This past summer I feverishly immersed myself into the world of Kaiju Eiga spending hundreds of hours watching, rewatching, and writing reviews & reflections for 23 of my childhood favorite giant monster movies. That work, THERE GOES TOKYO! is currently available exclusively through Amazon (note the link on the side of this very page).
The book was finished in August but then three months of editing, covers, formatting, and all the behind the scenes nonsense that most people never think of thoroughly drained me of the desire to watch a pagoda be destroyed. Even my Ultra-Man and Jonny Sokko DVDs sat unwatched during this downtime.
But as we move into 2014 I can feel the Kaiju Eiga pull (or maybe it’s just me needing to reconnect with Russ Tamblyn and give him one more chance to prove he’s an actor who can generate even a minute level of emotion) but WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is beckoning me for another viewing. 2013 was a great year for this movie in my household as I watched it at least five times and one of those was with the pleasure of introducing some friends to this Toho gem during our weekly Netflix night.
This movie stands out as a solid entry and a personal Top 3 (and at times a #1). So I’ve decided to include for this week’s entry my chapter covering WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS from my book. It’s spoilerific so if you’ve never seen the monumental battles between Frankenstein’s children Sanda and Gaira, consider yourself warned.
“These monsters are brothers. It is our job to kill them.”
SANDA – Monster of the Mountain a.k.a. “Brown Gargantua”GAIRA – Monster of the Sea a.k.a. “Green Gargantua”
War of the Gargantuas serves as a quasi-sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World. It’s easy to miss the connection for several reasons. First, because this movie is superior to the movie it follows. Second, because the monsters and model work are top-notch. Third, because when we’re not looking at the Kaiju action we are given another Showa Era glimpse of beautiful actress Kumi Mizuno (previously worshipped as Ms. Namikawa). So throughout the review I’ll do my best to single out the moments that help connect these two movies of the Kaiju Frankenstein franchise (which lasted for only these two movies). But, fair warning: there is a lot to love in War of the Gargantuas, so if you have never seen this movie then make it a priority to watch it ASAP.
The 1966 classic gets off to an awesome pre-credits start with a ship being tossed around at sea during a violent thunderstorm. The sailor in charge is fighting the controls as a quiet tentacle pushes open the door and slithers into the wheelhouse. The tentacle wraps up the hapless sailor and drags him toward the porthole. The man gets free and stumbles on deck to see a horrible battle taking place in the ocean between a Kaiju-size octopus and a giant, green, scaly ape-man. This green monster will now be referred to by his formal name of Gaira, even though the movie will settle on “Green Gargantua.” Gaira defeats the octopus, and the sailor breathes a short sigh of relief. The reason it is so short is because Gaira immediately turns on the ship and sinks it. Turns out that the two monsters were battling over the ship’s crew, like two ravenous diners having a scrum over the last scoop of cheesy potatoes.
|Gaira - Gargantua of the Sea|
The next day, the
police have been investigating the ship’s disappearance. Only one sailor washes ashore and he has been
incessantly babbling, “The boat was sunk by a monster.” Being that this is Kyoto , the word “monster” isn’t
tossed around without someone at least giving it a modicum of respect. The chief of police contacts the
easiest-going man in Japan ,
Dr. Paul Stewart, who is a well-known American expert on monsters. Five years ago, Dr. Stewart and his beautiful
assistant Akemi helped raise and train a young gargantua until it escaped. These sessions revolved around Akemi teaching
the gargantua manners while also serving him glasses of milk and salads (no
cookies this time). Dr. Stewart’s role
in the study appears to involve him standing in the background and nodding his
head with approval as things progressed positively. Apparently the fact that Dr. Stewart failed
to contain this monster has not hurt his standing with the police or his
credibility with the medical world, even though Chapter 1 of the classic book How to Catch and Raise Monsters clearly
states, “Don’t let them escape.” Japan
As the resident expert, Dr. Stewart arrives at the
to have a look
at the sailor. The injured man only manages
to say, “A giant…” before passing out (so we’ll wait for him to come
around). While the police chief has Dr.
Stewart handy, he asks him questions regarding two concerns. First, Dr. Stewart explains that years ago he
was on the team of scientists that were able to study Frankenstein’s severed
hand. You’ll of course remember that
Frankenstein pulled his hand off to escape his hospital-jail-cell and the hand
remained alive for a period of time.
Second, the police chief comments on pictures of gigantic footprints
taken in the Japanese Alps, and of various alpine students who have claimed to
have seen a huge monster. Dr. Stewart
dismisses these comments with a chuckle and the classic line, “They were
probably on a bad LSD trip.” Yokosuka
|Our "hero", "actor" Russ Tamblyn|
As for Tamblyn’s screen persona, Dr. Paul Stewart? He’s even more useless than the actor portraying him. Dr. Stewart does nothing of relevance in the entire movie. On top of all this, he has just explained that he worked on the severed hand of a monster, and seconds later dismisses the reports that people have seen a giant monster. In many ways he fits
’s Dean Yager’s classic
assessment of poor scientists, “Your theories are the worst kind of popular
tripe. Your methods are sloppy and your
conclusions are highly questionable. You
are a poor scientist.” Columbia University
During his period of unconsciousness, divers explored his wrecked ship and found no other bodies. Bloody clothes of various sailors, though, have washed ashore. The sailor recounts his ordeal that night as the boat sank and all of the crew swam for their lives. The one problem (and it’s a big problem) is that Gaira was swimming right behind them, scooping them out of the water – and eating them. This is a pretty frightening scene and you feel for the pitiful sailors who clearly will never swim fast enough to escape this cannibalistic giant. Dr. Stewart comments that these actions do not coincide with the “gentle and harmless” milk-and-salad loving gargantua that he once raised.
swoop in and engage Gaira. They make
several passes, shooting and staying just out of his reach. The gargantua is too clever, though, and
crouches low and springs up as one helicopter passes. He repeats this maneuver with the second
chopper, and it ends up as burning wreckage.
The third copter begins to slowly back away as Gaira moves in for the
kill. This, of course, is all a clever
trap, as the military’s laser cannon trucks have now arrived. Laser beams begin to criss-cross the
countryside, cutting slices through Gaira’s arm, shoulder, and face. The green gargantua is quickly a bloody mess,
and it is clear that for once the Japanese military is winning a Kaiju
The local fishing community is about to have their own personal encounter with Gaira. In what is one of the coolest and creepiest camera shots in Kaiju Eiga history, two fishermen lean over the side of their boat and see the rising face of Gaira coming straight for them (look for it at 13:00). I guarantee that Stephen Spielberg remembered this shot when he filmed Jaws. Needless to say, the fishermen go overboard and are eaten. On shore, the entire village is pulling in the ropes of the community fishing nets when they manage to snag Gaira. The Green Gargantua rises up out of the water, scaring the sake out of everyone. Newspapers run the headline: Disaster Strikes at Fishermen in Tokyo Bay! This is enough to bring Dr. Stewart, Akemi, and Dr. Yuzo down from their
a little field research. Dr. Yuzo finds
claw marks in the emptied fishing boat’s hull, but, thankfully, Toto
fisherman, Ben Gardner’s head did not roll out.
Akemi also finds some hair and skin samples at the scene. Amity Island
Pan American Flight 301 is circling the runway when Gaira rises out of the
ocean and heads for the terminal. The
plane wisely veers off for a new destination, as crowds of people run and
scream in panic. Gaira is an impressive
sight, standing hundreds of feet tall, with a mixture of green fur and scales,
and a mouth filled with misshapen teeth.
One person who gets a better view of this mouth is an unfortunate
secretary, who is lifted out of a building by Gaira. She is chomped, swallowed, and her only
remains are the bloody tatters of her dress.
Before Gaira can continue his dining, the sun shines through some heavy
clouds, and the light causes the gargantua to react in pain. He turns and sprints for the ocean and the
safety of the dark water. Tokyo Airport
The press is demanding answers, so Dr. Yuzo handles things by delivering unconfirmed “facts” in the manner of his boss, Dr. Stewart, “The monster is accustomed to the darkness of the sea. I think we should keep the city brightly lit.” While Dr. Yuzo works the media, Dr. Stewart and Akemi have traveled to the mountains by train to study the site where the gargantua was supposedly spotted. Dr. Stewart does see the monstrous footprints leading high into the mountains. He is not only convinced that his former gargantua remains docile, but that there are, in fact, two different gargantuas. As the possible offspring of Frankenstein, it would be a scientific breakthrough to have another possibility to study the cells of a Kaiju.
At this point the pace of War of the Gargantuas is moving along like a rocket, so it’s time to slow things down with a little spirited musical number (and not with Russ Tamblyn). Now, in the annals of bad movie songs, Kipp Hamilton’s blonde-haired rooftop lounge singer has to at least land in the Top 3. Her number “The Words” is brutal, embarrassingly off-key, and contains the atrocious, and yet frighteningly memorable refrain:
|Please Gaira, make it happen...just once.|
But the words get stuck in my throat
But the words get stuck in my throat
But the words get stuck in my throat
But the words get stuck in my throat
Get the point? Now, I have watched War of the Gargantuas countless times with different people accompanying me. Each time I look to my friends to gauge their response upon first witnessing the train wreck that is this musical interlude. As the song begins there is laughter and eye rolling. As the song continues, and the music and lack of tone start to settle in, a general annoyance takes place, with comments of, “This is so bad.” Finally, after listening to the refrain “stuck in my throat” too many times everyone always seems to arrive at the same conclusion, “Gaira is going to eat her isn’t he?” As Willy Wonka famously said, “The tension is unbearable…I hope it will last…”
Nothing would make me happier than to report, “Yes! Gaira eats Kipp Hamilton!” But that’s not what happens. The song ends, Gaira shows up, people scream, Gaira picks up Kipp Hamilton, he raises her to his mouth, teasing the viewers, and then a series of bright stage lights blind him and he drops her back to the rooftop before running away. Nobody likes how this scene ends. Not a single person. I compare this to a Friday the 13th movie if every time Jason was about to murder an innocent camper he stopped and said, “Sorry. You’re not the person I was looking for. On your way.” Gaira and the makers of War of the Gargantuas set up a scene that could have lived in infamy as delivering exactly what millions of people wanted to see. Alas, it was not to be. Next to Dr. Stewart, I blame this impotent scene as the key reason that War of the Gargantuas was overlooked on AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list.
Gaira runs away from the high rise as warning sirens pierce the city’s nightlife. Dr. Stewart is already comfortably asleep, not to be confused with his sleepy performance, so he grumpily wakes up and turns on his radio to hear what all the commotion portends. As he listens to the replay of events, he also has time to sip some water and put on a robe before following the directives to turn on all of the lights in his high-rise apartment. It’s a small, but amusing scene because you can picture actor Russ Tamblyn saying to the director, “Well there’s nothing for me to do in this scene except listen to the radio. What is my character’s motivation? Wait! How about if I drink some water and then put on my robe!”
The action now moves to the Northwest, as Gaira leaves the city for the villages along the mountains. The Japanese military is in hot pursuit; this is literally the fastest you will ever see a tank roll down the road. Along the way, people in nearby towns light fires to keep Gaira from ransacking their village. Military vehicles shoot at Gaira and use searchlights to guide him down a predetermined path, where some of their new special-capacity laser weapons are waiting for the monster. This sequence of the movie lasts a minimum of ten minutes. The scenes with Gaira running and delivering minor damage to the military have little music. The scenes with the military caravan have a full musical accompaniment. Thus, while watching this segment of the movie, you hear…silence…sound effect…music…silence…sound effect…music. The routine becomes quite hypnotic.
|Sanda - Gargantua of the Mountains|
Gaira flees, ducking low behind trees for cover, and jumps into a river. The military were ready for this, though, and the water has been heavily electrified. Gaira is down for the count, wounded, and nearing death. Of course, if the movie ended here then there would be no “War,” so at the 49:00 mark our second gargantua, Sanda, arrives on the scene. The military acknowledge his presence, “Look a bigger one! A brown one!” Sanda, a furry bigfoot-like gargantua, sees his wounded relative and picks him up, escaping into the forest.
Dr. Stewart gets the news the next day from the radio, “The huge brown gargantua appeared from the Northwest and aided the green gargantua in escaping.” The good doctor doesn’t miss a beat when delivering some of his patented “facts” about the situation. “Well, this is proof that there are two of them. Now, if I can just convince the Defense Department that one of them is innocent.”
If you find yourself thinking, “Hey, this plot is seems vaguely like Frankenstein Conquers the World with two monsters and only one of them guilty,” you would be correct. My feeling is that the first Kaiju Frankenstein effort was close enough that the filmmakers simply recycled the plot and made some improvements…but they are great improvements, except for Russ Tamblyn. Seriously, did Nick Adams have something better going on in his career at this time?
The three doctors leave their laboratory and head into the mountains, where all of the recent Kaiju problems took place. They soon discover hair and tissue samples of both a brown and green color. It is time for science to provide the film with some answers. Needing only minutes to look over the evidence, Dr. Stewart concludes that the cells are similar to those of Frankenstein, and that these cells have a nasty ability to remain healthy and multiply. He’s not sure if both monsters grew separately from Frankenstein’s cells, as genetic brothers, or if Sanda’s cells were washed from a mountain stream into the ocean where Gaira grew, thus making them parent and son. Dr. Stewart does feel comfortable in stating that he hopes the gargantuas don’t feud “brother against brother, like some nations I know.”
Off in the forest, Sanda has carried Gaira to a safe area near a river. He splashes water on the green gargantua’s wounds, and slowly the monster begins to recover. Surrounding them in this idyllic forest are a number of uninformed persons out enjoying nature; a couple is on a romantic rowboat trip around the lake, a speedboat filled with people zips around, there are happy hikers marching and singing, and there’s even Dr. Stewart and Akemi holding hands and having a semi-romantic walk through the misty mountains. This is perfect set up (much like the crowded beach scene in Jaws) where we have a carnivorous Kaiju close to so many unsuspecting victims. Honestly, now I’m thinking Spielberg lifted more from this movie than I originally suspected. Gaira eventually shows up, and people panic and scream in every direction!
As the pack of hikers races past, Akemi stumbles and plummets quite a distance down a ravine (of course she does!) before grabbing onto a thin tree branch. Dr. Stewart calmly informs her that he will proceed down to rescue her in an orderly fashion; clearly it takes much more than the near-death of his assistant/romantic counterpart to get his adrenaline pumping. Further down the ravine Sanda has seen Akemi’s peril, and he leaps to her rescue. Unfortunately, his mass creates a small landslide and a boulder smashes down on his leg, severely injuring him. At this point Akemi loses her grip and falls, but Sanda makes a Hail Mary play and catches her at the last second, then spikes her for the touchdown! Just kidding, Sanda is a good gargantua, remember? He likes milk and salad for goodness sake! Sanda lifts Akemi back up to Dr. Stewart. Akemi looks at her brown savior, “Oh gargantua!” Sanda limps away. But, before we leave the forest, there is one final shot of an empty rowboat drifting in the lake. Guess we know who didn’t have a happy ending to their romantic lake date. It is touches like this that help make War of the Gargantuas a stand-out amongst the Kaiju Eiga. There is peril, immediate and brutal, and usually ending with a nasty bit of digestion.
Sanda returns to the mountains, where Gaira is resting and recuperating. At first Sanda is happy to have a friend, but then he notices a pile of tattered bloody clothes laying next to Gaira. Eating people? This will not do! Since Sanda does not have any milk and salad to offer Gaira, he chooses instead to rip up a tree and begin to pummel his new companion. Much like an overly-aggressive vegetarian at Omaha Steaks, Sanda takes the tactic policy, “I will beat the meat out of you!”
|The "warring" has begun!|
At 1:03:00 of our movie, the “warring” has officially commenced. Gaira doesn’t care for Sanda’s hospitality, and begins punching and kicking his former nursemaid. Sanda also delivers his own offensive flurry, but his injured leg reduces his mobility. Gaira soon realizes this, and sprints away. It’s a serious sprint, too, as he runs down the mountain, over the river, through the woods, past grandfather’s house, over military vehicles, through a town, and through another town, before cannon-balling into the ocean and swimming below the waters. This is another stellar scene that uses great model sets to showcase the size and speed of the green gargantua to stunning effect. Again, I have to ask, was there some monumental movie made at the same time that took all of the cinematic accolades and awards away from War of the Gargantuas?
Back at the Defense Department, Dr. Stewart is arguing with the General about the best course of action. The General’s position is, “I plan to kill them tomorrow. I will electrify the water and napalm the land!” On Dr. Stewart’s side we have, “It’s not just a theory that the brown gargantua is harmless to humans! It’s a fact!” This lively debate continues for some time, until both sides part with their own agenda. The military prepare their arsenal, and the doctors prepare a plan to save Sanda.
Warning sirens blare in
as Gaira has made landfall in search of food.
Like most smart monsters, he has now come to associate light with food,
so the citizens are warned to turn off all lights and remain inside. Imagine if you were the one citizen who
didn’t get that memo, and were still burning up all your electricity in the
errant belief that you were protecting your home and family. Ouch!
Cars are abandoned in the streets and buildings look like ghost towns
(or like models about to be destroyed). Tokyo
The General uses Gaira’s stalking through the city to take a potshot at Dr. Stewart, “See! You still want to wet-nurse that monster!” Dr. Stewart doesn’t have time to explain the differences between Sanda and Gaira are more than just color, because word has come down that Sanda has also been seen hobbling toward Tokyo. Akemi races out into the streets to steer the brown gargantua away. Sadly, Dr. Stewart and Akemi are much closer to Gaira. He spots them and chases after them as they enter a subway tunnel. Gaira reaches inside and grabs hold of Akemi. She screams and faints as the green gargantua prepares to devour her.
Gaira spots his enemy and drops Akemi back into the subway tunnel, where Dr. Stewart carries the silly, good-hearted female away for medical care. Gaira is ready to battle it out to the finish, but Sanda keeps shaking his head in a passive manner: “Let’s not fight. Please.” Gaira is done with pleasantries, and tosses Sanda into several buildings. A number of punches and kicks follow, and Sanda is forced to defend himself.
Original Japanese Title: Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira
Last line of dialogue: “No living thing could survive that volcano.”
Now the classic Toho Kaiju march music kicks into gear, so we know that this war is going to be pretty brutal. The two gargantuas have been given a large portion of the city to battle in, and they do it justice – by leveling pretty much everything in sight. This is impressive as hell to watch, since so many of the more recent Kaiju movies took place in the countryside, where all we could watch were hills and dirt. With full-scale city structures to be destroyed, monsters are tossed through and into skyscrapers with sheer delight. Their fists do the talking, and both are quickly showing the blood from the intense melee.
The General doesn’t have time to waste waiting for each gargantua to kill the other one, so the military move in. Cannons fire rockets and devices blast beams of electricity that rips and scorches the two Kaiju. Gaira dives into the ocean to recharge, but Sanda follows him. The two play toss with a massive ship, then Gaira swims away from the military into deeper waters. Sanda catches him, and the two keep fighting as a fleet of helicopters soars into the fray. The copters drop bombs onto both gargantuas, and the ensuing explosions create a tremor that activates a nearby ocean volcano. This is worth repeating: in a movie already as awesome as this one has been, now we also have a fully erupting volcano! I’m not sure how this volcano got so close to
but there’s no time to wonder, since rocks and smoke and lava are shooting out
of the vent like crazy! Sanda and Gaira
lock up, but neither is quite stronger than the other, and they roll directly
into the furious eruption zone. The
volcanic gas and smoke cover the area and the twin gargantuas are gone! Tokyo
Over at the medical tent, Dr. Yuzo runs in with the news that both gargantuas have been destroyed by the erupting ocean volcano. He is confident that the lava will destroy all of their cells, and thus end the threat of any future spawn of Frankenstein. Akemi is sad, but Dr. Stewart explains that Sanda died protecting her, “That big brown teddy bear came to your rescue.” And, as is often the case with wars, there is never a clear winner.
In case you were unable to tell from my energetic review, I love War of the Gargantuas. The movie was like a Kaiju version of the Holy Grail when I was growing up. Before my family owned a VCR I would often see the movie listed in our weekly TV Guide, but would be unable to watch it. Some other, lesser event always got in the way of me enjoying this festival of Kaiju combat: visits to grandparents’ homes, weddings, funerals, reunions, birthday parties…, the sort of life-nonsense that prevents anyone from experiencing a treasured Kaiju movie. Whenever the local television channels aired weekly Kaiju marathons, they tended to stick to the Godzilla series, and relegated War of the Gargantuas to a late night time slot. Usually it was the final movie to air before the National Anthem played and the channel reverted to static for several hours, for you old people who can remember when that happened. Worse, I would often catch glimpses of the movie on commercials hyping any future airing (that I would invariably miss). The discovery of new Kaiju was an experience that I treasured, and it took a long time for me to fully witness the greatness that is this movie. In one of life’s rare gifts, the movie exceeded my expectations.
Now, thirty years later, I still enjoy watching this movie. It follows the Three Rules of Kaiju Eiga perfectly. There’s plenty to laugh about (thank you Russ Tamblyn and your lazy performance), the finale’s cityscapes are some of the best in any Toho movie, and it’s not merely enjoyable, but an honor to watch Sanda and Gaira destroy everything in their path.
I remember watching TV and seeing Brad Pitt presenting at the Academy Awards. He stated that seeing War of the Gargantuas as a child was why he entered showbiz. This was a proud moment for me, because at that instant I realized that Brad Pitt and I have one thing in common: we both love great cinema!
Kaiju Rule 1: Monsters must destroy things for your entertainment.
Excellent. The effects by Eiji Tsuburaya may be the best of any movie in the Showa Era. The cityscape and airport model work are pure spectacle and become a whole lot of fun once the destruction takes place. So much stuff gets destroyed in this movie! You’ll love it!
Kaiju Rule 2: Laughing out loud is mandatory.
Excellent. Plenty of laughs to be had and the musical number alone is one of those unique points in Kaiju Eiga that must be experienced to be believed.
Kaiju Rule 3: You must be entertained at all times.
Excellent. There is nothing bad about War of the Gargantuas! A superior entry into Kaiju Eiga.
YOUR KAIJU CHECKLIST:
WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS
How accurate is the title?: Somewhat accurate. There are two gargantuas and they do have a decent battle. However, no form of conventional weapons or lines of demarcation are used, so using the term “War” in the title seems to make this sound more dramatic than necessary. Brawl of the Gargantuas works well.
Original Japanese Title: Frankenstein’s Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira
One Sentence Synopsis: Brothers Sanda and Gaira differ on their food requirements and have a battle that proves devastating for themselves and the people of
Our Moral Message: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother…but since he keeps eating people I must now kill him.
Kaiju entrance: Gaira shows up in the ocean defeating a giant octopus. Sanda runs through the forest to save Gaira from the military.
Good Kaiju: Sanda “Brown Gargantua of the Mountains”
Bad Kaiju: Gaira “Green Gargantua of the Sea”
Kaiju Timeline: Has several small throw-away lines that connect it to Frankenstein Conquers the World.
First line of dialogue when people see Kaiju: When Gaira is spotted there are merely screams. When Sanda is seen, “Hey look! Another one!”
Kaiju firsts: First appearances of Frankenstein’s spawn Sanda and Gaira
How bad is the situation?: “If their cells multiply…they could destroy the world.”
Best intentional moment of the movie: Any time someone gets eaten…awesome! You just don’t experience that direct cannibalistic nature in Kaiju movies often enough. The fact that Gaira eats people and then spits out their bloody clothes makes him a unique and frightening monster.
Best accidental moment of the movie: I’m still not exactly sure of the point of Kipp Hamilton’s big singing number. The singing is horrible, the song lyrics are atrocious and, after all of this, Kipp isn’t even eaten. Trust me, the audience members are all praying that Gaira shows up and eats her before the song is complete…and then she survives! Big miss by the creative team, especially when you consider that, until this song, we watched baby Sanda drinking milk while relaxing on a couch and were left thinking, “What could possibly top this moment?”
Single most quotable line of dialogue: “You still want to wet nurse that monster?”
Best action moment: The “War” of the gargantuas during the last fifteen minutes is a great Kaiju battle. The models of downtown
are superb. Tokyo
Total amount of destruction: Lots of destroyed skyscrapers. Two sunken ships. Plenty of military vehicles!
Body count: Several people are eaten including, sailors, a secretary, and a couple on a romantic boat ride through the lake.
Last line of dialogue: “No living thing could survive that volcano.”
Kaiju exit: Sanda and Gaira disappear inside the smoke cloud of an erupting underwater volcano.