I’ve been trying to procure this kaiju classic for the better part of a decade. It has been out of print for eons, and up until now, War of the Gargantuas could only be purchased on eBay for at least $20. I wouldn’t settle for a VHS copy or a bootleg DVD. No, this film is too special. I’m glad that I waited, as Gargantuas has just been released on DVD. Both the Japanese version and the American version are available. Unlike most Toho creature features, there isn’t a pronounced difference between the custom-fit cuts. A scene here, a scene there…the modifications are nugatory. I watched the Japanese version, but only because I’m a pretentious snob.
This is a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World. The plot isn’t closely related, so Gargantuas works as a stand-alone film. We begin with a woolly, piss-green beast emerging from the ocean and convulsing a ship. Immediately, this flick has a cloven hoof up on the competition. It opens with monster action and rarely pulls back to reflect on the carnage. 30 minutes later, a shit-brown gargantuan joins the party to assist his blood brother. It goes without saying that the brutes eventually spar with one another (hence the title). What follows is a raucous, unleavened demolition hammer of a b-movie.
Kaiju regular Ishiro Honda steers the film with a firm hand. The fight choreography is explosive, the pace rages with coercion, and the camera holds steady. I love the shot of Gailah (the piss-green gargantuan) running and jumping into the turbulent seas. A good director knows when to sit back and let the actors do their job. Honda does just that, as he did with every other genre picture he helmed. Flowery, grandiloquent dialogue is kept to a minimum, which allows the fun stuff to take center stage. The final battle is one of the best superhuman clashes in cinematic history.
Gargantuas isn’t without its faults. The human characters are as sterile as Upson Pratt’s apartment (a free container of cashews to the first person who catches that reference). Russ Tamblyn barely keeps a straight face as Dr. Stewart. I’m not sure how he ended up in this movie, and I don’t think he was sure either. It’s impossible to critique the cast in a kaiju klusterfuck, so I’ll move on. There are a couple of sappy moments involving Sanda (the shit-brown gargantuan) that I could have done without. Those are my only real grievances.
The score is majestic. Supposedly, the American version retools Akira Ifukube’s pounding, percussive pieces of music, thus thinning out the soundtrack. I’m going on hearsay, mind you. War of the Gargantuas is a matter-of-fact royal rumble. It isn’t strikingly original, but certain images will always be ingrained in my memory. The shot of Gailah’s face scowling underwater is insanely cool. Of course, the aforementioned ocean dive is a sight to behold. I can’t pick a favorite between this monster mash and Frankenstein Conquers the World. I say, check them both out and make a night of it.