It was well over a decade ago when I first viewed Godzilla vs. Gigan. To my young eyes, that movie was just plain magical. It was my first exposure to King Ghidorah, and the beginning of my fondness for Anguirus (called Angilas in this dub). I used to watch this movie until my eyes were raw, and so many years later, I still watch the exact same VHS that I was given when I was 7 or 8 years old (say what you will, a well-made tape will last). Even though I see more flaws here and there now, I still can’t help but have fun watching the film that kept my gaze for an infinite number of weekends and Summer vacations back in the early 90’s. Godzilla vs. Gigan is a triumph, perhaps not in a critical sense or in a big-time production sense, but instead in it’s indefinable charm that doesn’t seem to go away, even with age. And yes, I still go wild during the monster-talk scenes.
Construction has begun in Japan of a new non-profit exhibit, World Children’s Land, complete with a stunning feat of architectural engineering: Godzilla Tower, a museum dedicated to monsters of various origins and designs. Run by secretive interests, the staff immediately makes new hiree manga-artist Gengo Kotaka uneasy and suspicious. Working to create new, imaginative attractions for the park, he runs into a frantic woman who had absconded with a mysterious tape from their Committee Office. Gengo later discovers that this woman, Machiko Shima, is in search of her brother, the computer technician Takashi Shima, who disappeared in Children’s Land some time ago. Apparently, within his private journal, he revealed that he discovered that the staff of Children’s Land, who were said to promote perfect peace, instead were planning diabolical acts of some sort, the information pertaining to which concealed in the secretive tapes that Machiko had attempted to steal. Upon listening to the tapes, and changing the speed, it appeared as though there was nothing but nonsensical sounds contained in the reels. At Godzilla Tower, the Chairman and his associate Kubota were panic-stricken. Their sensors indicated that the tape had been activated, and a change in plan would have to be observed. The brains behind the Children’s Land facade weren’t the only ones disturbed by this strange event… the monsters on Monster Island were also disturbed, and the hulking ankylosaur, Anguirus, was summoned by Godzilla to investigate the peculiar signal.
As Gengo, Machiko, and their associates continued to investigate Children’s Land, they uncovered more questions than answers. According to their research, the Chairman and Kubota were supposed to have passed on one year earlier! Gengo journeyed to Godzilla Tower once more, and discovered Takashi located in a locked room. Kubota, growing suspicious of Gengo’s activities, sent him away with a tracking device. Following Gengo home, Kubota prepared to do away with the troublemakers who were prying too far into their affairs, when fortunately Tomoko Tomoe repelled the aggressors. They all visited to the police, but with such a lack of evidence, they could do very little. While at the station, a chilling announcement bellowed over the intercom… Godzilla and Anguirus had escaped Monster Island. But even more terrifying, the Chairman and his associates were simultaneously summoning two dreaded space monsters: Gigan and King Ghidorah, for the brains behind Children’s Land were actually a colonizing alien race from Nebula Space Hunter M. The good guys, unable to convince the police to assist, were forced to go in on their own, and rescue Takashi. Meanwhile, the space creatures were approaching Earth as Godzilla and Anguirus closed in on Japan. An epic battle would inevitably ensue…
The characters may not be the strongest suit of this film, but for the 1970’s, it’s very hard to deny it’s a step above. Unlike the Godzilla movie prior or the one to follow, we at least know the motivation of these characters. Gengo Kotaka (Hiroshi Ishikawa) is the work-starved, goof-ball, manga-artist who gets caught in the intergalactic intrigue of the impending invasion plot. Machiko Shima (Tomoko Umeda) is the distraught sister who will stop at nothing to free her brother Takashi from the Nebula Space Hunter M aliens. The Chairman (Zan Fujita) and Kubota (Toshiaki Nishizawa) are the representatives of their race, the primary invasion team who sets up planet Earth for disaster in their efforts to escape a dying world. And… that’s where it ends, unfortunately (still, sadly, one of the better efforts in character development from this time period). Shosaku Takasugi (Minoru Takashima), is a friend to Machiko… or a friend to her brother Takashi… or somone… who also happens to be a corn-cob wielding hippie (“he must’ve thought it was a gun…”). Tomoko Tomoe (Yuriko Hishimi) appears to be the working associate to Gengo… or a girlfriend maybe… or a complete stranger, I don’t know, there is really no development here (except for the fact that, of course, she kicks butt). Takashi Shima (Kunio Murai), is given similar treatment. Besides the fact that he’s a computer technician kept against his will at Children’s Land, we really don’t know much about him. In fact, the development runs so cold, one finds oneself warming up to Kurayoshi Nakamura’s character moreso than half of the main cast.
As for the acting in the respective roles, there doesn’t seem to be any breakthrough performances, nor any necessarily terrible performances. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Japanese version is easily, and far more obviously noted for bad acting, but at least the dubbing (although overly dramatic and seemingly shifting voice actors around occasionally) seems to cover most of this problem. Hiroshi looks like he’s having some fun with his role, but it is a bit over the top… while Tokiashi seems to downplay it. At least with the dubbing, neither seems out of the ordinary for the bubblegum hero/villain performances for a kaiju film from this period. Everyone else sees to do well in their respective roles… but Tomoko seems to be on the verge of full-out tears half the time, even after Kunio’s character is recovered. It’s quite unsettling.
Toy monsters, flaking monster suits, incredibly plentiful stock footage… yeah, there are a few problems in the special effects department, I won’t lie. Let’s start with toy monsters. King Ghidorah and Gigan arrive on screen (after hatching from a ruby and a sapphire… or something) in what should be at least a mildly terrifying entrance. But, it doesn’t quite work out that way. They’re toys, toys that do flips and spins as we’re supposed to accept the fact that they’re approaching the earth at Mach 4. As for their suits, Gigan looks very impressive. There is one brilliant shot with Gigan watching his own buzzsaw amidst the lapping flames of the devastated city, and along with Anguirus, they are the best suits in the film. Anguirus looks very impressive, especially in the scenes where he surveys Sagami Bay, and when he first arrives at the battle (look closely and you’ll see an excellent, animalistic snout-sway that sprinkles the water in the background). Ghidorah and Godzilla are unfortunately lacking, however. Ghidorah’s suit is looking a little shabby and cheap by this time period, losing the organic luster it once had. Godzilla’s not too much better; the Destroy All Monsters (1968) suit makes its reappearance, but the material actually flakes off during mid battle, in what is almost a grotesque display. The suit used for the water scenes is a little better in some regards, but the face is atrocious and obviously different from the regular suit. It looks like they merely updated the Son of Godzilla (1967) suit for aquatic purposes. As for the stock footage… ugh… it’s so painful. It goes from night to broad daylight in seconds, from the early-60’s Godzilla suits to the 70’s Godzila suits in the blink of an eye. Entire scenes, like King Ghidorah carrying Anguirus through the sky, are lifted from previous movies. What makes these scenes even more jarring is that nighttime is going by, and morning comes at the end of the film, but broad daylight scenes are so plentiful in this battle that it becomes far too jarring for the audience. There are some triumphs in the area of sfx, however. For example, the gore in the battle scene is very interesting. Here, we see the first really detailed blood effects in a Godzilla movie, and the spurts and sprays are accomplished to a favorable degree of excellence. Finally, there’s Godzilla Tower. While the painted eyes look unrealistic in closeups, the distance shots, the explosion shots, and the laser effects are all accomplished with great success.
The music is a triumph, even if it is composed primarily of stock tracks. Why is it a triumph, then? Well, one doesn’t necessarily need new themes to make an excellent score. The soundtrack for Godzilla vs. Gigan is a wonderful mix of Akira Ifukube‘s classics, from Godzilla’s famous theme, to King Ghidorah’s theme, and even some themes from the more obscure Toho monster movies. They fit each scene perfectly, the eerie music for the mysterious and unsettling shots, the intense music for the raging battles, and the upbeat themes for the lighter areas of the film. Some will complain that it is recycled… here’s what I say to that: it’s far better to recycle an old diamond ring rather than to create an all new plastic one. There are too many movies that go for an all new soundtrack and are met with failure (Godzilla 2000: Millennium  and Godzilla: Final Wars , just to name two examples). This is unnecessary, and Godzilla vs. Gigan is pleasant to the ears, albeit something that has been heard before.
For such a strange movie, it is obvious that a category just for “weird stuff” should be set aside. First, let’s get it over with… the monsters talk. My dub goes a little something like this: “Hey! Angilas!”… “What do you want?”… “Something funny’s goin’ on… you’d better check”… “All right…”… “Hurry up!”; and later on… “Hey Angilas come on, there’s lots of trouble ahead! We gotta hurry”… “OK!” All right, this should be obvious, but let me make this clear. They are not actually talking. As obvious by the tape recording sound effect in the background, coupled with the Chairman’s statement about monsters understanding the tape, and then later on with the tape sound accompanied by no words, it is clear that this is basically the first real situation of monster dubbing. Now, could these scenes have done without talking? Yeah, sure, body language alone would have conveyed the proper information… but doggone it, it isn’t fun that way! Of course, there are more oddities than merely this alone. If the car that the Nebulans shot was unoccupied, how did it turn the corner? Why don’t the Nebulans, who are “hypnotized” by machinery, have a better security system? Why does the military miss point blank targets such as 50+ meter monsters so often? Why is the dubbing so bad at times? All right, we’ve all become accustomed to the occasional “Godziller”, but when “Godzillya” shows up in the dub track, one just has to wonder if they could have afforded a redo. Finally, there is the ending song. That would have gone in the music paragraph, but I feel it belongs here. It has a gentleman and some children singing, it plays as Godzilla and Anguirus walk off into the sunrise, and it’s in F pentatonic minor… it’s a strange addition… therefore… it’s perfect (hyperbole alert).
It certainly is an intriguing movie. Sometimes peculiar, sometimes hilarious, and even a little suspenseful, Godzilla vs. Gigan may not be the next Godzilla (1954), but it’s another cheerful day at the amusement park from Jun Fukuda. Sure, it has its flaws, and a lot of moments that are even a little strange for the traditionally-cinematically-liberally-minded kaiju fan, but it has such a fantastical, off-the-wall air that it just becomes appealing in its own regard. It may not be as far out as Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), or as down-to-Earth as Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), but this delightful piece of ’70s charm is undeniably indelible.