Today I watched Ishiro Honda’s The War of the Gargantuas (1966)
Man, Ishiro Honda certainly directed a lot of these kaiju flicks didn’t he? This time he comes at us with a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World in which some of the Frankenstein’s cells managed to survive and grow into two new life forms, both giant ape-like beings. When a freighter is attacked by giant monsters at sea, the original team of scientists (all totally recast and renamed) are called in to aid the investigation. Once it is revealed that there are two giants, it becomes clear that one is good and the other is evil, thus it is only a matter of time that they clash and we humans are caught in the middle.
This film both is and isn’t a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World. Some elements seem to be direct callbacks but other elements contradict this connection. It all ends up being no matter really, the story of the film is quite well told and it’s connection to any previous material has no effect on the enjoyability of this film, everything established in this film is nicely self contained.
The miniature effects work in this movie is rather stunning. Because the Gargantuas themselves are only about half as tall as man other Kaiju, the scenery around them has to be rendered in much more detail and this film does not slouch in that department. The suit actors also do a great job of selling the scale and scope of the whole affair, throwing whole tress and chunks of concrete at one another. When being bombarded by the military, since the creatures are supposed to be somewhat small, the actors have to endure much larger pyrotechnic explosion effects which is both cringe inducing and very impressive.
While this film gets to the monster action quite quickly, there is a good deal of character development, largely with the two monsters. There is plenty of drama between them and the humans are really just the impetus of their issues. The story really is one of two giant and intelligent beasts trying to make their way in a world that doe not appreciate their existence. One could read a naturalist message about destruction of natural environments, or the monsters as a metaphor for immigrants, but in fairness this film is really more about the effects than a deeper theme like that.
The human side of the drama is not nearly as strong, though at least it does not distract from the monsters. Russ Tamblyn plays one of the monster expert scientists and does an effective job at sucking the energy out of most of his scenes, though it might be fun to imagine this film as being in the same universe as Twin Peaks. The Japanese actors do not mesh at all with his old school TV drama acting style, theirs being a more expressive, cinematic style. But like I said, this is a film about the monsters and whether or not you feel for the humans is secondary to if you feel for the monsters, and I think the film does a pretty great job at evoking those feelings.
This film takes a while before establishing the real emotional connections by introducing the monsters, but when it does it develops some effective drama between two totally inhuman entities. The creatures generate plenty of empathy and give serious stakes to their final confrontation. So the human story does it’s purpose in establishing the monsters in a way the audience can understand and some very smart direction amplifies that into very relatable drama. It all culminates with some incredible kaiju action that cannot be missed by any fan of the genre. 4/5