Film: The War of the Gargantuas

The War of the Gargantuas directed by Ishiro HondaThe War of the Gargantuas: Battle of the Gargantuas Versions

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsUp until recently, I was probably the only baby-boomer fan of Japanese monster movies (“kaiju-eiga,” I believe they’re called) who had never seen the 1966 Ishiro Honda cult favorite The War of the Gargantuas. Though the film had been lauded by numerous friends and coworkers, and though I have read many good things about it over the years, it has taken me all these many decades to catch up with it. And now that I HAVE finally seen it, I am not sure how to go about writing these comments, as no less than three versions of the film seem to exist! I have just watched the original Japanese print with English subtitles from 1966, as well as the 1970 English version with added sequences, different music, new translations and a re-edited story line, and find much to criticize and commend in both. (There is also a straight English dub of the 1966 version, too, it seems.) Unlike 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World, whose international cut is virtually identical to the Japanese version, with the exception of an additional five-minute battle tacked on at the tail end, the two versions of Gargantuas feel very different indeed, and any fan of the one would be very surprised, I feel, to take a look at the other.

In the film, as most folks already seem to know, an enormous, green, hairy giant arises from the sea and proceeds to cause all kinds of mayhem. To the film’s credit, we don’t have to wait long to catch our initial glimpse of this not-so-jolly green giant; five minutes into the picture, he wrecks a steamer after doing battle with a humongous, red-orbed octopus (sadly, a cooler monster than Greenie, and one who promptly disappears for the duration of the film). While most citizens, scientists and the military believe the creature to be the Frankenstein monster of the 1965 film, Prof. Paul Stewart thinks differently. He and his assistant, Akemi, believe the Frankenstein monster of their acquaintance to be too decent and gentle to be responsible for such carnage. And their theory is soon borne out, as another Gargantua, a brown one, soon turns up, is revealed to be their old pal Franky, and goes on to do battle with his evil Gargantua brother. I should perhaps add here that while the 1965 film had featured a lead professor named James Bowen, who was played by American actor Nick Adams, Gargantuas has that Prof. Stewart, played by American actor Russ Tamblyn, who should have sued his agent. I mean, from the heights of West Side Story and The Haunting in the early ’60s to THIS, just a few years later?!?! Adding to the confusion is the fact that the professor’s female assistant in both films is portrayed by Kumi Mizuno, but in the first, her character’s name is Sueko Togami, and in the latter, as mentioned, it is Akemi; she is the sole actor common to both films. So is Gargantuas a sequel to Frankenstein or not? The answer is not a simple one, as the 1970 version, in addition to all its many other differences, completely excises any reference to the notion of Frankenstein whatsoever!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSo which version of Gargantuas do I find preferable? To my very great surprise, it may be the latter, English one. The English edition seems more compact, with far fewer lines like “Target is moving north on Interstate 4 towards Ohta Bridge …Roger,” of which the Japanese version is supersaturated. Russ seems more likable in the English cut, with more amusing lines, and the English version is also more understandable in parts, such as when it clearly delineates Brownie’s leg injury. The English version that I just watched, on the Classic Media DVD, is a lot brighter looking than the Japanese, a big help in the film’s many nighttime scenes. On the other hand, the Japanese cut DOES feature that wonderful martial music by Akira Ifukube running through it (I believe the name of the piece is “Operation L March”), music that is, sadly, completely lacking from the English. Too, it is nice that the Japanese version gives actual names to Green Gargantua and Brown Gargantua (Gaira and Sanda, respectively), and also nice that it makes a definitive link with the earlier film. So take your pick …both should have something to offer to the adult fan of kaiju-eiga.

As for the commonalities between the two, both feature too many darn sequences in the near dark, and both feature that absolutely ridiculous and way too abrupt deus-ex-machina volcano ending. The best scenes in both, of course, are the Japanese army’s attack on Gaira with laser beams and electricity (a fairly awesome spectacle, especially when Gaira starts chucking around tanks and wrecking houses!) and the final duke-out between Sanda and Gaira at the Tokyo docks. And who could ever forget what appears to be everybody’s favorite sequence, the one in which Gaira busts up a Tokyo nightclub while a chantootsie warbles the now-classic ditty “The Words Get Stuck in My Throat”? No wonder a coworker raved about this scene to me for years; no wonder the New Wave band Devo chose to perform this song in concert years later! Fun stuff, indeed!

The bottom line, however, is that whichever version one watches, The War of the Gargantuas cannot hold a candle to some of director Honda’s previous efforts, such as the monumental Gojira, The Mysterians and Mothra. It is more on a par with such fare as King Kong vs. Godzilla and Atragon, and really, that ain’t too bad. Frankenstein Conquers the World may have been a tad more imaginative than this (possible) sequel (I love the idea of the Hiroshima-radiated heart of the original Frankenstein monster turning into a new creation!), but The War of the Gargantuas surely does live up to its cult reputation. The film is best watched, of course, with lots of popcorn AND your 8-year-old nephew sitting beside you…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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3 comments

  1. I’m impressed, Sandy! “Kaiju-eiga” is, indeed, correct!

    • sandy ferber /

      Thanks, Jana! This bit of Japanese monster movie knowledge, plus $2.75, will get me on the NYC subway….

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