THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966) – The Dungeon Review!
There are dozens and dozens of films I love and adore that came out of Japan in the 1960s. It was the golden age of Japanese cinema; the Japanese new wave as it is sometimes called. Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Kaneto Shindô and Akira Kurosawa; just a few of the brilliant directors whose work I adore. For all of my admiration and the considerable artistic merits of the aforementioned there is no Japanese director whose work I have seen more of, or given more repeat viewings to then the work of Ishirô Honda. In fact, there may be no other director period, except for John Waters (ain’t NOBODY topping Mr. Waters) whose films I have re-watched more times than Ishirô Honda’s. There are a few terribly corny stories I like to share when I discuss Godzilla or Mr. Honda. I have shared these stories on this site and elsewhere but dammit I’m going to share them again. My parents took turns holding me as they watched Godzilla the day they brought me home from the hospital. I loved Godzilla even as a toddler and would make roaring-like noises and stomp on toys. In grade school I put up with being mocked by my little girlfriends for carrying a Godzilla lunchbox. I have always, and will always love the original 1954 Godzilla. I re-watch it regularly. It is not the only Ishiro Honda I have watched repeatedly. It is possible that I have seen Destroy All Monsters almost as many times as Godzilla over the years. These two films were the first DVD purchases I made. Other multiply watched Honda faves are Mothra, Mothra Vs. Godzilla, Rodan, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, The Terror of Mechagodzilla and today’s subject review The War of the Gargantuas. On a recent buying frenzy I finally replaced my VHS copies and bought all six of these Toho films for my collection. These films are tremendously entertaining and admittedly part of their charm is that they take me back to my childhood. As a grown up however I can appreciate these films on a new and different level. The tremendous and tedious work of putting together these epic adventures is pretty mind-blowing. They feature a tremendous amount of hand-made miniatures created only to be smashed to bits. The men who play the monsters which I covered briefly in a feature last week should be given the respect they deserve for performing in these hot heavy costumes for hours on end. Some of Japan’s most talented actors and actresses are featured in these films too. The wonderful Takashi Shimura (a huge favourite of mine), Ken Uehara, Minoru Chiaki and Kyôko Kagawa to name a few. Once in a while an American actor was brought in like Raymond Burr for the Americanized 1956 version of Godzilla (Godzilla, King of the Monsters!) and Russ Tamblyn for The War of the Gargantuas. I could recommend any of the Toho films I’ve mentioned here as I love them all; Godzilla (1954) and Destroy All Monsters are still my ultimate two favourites however but since I have reviewed them both I was forced to make a choice. It was a damn tough choice too! After much inner turmoil I thought The War of the Gargantuas was the most worthy of a review. The titular Gargantuas get more screen time than most of the monsters in the aforementioned titles. It has the most empathetic and human creatures, some of the best miniatures in the series and has one of the most epic monster battles in any of the Toho films I’ve seen. I love The War of the Gargantuas so much that the words get stuck in my throat.
“Captain, a giant octopus!” The giant octopus grabs the man and death is imminent. But Suddenly the Octopus disappears! He peeks cautiously through the window to see Gargantua attacking the giant octopus!
“That is…Frankenstein. I told you before, Gargantua looks like a Frankenstein!” The authorities are anxious to know what happened to the other four crew members of the lost vessel. They refuse to believe the lone survivors story that the other four men were attacked by a Gargantua. Come on now Japanese authorities! Do you, or do you not have a problem with giant monsters? By 1966 Japan was overrun with them!
They have recovered clothing belonging to the ship’s crew. “Why are they torn like that? They look like they’ve been chewed and spat out.” Suddenly lone survivor’s story ain’t sounding so crazy eh Cheif Izumida? Eh?
Cheif Izumida makes a call. “Make a long distance call to Kyoto. Office of Dr. Stewart, the expert on Frankenstein.” See what I mean? A “Frankenstein Expert”? The fact that there is a “Frankenstein Expert” should automatically legitimize any claims of such existing. Or at very least given some serious thought!
“Professor, it’s a call from Yokosuka Maritime Safety Agency.” Dr. Stewart “frankenstein expert” and his team.
Akemi (love interest), Dr. Stewart’s assistant working with the baby Gargantua. Dr. Stewart refuses to believe that the Gargantua/Frankenstein they raised in their facility would ever harm a human being, never mind eat one.
More Gargantua related terror! Disaster at Uraga Strait!
“It’s a Gargantua! Run! Run!” Yet another headline and sighting of a Gargantua! “Is it Frankenstein? Terror at Miura Peninsula”
Dr. Stewart and Akemi hike up the mountain with a team to investigate a Gargantua sighting.
“Haneda Airport is in an emergency situation!”
Folks enjoying a lounge act on a lovely summer evening. The rousing version of The Words Get Stuck in My Throat ends with a visit from Gargantua. The delicious looking songstress is just about to be dinner when the place is set aglow with light. It turns out that Gargantua has a fear of light; he drops the songstress and makes for the water.
Time to bust out the military.
They do some damage to the Gargantua.
A larger brown Gargantua shows up to save it! What? Two Gargantuas?! SHIT!
“From now on sea Frankenstein will be called Gailah and mountain Frankenstein Sanda.”
Sanda peeking through the trees.
Gailah emerging from the water.
Dr. Stewart’s team finds some skin and wonders if it is Gailah’s. “It looks like his tissues.”
Sanda’s and Gailah’s cells are identical “This proves that these two Frankensteins are brothers.”
“Hold on Tight!” Akemi slips and falls and Sanda comes to her rescue. “You remember me!” Sanda does seem to remember his time in the lab with Akemi.
“If we attack them Sanda and Gailah will be blown to pieces. Their cells would be scattered not only over Tokyo but all of Japan! Than countless Sandas and Galiahs would emerge!” Not good.
The menace Galiah attacks another part of the city.
Dr. Stewart and Akemi are attacked by Galiah.
First Dr. Stewart tells Akemi she is the most important person and then he admits that her theory was correct about Sanda. Someone is definitely getting laid tonight.
Lasers are employed to kill the creatures.
Sanda picks up a boat like it is a toy and attacks Galiah.
Underwater volcanoes erupt around the giant creatures.
War of the Gargantuas opens with a giant octopus and Gargantua fight and never lets up. This is one of the liveliest of the monster movies and has very little chatter between creature sightings. The monster mayhem is evenly scattered throughout. The first half of the film focuses specifically on Galiah who is a giant wrecking ball! I loved the scene when the military is attacking him and and he is picking up tanks one by one and smashing houses with them! The Gargantuas are the most human-like of any of the Kaiju; sort of a cross between a man and ape with a Frankenstein twist and a wee bit of yeti vibe. There are not too many creatures in the world of giant monsters that elicit empathy but Sanda is definitely one that does. Sanda was raised by humans and still feels a connection to them where his counterpart sees them as the enemy and a snack. Sanda comes down from his mountain home to save Gailah; a home where he managed to safely avoid human beings. Sanda puts his life in peril not once but twice. Once to save Galiah from the humans and again to save the humans from Galiah. It is a bittersweet story; very much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The minatures are amazing and very realistic; the airport is particularly impressive. Almost all of these Kaiju flicks seem to have a love interest bit but the connection between Dr. Stewart and Akemi is very low-key and not at all unpleasant. Kumi Mizuno who plays Akemi is a lovely, likable and talented actress who fits her role perfectly. Russ Tamblym is dubbed in Japanese but is nonetheless a handsome and beguilling presence as Dr. Stewart. Dr Stewart and Akemi are really the only two human characters that get focus, everyone else comes and goes with little impact. The real highlight here of course are the Gargantuas Sanda and Gailah. I recently did a feature on suit acting where I focus on Toho’s most prolific performer; Haruo Nakajima. Besides the original Godzilla, Nakajima considers his role as Sanda to be his best creature performance. Part of the effectiveness comes from Nakajima’s ability to emote with his eyes. Sanda is the only creature suit he donned that exposed an actual part of his face. Yû Sekida is also outstanding as Gailah. The two men worked extremely well together. The battle between them in the film’s finale; mutually coordinated by the men is one of the best in any creature feature! My only complaint is not about the film itself but rather the quality of the DVD. This was a Toho Masters Collection DVD and the images were not clear and the night shots were very dark. If you click on any of the pictures to make them larger you will see what I mean. The War of the Gargantuas has everything you could ask for in a giant monster movie. A solid story, an energetic pace, monster sightings at regular intervals, copious chaos and destruction, great effects, a groovy soundtrack and an epic monster battle to end it all. The War of the Gargantuas gets my highest of recommendations; a perfect score.
Tomorrow…music from The War of the Gargantuas!!
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Ishirô Honda
Starring: Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Nobuo Nakamura, Jun Tazaki, Hisaya Itô, Yoshifumi Tajima, Ren Yamamoto, Kipp Hamilton, Kôzô Nomura, Nadao Kirino, Haruo Nakajima, Yû Sekida