Thursday, March 29, 2018

The War of the Gargantuas (Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira) (1966)

AMC isn't the only channel that's changed considerably since my childhood (I know, things can't stay the same forever, but hear me out); I can remember back when TNT was a much more fun channel, before it became overly serious and started focusing almost entirely on drama. Not only did you have MonsterVision (which I never actually watched but I saw many bits of when I was a kid) and wrestling, it also aired some cartoon shows that Ted Turner had the rights to, like The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, and often had Godzilla movie marathons on Saturdays, as well as on New Year's Eve one year (I'm sure it was 1994). Speaking of which, TNT was also where I first saw this flick, late one night when I was very young and having to stay over at my grandparents' house. I can remember my grandfather and I coming into it at some point, possibly during the attack on Gaira in the forest, and watching it to the very end. Both of us were pretty taken with it, especially me, being a little kid who was into Godzilla and other monster movies. I knew this was somehow related to Godzilla anyway, as it had Japanese actors, the same type of sound effects, and music that was unmistakably from those films, and I just sat there transfixed, especially during the final battle in Tokyo. I saw the movie again, this time from beginning to end, some years later during the summer, this time with my dad watching it with me (I'm sure he doesn't remember it at all), and liked it just as much. The would be the last time I saw it until Classic Media released it on a double-feature DVD with Rodan in 2008, which I picked up that November, as I was very eager to see it again, given the fond memories I had of it. I've since watched it many, many times and it's become one of my favorite kaiju movies; in fact, I think it might be my favorite Japanese monster movie that doesn't involve Godzilla. It's definitely one of Toho's best, especially in the miniature and monster action department, with one of the best kaiju battles ever put to film, and has some really memorable music. I must add to this praise, though, by clarifying that this is one example of a Japanese monster movie where I prefer the American release version, for a number of reasons that range from nostalgic to more objective (chief among them, I don't care for the tenuous connection the Japanese version makes to Frankenstein Conquers the World, but we'll get into that shortly).

On a stormy night, a small boat is attacked by a giant octopus, only for the octopus itself to fall prey to a huge, hairy, green-colored, humanoid beast. After vanquishing the octopus, the monster, a Gargantua called Gaira, attacks the boat himself and sinks it. There's only one survivor, and while he recovers in the hospital, moaning about the attack, the local police investigate and find the sunken remains of the boat. When the survivor is well enough to talk, he's interviewed by the police and swears that what he's telling them is the truth. With this, the police contact American scientist Paul Stewart who, along with his assistant, Akemi Togawa, once had a young, brown-colored Gargantua in their care that eventually escaped. In speaking with the police and the press, the two of them are certain that the creature they cared for is not the monster responsible for the attack, given his gentle nature and the fact that he wasn't an aquatic animal. However, people begin having more frightening run-ins with Gaira, with a particularly disastrous one being an attack on Tokyo's Haneda airport, where he devours a woman before suddenly retreating back into the ocean, apparently being frightened by the bright sunlight. As the armed forces try to come up with a plan to destroy the monster, Dr. Stewart begins to suspect that Gaira might be a different Gargantua from the one he and Akemi knew. One night, the Gargantua attacks a nightclub near Tokyo Bay and subsequently comes ashore via the Sakai River. Entering the wilderness, he's stalked and attacked by the Japanese Self-Defense Force, which use a new, powerful type of laser cannon to bring him down. But, just as it seems they've defeated him, another Gargantua, a larger, brown-colored one, appears from the mountain and helps the injured Gaira to escape. This second Gargantua, Sanda, is the one Stewart and Akemi raised and the two scientists attempt to convince the military that his life must be spared. Things become complicated, though, when Sanda learns of his brother's savage ways and the two of them come into conflict over it, with their countryside battle leading them straight for Tokyo.


It wasn't long after we first got the internet and I was looking up information on a number of movies that I learned that this film was meant to be something of a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World, a notion that completely baffled me at the time because the Gargantuas' designs are about as far removed from the Frankenstein monster as you can get. Nowadays, I kind of get the thinking behind it, with the idea that was put forth in the that movie of the monster's discarded cells being able to reform complete new creatures, but the connections between the two movies is so tenuous that I'm not crazy about it in the least. For one, it's never explicitly stated in the Japanese version that Sanda was formed from Frankenstein's cells, as he's simply described as a Frankenstein creature that Dr. Paul Stewart and his colleagues were studying before he escaped their laboratory, but knowing what we know about the nature of the previous film's monster, it's not too far-fetched to come to that conclusion, especially when we learn that Gaira was, in turn, created when a piece of his flesh was washed into the ocean. But then, why did they grow up to look more like a couple of overgrown Bigfoots than Frankenstein, with Sanda, in particular, looking like something from a cheap werewolf movie during the flashback when he was little? Moreover, what was it about Gaira's look that prompted that one survivor from the boat at the beginning to describe him as Frankenstein? And how is it that this group of scientists are the experts on these creatures that the authorities turn to? Why not contact Dr. Bowen and his colleagues? You'd think Bowen would have at least had some involvement with the creature Stewart had, given his connection the first Frankenstein. That leads to something else: we again have a core group of lead characters that are made up of an American man, a Japanese man, and Japanese woman, and yet, these are clearly not meant to be the protagonists from Frankenstein Conquers the World. The fact that the woman is again played by Kumi Mizuno only adds to the confusion. Granted, continuity was never something that Toho was too preoccupied with in these films, as the same actors often appear as different characters in various movies, monsters that were presumed dead suddenly turn up again in later films, and so on, but in this case, it gets a tad too distracting for me, which is one of the reasons why I prefer the American release version that makes it a standalone movie.

In-between Frankenstein Conquers the World and this film, Ishiro Honda directed the sixth Godzilla film (and his fourth in a row), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, but his misgivings about the more comedic path the monsters were taking in the series came to a head during filming of Godzilla's victory dance after he defeats King Ghidorah on Planet X in that movie, which he immensely disliked. Due to this sense of growing weariness, Toho decided to take Honda off the series for the time being, putting Jun Fukuda in charge of the next film, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and assigned him to The War of the Gargantuas instead. While he was still yearning for the chance to do a movie outside of the kaiju genre at this point, I have a feeling that this film was something Honda may have had some enthusiasm for, given how the monsters are not treated as figures of fun in the least and the story is something of an adaptation of the story of Cain and Abel, and he even co-wrote it with screenwriter Takeshi Kimura (who, by this point, was using the pseudonym, Kaoru Mabuchi, to express his displeasure at the films he was being assigned), something he hadn't done since the late 50's. Actually shooting the film, however, was not easy for Honda, as he constantly clashed with actor Russ Tamblyn who, according to Honda's assistant, Seiji Tani, in the book, Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, would often do the exact opposite of what Honda asked of him. Given how Honda was always described as nothing but a very nice and accommodating man, that does not reflect well on Tamblyn and makes me feel bad that Honda had to go through that, especially after he'd gotten along so well with Nick Adams on his two previous movies.


I have a feeling that if Adams had been in this film, the connection with Frankenstein Conquers the World would have been a little stronger. I've heard conflicting accounts as to why he wasn't in this: either it was because Henry G. Saperstein couldn't get him this time around or he decided to go for somebody who had more of a name to him, which is why he went for Russ Tamblyn, who'd been in prestigious movies like High School Confidential, West Side Story, How the West Was Won, and The Haunting, among others. Unfortunately, the high-profile career he was having at the time apparently gave Tamblyn a very snooty attitude and made him decide that being in a film of this nature was beneath him. Not only was he difficult to work with (in that same interview, Seiji Tani straight-up calls Tamblyn an asshole) but he decided to not put any effort into his performance at all. He comes across as so bored and uninterested, both in his mannerisms (he often has his fingers on his head like someone who'd rather be anywhere else) and the way he says his lines. At least in the Japanese version, he's dubbed, which kind of helps the performance, but in the American version, where he re-recorded his own dialogue, his voice is as flat and unemotional as you can get, making lines like, "We'll just have to use the old noggin, huh?", "Maybe he fell in love with a whale or something," and, "But just remember, he's not a toy poodle," even more cringe-inducing than they already would have been. The worst example is when Akemi, who his character is meant to have something of a fondness for, slips off the side of a cliff, grabs onto a protruding root, and he reacts and calls to her in a manner that would be more suitable if she fell into a shallow pit. I always hate it when I see someone who I know is a good actor not even try because of the material given. Okay, maybe it's not what you wanted to be doing with your career but, for God's sake, have some semblance of professionalism!


Tamblyn's disinterest exacerbates one of the film's biggest faults, which is that the human characters are some of the least interesting non-entities to be found in these kaiju films. The people are often not focused on as much of the monsters anyway but, even in a lot of the others made during this period, including Frankenstein Conquers the World, I could still find something to grasp onto with them; that's really not the case in The War of the Gargantuas. These characters do little more than spout exposition or act as means to keep the plot moving, including Dr. Paul Stewart. While Dr. Bowen had something of an arc in Frankenstein Conquers the World, initially seeing Frankenstein as beneficial for his research but, over time, growing to want to save his life simply because he's a living being, Stewart, in both versions of this film, has little to do aside from theorizing. He does insist from the beginning that the Gargantua he knew couldn't be responsible for the attacks for various reasons and isn't thrilled about attending a meeting in Tokyo to discuss ways to kill him, but throughout the movie, he tends to seem more concerned with getting some of the creatures' cells for study and ensuring that they don't generate more monsters that could overrun the world. In the American version, he does mention that he hopes the good Gargantua will be victorious, likening their conflict to squabbles between countries, and he tries to do what he can to convince the military commander to spare Sanda's life after he saves Akemi twice, but by the end of the movie, nothing he's done amounts to much for his character, and he has no emotion when he's told that both Gargantuas were killed by the volcano. And as for his apparent affection for Akemi, it's nothing but rudimentary, despite how much Stewart claims he was worried he was going to lose her during the climax. Bowen and Sueko had more of a connection and their relationship certainly wasn't a full-on romance either.



The other characters are played by a cavalcade of familiar Toho faces and they do what they can with the limited depth given to their roles, managing to turn in fair performances (said performances are helped by the fact that, unlike Tamblyn, they actually seem to give a damn). Like I said before, as Dr. Akemi Togawa, Kumi Mizuno plays virtually the same character she did in Frankenstein Conquers the World, both in terms of her role in the main trio of characters and her motivation. Having been the one who interacted the most with Sanda when he was young, Akemi has a lot of affection for him and, from the start, does not believe that he's the creature that's been attacking and killing people. She starts to become vindicated in her views when it's revealed that there are two Gargantuas and it's only reinforced when Sanda not only saves her life twice but shows up in Tokyo during the climax to battle Gaira. Through it all, Akemi is determined to find a way to save Sanda's life from the military's insistence on killing both Gargantuas, a resolve that ends up putting her in danger when she rushes out into the streets and is nearly devoured by Gaira, but in the end, she's unable to do anything as the two monsters continue battling out at sea and are immolated in a volcanic eruption. In the last shot of her, she mournfully closes her eyes upon hearing that they've both perished. Mizuno certainly has more to do with her role than Kenji Sahara as Dr. Yuzo Majida, who spends the entire movie with a very serious expression on his face and does nothing more than investigate Gaira's attacks at the beginning, tries to figure out his nature, and acts as something of an advisor to the military during the film's second half. As the one who has no connection with the Gargantuas, Majida is the one who's the most concerned with stopping their cells from multiplying and creating more, although he does mournfully tell Stewart and Akemi of their ultimate fate at the end. Another ally to the main group of characters is Dr. Kita (Nobuo Nakamura), an elderly scientist who aids them in their experiments to figure out the Gargantuas' nature and, while he is kind of skeptical of Akemi's being able to keep Sanda in check, he does suggest that they could find a location somewhere in the world for him to settle. But, like the similar plan with Frankenstein, this ultimately doesn't come to pass.




As the unnamed general, Jun Tazaki adds another stern authority figure to his long line of such roles in these films, coming off as a gruff man whose main concern is the innocent people who are going to be caught up in the Gargantuas' path. He sees both monsters as threats, refusing to listen to Dr. Stewart and Akemi's insisting that Sanda is benevolent, and becomes incensed when he appears in Tokyo shortly after Gaira does, unaware of the conflict between them. While he does show concern over the possibility that hitting the Gargantuas with heavy artillery could scatter their cells and create more of them, he ultimately decides to do so anyway, feeling that they can find and destroy any pieces that get blown off. And yet, while the general refuses Stewart's plea to give Sanda a chance to defeat Gaira, when he orders the attack on them to commence, it's noticeable that Gaira is the only one being shot, making me wonder if he ordered his men offscreen to only fire at him (either that or, if nothing else, he does realize that Gaira is the bigger threat). Other familiar actors in the supporting cast include Yoshifumi Tajima as a police officer investigating the sinking of the boat at the beginning and Hisaya Ito as his assistant; Ren Yamamoto, who appeared in the original Godzilla as the character of Masaji, as the loan survivor of the sinking of the boat; and Ikio Sawamura, who had a number of bit parts in kaiju movies during the Golden Age, as a fisherman who's horrified to see Gaira glaring up at him from beneath the water right before he falls out of the boat with his partner.

Of course, you can't talk about The War of the Gargantuas without mentioning Kipp Hamilton, who only appears in one scene but it's one that sticks with you, whether you like it or not. She appears as this singer at a seaside nightclub who's grabbed and nearly eaten by Gaira but, before he appears, we have to endure this horrendous song that she sings: The Words Get Stuck In My Throat. Not only is it obnoxious to listen to, it stops the movie dead in its tracks for about two full minutes, and you're relieved when Gaira finally shows up (I like to think he hated the song about as much as I do). And this song is in both versions of the film, so there's no escaping it. In the American version, Hamilton, who was Carol Burnett's sister-in-law, is credited as a "special guest star" but she really didn't have much of a profile, as she mainly guest-appeared on a number of different television shows like Perry Mason, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Rawhide, and such, while her most notable film appearance was in the Frank Sinatra movie, Never So Few. From what I've read, the reason for her popping up here is because she was involved with Henry G. Saperstein at the time. This was the last movie she was in, although she did show up in a few more TV shows afterward.



Since we're no longer dealing with heavy subject matter like Hiroshima, The War of the Gargantuas doesn't come off as thematically and tonally dark as Frankenstein Conquers the World, although it's still not a light-hearted film by any means. The two monsters, as I've said, are never played for laughs, especially when Gaira is actually shown eating a woman during his rampage at Haneda airport (such explicit human fatalities in kaiju movies were very rare during this period), there's very little actual humor altogether, Akira Ifukube's main theme creates a pall of doom and dread over the film, and it ends on a somber note, as the benevolent Sanda meets his end along with Gaira when an erupting undersea volcano consumes them. Speaking of Sanda, there's a sense of pathos surrounding him in how he's initially blamed for Gaira's actions, is still targeted by the military even after it's proven that he had nothing to do with the death and destruction his brother caused, and after being horrified by Gaira's preying on people, attempts to reason with him but is ultimately forced to fight him to the death, which is pretty sad after he's first seen coming to Gaira's aid and trying to help him recover from his injuries at the lake. Going back to something I mentioned earlier, this movie, in a strange way, is Toho's take on the story of Cain and Abel, in that it revolves two brothers, one violent and the other benign, who come into conflict in a way that eventually leads to tragedy for both of them. This notion is even explicitly stated by Dr. Kita in a scene in the American version, reinforcing how Japanese monster flicks are most definitely a breed apart from their western contemporaries. Seriously, try to name an American monster film where both the human characters and the monsters have a moral dilemma.


One thing I've noticed about these movies is how the prints for the Japanese versions tend to look much darker than the American ones, and that's certainly the case for The War of the Gargantuas. When I first bought Classic Media's DVD release and watched the Japanese version, not only was I put off by how the characters go back and forth in referring to the monsters as "Gargantuas" and "Frankenstein," I couldn't believe how hard it was to see what was going on most of the time. The darkness works in some instances, like the opening attack on the boat and quiet, foreboding moments like when Dr. Stewart and Akemi arrive at their Tokyo hotel room and he tells her what a disaster it would be if a Gargantua appeared in the city, but when the Gargantuas are onscreen and you want to see them throw down, it can be frustrating. It's especially bad during the extended sequence where the military pursues Gaira through the wilderness, leading up to Sanda's first appearance, and the scenes at the lake, where the Gargantuas first come into conflict, are so dark that you'd think it was the middle of the night when it's supposed to be during the day. Just another reason why I prefer to watch the American version and why I'm going to try to use as many images from it as possible.

Getting to the Gargantuas themselves, it's not hyperbole to say that they are, by far, the most memorable aspects of the film and two of the most iconic kaiju to ever come out of Japan period, both in their look and portrayal (their coolness factor is another reason why the already bland human characters feel so underwhelming). Character-wise, Gaira, the green Gargantua and the one who has the most screentime, is the least complex of the two. He's just a savage beast who attacks and devours anybody and anything he comes across, developing a particular taste for humans and going as far as to fight off a giant octopus in order to attack a boat in the film's opening. While some may characterize him as malevolent, I don't think it's quite that clear-cut; I see him more as a wild animal, a result of his having grown up and fending for himself in the ocean, getting anything he can to survive. In fact, it's very possible that he's how Sanda would have turned out had he grown up in the wild and not had close interactions with humans. That said, though, it is understandable that he's a very serious threat that must be dealt with, especially when he begins venturing on land to hunt for humans.


Gaira's origin stems from his and Sanda's relationship with the Frankenstein monster, who was able to completely regenerate a new body even after apparently being destroyed for good. When the Gargantuas' cellular structures are shown to be completely identical, Dr. Stewart theorizes that, after escaping his lab, Sanda could have torn off a piece of his flesh, which may have fallen into a river and eventually washed into the sea, feeding on plankton until it grew into Gaira. This is the reason behind his aquatic nature, which makes him unable to last very long without water, and also why he initially avoids bright sunlight and artificial lights, as he's spent his entire life in the dark depths of the ocean. Even though he and Sanda are often referred to as brothers, as Stewart himself says, this theory, in essence, means that they're not actually brothers or even parent and child, but rather genetic duplicates of each other. Biological similarities aside, though, the way each of them were raised is the reason behind their vastly different natures, and while Gaira accepts Sanda's help in escaping from the military, this doesn't curb his appetite for human flesh, leading to their conflict. It's hard to say if they ever got all that close, as they're not shown bonding with each other, and Gaira appears to view as Sanda as just kind of being there, but one thing's for sure: when Sanda whacks him with that tree after seeing what he's done, Gaira immediately turns against him and it stays that way for the rest of the movie. After escaping from him and making it back to the ocean, Gaira heads straight for Tokyo, having now figured out that all of the lights there means the presence of food, and when Sanda arrives, trying to reason with him, his violent, wild nature makes such a thing impossible. All Gaira now sees in Sanda is a threat and he's ready to defend himself, leading to the destructive battle that eventually ends in their share demise.

One of the things that makes the Gargantuas unique among kaiju is that they're humanoid in shape and form, which you don't see that often. Like Sanda, Gaira, who's played by original Godzilla suit-actor Haruo Nakajima (his favorite role outside of Godzilla), looks like a giant, ape-like, hairy man, whose hair and skin are a green color, akin to that of seaweed, and his hair hangs loosely off his body. There appear to be spots on his body where there's no hair, making it look as if he has a touch of the mange, and after he gets zapped by the maser cannons, his body is covered with ugly, bloody scars for the rest of the movie. While neither of the Gargantuas' faces are all that nice to look at, Gaira's is particularly ugly, with a misshapen, swollen look to it akin to how King Kong looked in King Kong vs. Godzilla, a wide, flat, ape-like nose, pointed ears, a fairly flat crown, and two sharp fangs on his lower jaw that actually jut out of his mouth. Said fangs help to further emphasize his carnivorous nature, as do the sharp, crooked claws on his fingers. His vocalizations are a distinct mixture of high-pitched, raspy screams and growls, some of which appear to be King Kong's roars in the Toho films modified to sound much higher than they originally were. The sounds I always remember are his ultimate, loud screech, which you first hear right before his first appearance as he battles the octopus, this howl-like sound that starts out fairly high but quickly dips down in pitch as it's emitted, and these short, sort of yelps that sound like, "Churt!" (in fact, they sometimes sound like he's saying, "Shit!").


While we can easily deduce that Sanda (Yu Sekida) came about from the remains of the Frankenstein monster, we're not told exactly how he ended up at Dr. Paul Stewart's laboratory or how they determined that he was related to Frankenstein since, again, he doesn't really resemble him (especially in the childlike form we see in the flashback, which looks more like a little kid wearing a cheap werewolf costume). Also, is Sanda actually meant to be Frankenstein, just in a different-looking body, or is he merely an offshoot of him, the way Gaira is to him? Regardless, as he was cared for by Stewart and his colleagues, growing especially attached to Akemi, Sanda developed a very gentle, playful personality early on and retained it after he escaped to the mountains, where he's been living ever since. When he first appears in adult form (rather out of nowhere, I might add), he comes to Gaira's aid just as he's about to be finished off by the military and motions for them to back off, although he takes no violent action against them. He takes Gaira to a large lake, where he cares for him to help him heal his wounds, and hides him from the military. Although he's grown leery of humans following the attack on Gaira, Sanda is still shown to be a gentle soul when he saves Akemi from falling to her death, even at the expense of his left leg, which is seriously injured in the process. Whether or not he recognizes Akemi is never made clear but one thing is: Sanda is furious when realizes that Gaira has been eating humans. This leads to the two of them fighting and Sanda pursuing Gaira when he makes his way to Tokyo, where he initially tries to get his brother to stop his rampage. You can see that Sanda really is attempting to reason with Gaira for most of the battle, as he shakes his head and motions with his arm in a way that means, "Stop this," but when it becomes clear that he's not going to listen, Sanda decides he has no choice but to fight him to the death. His injured leg gives Gaira an advantage over him but Sanda does manage to hold his own throughout the fight, continuing to battle with him even when they end up far out at sea, where they fall victim to the undersea volcano.

Sanda's look and form is quite similar to Gaira's, right down to the mange-like patches of bare skin amidst his light-brown hair (which is much more noticeable on him), although he's a little bit taller and has less monstrous details in his features than Gaira, most notably in a more human-like face, with a collection of hair resembling a beard around his chin, and teeth and fingernails that aren't as sharp. He looks more like a giant Sasquatch than Gaira already does, although his head is more square-shaped and the top almost completely flat, lending credence to the idea that he may be the Frankenstein monster reborn. In keeping with his larger size, Sanda's roars are much deeper than Gaira's (although they're still clearly modified vocals from King Kong), and he also lets out some mournful groans during significant moments like when he's looking at Gaira before he realizes what he's done and when he's trying to reason with him in Tokyo. His vocalizations aren't as memorable to me as Gaira's, though, no doubt to their less distinctive sound and his less amount of screentime in general.


The Gargantuas' humanoid design and the slenderness of the suits helped to make their battles among the best kaiju fights ever put to film. Usually, kaiju are designed to be reptilian or dinosaur-like in nature, leading to costumes that are very heavy and bulky and severely restrict the actors' movements, keeping the fight scenes, while often still exciting and entertaining, from reaching the heights that they could. In this case, however, these suits enabled Haruo Nakajima and Yu Sekida to move around with a lot of fluidity, resulting in battles that are much more kinetic, physically impressive, and downright savage than normal. The more enabling design of the suit was one of the reasons why Nakajima particularly enjoyed playing Gaira, as he described it as feeling like a second skin, and the mask he wore also made him able to actually have his head and facial expressions serve as those of the monster, whereas whenever he played Godzilla and other creatures, his head was in the costumes' neck. His being able to see much better than he ever could before (you can actually see his and Sekida's eyes behind their masks, another rarity for these kinds of roles) also undoubtedly helped in the quality of the battles. And the proof is right there on the screen.




Speaking of the action scenes, Eiji Tsuburaya and his crew pulled out all the stops to create some of the best miniature work ever in a Toho film. Really, the quality of the effects in this movie is really top notch. For one, Tsuburaya corrected the problem of there not being many city scenes in Frankenstein Conquers the World, as he and his crew created really good miniature mock-ups of Tokyo and Haneda airport, with a lot of detail in the buildings, streets, and other structures, all of which are scaled exquisitely. Furthermore, the sheer size of the sets themselves is very impressive, as it gives the suit-actors a lot of room to fight and maneuver around in (the airport's big landing field, runway, and grounded planes make it feel even more like a real location), and the miniature buildings look just as great when they get smashed as they do when they're just standing there. All of this work rivals the already amazing sets, especially that of "New Kirk City," which Tsuburaya and company had created for Mothra five years earlier, and the quality of the crumbling buildings are an improvement on some of those seen in the monsters' attack on Fuji City in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (a great sequence, and one of my personal favorites, but some of those miniatures looked a little too much like cardboard and styrofoam). The film is no slouch in creating great miniature sets of the forests and countryside either, with all the great detail in the trees, shrubs, and grass that was present in Frankenstein Conquers the World added on with rivers, small bridges, village sets for Gaira to rampage through, and an impressive lake set where the Gargantuas take refuge and can even submerge. And not only do the scenes set at sea believably look like the middle of the ocean, as they often do, but you also have very realistic-looking shorelines for Gaira to jump into the water. 




It's clear that Tsuburaya and his crew were firing on all cylinders when they went into this film, as the miniature vehicles, aircraft, and ships are on par with the sets. While Frankenstein Conquers the World had instances of cars and army tanks that looked like toys, here all of the vehicles seen look nicely realistic, especially the military ones. The most notable are the "maser cannons," these large, mounted, futuristic weapons that fire white-blue lasers that seriously injure Gaira. There were prototypes of these weapons seen in previous films, like a giant heat-ray that's used in Mothra and the A-Cycle light-ray cannons in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, but here, they really perfected the look and feel, as these things are kind of iconic in their own right. Through the use of stock footage, they would end up appearing in the Godzilla films and more advanced versions would appear in the films made in the 80's onward. (In fact, Toho used stock footage from The War of the Gargantuas time and again, particularly the shots of the military heading out to intercept Gaira and the maser cannons firing at him as he tries to use the thick forest as cover. I first saw this material in Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Megalon, both of which make extensive use of stock footage, especially the latter.) In addition, the boat that Gaira sinks during the opening and the ships he and Sanda use as weapons during their battle are simply beautiful in how they're scaled, coming off as virtually half the size of the monsters themselves, and the undersea volcano that erupts and kills the Gargantuas at the end is amazingly realistic, both when it slowly emerges from the boiling ocean and when you see it exploding and smoking afterward.

That opening with the boat marks the one, sudden appearance of a third monster in the film: a giant octopus. Officially dubbed "Oodako" by Toho, this creature has appeared in a couple of other films, first showing up in King Kong vs. Godzilla, where it attacks the native village on Faro Island and has a brief scuffle with Kong, and then in the alternate ending of Frankenstein Conquers the World, where it drags Frankenstein to his doom in a river, as well as in a few episodes of the Japanese TV show, Ultra Q (the prelude to Ultraman). The reason for its continued appearances during this period probably stemmed from Tsuburaya, who was said to have always wanted to make a movie featuring a giant octopus and might have been disappointed that the octopus ending for Frankenstein didn't make it to Japanese theaters. While the whole of its appearance may be random and ultimately pointless in context to the rest of the movie, the octopus is conceived in a manner that's quite effective, with a nice-looking, well-operated prop used in the exterior shots when it's shown attacking the boat and fighting Gaira, and unsettling, slimy, full-sized tentacles that creep into the boat's cabin and attack the helmsman.

The tentacles are just a prelude to another, even more impressive full-sized prop: big, mechanical hands used in close-ups of the Gargantuas grabbing and holding people. They're mainly used for instances where Gaira attacks people, like when he swipes at the sailors as they swim away after he's sunk their boat, when he pulls a woman out of a building at the Haneda airport, and picks up Kipp Hamilton and Akemi and lifts them up towards his mouth, only to be foiled each time, but there's also an instance where Sanda catches Akemi when she nearly falls to her death at the lake and places her safely on a ledge with Stewart. In either instance, they look really good and are on par with the big, mechanical hands made a decade later for the 1976 King Kong (in fact, they may ultimately come across as more realistic due to how they're used).

As with a lot of these films, the one area of effects work here that's the weakest is in the blue screen and compositing but, even then, it's more hit-and-miss than out-and-out bad. Some of them actually look pretty good, like the distant shots of Gaira either emerging from the ocean or running through a village with people in foreground, as well as some of the shots of him looking over skylines as people run for it, but there are others where the blue lines around composited elements is painfully obvious, especially when Gaira appears in the background behind Kipp Hamilton after she finishes her song (the obviousness of the effect before he appears gives away what's about to happen) and when Sanda catches Akemi and places her on the ledge with Stewart. Like I said in another review, kaiju movies really wouldn't get good instances of compositing for another couple of decades, but those effects here are much improved from what was seen in Frankenstein Conquers the World and the lasers that the maser cannons fire are a good example of rotoscoping animation in these films.






The film opens on a small boat chugging along a choppy ocean on a stormy night. The loan man at the helm slowly maneuvers it through the water, as lightning streaks across the sky, when the door to the cabin slowly opens by itself. A large, slimy octopus tentacle creeps in, wriggling across the floor, but the helmsman doesn't realize it's there until it reaches his feet. That's when he turns around and is horrified at the sight of it. He smacks the tentacle repeatedly, cutting off the tip of it, and drives it back out through the door, which he tries to hold shut. He yells for help as the tentacle presses against the door from the outside, not seeing another tentacle coming through the window behind, as the octopus' entire enormous body emerges from the sea. The tentacle grabs his leg and pulls him along the floor, as an outside shot shows that the octopus has almost completely ensnared the boat. The helmsman is helpless to get free, as he's grabbed by a second tentacle and pulled towards the window. He attempts to brace himself to keep from being pulled through, continuing to yell for help, when the tentacles suddenly slip off of him as the octopus is apparently pulled away from the boat. The sailor is dropped to the floor and he curiously gets back up to see what happened. As he looks through the window, Gaira's scream rips through the air and we then see him fighting with the octopus, which has now ensnared him in its tentacles. He struggles with it, snarling and yelling the whole time, and eventually manages to overpower it, throwing it aside, all while the sailor watched with an expression of both horror and amazement on his face. With that obstacle out of the way, Gaira turns his attention to the boat, which the helmsman tries to steer away from him but doesn't have a chance of doing so in time. Gaira is on the boat within seconds, grabbing it and rocking it back and forth, attempting to shove it under the water, and begins lifting it up and shoving it back down, completely swamping it.




After the police investigate the sinking, they interview the hospitalized sailor, the loan survivor, once he comes out of the state shock he was in and he continues insisting that the boat was attacked and sunk by a monster. As he describes what happened after Gaira attacked, the film cuts to a flashback where he and the rest of the crew are swimming as fast as they can for shore. However, in a really terrifying and well-composited shot, Gaira is shown hot on their heels, swimming after them in big, long strokes. At that rate, as well as due to his size, it doesn't take him long to catch up with them, and when he does, he slams one with his enormous hand, immediately following that up with another (I noticed that it's actually the same actor both times). The helmsman continues swimming frantically as his story ends and we go back to the hospital. In stark contrast to the scene we just saw, the next time we see a creature, it's in another flashback, as Akemi tells reporters who are talking to her, Dr. Paul Stewart, and Dr. Majida about the incidents of the Gargantua they knew and raised. We cut to a scene of the scientists working in the lab when Akemi sees that little Sanda is playing around with a purse as he sits on the couch he's bound to. She quickly takes it away from him and as he fusses, she decides to give him his food, with assistants bringing in a tray containing some bottles of milk and vegetables on a plate. Akemi tells him to wait when he tries to go for it but she soon lets him have it. He grabs one of the bottles and shakes and fiddles around with it, while Akemi takes the cap off another, puts a straw in it, and allows him to drink from it. (In the Japanese version, little Sanda makes childish hooting and gibbering sounds, but he's completely silent in the American one.)



Following that, a little fishing boat, no bigger than a small yacht, is seen putting along the ocean elsewhere, dragging a net in the water behind it. Suddenly, the boat stops dead in the water and the one man on deck heads to the back to see what's going, as his friend comes up from down below. The fisherman is horrified to see Gaira glaring up at him from just below the surface of the water, pawing at the boat, and lets out a frightened yell. His friend asks him what's wrong and frantically points at the water while yelling, but the boat is then violently rocked back and forth and they both fall and are likely devoured offscreen. In the very next scene, a bunch of natives are seen pulling their own nets out of the ocean, only for them to be pulled back towards the water by some tremendous force that overwhelms them all. Any questions they may have about what's going on are immediately answered when Gaira emerges from the water much further offshore, standing up with a roar that sends them all running for it. However, instead of attacking, he seems to simply duck back down beneath the water, as the scene ends (in the Japanese version, you can see him trying to free himself from the fishing net). Following that, Dr. Stewart decides to go to the Japanese alps to investigate claims of a monster seen there, while Dr. Majida heads to the site of Gaira's latest appearances. Majida finds a piece of Gaira's fur attached to the side of a wrecked boat, while in the mountains, Stewart and Akemi are taken to the spot where enormous footprints are seen in the snow, heading up the edge of the cliff.






The next major monster scene takes place at the Haneda airport in Tokyo. As a jet comes in for a landing, Gaira emerges from the nearby ocean with a loud screech, sending people relaxing and eating outside on a nearby patio running for it. While Gaira comes ashore and approaches the airport, and as everyone continues running in a blind panic, a man up in the control tower warns all approaching aircraft to turn away. It's a good thing he made that announcement, too, as the plane that was about to land had caught Gaira's attention and he watches as it turns around and flies away. He then stomps towards the airport's main buildings, looming over the skyline at the fleeing people and sending them running back the way they came. Gaira continues skirting around the edge of the airport, as announcement is made for its evacuation, and he then smashes through a wall with his legs and actually enters the perimeter near the main buildings. While all the people on the ground continue frantically running for it, Gaira peers through one of the buildings' windows at an office and sees a frightened woman who's left behind as everyone else evacuates. As she screams, he smashes his hand through the window, sending chunks of ceiling and falling pillars raining down on those escaping on the floors below, and reaches in, grabbing the woman and pulling her out. Everyone else inside continues trying to escape while avoiding being crushed (one woman falls to the floor and is nearly trampled), while Gaira quickly devours the woman in his hand outside. The sun emerges from behind the clouds above him, catching his attention as he munches on his meal and then spits out a piece of clothing from the woman (in the American version, there's an added shot of the garment, which was her skirt, hitting the ground below). Within seconds, the sun shines a bright ray of light out from behind the clouds, illuminating Gaira's face. Unable to tolerate the bright light, he lets out a screech and hurriedly runs back towards the ocean, kicking several objects out of his way, and jumps straight into the water as the clouds disperse even further, letting in more sunlight. Those in the control tower watch as he swims away, continuing to warn other aircraft in the area not to land.



Unfortunately, the next moment with Gaira is after we have to endure Kipp Hamilton's singing The Words Get Stuck In My Throat. I know I said it before, but I'll say it again: that song is so annoying and it stops the movie dead for a couple of minutes. (There's as an episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated that acts as a send-up of this movie and they actually have a woman singing that very same song.) In any case, once she's done, Gaira appears in the background behind her, approaching the club. Needless to say, the minute they see him, everyone there panics and runs for it, except for the singer, who's oblivious to what's going on until she turns around and sees Gaira glaring at her. Before she can run for it, he quickly grabs her with his hand and pulls her up towards his mouth as she lies in his palm, yelling frantically. Those down below quickly switch on the club's bright lights, blinding Gaira and causing him to drop the singer to the floor as he swings around and quickly leaves to escape the light, as everyone runs to the singer's aid. In the next scene, Dr. Paul Stewart is awakened in his Tokyo hotel room by the sound of sirens and turns on the radio to hear a report about Gaira coming ashore from the Sakai River; the announcer also tells all listeners to keep their lights on and informs of the mobilization of the armed forces. Stewart and Akemi then head out to see what's going on.




The armed forces begin moving in to intercept Gaira, while at a small village in the country, the residents are following the radio's instructions and lighting torches and bonfires in order to try to keep him at bay. Gaira is then shown approaching from nearby and the villagers quickly take cover, as he lets out a loud scream. The military begins arriving nearby, in squadrons made up of jeeps with searchlights, a convoy of tanks, and vehicles with big, mounted cannons, while Gaira notices the fires. Instead of being driven away, he slowly approaches them out of curiosity, while the military vehicles take up positions in fields and on a road along a mountainside. The soldiers dismount from their vehicles, preparing for battle, as Gaira heads towards the village, still not sure what to make of what he's seeing. The soldiers connect the searchlights in their vehicles with a generator, and just as Gaira is about to help himself to some pigs that are trapped in a pen by a house, they turn the lights on, shining them right in his face. He instantly recoils from this and runs for cover in the thick woods, as the soldiers try to keep him illuminated. Elsewhere, at a headquarters out in the field, despite the fact that they have Gaira trapped, the general decides not to attack just yet, for fear of the civilians he may kill if they do nothing but wound him. Back at the battle site, a trio of helicopters comes flying in, which Gaira notices, and the soldiers continue keeping an eye on him, when he begins moving amongst the trees. He emerges from the trees into a clearing, stepping into a stream, and scans the area, seeing all the parked military vehicles. Walking up to another treeline, he peers out past them, when a squadron of troops jump the gun and begin firing on him with their assault rifles and miniguns. Instantly, the heavy artillery joins in the attack, with Gaira getting blasted all along his torso and around his head. After nearly two minutes of being fired upon, and with his fur catching fire and smoking, Gaira decides he's had enough and storms up to the tanks parked on the mountainside road in front of him. He grabs one tank and throws it, crashing it through a small house, and he does the same with all the others parked next to it, destroying house after house with the projectiles and smashing the last against a hillside, as troops elsewhere continue firing on him. The general's second-in-command finally gets in touch with the troops and orders them to stop firing immediately.


At the command center in Tokyo, as Stewart and the others learn of the military's plan to lure Gaira into an area where they can kill him with their laser weapons, the helicopters that were seen earlier land in a clearing and the troops disembark. Elsewhere, other troops are readying the electrodes necessary for their plan, and the helicopters from before are told to assist in the search for Gaira. Speaking of which, Gaira is then shown stalking through the forest, and the general is told of his current position, as he's then shown dunking his head in a mountain river to keep himself hydrated. Crouching down in the water, he notices a helicopter flying overhead and some nearby troops keep the others aware of where he is. He begins moving again, wading through the river, and puts his foot on a bridge when he reaches it, warily scanning the surrounding area. The bridge soon crumbles beneath his weight and he continues on, while at the field HQ, everyone tries to prepare themselves for his inevitable arrival. Preparations continue on the maser cannons and mounted lasers, with the troops rushing to get everything ready by the time Gaira arrives, going as far as to place large electrodes in rivers and streams in the area. The maser cannons slowly take aim as final preparations are made, as Gaira continues approaching the spot. The general orders the helicopters to try to keep him at bay until they're ready and they begin flying in towards him. Seeing the first approaching aircraft, Gaira reaches for it but it slips past his grasp, and the same goes for the next two that come by. Gaira clearly becomes frustrated by this, but when the next helicopter approaches, he's ready for it, as he leaps up into the air and grabs it, throwing it to the ground, where it bursts into flames. The helicopter that follows suffers the same fate and the troops take the opportunity to take cover, waiting for the attack to begin. A sixth helicopter approaches Gaira, only to stop in midair before it's within striking range, which catches the Gargantua off-guard. Irritated, he swipes up at it and chases it as it flies backwards away from him; meanwhile, the general is told that everything is ready.






Gaira continues chasing and swiping at the helicopter until he's lured into position. With that, he's fired upon by the mounted lasers, one of which catches him above his right foot and stops him in his tracks, allowing the helicopter to escape. Writhing in place from the laser, Gaira is a sitting duck for the maser cannons, which open fire as well, striking him in the face and around his shoulders. He falls to the ground and quickly crawls through the thick trees and brush, trying to use it as cover, as the maser cannons continue to fire on him. The trees don't do much to protect him, as they're snapped instantly by the lasers, and crawls frantically until he reaches a spot that's clear. It doesn't stay clear long, though, as he's zapped again, fumbling over into the treeline on his left and continuing to try to escape. Try as he might, though, he's unable to get away, as all of the trees are zapped to pieces and he ultimately falls on his back, flailing wildly amidst the smoking brush. The troops watch from nearby, confident that they've succeeded, as Gaira gets to his feet and tries to run for it but is continuously tagged by the masers, at one point falling back down and crawling. He breaks through a treeline into a clearing, now with bloody wounds on his chest, and jumps into a stream, only for the electrode waiting for him in the water to be activated. Electricity surges up through his legs and the masers continue zapping him along his scarred torso, causing him to drop to his right knee, which, in turn, causes him to electrocuted on other parts of his body like his right arm and gut. He jumps back up but, at this point, he has no strength to try to escape and, as the masers continue firing, he falls down on both hands and knees, getting further electrocuted and flailing on his back in the water, screeching in pain. It seems as though he's finally been stopped, when a deeper-sounding roar is heard emitting from the nearby mountain. The troops are stunned to see another Gargantua, the bigger, brown-colored Sanda, come running down the hillside, sending the soldiers operating the generators and connecting the cables sliding out of control. Sanda jumps into the water to help the exhausted Gaira, motioning the humans to stay away, and helps him to his feet. He walks him out of the water and leads him into the forest, looking back and letting out one last roar at the troops before the two of them disappear into the wilderness. Stewart and his colleagues are vindicated by this news, knowing that their theory was correct, while the troops are told of the official designations for the two monsters.



While Stewart and his colleagues search the spot where the battle took place in order to find a link between the Gargantuas, the two monsters are at a large lake, where Gaira is lying on the shore with his legs in the water, groaning in pain from the nasty scars on his body. Sanda does what he can for him, splashing water on his backside, when the two of them hear the sound of an approaching helicopter. The two of them get to their feet upon hearing it and hide, with Gaira diving into the depths of the lake while Sanda takes cover in the trees, ducking his head down as the helicopter passes over. As it flies away, he watches it warily from his hiding spot, while Gaira rises back to the surface of the lake. Meanwhile, once Stewart and his colleagues have learned that the Gargantuas share the exact same cellular structure, and he theorizes how Gaira was created, Dr. Majida warns the general of what could happen if they bomb the monsters and scatter their cells. The general decides that they may need to change their attack strategies, with one of his men suggesting that they use napalm.





The military continues scouring the countryside for the Gargantuas, but their presence doesn't stop throngs of tourists from hiking the trails around the lake while happily singing an old folk song and heading out across it in rowboats and speedboats. Stewart and Akemi are among them and Stewart likens their lack of fear of encountering Gaira to how it was when the Nazis captured Paris, with all of the young people thriving in the nightclubs and theaters, regardless. They decide to join them in their hike and for a little bit, it's a serene moment, as the tourists' singing echoes through the forest. As a thick mist settles in, Stewart and Akemi decide to head back, while up ahead, the obscured shape of Gaira emerges from the fog. When the tourists see him looking down at them from above the trees, snarling viciously, they immediately panic and take off running. They pass by Stewart and Akemi on the way and tell them of what's happening. Stewart tells Akemi to get back to the car and they join the fleeing tourists, but when they run across a section of the path that's at angle on a large slope, Akemi falls off, plummeting down the side of a large drop-off. She manages to grab onto a branch jutting out of the side of the cliff and Stewart tells her that he'll be there to help shortly (again, Russ Tamblyn's delivery has none of the urgency that it should). Akemi struggles to keep her grip, as Stewart carefully works his way down to her, but when he reaches the ledge above where she's hanging, he finds that getting to her is tricky. As he starts down, though, Sanda makes his way down the side of the cliff, noticing Akemi hanging from the branch. Before he can do anything to help, a large rock hits his left leg, making him groan in pain and causing him to slip and slide into the shallows of the lake below. Akemi's grip then gives out but Sanda hears her as she screams and catches her in his hand, placing her up on the ledge with Stewart. Akemi is overjoyed at this, as she sees it as proof that Sanda knows who they are, but he then limps away along the shore, ignoring her pleas for him to stay.





Depending on which version you watch, a shot of the rowboat that was once occupied by a young couple floating empty on the lake comes either at the tail end of the previous scene with Sanda or right before the next major monster scene; either way, it's the catalyst for this scene, which is when the Gargantuas' relationship goes completely south. Gaira is lying down with his back up against a hillside, when Sanda comes limping around the bend. He looks at him and lets out a mournful-sounding moan, when he looks at the ground near him and sees shredded clothes tossed about. Realizing what it means, Sanda growls angrily and rips a tree out of the top of the hill, the sound of which gets Gaira's attention. He turns and looks at Sanda, who huffs and rolls his shoulders angrily, raising the tree in a threatening manner. Gaira doesn't seem to take it seriously, though, as he turns his head back around as if to say, "Piss off," but Sanda proves that he means business when he stomps up to him and smacks him with the tree. Gaira quickly rolls away, avoiding another whack, and jumps to his feet in a defensive posture, while Sanda jumps back, still brandishing the tree. The two charge at each other, with Gaira grabbing Sanda's arm and biting him on the wrist, forcing him to drop the tree. Sanda smacks him repeatedly on the back and the two of them viciously struggle and grapple with each other before shoving away from each other and then coming back, with Sanda grabbing Gaira and throwing him to the ground. Gaira gets back up, dodging a swing from Sanda, and the two of them grapple again, this time with Gaira gaining the upper-hand and making Sanda eat dirt. Before Sanda can get back up, Gaira runs at him and shoves him down on his back, before turning and running off into the wilderness. In spite of his injured leg, Sanda gets back up and chases after Gaira, determined to stop him from killing any more people.


Gaira's flight from Sanda doesn't go unnoticed, as the military quickly gets a report of his rampage through the countryside and we then see him trample through a small village. Upon hearing of this, the general orders both Gargantuas to be fired upon by any means necessary and tanks, mounted machine guns, and troops with assault rifles are shown firing on him as he goes through another village, smashing a house with his foot. They're unable to do anything to stop him and are forced to get out of his way as he runs towards them, leaping over the vehicles and continuing his sprint through the countryside, sending civilians running for it. The general, at this time, is still concerned with Sanda's whereabouts but Stewart insists that they must focus everything on Gaira, who is heading back for the ocean. He sends his troops out to try to intercept him before he can reach the beach, but when we cut to a town in his path that's being evacuated (in the American version, there's a shot here of fleeing people that looks identical to one from Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, only without Godzilla in the background), it doesn't look like the heavy artillery got there in time. Gaira enters the outskirts of the town and bypasses it, heading straight for the nearby ocean, which he quickly wades into before disappearing beneath the water.


The climax begins when Stewart and Akemi are in their hotel room in Tokyo, discussing the situation, when they hear an emergency siren rip through the city, meaning that Gaira has appeared. Stewart then sees that everybody is turning their lights on but he calls at Dr. Majida at the Defense Agency, who, in turn, warns the general that Gaira has, by this point, probably figured out that bright lights mean the presence of people to prey on. In the next cut, we see troops evacuating the city while ordering everyone to turn the lights off and abandon their cars in the congested city streets (one poor guy and his girl are forced to abandon the car that he bought just a month before). That's when we see Gaira stomping down a dark, empty street nearby, as maser cannons, tanks, and other military vehicles are brought in to battle him. Meanwhile, Majida and the general are trying to figure out a way to lure Gaira out of the city, but the proposed plan of completely cutting off all power in the city in order to make it work poses a huge risk to the evacuating civilians. And then, as if things weren't more complicated, the command center gets a report that Sanda has been sighted as well, having destroyed a bridge and heading straight for Tokyo. Stewart and Akemi are then told of the situation with Sanda and Akemi, refusing to believe that he intends to help Gaira, heads out to try to turn him away from the city, intending to repay him for saving her life. Stewart chases after her down into the streets, as she races past some troops along the sidewalk, and he quickly catches up with her. Initially, he's annoyed with her, but when he can see how much Sanda's well-being means to her, he agrees to help her. They then rush past a crowd of people being cleared off the streets and hide amongst the parked cars that have completely covered the road, unaware that nearby, Gaira is stomping down a road, crushing cars beneath his feet. The two of them see him when he walks out between two buildings ahead of them and they run for it. While everyone else is evacuated, Stewart and Akemi have no choice but to see shelter down in an abandoned subway station. Hearing Gaira roaring outside, they run down the length of the station to try to make it out through one of the other entrances, only for him to cut them off when he reaches in through it. They run back the way they came and stop just short of the entrance they came through earlier. Akemi then does something dumb when she sees Gaira's legs outside and runs towards them, apparently thinking he's Sanda. When she runs up there, Gaira smashes his hand through the roof of the stairwell, blocking Stewart off, and grabs her. He lifts her up out of the hole and prepares to devour her, when Sanda announces his presence down the street from him. Gaira immediately drops Akemi back into the subway tunnel and stands up to face off with Sanda, with Stewart taking the chance to carry her to safety.




Groaning, Sanda shakes his head as he approaches Gaira, who promptly backs away into the depths of the city, while a soldier instructs Stewart to take Akemi down to the lower levels of the subway. Sanda continues trying to reason with Gaira, who backs up against a building, knocking a structure off the roof in the process, preparing to defend himself. Shaking his head and motioning him to stop, Sanda approaches the cornered Gaira, who snarls and gestures at him in a threatening manner. When Sanda gets too close, Gaira grabs his right arm and bites him on the forearm, with Sanda shoving him off and sending him crashing backwards into the building behind him. Sanda is thrown backwards too, falling to the ground, but gets up and approaches Gaira as he gets to his feet, still trying to reason with him. But Gaira is not to be reasoned with, as he jumps up into a fighting stance, crumbling what's left of the structure behind him. There's then a nice moment between Stewart and Akemi down in the shelter, as she regains consciousness and he tells her that she was right in her believing that Sanda came to stop Gaira, while back outside, Gaira continues backing away from Sanda, gesturing at him threateningly. He shoves Sanda when he gets too close, causing him to fall through a building, onto his back, and he's quickly on him, putting his arms around his throat, attempting to strangle him, as well as bashing the back of his head against the ground. Sanda shoves him off, causing him to crush the building he slams into, but Gaira charges right back at him, only for Sanda to bring him down by grabbing his leg. Gaira struggles to get free as Sanda continues holding him down by the leg, while down in the shelter, Stewart tries to convince the general over the phone to allow Sanda to defeat Gaira. The general, however, is unmoved by the fact that he saved Akemi again and says that they can't afford to give him that chance before hanging up the phone. He then waits for the clock to reach 11:00 in one minute, which is when the military attack will begin, and a battalion of tanks and other vehicles are shown driving into the city to wait for the order.




Stewart tries to call the general back but it's too late: the clock strikes 11:00 and the general presses the button that initiates the attack. Gaira is hit with a volley of firepower from the tanks and other vehicles, although they also end up destroying the building he was standing in front of, causing it to crumble from the onslaught. Stewart tells Akemi that he did what he could and that now, although they can is hope that the Gargantuas' cells don't multiply, while outside, Gaira throws a chunk of building at the tanks, only to get blindsided by the fire from more of them. Sanda then stumbles over to where the attack is happening and watches as Gaira uses more huge chunks of concrete to take care of to dispense with the other vehicles firing on him, causing more damage to the other buildings in the process. With that, he turns and faces Sanda, smashing into what's left of another building to block his path before running away. Both Sanda and the military are in hot pursuit, as the general is told that the battle is heading for the port and wonders how the monsters could withstand what's being thrown at them. The Gargantuas then reach the edge of the port, with Gaira challenging Sanda again, letting out a volley of angry snarls and roars as he squares off with him. Even at this point, Sanda is still trying to get through to Gaira as the two of them circle each other and he again shakes his head and gestures at him, but Gaira won't allow him to get close. When he does, Sanda gets shoved backwards into a building, with a section of the wall crumbling, and when he gets back up, he chases Gaira over to a section in the middle of several other buildings. Apparently realizing that there's no point in trying to reason with him, Sanda grapples with Gaira, only to get body-slammed on his back through a small building. Before he can get up, Gaira stomps him on his chest before putting his foot on his neck. Sanda manages to fling him off by his leg, sending tumbling against a couple of poles behind him, and sits on him, punching him in the chest and trying to choke him. Gaira grabs him by his hair and by his neck, pushing him to and fro until he shoves him off up against a half-destroyed building, following that up with a tackle that sends them both crashing through it.






The two of them continue struggling with each other and rolling and fighting wildly amidst the rubble, as a maser cannon is brought in nearby. It takes aim and fires upon Gaira when Sanda shoves him up onto his feet. Sanda takes advantage of his being momentarily distracted by charging at him and the two of them grapple, Sanda smacking Gaira on his shoulders as he holds him back by the neck. Gaira gets Sanda down on the ground and attempts to strangle him again, only to get zapped in the face, with another maser following that up with a shot from behind. Gaira is momentarily distracted again and Sanda rolls him off of him,. He gets to his feet as explosions result from the maser fire and Sanda runs at him, grabbing him by the waist, only for Gaira to grab him by the head and wrench him off, flinging him to the ground and ignoring the lasers zapping him. He chases Sanda as he rolls away and the two of them grab each other and crash into the center of another building, the walls of which come crumbling down around them as they thrash around savagely. Sanda shoves Gaira back onto his feet and he gets zapped again from both sides, with Sanda taking the opportunity to tackle into him. Other vehicles carrying masers move in to join the battle, while both Gargantaus completely decimate the large building yet when they smash through it, coming down at the very edge of the bay. They grapple when they get up again and promptly fling each other into the water, although that doesn't stop the fight at all, as they continue wrestling and pulling each other in the bay. As the military reaches the bay themselves, Sanda leaps at Gaira and they grapple again, Gaira smacking him in the back of his shoulder and Sanda turning him around as they struggle. Gaira gets shoved up against a large ship and he then turns Sanda around, only to get blasted from behind by a maser. Sanda takes the opportunity to shove Gaira back and jumps at him, only to get shoved back himself, as Gaira dives beneath the surface. Sanda scans the surface for him, only for Gaira to rise up beneath a ship, holding it above his hand. But when he tries to throw it, he gets zapped and he ends up flinging it into the water in front of Sanda. He dives back beneath the water, trying to swim away, but Sanda picks up the ship and slams it down onto him, causing him to break the surface with a screech and dive back down. Sanda begins swimming after him, as they head out to sea, a military helicopter following them.



After a small moment where Akemi, who's been moved to a hospital, is told by Stewart that the Gargantuas are probably out at sea, military helicopters are shown bombing them as they continue their battle out in the middle of the ocean, jumping, grappling, and swiping at each other. However, neither of them notice a spot nearby when the water is bumbling and churning with steam, as explosions occur beneath the surface. The military continues bombing the fighting monsters, as an undersea volcano breaks the surface as it erupts violently, spewing smoke and fire into the air. Even then, they don't seem to notice it, as they keep fighting while they're enveloped by a cloud of super-heated steam. The steam grows thicker and thicker, completely obscuring them, and their roars die off, as the eruption gets more. Back in Tokyo, Majida arrives at the hospital and tells them that the volcano has seemed to have claimed both of their lives. Although it hasn't been confirmed, it's doubtful anything could have lived. Hearing this, Akemi mournfully closes her eyes, accepting her beloved Sanda's fate, as the film's last shot is the still-smoking volcano.

Knowing that it was meant to be a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World, Akira Ifukube seems to have purposefully scored The War of the Gargantuas to sound a bit similar. For the most part, it definitely has its own unique sound, but if you watch both movies back-to-back, you can pick up some noticeable similarities in some of the themes, particularly in the mournful-sounding ones. The main theme is not likely to be forgotten any time soon after you hear it, as it plays many times throughout the film, especially in the American version. As the movie first starts up, you hear this typical type of sci-fi music that sounds like it's played on a theramin, accompanied by some low strings that hit at one of the main theme's most prominent features, and then, the theme itself hits you. It goes from a very loud, bombastic horn section to very somber, downbeat strings and then back to the blasting horns, working really well against the footage of the stormy ocean behind the main credits and really signifying the monstrous nature of Gaira. In fact, you can easily call this his theme, as you almost always hear it when he's onscreen, whereas Sanda has his own theme. His is the one that sounds like Frankenstein's leitmotif in the previous film, especially the latter part of it, which has a melody that's virtually identical to one heard a few times in that film. His theme also sounds like a more benign and pathos-driven version of Gaira's, as the meat of the music is much softer and the horn bit is from a high-pitched trumpet rather than something brassy and bombastic. There's an even quiter version of his theme that plays during the moment where he and Gaira hide from military helicopters at the lake and it also plays during the first scuffle between them, although it doesn't quite fit in the latter scene, save for the tragic-sound last bit of it that plays when Sanda chases after Gaira.

That's one problem that I have with the score, although it's more of an issue in the Japanese version: there are some scenes that are scored in a way that don't fit. For example, as he often did, Ifukube came up with this military march for the film, which he uses whenever they go into action. You hear it during the sequences where they're battling Gaira in the wilderness, when they're pursuing him across the countryside after he's run away from Sanda, and during the sections of the climactic battle where they join in, but the thing is, the march isn't the most dynamic or rousing thing ever, especially when compared to the ones he came up with for movies like the original Godzilla, Rodan, and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. It's only slightly better than the one he did for Frankenstein Conquers the World and its low-key, rather chipper and relaxed sound does not help to make those action scenes feel as epic as they're meant to be. This is another error that I feel the American version corrected, which I'll get to. Other themes that he came up with do work well, like the piece he wrote for the octopus attack on the boat at the beginning, which starts out as soft and eerie, with that theramin-sounding instrument coming in, and then becomes full-blown monstrous with brassy horns when the octopus fully emerges from the ocean; some peaceful, soft themes for low-energy scenes like when Dr. Stewart and Akemi are climbing the mountain early on; a soft, ominous bit when Dr. Majida finds a piece of Gaira's flesh and examines it with a microscope; and a sad trumpet bit that plays during the eruption of the volcano that consumes both of the Gargantuas, followed up a mournful violin bit that transitions into a final, tragic horn crescendo that you hear during the last shot of the smoking volcano.

I have this poster on my wall.
While Frankenstein Conquers the World was released in America only a year after its Japanese release, Henry G. Saperstein had trouble finding a distributor for The War of the Gargantuas, keeping it from reaching America until 1970, when it was put out on a double bill with Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (then just called Monster Zero). Deciding that the connections between the two films were far too vague, especially in regards to the look of the monsters, Saperstein decided to remove all ties between them in the writing of the English language script, right down to having the characters simply refer to Gaira and Sanda as the Green and Brown Gargantua respectively. Because of how tenuous it is in the Japanese version already, I think it was a better idea to just make it a standalone movie, with the Gargantuas being put across as two undiscovered creatures whose cells have unnatural regenerative properties. The dubbing was done Glen Glenn Sound, the same company that dubbed Monster Zero, and as a result, you can hear a number of the same voices in both of them. Save for Russ Tamblyn (even when re-dubbing his own voice, he still put no effort in whatsoever), the dubbing is pretty good, fitting the lip movements well and getting the point across in the dialogue without sounding nonsensical, at least for the most part. Some of the voices do sound a little cartoonish and over-the-top, but not to the point where it becomes distracting and they're usually very brief. They also changed some of the music, putting in a number of Ifukube's themes from Monster Zero, such as the eerie pieces he did for the scenes on Planet X and the monster themes, which really help make the scenes with the Gargantuas, especially the latter part of their climactic battle, feel more epic. There's one other different piece of music they put in, which is this fast-paced, kind of frantic-sounding theme that they use for the scenes where the military vehicles are heading into battle, as well as during some of the action sequences, and it works, but I have no clue where it's from, as it's not from any other Toho movie I've ever seen (it could be from one I just haven't gotten to yet). And like I said, you hear this movie's main theme a lot more in this version, both in spots where it wasn't before and where there was no music period, and it kind a little tiring, akin to how much you hear the main theme in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Toho also did an "international" English dub (someone else dubs Tamblyn), one that keeps all of the other original material from the Japanese version, which is available on Starz's streaming device, but judging from what little I've seen of it, I'll just stick with what I know.






The dubbing and music changes, as well as the adding of English captions and credits, aren't the only alterations made to the film for its American release; in fact, out of all the Toho sci-fi films Saperstein was involved with, this is the one that was changed the most. Scenes are ordered differently, such as the opening credits coming after Gaira attacks the boat rather than the movie starting right off with them like in the Japanese version, and the police officer played by Yoshifumi Tajima meeting with his superior before going to see the survivor of the shipwreck, whereas in the Japanese version, it's the other way around; pieces of scenes are removed, like a moment where the officer and his superior mention how the survivors could have easily swam to shore from where their boat went down; different angles are often used; and there are scenes that are exclusive to the American version. Dr. Paul Stewart enters the story earlier and takes an active part in the investigation, with new footage showing him joining the police's examination of the sunken boat and him sitting on the interrogation of the officer, as well as a scene after his introduction where the officer takes him to the hospital to see the survivor for the first time (ironically, this is a scene that contains a concrete connection to Frankenstein Conquers the World, as they discuss a severed hand that was featured in that film) and a different discussion between him, Akemi, and Majida after the scene where Gaira appears offshore near the fishing village. In this version, they discuss whether Gaira could be a different creature from the one they know (due to the fact that only his head was seen in this version) and they also first put forward the possibility that there could be more than one Gargantua. This latter bit causes a continuity error later when Stewart and Akemi are traveling to Tokyo and she seems surprised to hear him suggest that Gaira might not be their Gargantua. Stewart, Akemi, and their guides also get closer to Sanda's footprints on the mountain, with Stewart asking them how accurate they were in the prints' measurements, and later, after they've examined both of the Gargantuas' cells, there's a moment where Dr. Kita tells them that their relationship is akin to that of Cain and Abel, with Stewart adding that it sounds like the conflicts between certain countries and that maybe the "good one" will win this time. (Tamblyn also throws in an uncomfortable, "ha, ha," after he says that, which just makes me go, "Man, would you try, for once?!") There are more differences between the two versions, like added shots of destruction during the climactic battle and such (I tried to mention a lot of them beforehand when I came to them and I hope I got them right, as I can count on one hand the number of times I've watched the Japanese version), but those are the major ones.


In conclusion, The War of the Gargantuas is a real shining example of the kaiju genre. It's far from perfect, as it's not that earth-shattering in terms of story and character, Russ Tamblyn's disinterested presence seriously hurts those scenes he's in, and the connections to Frankenstein Conquers the World in the Japanese version are so vague that I personally think it's best to watch the American version where they're removed, but when it comes to what it does well, it succeeds with flying colors. It has two very memorable monsters who actually go through their own moral dilemma, a bevy of great miniature work and impressive physical effects, an unforgettable score (even if parts of it don't match the scenes they're put to in the Japanese version), and action and monster fight scenes that are among the best that Toho, or the genre in general, has to offer, especially the climactic battle in Tokyo. After all that, I can honestly say that, despite its flaws, it is my personal favorite, non-Godzilla kaiju flick and I can see myself watching it many, many more times in the years to come.

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