A rare look into the private life
of Lorne Greene.
War of the Gargantuas is some sort of sequel to Toho's first "giant Frankenstein's monster" film, Frankenstein Conquers the World. Granted, that earlier movie played out more like Frankenstein's Monster Wrestles A Huge Freaking Lizard, and Frankenstein (the scientist) was long dead by the time the movie took place, but you get the idea. In fact, the monster featured in Frankenstein Conquers the World was not really Frankenstein's monster, but rather a street urchin who ate the irradiated heart of the original monster after it was transported to Hiroshima at exactly the wrong time. As per the time-honored traditions of monster movies and comic books, anyone who comes into contact with something radioactive immediately gains super-powers and/or grows really big. In this case the new Frankenstein's monster is big enough to wrestle Ultraman, and seemingly has the ability to regenerate body parts. It is this second ability that led to War of the Gargantuas.
I understand that you've dressed
me up like Bob Denver, but how does
that help our sex life?
While Frankenstein's monster was apparently killed at the end of Frankenstein Conquers the World, part of him was left behind and regenerated into a new being. At least that's what we theorize, because the English language version gives no indication of a connection between the two films.
In any case, War of the Gargantuas opens with a giant octopus attacking a Japanese ship. Just when things look bad, salvation comes in the form of a giant green humanoid that wrestles the octopus into submission, then eats the crew. Oops, we guess the giant green humanoid wasn't salvation at all, but actually an ironic, evil, grinning death.
When the Japanese government gets reports that a giant monster is attacking ships, they bring in Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) and his assistant, Akemi (Kumi Mizuno). At some point in the past these two had in captivity a small gargantuan (holy oxymoron, Batman!), a brown haired Sasquatch that looked a heck of a lot like Chaka from Land of the Lost. Presumably, this gargantua was grown from part of Frankenstein's monster. Paul and Akemi reject the government's theory that their gargantua could be responsible for the maritime deaths, because it was gentle and friendly. But the brown gargantua escaped, and no one knows where it is now.
Livin'... in the land...
of the looooooost!
While Paul and Akemi head to the mountains to see if they can find the brown gargantua (let's call him Brown), the green gargantua (let's call him Green) begins a series of bold attacks on Japan, including a bloody assault on an airport. Always retreating to the ocean, the green gargantua is not, as Paul and Akemi fear, the grown-up Brown, but rather his genetic brother. Green is also Brown's eventual combatant as the philosophical differences between the erstwhile companions (which can be summed up as "killing humans good" vs. "killing humans bad") force them to square off against one another.
Having used the word "gargantua" four times in the last paragraph, this is perhaps an appropriate time to explore the word's meaning, especially since it's a bit awkward to type over and over. The original Gargantua was a fictional king in the works of Francois Rabelais, a Benedictine monk in sixteenth-century France. The more popular of Rabelais' somewhat anonymous satires featured Gargantua as the king of a nation of (supposedly virtuous) hedonists, whose only law was "Do what you will!" Accordingly, Gargantua himself was huge, with a great capacity for food and drink, and thus the adjective "gargantuan," meaning immense, was born. Either someone at Maron Pictures (the film's US distributor) had a thing for French Renaissance literature or they lopped off the last letter of "gargantuan" to make it sound more like the other Japanese monsters (e.g. Godzilla, Mothra, and Ghidora). Either way, it's a bit silly, but since these gargantuan ape-beasts have as much resemblance to the original Frankenstein's monster as Clint Howard does to Natalie Portman, we are forced to admit that the new title is actually preferable.
"Well if you hadn't tried to make
me your 'little buddy,' I wouldn't have
had to hit you, 'Skipper!' "
Following the rules in the Cinematic Japanese Defense Force handbook on What to Do When Attacked by Giant Monsters, the military minds of the time devise some clever methods of beleaguering Green, who has shown himself not only to be very aggressive but also very stupid. First lured out of the safe ocean into the city by the charms of a beguiling round-eyed lounge singer, Green is then drawn into a trap by helicopters. There he will inevitably run into his brother Brown, and those clever members of the Defense Force, who have turned a nearby stream into a death trap with the magic of electricity. However, it is Brown who steps right into the highly electrified water, whereupon he must patiently explain to the nearby army that what he really wanted was a Bud Light. The Japanese military also rolls out a fleet of maser trucks, which never work, as anyone who has seen a Godzilla film can testify. Amazingly, in this film they actually work! The usually ineffectual military men of Japanese monster cinema manage to bloody Green up pretty good. What happened? We can only assume that someone in JSDF 's requisition department got fired for this enormous cock-up.
When the Japanese government
kidnapped Sprout, the Jolly Green Giant
decided to go off his vegetarian diet.
The cast in this film is headed by Russ Tamblyn, filling the kind of role that Nick Adams played in Frankenstein Conquers the World. The problem here is that Russ pretty much just says his lines, and it's really obvious that he can't tell what his Japanese costars are saying because he pauses for just a bit too long (to make sure the other actor has finished) before saying his lines. While Nick Adams used to deliver lines with all his favorite swinging Sixties lingo thrown in, Tamblyn does none of that. Just about the only noteworthy thing about him in this film is the one scene in a train car, where Russ seems to have shown up for shooting with a shiner! (Just try saying that five times fast.)
The lack of human drama on the ground means that the plot rests heavily on the shoulders of the monsters, but they aren't really interesting enough to carry the weight. The movie is set up as a conflict between the two Gargantua brothers, but Brown rarely appears in the film. There are more conversations about him than there are actual appearances, which merely builds up expectations about what kind of hideous thing cute little Chaka might have grown up into. Unfortunately, the follow-through is weak, as Chaka is now merely a slightly different (and people-friendly) version of his green brother.
Some kaiju fans have pointed towards the final, harbor-based battle between Green and Brown in this film as one of the more impressive and poignant battles in giant monsterdom. While people and things are crushed but good by the warring beasts, and the concept of brother against brother is indeed touching, we've had more monumental battles with younger siblings on the living room couch. War of the Gargantuas is good for a Saturday afternoon of city stompin' and maser blastin', but this ain't no Destroy All Monsters, that's for sure.
* There is, however, a very definite connection. The original Japanese title to War of the Gargantuas is Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira, so it is more than just "sort of" a sequel. Go back!
* The lounge singer belts out a lovely rendition of "The Words Get Stuck in My Throat" mere moments before Green tries to stick her down his throat. She was wearing yellow, maybe he thought she was banana filled. Go Back!
* As with all vaguely humanoid males, Green is motivated by the promise of women and technological toys. We bet half the population of America could be similarly baited by the promise of a helicopter. Go back!