A Siberian butterfly is discovered by a student in a remote region of Japan. This prompts two researchers to head there to do further research. They pass a desolate village where the villagers shy away from the newcomers. They venture into a forest nearby and are able to find another of the red-tailed butterflies. But they also discover something much larger. Or rather, it discovers them.
The institute that the two explorers came from learn that the men were killed, and even more distressingly, their jeep was crushed. So of course three other people (Kenji, Yuriko the reporter, and a camera man) have to go to that exact same area to find out what happened. This time the villagers are found within the forest engaged in some sort of religious ceremony, where they beg "Baradagi" for forgiveness after it was enraged by the trespassing explorers days earlier. However, Kenji denounces their God as superstition, despite the monstrous roar that would occasionally blast through the air. I'm just saying that it didn't sound like thunder, folks. The dog ("CHIBEE! CHIBEE!") of one of the younger villagers runs past a fence marking "the point of no return", prompting his owner to give chase. The village priest forbids any of the other villagers to go after them, lest they anger Baradagi further. But the research group, unafraid of the unknown, decide to rescue them. When they return and declare the boy is safe, the villagers decide that maybe their God isn't real after all, and decide to head out after him. They come upon the bank of a lake, the surface of which begins to foam. The recently converted disbelievers stare in horror as a large reptilian head pokes out of the water. It turns out their "god" is in fact real, and they run for their lives. All except the priest, who tries to repel the fifty meter tall reptile by frantically waving a religious instrument (stick) at him. He is crushed by falling trees. Kenji dubs the monster Varan, a species of dinosaur that somehow managed to survive into the present. Well, the present of 1958. In retaliation for his disturbed sleep, Varan levels the village, then returns to his lake.
Instead of cordoning off the entire lake and leaving the monster in peace so that it won't go on another destructive rampage, the Japanese Special Defense Force decides it would be wiser to agitate Varan out of his lake and destroy it. Because it worked so well against Godzilla (two of them), Anguirus, and Rodan. Of course, it doesn't. The cannon shells explode harmlessly off Varan's skin, prompting everyone to retreat as the spiked dinosaur looked for revenge. After the humans eluded Varan's grasp, they figured it would once again return home. However, it instead climbed a nearby mountain, raised it's arms to reveal flaps of skin connected from his arms to his legs, and proceeded to glide away into the distance.
Varan surfaces in the sea, heading towards Tokyo. Helicopters and battleships are deployed, but their efforts to stop him are futile. Meanwhile, a new type of dynamite is revealed that packs a punch powerful enough to crumble mountains. But it works best if detonated inside its target. The triphibian kaiju eventually surfaces at Japan's capital city and shrugs off firepower from the tanks and missile launchers awaiting his visit. A truck full of the experimental explosive is planted in Varan's path, and when it explodes under him, it seemingly knocks him out. Only for a moment, however, as the creature rises once more and starts his destructive march towards Tokyo's heart. Flares are fired above Varan's head in order to distract him, but it decides to eat them instead. This gives the JSDF the idea of attaching the dynamite to flares so that it can reach its full potential inside of their foe's stomach. The flares are fired, and Varan apparently enjoyed the searing sensation of fire on his tongue as he gulps down two more of them. When one bomb goes off, the creature collapses and begins to stumble back towards the ocean. As soon as he is submerged, a large explosion erupts from the waves, and Japan decides the great Varan is no more.
We are led to assume that Varan died at the conclusion of the film, but the explosion was far bigger in the water than it was when we saw it explode inside the kaiju. My guess is that, whilst in the water and unseen from our eyes, Varan must have purged the second bomb. Why not, as the first explosion inside his stomach would probably have made him vomit anyway. You can't have something blow up inside you without feeling the need to hack something up. You could back up this theory with Varan's appearance in the all-star monster bash Destroy All Monsters, although most feel that this is a separate creature. He makes a very brief cameo and doesn't do anything important except enable the producers to boast a larger kaiju count in this flick. Advertising eleven monsters rather than ten will guarantee you an additional $5,000 in revenue. Since Varan's self-titled movie was in black in white, it isn't until DAM that we learn that he is a sort of tan color. I think he would look better in purple, which was how he was portrayed in the first Godzilla title for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Am I getting off track here or what?
Varan has a back story that resembles that of King Kong. He is an unseen god feared by the residents of a village who hold religious ceremonies, hoping to appease him. Even the film's main theme, scored by genre favorite Akira Ifukube, features drum beats and chanting one would expect to be used in worshipping an ancient deity.
Varan can travel by land, sea, and air. If only he could actually fly and burrow underground, he'd have all the bases covered. Usually crawling on his hands and knees out of water, he moves slow on land. And I mean sloooooooooooooooooooooooooow. It's a good thing he can swim and glide, because that's when he really cruises. He walks so slow that during the scene where the army retreats from the failed ambush at his lake, the female lead stumbles around, gets pinned under a fallen tree, and is rescued by the male lead after he went searching through the forest for her when he made it back to the village and noticed she wasn't there. All before Varan could even get to the girl when she wasn't that far away from him in the first place.
I like to think Godzilla and Varan are related. Both are deemed to be dinosaurs (in the Toho universe) long thought to be extinct. They both have spikes along their backs. Their roars sound similar. They spend their off-time underwater and are quite adept at land travel. The difference lies in the fact that Godzilla was... I guess you could say "lucky" enough to be exposed to nuclear fallout. The results of that are the ability to spew a radioactive beam and being indestructible. As far as kaiju go, Varan is one of the more brilliant. Unlike monsters like Godzilla, who just marches forward and only tramples what's in his path, and King Ghidorah, who mostly flies above cities and fires his beams indiscriminately, Varan seems to actually pick targets and hone in on them. This is seen when he first attacks the small village close to his home, as he purposefully crushes each house. It's almost as if he knew he knew that his antagonizers resided there, and was paying them back for disturbing his own dwelling. With the job done, Varan returns to the lake instead of aimlessly wandering around to cause senseless destruction.
Final note: A DVD behind the scenes feature shows that the spikes on the Varan suit are nothing more than cut pieces of hose. Talk about destroying an illusion.
And that's just the way it is.