Kaiju Kingdom’s Chris Eaton reviews Godzilla vs. Gigan for June’s TokuNet Film Club.
Godzilla vs. Gigan, or as I’d otherwise call it, “Uncle Zilla, the Toku Gang and the Bone Jacked Monsterland Boogie.” Take a slashed budget, meager returns on a previous entry, and the mystical world of TV tokusatsu, the results will give you Godzilla vs Gigan.
The dawn of the 1970s would provide ironically the most troubling, creative, and famous decade for Toho’s Godzilla series. Most of the original Godzilla crew moved on. Eji Tsuburya had passed away, leaving behind a massive legacy, students, and a hit TV show in Ultraman. Ishiro Honda would walk away from directing Godzilla pictures after the clip show that was Godzilla’s Revenge. With the films still proving popular, but not making the returns at the box office like Toho would hope, the company started to tighten the belt on their cash cow. It sounds bad, but it would lead to experiments in fantastic ways; trying new ideas and tweaking old ones.
Godzilla vs Gigan is in many ways, a return to form. Aliens, duel monster battles, city destruction. All there.
But where it differs is in the execution.
Enter, a struggling artist named Gengo Kotaka. While hitting a wall on his new monster themed manga, he lands what can only be a cash cow of a job for a group that’s building a theme park for kids. Dubbed “Monster Land,” the idea is to wow kids with heaps of monsters.
Basic layout has some cool looking things, but lacks one crucial element: merchandising. Gengo is tasked with making up monsters for the park where at its center contains a massive town built in the image of, arguably, the most terrifying force of nature: Godzilla.
But, Godzilla’s image with the public as turned from terror to good time jubilation. Since Godzilla can’t legally claim any likeness rights, this group plans to make money off his mug.
During Gengo’s meeting, he meets the two men running the group funding the park: Kubota and Fumio. These men look like a Japanese version of Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV’s Frank from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of course there’s something off about them. Things wouldn’t be right if they weren’t suspect.
However, Gengo cares not, he’s getting paid for his art– The Dream for most artists. During one of his visits, he runs into a pretty gal who happens to be booking it from the premises. She drops a roll of tape (the kind you listen to) and bolts. From here, things get wacky.
Gengo runs afoul of this fetching girl and her hippy friend who reveal themselves to be Machiko Shima and Shosaku Takasugi. Turns out Machiko’s big brother was also doing some private contracting for the Monster Land group and disappeared. Her investigation into his notes lead to the audio tape in Gengo’s possession. The trio decides to listen to to see if it provides any answers. It does not.
In fact, it’s nothing but high pitched metallic noises; one that Godzilla hears like a dog whistle. Woken up by the noise, as if a bunch of kids were playing dodge ball on the back of his garage, the “King of Monsters” sends his buddy Anguirus, the Gilligan to Godzilla’s Skipper, to investigate the source.
And yes. Godzilla actually “tells” Anguirus to check out that damn racket in monster speech.
As Angurius swims some 800 miles to the mainland of Japan, the funky trio of heroes investigate Monster Land. Turns out, their hunches were correct and all is not as it seems. The folks running the show apparently “died” in a hiking accident a few years back. When the story gets to the nitty gritty, the trio finds Machiko’s brother and learn Monster Land is a front for a group of alient, giant cockroach men.
So, what’s their evil scheme? Use the tapes to call down King Ghidorah and their own cyborg hench monster, Gigan and have them run wild and take out the Earth’s forces.
During all of this, Anguirus shows up in Japan, looks around, then heads back to get Godzilla when he didn’t see anything. As Gigan and King Ghidorah show up and start to mashey-smashey Japan, the tag team mega powers of Godzilla and Angurius show up to take on Gigan and Ghidorah.
All this and more! Live at Monsterland!
Godzilla vs Gigan can be described aptly as the Scooby Doo of kaiju films. All the tropes are there. Rag tag gang of hippies trying to solve a mystery. A creepy amusement park run by masked monsters. There’s a dude who always seems to be eating something. The only thing lacking is a talking dog, but they make that up with talking monsters.
Though, the talking part depends on which version you see. In the Japanese language track, Godzilla and Angurius speak with word bubbles, while their monster “speech” is the sound of a record being played backward and scratched. In the American cut, there’s actual talking played over the record scratch.
After a disastrous attempt by a first time director to the series, Toho would call upon Jun Fukuda to step back in and direct the feature. Fukuda, who’s last film was in the series was Son of Godzilla, gave Godzilla vs. Gigan a vibe more akin to a gangster film.
It’s hard to describe, when one watches Godzilla vs Gigan, it has a look a feel very unique to it. Details such as quick cuts and low and dutch camera angles make the film stand out and it’s something not found in the movies that followed.
As for the special effects, Teruyoshi Nakano crafted a rather impressive tag team battle with Godzilla and Angurius taking on King Ghidorah and Gigan with the battlefield moving from the cityscape to fighting in a nightmarish children’s theme park only the 1970s could conjure.
But, the film’s best aspect is the 2 on 2 battle is violent and aggressive as hell. Nakano would take this style of monster fights and perfect it in Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla. Watching Gigan slice Godzilla open and have him bleed, like a samurai at the end of Shogun Assassin, is a breath of fresh air for kaiju battles.
This brings me to Gigan. The mid 70s where a funky time for giant monsters, and with the Ultraman series pumping out new kaiju every week, each one more bizzare than the last, Toho had to answer back. So, when Ultraman is fighting a walking hodgepodge of visual stimuli for kids, Toho fired back with Gigan. A giant cyborg beast, with a buzzsaw belly, a single visor eye, and hooks for hands. All built on a bloated body with a bird like head.
Gigan would prove to be one of Toho’s more popular monsters with his look. He provided Godzilla with a solid run in a fight and had a fantastic metallic cry. Gigan would appear in Godzilla Vs. Megalon, namely because the suit was still handy. Gigan bows out on the small screen to fight Godzilla one last time before dying at the hands of the Ultraman knock off, Zone Fighter. The same fate also awaited King Ghidorah, as this would be the last time he’s seen on screen until he, too, fights Zone Fighter, and disappears.
Speak of lasts, Godzilla vs Gigan would be the last time suit actor Haruo Nakajima would play the titular monster. He would quietly retire from the role after this film. But in his last romp, Nakajima gave one of the most spunky Godzilla performances on celluloid.
That’s the thing with Godzilla vs Gigan. It was a statement of the times, everything was in limbo of sorts. With Ultraman and his imitators providing the same thrills weekly on TV for much smaller budgets, kids weren’t exactly hopping to the movies like they use to. Toho tried to combat this by adding Godzilla and friends to the small screen in the previously mentioned Zone Fighters series. But the films where still making a dime, which kept Toho moving forward for three more films. Godzilla vs Gigan would be the last step before a big tumble Toho would later pick itself up from, then decide to wrap it up. But the jog to that last step is a fun one.