Japan | 1966
Directed by Ishir˘ Honda
Russ Tamblyn
Kenji Sahara
Kumi Mizuno
| Not Rated
JAPANESE: 90 Min. | U.S.: 92 Min.
Format: DVDá(R1 - NTSC | 2-Disc set)

Classic Media
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Movie Rating  
  DVD Rating   8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Guinn | Page 1 of 2
When is a sequel not a sequel? Depends on what country you live in, I guess. If you look elsewhere on this website, you can find Rod Barnett's excellent review of Frankenstein Conquers the World, a 1965 sci-fi offering from Toho (the film company that created Godzilla), in which the heart of the Frankenstein Monster is transported to Japan and grows into a new, giant human boy. Toho followed up this saga the very next year with a sequel, War of the Gargantuas. However, if all you've ever seen of Gargantuas has been in American theaters or TV, chances are you had no clue the two films were related in any way. Once again, the folks at Classic Media have stepped in to put things right, and have given us the longed-for, first-ever stateside DVD release of the Japanese "sequel" version of War of the Gargantuas!
The story begins, as so many Japanese giant monster films do, with an attack on a ship out at sea by an enormous creature. In this instance, a seagoing vessel is menaced by a slimy octopus with glowing red eyes. The squishy attacker's meal is interrupted, however, by the appearance of a giant with ape-like features and a covering of green fur. The two beasts fight for the right to sink the ship and get to the little human morsels inside. This opening confrontation would, for Japanese audiences, hearken back to the climax of Frankenstein Conquers the World, which saw the titular Franken-boy also mix it up with an octopus (a sequence that was cut from the American release prints). In any case, Frankensteins and Octopi just don't see eye-to-tentacle, I guess, and the green giant drives the cephalopod away before sending the helpless ship to the bottom.
    After a lone survivor of the attack describes the events, including the green gargantua's devouring of the rest of the crew, the trio of scientist-heroes from Frankenstein Conquers the World is asked to lend their expertise to this fresh crisis. The names and most of the faces have changed for the new film: Nick Adam's dynamic Dr. Bowen has been renamed Dr. Stewart and is played by a lower-than-low-key Russ Tamblyn (Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Twin Peaks), while Dr. Kawaji (Tadao Takashima) is now Dr. Mamiya (Kenji Sahara). Only Kumi Mizuno reprises her role as the pretty, kindhearted doctor Sueko (now called Akemi), who nurtured the original "Frankenstein" until his escape.
    Learning that this new emerald giant not only dwells in the sea, but also enjoys the taste of human flesh, Dr. Stewart and Akemi refuse to believe it can be the same gentle boy-giant that had once been in their care. The monster's successive attacks result in the loss of more life, prompting the Japanese army to mount a full-scale attack against the green gargantuan. Under a massive barrage of laser fire and electricity, the green monster eventually begins to succumb, when suddenly there appears a second giant... only this one is covered in brown fur! This newcomer rescues his green look-alike, dragging the injured creature to safety in the mountains.
    Dr. Stewart and his two colleagues figure out quickly that the brown giant must be their original Frankenstein monster, but the origins of his green "brother" seem to have more disturbing implications: Stewart's theory is that the original creature (whom they name "Sanda") has lost tissue due to injuries after his earlier battles. This tissue fell into the ocean and generated itself into the new creature, making the green giant (or "Gaira" as he is now called) not so much a brother as a clone... meaning that any future tissue loss sustained by the gargantuas could result in even more clones. Armed with this new knowledge, the scientists try to alert the military to the dangers of future attacks on the gargantuas. In particular, they hope to protect Sanda, as they believe him to still be of a peaceful nature.
    Sanda and Gaira (is it just me, or does "Sanda and Gaira" sound like a British '60s folk act?) enjoy one another's company in their mountain hideaway, until Gaira spots a group of humans (including Stewart and Akemi) and hears that ol' dinner bell ring. Fleeing from the green giant, Akemi falls over a cliff. She is saved by gentle Sanda, who breaks his leg in the process of rescuing her. Hobbling back to his hideout, Sanda discovers that Gaira managed to catch a few humans and pop them into his gullet like so many crackerjacks. Sanda doesn't appreciate his clone's taste for human flesh, so he furiously drives him away. Now the battle royal begins! Sanda tries to destroy Gaira before he can reach the ocean, while the military brings all its might to bear in the hopes of killing both monsters, despite the efforts of Stewart's team to save Sanda's life.
    This DVD release should help War of the Gargantuas garner its due recognition as one of the very best Japanese giant monster epics. It is, in fact, far superior to Toho's other kaiju offering of 1966, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. The classic Toho creative team of director Ishir˘ Honda, special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, and musical director Akira Ifukube (whose "March" cue from Destroy All Monsters, one of my favorite movie themes, turns up here in an earlier, slightly altered form) lend their typical solid efforts to Gargantuas. Still, there are additional factors that make the film such a standout in its genre.
    First, the titular beasts are considerably smaller than Godzilla and his cohorts, allowing the Toho effects department to go all-out with larger, more detailed miniatures and sets. The results are spectacular Ś when Sanda and Gaira leap out of the sky to destroy helicopters or hurl ships at one another, the realism and size of the props really sells the action. A particularly refreshing effect of the monsters' smaller size is that is allows the military to be a real threat to them... which is never the case when Godzilla or Ghidorah go on the rampage. This downsizing of the monsters' scale would be used again in 1970's Space Amoeba, but by then all the action would be conveniently set in the jungle (meaning less complex miniature sets to build), as would increasingly become the case in the Godzilla series. Gargantuas was given the kind of budget that allowed the Toho craftsmen to utilize their full talents and build one stunning, sprawling cityscape after another in which the monsters could wreak havoc. Let's face it: mass destruction of property is one of the key guilty pleasures for fans of kaiju eiga, and War of the Gargantuas has carnage in spades.
Continue to Page 2 of this Review...