voiceovers performed 8 or 9 voices.
Many promotional stills and posters for the film depicted a Rodan that looked radically different from the one in the actual movie. Rather than the appearance of a slightly larger, more upright version of the traditional pterosaur, this version bore more of a resemblance to the bird-like Azhdarchidae family. This film marks the only time in which Rodan is seen to emit a strange burst of concentrated gas from its mouth as a form of weapon. The inclusion of this seemingly tangential ability was most likely meant to answer the popularity of Godzilla's atomic breath.
Rodan was re-released theatrically in Japan on November 28, 1982 as part of Toho's 50th anniversary.
The King Brothers Productions 1957 theatrical release of Rodan was quite successful in its first run in the United States. It was the first Japanese movie to receive general release on the West Coast to make a strong showing at the box-office. It later received the biggest TV advertising campaign given to a film to that date on New York's NBC flagship station WRCA-TV, where a series of commercials running 10 to 60 seconds were shown for a week before the film's opening. Television promotion included a contest to copy Rodan's outline using a piece of paper held over the screen while the outline was shown on the screen for a brief time each day.
- Released: September 9, 2008
- Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
- Language(s): Japanese (2.0 Mono), English (2.0 Mono)
- Subtitles: English
- Extras: Bringing Godzilla Down to Size (69 Minutes)
- Notes: Contains both Rodan and The War of the Gargantuas (2-disc set)
It grossed an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 during its opening weekend at 79 theaters in the New York City metropolitan area. Several theatrical circuits, including RKO, announced that Rodan broke the records for a science-fiction film.
The giant insects featured in this film, the Meganulon, would later go on to appear in the 2000 film Godzilla vs. Megaguirus.
In It by Stephen King, the boy Mike is haunted by the image of Rodan. Mike sees a giant bird (the clown Pennywise) in the ruins of a steel mill and thinks of Rodan.
- Some of Akira Ifukube's music was replaced with stock music.
- A prologue showing footage of American nuclear tests was added.
- Extensive narration by Shigeru was added throughout the film.
- The fight between Goro and another miner is shortened.
- A brief shot showing mine cars traveling up a mine shaft was taken out.
- A scene of miners names being called was cut short.
- The scene leading up to when Meganulon kills a cop and two miners is shortened.
- The scene where the Meganulon attacks the village is cut short. A brief shot showing a Meganulon walking through people's backyards was taken out for the American version. When Shigeru and the soldiers walk up the incline, it shows the setting through Shigeru's eyes. He looks up the incline, and then the camera moves to the left showing the mountain, and then sees the Meganulon. A shot of Meganulon escaping afterwards is also cut.
- The scene where Professor Kashiwagi analyzes a photo of the yet-unnamed monster's wing was cut short. Kashiwagi matches the wing in the photo to that of a picture of a Pteranodon, which he truncates to "Radon" to name the monster.
- The name "Radon" was anagrammed into "Rodan" for the English audience, so as not to confuse the fictitious monster with the actual atomic element radon.
- A brief scene showing doctors walking Shigeru into the hospital after he is recovered was taken out.
- The scene where the honeymooners are eaten is much shorter, with about 30 seconds of footage removed, including a shot of Rodan's shadow passing overhead.
- The American version makes the second Rodan appear more throughout the movie. In the original Japanese version, the second Rodan does not show up until late during the attack on Fukuoka. In the scene where Shigeru and the others see Rodan up close for the first time, the second one emerges immediately thereafter, with Shigeru saying, "It has a mate!" It is this second Rodan that then causes the Jeep to crash.
- A scene of fighter jets taking off was added.
- The scene where a helicopter investigates the Rodans' lair was re-arranged. In the Japanese version, the scene appears after the assault on Fukuoka by the Rodans and just before they are killed by the volcanic eruption caused by the JSDF. In the US version, the scene is shown shortly before Rodan first emerges from Mount Aso.
- The King Brothers changed the name of the city destroyed by Rodan from Fukuoka to Sasebo because the U.S.A. had a lot of diplomatic facilities there, though one of the places Rodan flies over before Fukuoka is attacked is called Sasebo station in the Japanese version.
- The scene of Rodan emerging from his volcanic lair was altered in the American version to make it look as if he was provoked to emerge by the air force. In the original version, he emerged without any sort of provocation.