Gigan has long been, for me, an especially tough-and-mysterious kaiju. I first encountered him through images in catalogs featuring covers of VHS releases that at the time I couldn’t afford, and I soon matched up those Gigan photo shots with what appeared to be toys based on his famous frame. Remember those funky old rock-hard Imperial knock-offs that you could kill a bear with if you swung them just right? Later, after I bought the fantastic Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) with Christmas money given me by my aunt, I finally saw Gigan in action. In that movie, he is suddenly called in as back-up from the cockroach aliens from Nebula Space-M (I never did get the connection between the roaches and the Seatopians, but I always imagined that they shared a love of beetles somehow). To say the least, despite his poorly-explained guest appearance, he made a deep impression on me. The gouts of blood that spray from Gigan’s attacks shocked me as a child, and his enigmatic single glowing eye and multi-hinged jaw with slicey-dicey edges everywhere on his body made me love his design from way back. His initial appearance in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) would come a bit later in my kaiju journey, and I never loved it as much as Megalon. While I have always appreciated many of the campy bits, such as the manga artist plot, the two illustrations of crazy monsters (Mamagon and Shukra), and the hippy bearing corn, the movie as a whole has always felt overly dark to me, even though I definitely loved the return of Anguirus and the dialogue scene between him and his buddy Godzilla is a true cinema gem.
When it turned out that Gigan’s big 50th birthday was being celebrated in Kyoto on a weekend in which I was already planning to visit my friend in Osaka, well, I couldn’t pass it up, regardless of my mixed feelings about the film. The event, hosted at the Kyoto Minami Kaikan Theater (a venue I was already familiar with from a visit to see the Japanese version of Half Human (!!!) back in 2020), consisted of a showing of Godzilla vs. Gigan as well as the 30th episode of Zone Fighter (which guest-starred Gigan), and episodes 31-40 of Godzilla Island (which featured a showdown between Godzilla and Gigan, as well as a guest appearance by one of the cockroach aliens). The event also had several goods for sale, and a few other perks, but we will get to those later in the article.
The Gigan celebration would be held both Saturday and Sunday (the 26th and 27th of March respectively), but I had bought my ticket for the 26th—and even when I purchased my ticket I had some issues. There was some kind of weird thing on the website that I didn’t quite understand—when I purchased my ticket, they gave me an option to select some kind of super monster two-use coupon for free. Of course I selected it, and then for some reason that let me choose two seats at the showing. I thought it must be some kind of glitch in the system, and I just went with it.
Well, I arrived in Kyoto Friday evening, and, after a night wandering out to see the Kamo River in the dark while listening to a deadly-depressing novel on Audible, I crashed at the hotel and slept in a little the next morning before heading out to attempt a visit at the Kaiyodo Figure Museum (which looks awesome, by the way, and features kaiju figures amongst its exhibits) before the events. At that time I thought that the Gigan event would start at 4:30, but just as I arrived at Nagahama station and was walking to the museum, I took a look at my ticket email and realized that the Gigan event ENDED at 4:30 pm, and STARTED at 1:10 pm—which was just about an hour and a half away. I ended up panicking and taking a taxi. The driver asked me if I was in a hurry, to which I said that I was, and he gleefully put the pedal to the metal through the Japanese countryside. Farmhouses and wooded areas whizzed by, and I could almost hear the squealing tires from the dirt road chase sequence in Godzilla vs. Megalon as I wondered if my heart could take the excitement.
I barely managed to make it to the train station, grab a bullet train, stash my luggage, and hoof it to the Kyoto Minami Kaikan theater before the movie started. The other attendees were already waiting in line, and I had to elbow past them to the counter to get my code scanned and nab my ticket. The dude asked me if I had two tickets, and I tried to explain that I had only purchased one but for some reason it gave me two. He gave me a quizzical look, but handed over my ticket, and after a swift side-trip to the restroom (which is camouflaged as part of the wall), I scurried to my seat towards the back in the nearly-packed theater, and doffed my Rodan cap so that it’s extended wings wouldn’t annoy the other attendees.
The Kyoto Minami Kaikan Theater is not very large—it’s single screen would not impress at a regular-old cinema, and the seats are old and don’t offer much legroom. It’s the sort of environs that I would expect from a discount theater, and as such it absolutely does offer a cozy, welcoming feel perfect for auteur and unusual film-going experiences.
When I sat down, Masato Shimon’s “Bride of Godzilla” song (which I translated for Toho Kingdom) was playing over the speaker while advertisements for Gigan-related events played on the screen. After a couple minutes, the proprietor and a middle-aged woman came out on the stage. The proprietor, who I also saw at the showing for Half Human, is a jolly, joking, overweight Japanese man, and the crowd laughed and chuckled as he described how difficult it was to splice together the print for Godzilla vs. Gigan for the showing (at the time I thought he was joking). He explained that while Zone Fighter was also showing and that episodes from the show had been shown in theaters before, this was the first time Godzilla Island was being theatrically exhibited. Then he talked about how the Final Gigan original costume was displayed at the Gigan 50th celebration in Tokyo the previous weekend, and how difficult it had been to get the kaiju suit up the elevator with his pokey head spike; unfortunately, that suit did not make it to the Kyoto event. He also explained that Godzilla Island and Zone Fighter would be shown first, then we would have a short break for people to head out to the lobby to purchase goodies, and then the main feature would start after that. However, he also said something about numbered tickets and lining up to buy and I was all like, what? I didn’t get a numbered ticket. What is he talking about? Was that what the two-use coupon that I had selected was all about?
If I had been in a comic book, question marks would have been hovering around my head.
Well, before I could deal with that confusion, we watched the Godzilla Island and Zone Fighter episodes. The quality of both prints was quite good. Godzilla Island, of course, was made very cheaply—and that cheapness was even more obvious on the big screen. There was a bit of a glitch when they started the episodes, forcing the projectionists to restart. The episodes then proceeded with only one title credit sequence and end credit sequence despite the fact we watched nine episodes overall. If we had had to sit through the theme song nine times, I am sure everyone would have gone crazy. The Godzilla Island show has a lot of charm—here we have the cockroach aliens teaming up with the Xiliens to fight Godzilla with Gigan, the latter being depicted as surprisingly fast and powerful. The two monsters have an extended face-off with music that rips off Ennio Morricone (it’s basically just the theme for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and Gigan even wins round one. So much of the show and its humor and drama are undermined, though, by the incredibly short run-time of each episode—under three minutes. Each episode feels as if it was just starting, and then it would be over and we would have to sit through another title screen and recap of everything we had seen already. It’s so obnoxious, and since it had been a while since I had watched Godzilla Island, I had forgotten just how trying the viewing experience could be.
The Gigan episode of Zone Fighter is better. Of all the films shown that day, Zone Fighter was my favorite—I couldn’t help but sing along with the theme song, and the story of that episode is one of the better ones from the show, filled with intrigue—our protagonist even almost gets smashed up in a car compactor before Godzilla shows up to save the day. It really is good to see Gigan again in this episode, but the costume has undergone some awkward alterations, which make the cyborg look a bit dopey. It’s also confusing that Gigan needs parachutes when descending from the sky, since it was well established in the movies that he can fly (could he have been damaged in the interim between appearances?).
We were also treated to some video from the Gigan 50th anniversary party in Tokyo, in which the same programs and film were shown. However, Tokyo got the better deal—not only did we get shots of the Final Gigan costume that appeared at the venue from Tokyo, but Godzilla Island’s scriptwriter, Takahiko Masuda, made an appearance and was interviewed. He revealed various details about the show, such as how the series was not shot on traditional film used for live-action shows but on video, and that the switch made the creation of the series easier. He also talked about how difficult it was to create, that even just a few minutes of footage could take a long time to film, and that the show rarely got the recognition Masuda felt it deserved. He said that Gigan from the show was referred to as “Samurai Gigan” (probably because of the way he had a showdown with Godzilla). The interviewer asked Masuda about the origins of the names of characters like Torema, but Masuda said he didn’t get to choose some of the names. However, he said one character was named after Lum from Urusei Yatsura—I believe it was Landes the Xilien. Masuda also talked about why some monsters didn’t appear, such as the Kamacuras—if I understood him correctly, it sounded like there had been plans to include the giant bugs, that he even purchased the toys for adapting for the show, but that it didn’t come together. Masuda also suggested that someday an extended showing of Godzilla Island might be staged for the first season, which he said would take about four hours.
After the break, we had the main event—Godzilla vs. Gigan… or anyway a lousy print of said film. I was disgusted with Toho for providing such a low-quality version of the film, covered with dust and junk on the image, just crap flickering across the screen the whole time, with occasional skips. One of the skips ruined the hippie’s “corn-gun” joke, and another blurped in the middle of the iconic “Godzilla March” song. That said, of course I enjoyed the movie, but I also have to say… watching Godzilla films with Godzilla fans in Japan tends to be much less entertaining than with fans in the USA. They are just so respectful and quiet and wait until the end to politely clap. I missed the cheering and applauding at every famous sequence in the movie, like the audiences at G-Fest tended to do.
After the movie was over, I went out to the lobby. Once again the other attendees were lined up for purchasing goods, and after watching for a while, I asked one of the other customers about how I was supposed to get my numbered ticket. According to him, they were supposed to hand out the numbered tickets WITH your ticket at the front, but when I said I had never gotten mine, he led me to the proprietor to solve the issue. The proprietor said I could just wait at the end of the line, assuring me that everything would be fine… except that the goods were already selling out.
Even in the moment, I knew that whatever reason I didn’t receive a numbered ticket was not the proprietor’s fault, and he probably also couldn’t tell me why I did not receive one. It’s possible that there was some esoteric club I would have had to have joined in advance to receive the tickets. It’s also possible that the employee at the register just forgot to give me a ticket. Either way, because I came late to the game and was the last person (so far as I know) to get my ticket, I most likely would also have been the last number in line.
The proprietor then also threw a bone to those who had waited the longest, declaring that the limit on the number of raffle tickets we could purchase was being lifted. At the time, I thought the gesture was for me specifically because he had noticed I was annoyed, but I don’t really know. Even with the limit lifted, I didn’t take the bait.
You have to understand, the raffle tickets were for a chance to win random keychains and goodies related to Godzilla vs. Gigan, all arrayed on a second merchandise table. The way that the process worked was that, once you had gotten your numbered ticket and waited in the first line, you got a chance to pay money for raffle tickets (three hundred yen each) which might have a matching number to one of the random goodies on the second table. Some of those goodies were pretty cool, like Mamagon and Shukra 2D plastic keychains, but there was no guarantee you would win something you actually wanted, and given the level to which I had already tossed money to the four corners of the winds, my wallet was whining like a wild jackal for being abused in the name of monster fandom, prompting me to only purchase a shirt and a clear file.
There was one other detail of note, though perhaps not of much interest for fans in the USA. Kyoto Minami Kaikan has long been host to many Toho kaiju events, of which Gigan’s 50th was simply the latest. Apparently the movie theater had a deal with Toho for that privilege—a deal which, with this event, was ending. Future Toho kaiju events would henceforth take place at a rival theater, which as I took it was in a less convenient location. This news was greeted with much sadness from the assembled crowd, as I heard great lamenting as I exited the theater.
For me, standing on the outside, it was harder to be overly upset, but I do sympathize with fans losing their favorite fandom venue. I think the Kyoto Minami Kaikan is a unique, quirky, charming but also cramped and frustrating insider theater experience. Both times I attended I felt on the outs given my unfamiliarity with the theater’s proceedings, and the second time I was fairly aghast at how poor the Godzilla vs. Gigan print was, as well as how gallingly labyrinthine the processes were just to buy merchandise related to the event. Plus, it was so obvious that the Kyoto event was decidedly second-tier to what the Tokyoites got. Of course I am happy that events like this are taking place to celebrate classic monster films. I don’t like how exploitative and low-quality this particular event felt to me.