The War of the Gargantuas (1966)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (3.5/5)
January 15th, 2004 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

This mid 1960's offering is easily one of the better films of Ishiro Honda's career, and certainly one of the more likeable kaiju films out there. While the plot is a slight rehash of its prequel, Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), Honda manages to bring new things to the table which make The War of the Garrgantuas a worthy film in its own right. The production excedes on several levels as well, as the film does an excellent job of updating its predecessor's plot to the point where this story feels like a completely new offering, while character development is adequate enough to carry the picture and the acting, while not top notch, is credible; furthermore, the special effects by Eiji Tsubraya are done very well from a contemporary view point, and Akira Ifukube's riveting score is arguably a career high.

It's not hard to see the similarities between The War of the Gargantuas' plot and its predecessor. In both films, an offspring of the Frankenstein's monster is falsely accused for the actions of another monster, and in both the protagonist kaiju has a group of human supporters. However, beyond these very simple elements, the two films differ greatly. This time around, the story's villain is Gaira, another offspring of the Frankenstein's monster whose diet consists of human. While Gaira loses the nice contrast that Baragon and Frankenstein had, his similarities with Sanda, the film's protagonist, makes for a more interesting rivalry. The fact that Sanda first saves his "brother," and then turns on him once learning of his eating habits is a nice story element; furthermore, the scenes where Sanda appears to be trying to reason with his brother in Tokyo are a nice touch, and this is something the audience has rarely seen amongst kaiju. The largest difference between the two films, though, is the Self Defense Force's presence. In The War of the Gargantuas, audiences are introduced to Toho's famous Type 66 Maser Beam Tank, which would become a stable of numerous kaiju films in the following years. Like Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), the Self Defense Force goes through a series of huge military strikes against the film's antagonist. What makes these sequences stand apart from other films in this genre, though, is that the SDF's strikes show signs of success against the film's kaiju, noticeably injuring them. This is a refreshing change of pace after the, seemingly, never ending onslaught of unsuccessful military strikes that litter the genre.

The War of the Gargantuas' character development would easily be the film's weak point. It's not bad, and is done so in a manner that doesn't hurt the pacing of the film; however, the audience never really feels any attachment to any of the human characters found in the movie. Akemi would unarguably be the film's most developed character, and her feelings toward Sanda play well into the film. In contrast, though, her relationship with Dr. Paul Stewart seems more like an afterthought here, and isn't explored nearly as well as it should have been. Stewart himself is kind of a generic scientist/hero type figure, which was more common in the American monster movies of the 1950's. The rest of the cast is paper thin in terms of character development. It might have been nice to explore the relationship between the four scientists at the clinic, although at the cost of the film's pacing, Honda seems to have made the right descion.

The acting in the film is handled well here, especially considering the multi-language barrier present in the cast. Unfortunately, Russ Tamblyn never really seems to get into his role, and doesn't seems to be able to enjoy his character quite like Nick Adams did in similar roles. His inclusion over Adams is needed, though, to distant the film from its prequel, and give the cast a different feel. This brings up Kumi Mizuno's performance in the film: many might confuse her role here as a reprisal of the Dr. Sueko Togami character from Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), despite the fact that this is intended to be an entirely different character. One can't discredit Mizuno totally for not developing separate identities for the two characters, as the way the film is structured places the characters in very similar situations. Even an apartment scene, similar to Frankenstein and Sueko's memorable scene from the first film, is even hinted at in The War of the Gargantuas when it goes over Sanda's background. The rest of the cast isn't given much to work with here, but they do an admirable job with what they are given with, and the viewer can hardly fault any of the supporting casts' performances in the film.

Tsubraya's special effect work here is a notable high for his career. The holes placed in the eye sockets of the kaiju, causing the suitmation actor's eyes to be visible, adds a great deal of credibility to the monsters. Allowing the person inside the suit an opportunity to act out their character more. Of the two kaiju in the film, Haruo Nakajima gives the more memorable performance as the monster Gaira, which should be hailed as the best performance of his career. The War of the Gargantuas' opening sequence, in which the Giant Octopus attacks a ship and is then beaten off by Gaira, is one of the film's more memorable scenes. The Giant Octopus' special effect work here is top notch, and the prop looks much more imposing when wet, as it is in this scene. Gaira himself, though, can be credited with some impressive special effect work. Most notable of which being the large, life size, hand prop along with the memorable underwater shot of Gaira looking up at his prey, before knocking the crew in the water so he can devour them. The monsters' final confrontation in Tokyo, followed by Tokyo Bay, is a diverse action sequence, quickly changing settings and adding elements, such as the Type 66 Maser Beam Tank, through out. The most notable aspect of the fight being the fluidity at which the monsters move about, something which the audience saw in the film's prequel, but the situation has changed here as both monsters are equally as nimble.

Akira Ifukube gives a breakthrough performance on the score of The War of the Gargantuas. It should be noted, though, that Ifukube does anything but restrain himself in terms of the score's highly repetitious nature. The Self Defense Force March and Gaira's theme are repeated countless times here. However, the music found on the score is so memorable that it never reaches that level of irritation on the part of the viewer. The film's most memorable theme, and a personal favorite of many in terms of Ifukube's large portfolio of work, is the riveting Self Defense Force March, which manages to make the film's numerous military preparation scenes interesting. It's easy to appreciation Ifukube's work here when one watches the American version of The War of the Gargantuas, which completely removes and replaces the Self Defense Force March (the added music for which also appeared in the, horrific, 1972 film Blood Waters of Dr. Z, or Zaat); consequently, these scenes lose a lot of their flare without Ifukube's work present. Unfortunately, one can't mention the music in The War of the Gargantuas without bringing up the song Feel In My Heart. A song which, sadly, is best left unmentioned, and is a huge reason as to why the film works best in the DVD format with an ever helpful chapter skip option, which should cut in right at the end of the song.

In closing, The War of the Gargantuas is one of those film's that has stood the test of time, and is a classic Toho sci-fi film that reminds the viewer just why they have come to enjoy Toho's offerings so much. It's sad that this film would mark the eventual end of Honda's great sci-fi career, as his films would become increasingly mediocre as time went on, but this film reminds the audience why Honda will always be Toho's greatest director of kaiju films.