The War of The Gargantuas pits brother against giant brother in an epic clash brought to us by the original kaiju film dream team.
In 1965, Frankenstein Conquers the World shows up as a Japanese/American co-production featuring the classic movie monster blown up to massive size in a battle with Baragon, future foe of Godzilla. The big three of classic Toho kaiju films: director, Ishiro Honda; composer, Akira Ifukube; and special effects wizard, Eiji Tsuburaya, helm the film and its sequel, The War of The Gargantuas. Both creatures die at the end, but Frankenstein’s cells mutate and live on as the titular monsters in the sequel. Of course, the English dub removes all mention of Frankenstein and gives the monsters a revised origin, perhaps for the better.
Our human protagonists are Dr. Paul Stewart and his assistant Akemi, two scientists who once took care of an infant gargantua creature for a few years before it escaped. Years later, a boat is attacked by a giant humanoid monster with a taste for human flesh that reminds people of the gargantua. Dr. Stewart and Akemi are brought in to find out where this creature came from, and help the Japan Special Defence Forces, or JSDF, take it out.
For most of the film, Dr. Stewart annoyed me. There’s something about the way actor Russ Tamblyn carries himself, and the dialogue he ends up with, that makes his character come off as glib and standoffish. Sometimes he even seems amused at Akemi’s affection for the gargantua. It’s a characterization that may work in a different genre, but it doesn’t fly right as everyone else is busy trying to stop a giant rampaging franken-creature. I don’t know how much of this comes from the dub, but it’s definitely an off-putting portrayal. He does get better about halfway through, as does the rest of the film, once the second gargantua shows up.
A big part of any tokusatsu, especially of the kaiju variety, is the suit acting. The War of The Gargantuas exemplifies this idea once Brown Gargantua (Sanda in the Japanese version) shows up. Much of the last half of the film is about Green Gargantua, or Gaira’s, relationship with Sanda, and this has to be conveyed either through commentary from the humans, including a mention of Cain and Abel, or with nonverbal cues between the two monsters. The original Godzilla, Haruo Nakajima, plays Gaira like the feral beast he is. His arms are often raised and ready to strike. He’s not quite simian, but he’s not as calm and composed as Yu Sekida’s Sanda. Sekida does a great job at communicating how Sanda’s upbringing among humans has made him more reserved, but has left him much weaker than his counterpart that was raised in the wild and had to fend for himself.
The gargantuas have a complicated relationship with each other, which adds a nice dramatic element to what could have easily been a lesser film in the kaiju canon. Sanda is torn between protecting his brother, or mutant offshoot to be more specific, from the JSDF, and killing him so the JSDF won’t end up killing both of them. It’s a terrible position to be in, for sure. The final battle takes place in the streets of Tokyo, on a set with narrower streets than I’m used to seeing in a miniature like this. The end result is a massive amount of exciting damage as the unusually competent for a kaiju film, JSDF herd them to the sea.
The War of The Gargantuas is an interesting piece of kaiju history. It’s a joint effort between Toho and UPA, a sequel to a pretty weird Frankenstein film, and stars an American actor who ends up dubbed over for the American release. It’s in a weird situation, but the presence of Honda, Ifukube, and Tsuburaya behind the scenes, and Nakajima in front of the camera give it a warm, familiar, classic kaiju feeling. I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
Don’t forget to chime in with your thoughts on the film and come back next time for Gamera the Brave!