Godzilla and Mothra director Ishiro Honda was always trying to bring something new to that strange little genre known as the Japanese monster flick with each of his entries varied and interesting in their own different ways, but War Of The Gargantuas may be the most diverse yet.
A rash of various attacks on fishing boats raise a fair amount of alarm with the military, especially when the crew are coming down with a bad case of being eaten, so when a survivor raves about a huge, hairy, green ape creature action is taken. Suspicion falls on “Frankenstein”, a large creature that went on a rampage years earlier, but the creators of that monster deny that could be true. However the attacks grow ever more frequent and after a daring attack on an airport by the sea dwelling creature – now dubbed Gaira – the army mobilise in force to stop any more hapless victims taking extended vacations in his intestinal tract. The subsequent military strike is almost successful but for the arrival of Sanda, Gaira’s mountain based brother. The docile, brown Gargantua variant saves his sibling and takes him to safety but Gaira is far to violent to control and flees back to the ocean to lick his wounds.
The scientists figure out that Sanda is the adult form of a tiny version of a Gargantua they raised years ago (Really? Y’think?) and this is the reason he is so gentle and rational around humans and could be used to subdue his more anti social brother. So the stage is set for a showdown as the two Gargantuas – one a pretty chill dude and the other an utter dick – settle their family differences, Kaiju style, on the streets of Tokyo.
Despite genuinely feeling like something different in a rapidly crowding genre (Toho was banging out roughly about two of these movies a year), I’ve always been slightly frustrated that I don’t like War Of The Gargantuas more than I actually do.
The plot is fast paced, the script is focused and the concept of giant, hairy, monster brothers at odds with each other mainly due to their upbringing is legitimately interesting and brings far more to the table than your basic city stomper. The Gargantuas themselves are well realised too and their more simian physiques allow for far more emotive performances from the “suitmation” actors than they could if they were totally encased in a bulky rubber lizard or bug suit or something. It’s actually super beneficial being actually able to see the actors eyes through the huge brows and massive underbites and the subsequent fights carry more weight as watching a massive creature judo throw it’s only living relative through a building is surprisingly nasty when the monster costumes allow for more movement.
Director Honda conjures up some surprisingly nightmarish imagery too, a fisherman looking overboard to see a massive, submerged face staring right back is genuinely startling and relatively simple shot of Gaira running at full speed across an airport runway to escape the glare of the sun is curiously surrealistic, simply put, War Of The Gargantuas may feature the best visuals of Honda’s impressive career.
So what’s my deal? Why don’t I rate it as high as Honda’s other triumphs?
Well, the film is dotted with small but significant details that derail the story with annoying frequency, like lots of repetitive scenes of the army mobilising at various points of the movie eventually get very repetative and constant mentions of “Frankenstein” in the original Japanese version is distracting. You see Gargantuas is actually a sequel to Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers The World – a film where the irradiated heart of Frankenstein’s Monster gets eaten by a street urchin who grows to massive size and fights a giant burrowing creature (as you do) – and makes great pains to reference it’s predecessor even though the film is able to stand on it’s own two feet quite happily. The constant call backs to a film that ultimately has no bearing on what you’re actually watching becomes a little wearing and add that to the regular shots of jeeps and tanks moving from A to B and back again slows the momentum at critical points.
That being said, War Of The Gargantuas is clearly above average city flattening fun and despite it’s flaws is definitely worth seeking out if you fancy some rock ’em sock ’em monster action that doesn’t feature the usual Kaiju suspects.