War of the Gargantuas (1966)

War of the Gargantuas (1966)

Can a Country Survive When Two Gargantuas Battle to Death?

After the sole survivor of an attack on a boat tells the authorities that the rest of the crew were killed by a giant, a scientist is brought in to investigate the matter and concludes that fragments of the Frankenstein monster that was previously thought destroyed have mutated again. Only this time the fragments have formed into two new monsters or ‘gargantuas’ as they become known to the Japanese and they begin to

 

Was Frankenstein Conquers the World better than I assumed? One of Toho’s strangest kaiju films saw the beating heart of Frankenstein’s monster subjected to radiation during the atomic attack on Hiroshima, eventually giving birth to a giant boy and then squaring off against another giant monster. It was a terrible film, one of Toho’s worst, but somehow it spawned a follow-up. Thankfully, one does not need to have subjected themselves to the ordeal of watching the other film before sitting down to watch War of the Gargantua (in fact the American version does away with any links whatsoever).

War of the Gargantuas was helmed by regular Toho director Ishirô Honda and he puts his experiences with Godzilla and chums to good use. The film kicks off with a bang as a giant octopus attacks a boat and then one of the gargantuas shows up and fights the octopus. After ten minutes, there has already been more action than Frankenstein Conquers the World and the promise of more yet to come. This film gives us frequent giant monster action yet for some reason, you won’t be overly excited. These two gargantuas battle and brawl across Japan in a number of fight sequences but because they’re almost identical monsters and just look like two stuntmen in make-up, they don’t exactly garner the same interest as a Godzilla, Rodan or Mothra would. They’re not the most visuall interesting creations that Toho have ever come up with but at least you get to see more of them, given the nature of the make-up rather than bulky monster costumes. Thankfully, the miniature sets that they fight on are some of the most realistic that Toho created at the time and the Japanese army even gets in a few good licks on one of the monsters for a change! You win some, you lose some, so your interest in these fights will hinge on your ability to suspend disbelief as much as possible. The green gargantua has a taste for human flesh too and isn’t afraid to snack on whoever he can get his hands on, adding a slightly sinister element to the film.

The flipside to all of this monster action is that there’s not much plot to string it all together. The story for the previous film was already bordering on madness and this one follows the same idea of how the monsters were both created. And then that’s just about it – two monsters are created, they don’t like each other and they fight. The human sub-plots, some pointless and padded in most Godzilla films, are almost side-lined to the point of non-existence here. It’s hard trying to develop some characters to link together everything that happens and there’s no real meat or subtext to anything that goes on. You can almost see the characters looking at their watches, waiting for their little scene to finish so you can get back to the monster action.

In an attempt to break into international markets, Toho hired minor American actors, usually those on the wane, to provide a recognisable face for Western audiences (a trick they’d done all the way back with Raymond Burr in the original Godzilla). Nick Adams worked well in both Invasion of the Astro-Monsters and Frankenstein Conquers the World, but Russ Tamblyn here looks and sounds terrible. Looking so interested and giving a stoic, phoned-in performance, he reminded me of Bill Murray’s weary actor character from Lost in Translation. Tamblyn is virtually playing the same character as Adams, only with about a quarter of the intensity, and seems to be detached from everything that is going on, though this makes sense when you find out that a lot of his scenes had to be shot as extra footage to beef up his role.

Bizarrely, War of the Gargantuas was featured in flashback footage in both Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Final Wars, actually making this part of the canon. Of all of the monster films Toho made, why this one? Even more bizarre trivia comes in the knowledge that Brad Pitt cited this as the film that saw him pursue a career in acting and both Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro acknowledge the influence this film had on them.

 

Thankfully they didn’t turn this horrid, loose-fitting series of films into a trilogy. With no real depth to any of the on-screen carnage, War of the Gargantuas doesn’t really come recommended for casual viewers, though die-hard kaiju fans will no doubt find some glee with all of the silly action.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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