Friday, November 28, 2014

Godzilla vs. Hedorah

One way to comprehend and appreciate the Godzilla movies is to parse them as, essentially, the Japanese monster equivalent of James Bond-styled movie adventures. 

Thus, every Godzilla outing features a different and dynamic antagonist and the same, dependable hero, Godzilla, who faces this new threat or challenge. But in different eras, Godzilla is interpreted differently, not unlike the varying interpretations of 007 by actors Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig.  Sometimes Godzilla is friendlier, sometimes less so.  Sometimes he is silly, and sometimes he is deadly serious.

The monster movies of the 1970s Showa period are a great deal more fanciful in presentation than some. 

They are more aptly fantasy entries than outright horror shows, like the original Gojira.  On a personal note, I admire and love the Godzilla films of the 1970s Showa Era, and their interpretation of Godzilla as a reluctant warrior for mankind, not to mention hero of children everywhere.

One of the very best Godzilla films ever made – of any era -- is Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1972), or Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster as it was known in the United States upon release.  The film works as both a compelling Godzilla entry, and also as a science fiction film featuring a meaningful statement about the environment.

Remember, the great kaiju movies, in my opinion, are the ones that create monsters that are avatars for some pressing issue in the human world, often atomic testing, and the notion of Mother Nature’s revolt against that poor behavior. 

Godzilla vs. Hedorah creates a great monster, Hedorah, out of the issue of pollution, which was a major component of the 1970s science fiction film.  Efforts from around the world, including No Blade of Grass (1970), and Z.P.G. (1972) imagined worlds in which our soiling of the planet led to catastrophic and apocalyptic futures.

Hedorah possesses a unique and fascinating life-cycle, which means that the monster adopts multiple forms in the sea, on land and in the air, throughout the film, and that fact livens up the battles with Godzilla quite a bit. 

Godzilla vs. Hedorah also features at least one major sequence set during blackest night, and so there is a dark aspect to this film that makes it memorable in the canon.  The film also tailors its message of “saving the Earth” so as to be appealing to children, who will recognize that Godzilla -- for all the damage he causes -- is on the side of the planet, and Mother Nature herself.

A beast called Hedorah that arises from “a sticky, dark planet far away” is nurtured in the pollution, sewage, and detritus of Earth’s 20th century civilizations. 

The grotesque, blob-like entity with red eyes develops and grows through three distinct stages -- in the ocean, on the surface, and in the skies -- and soon proves a grave menace to human life, especially in Japan.

When Hedorah flies above that nation’s cities and factories, he excretes deadly sulfuric acid that burns away skin and reduces human bodies to skeletal corpses.

Meanwhile, one boy, Kenny, dreams of his hero, Godzilla, and believes that only the giant atomic lizard can save the world from this terrible new threat.

Fortunately, the giant green dinosaur soon shows up, and engages in a battle to the death with the smog monster.

Going back for a minute to the useful 007 Bond comparison, Godzilla vs. Hedorah opens with a catchy pop tune, a lava-lamp-like introductory montage, and a musical performance by an attractive female singer. 

Similarly, the film also features the obligatory almost stand-alone action set-pieces here…the ones in which the protagonist first confronts the antagonist, and is defeated, and then the climactic encounter, wherein good finally prevails.

Continuing down this road of comparison further, the best way to judge or critique a Bond film, largely, is to categorize the elements in terms of their antecedents and determine whether the ingredients in the current entry stack-up to moments from franchise history.  

Is the new movie as powerfully vetted as past entries? Does it toss in some surprises to go along with the elements that a devoted audience expects to see?

In terms of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, the answers to such questions are universally affirmative.

Hedorah makes for a dangerous, original, and grotesque villain, not merely in terms of his ever-changing appearance, but also in terms of his abilities and proclivities.  When the airborne Hedorah strafes his human prey and sprays a toxic chemical, humans below are dissolved to bone instantly, and it’s a frightening, grotesque effect.  Another image of Hedorah that remains unforgettable sees the beast perching atop a factory smoke-stack, imbibing pollution directly from the pipe, as it were.

It seems to me that both Bond and Godzilla films rise and fall on the basis of the villain’s nature and plans, and Hedorah’s constantly shifting nature, nasty composition, gruesome power, and odd appetite make him an unforgettable antagonist.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah finds some new subtext and social critique material for the long-standing franchise.  Historically, Godzilla has been parsed as an avatar for atomic power. He owes his very existence in the 20th century to human nuclear testing, and so forth.  In Godzilla vs. Hedorah, however, the series gives him a villain who also symbolizes an important element of the disco decade zeitgeist: pollution

As seen in films such as Frogs (1972) and Doomwatch (1976) environmental pollution proved the great bugaboo of the age, and here, the alien seed that is Hedorah sprouts from sewage and garbage strewn into the ocean.  The opening scenes in the film depict smoke stacks, factories, and filthy brown ocean water.  We see, without fakery, examples of how man has destroyed that which Nature has provided.  These moments are powerful because they are real. Man’s technology and industry -- coupled with his propensity to destroy that which he touches – are turning a paradise into a nightmare.

From this hot-house of detritus emerges something unspeakably awful: the crimson-eyed menace from another world.  And when Hedorah sucks smoke out of a factory stack like it’s a giant bong, the film’s powerful point is nailed visually: we’re actually feeding the vehicle of our own destruction when we pollute the Earth.

Commendably, the Godzilla series has adjusted with the times to remain relevant and interesting.  The nature of “the monster” has changed (from nuclear power to rampant pollution and environmental damage), but the overall premise hasn’t been altered at all.  The fact is, state these Japanese films, mankind’s behavior and irresponsibility are jeopardizing everyone on the planet.

What makes Godzilla vs. Hedorah such a charming and worthwhile film, however, is not necessarily the polemical aspects of the drama. Contrarily, the film often adopts the viewpoint of a child, who sees the pollution and wishes for some miracle to stop it. 

That miracle is named Godzilla. 

Godzilla would get really angry if he saw this. He’d do something,” the child, Kenny, declares upon musing over pollution.

In this case, the child seeks an answer to a problem, and hopes for a person (or creature) brave enough and bold enough to take action.  The film actually forges a meaningful link between this boy and Godzilla, suggesting that Godzilla can hear his hopes and thoughts, and thus comes to the rescue of humanity.

Kenny hopes that Godzilla will fix by might that which man chooses not to address. 

Furthering the idea of the film as originating from a child’s viewpoint, Godzilla vs. Hedorah often cuts to a cartoon representation of the sludge monster, perhaps in an attempt to maintain the whimsical aspects of the tale, especially in counter-balance to some of the unexpectedly gruesome special effects. 

Finally, the film even features a great (if idealistic) answer to the problem of pollution: “if everyone pulls together, we can defeat it.

If we can just do that one thing, Godzilla will not gaze down upon us with such disapproval in his eyes, as he does in the coda of this particular outing.

Another real treat here is the fact that Godzilla vs. Hedorah is beautifully-shot.  The compositions make full use of film’s rectangular frame, and some vistas -- even those featuring an obviously mini-metropolis and dueling men-in-suits -- remain visually impressive.  There's a downright lyrical moment near the end of the film when Godzilla stands before a sunset, and the implication seems to be that it is mankind's reign itself that is setting, unless we change our ways.

 Perhaps some of the ideas here -- like a peace march to stop pollution -- seem dated in the cold light of the cynical 21st century, but Godzilla vs. Hedorah, with its child-like innocence and focus on a real 1970s “monster”  --pollution -- works just about as poetically and effectively as any Godzilla movie ever made in my opinion.

Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster (1965)

Godzilla makes the dramatic shift from being a villain and enemy of the human world to a dedicated (if reluctant…) Earth defender in the rip-roaring Toho effort, Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster (1965).  

This film also introduces the world to Godzilla’s key nemesis: the three-headed flying alien dragon known as King Ghidorah.

Ghidorah would return to battle Godzilla in many other films, including the brilliant adventure Monster Zero (1970), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), to name just a few titles.

The enduring charm of Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster, in large part, rests on its fanciful depiction of the monster world and, importantly, the monster viewpoint about that world. 

Specifically, in the film’s delightful and unexpected final act, humanity asks for assistance battling the berserker Ghidrah, and Godzilla and Rodan must consider their priorities. 

Are they man’s enemies, or do these beasts have a basis for cooperation with the human race?

Fortunately for mankind, Mothra is present to talk some sense into the recalcitrant Godzilla…

“These monsters are as stupid as human beings!”
A foreign princess, Selina (Akiko Wakabayashi) is presumed dead after her plane is destroyed  by assassins en route to Japan.

However, Selina soon re-appears in perfect health...but claiming to be a Martian princess. 

In this new identity, Selina warns the people of Earth of an impending crisis, a repeat of the very one that destroyed her advanced home world.

While assassins from her home-land continue to seek to assassinate Selina, the alien princess’s warnings come to pass.  As she forecasts, the fearsome pterodactyl Rodan awakens at Mount Aso, and Godzilla ascends from the sea.

Selina’s protector, Detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) and psychiatrist Dr. Tsukamoto (Takashi Shimura) become convinced that Selina is acyually possessed by the spirit of an alien, and she makes a final, dire prediction.  The monster that destroyed her home planet, Mars, in a matter of months, is now on Earth.

This too comes to pass, as King Ghidrah, or Ghidorah -- a three-headed goliath -- emerges from a meteor and lays waste to Japan.

Desperate, authorities make an effort to solicit Mothra’s help on Infant Island, and the giant insect acquiesces. 

However, Mothra alone cannot defeat Ghidorah. So Mothra attempts to convince the quarrelsome Godzilla and Rodan to join forces and vanquish their common enemy, but it is not an easy sell.

When Mothra decides to go it alone, and is savagely attacked -- and ridiculed -- by malevolent Ghidorah, however, Godzilla comes to the rescue, followed by Rodan…

“Godzilla, what terrible language!”

The theme of cooperation, already given voice in Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964) is front and center in Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster. Here, Godzilla and Rodan must stop their bickering -- with the help of a third monster, Mothra -- and defend the Earth from a threat of monumental proportions.

In terms of metaphor, it is not difficult to gaze at the film as a post-Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War Era plea for sanity and cooperation among the argumentative powers of the world.  If we follow it through symbolically, Godzilla may here represent the U.S. (as he is the avatar of American nuclear tests), Rodan the Soviet Union, and Mothra...level-headed, practical Japan.  Only by all three “monsters” (or nations…) working together will the “alien” Ghidorah be defeated.

This theme finds voice in the brilliant finale, as Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan share a meeting of the minds, or international monster summit of sorts.  Mothra attempts to sway them with reason and logic, but Godzilla and Rodan are too busy kicking rocks into each other’s faces, at least at first, to listen.  Eventually Mothra gets their attention, and then Godzilla and Rodan must consider their options.  

They both hate mankind, and remember, importantly, that mankind hates them.  Why should they help?

Well, as Mothra points out, we all share this Earth together, and so Godzilla and Rodan must put their hatred for man aside and do what is right for the planet.

I absolutely love the imagination and audacity of this film's climactic sequence. Mothra’s tiny princesses translate for the human audience while three monsters gurgle, growl and squeal at one another in serious conversation, determining the fate of the planet in the process.  

This sequence conveys some important information, too. The first thing is that man, in his arrogance, presumes that he controls the planet and its future. Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster reveals him “humbled” before the monsters.  If man is to survive, and not suffer the same fate as the Martians, he will have to put his trust into beings -- monsters -- he considers enemies.

Secondly, the monsters dislike man as much as man dislikes them, apparently. More is made of this notion throughout the Godzilla franchise, actually.  In Godzilla: Final Wars, for instance, we learn that Godzilla hates man -- and can’t forgive him -- because of his misuse of the planet, and because of all the “fires” (wars?) man has started.

Third, and finally, Godzilla, we learn here, seems to possess both a grumpy attitude (and the vocabulary of a sailor…) but also a strong moral barometer.  He cusses and uses bad language when talking to Mothra, and that’s a funny moment.  But more importantly, Godzilla refuses to fight until he sees what a total bastard Ghidrah really is.  Ghidrah mocks and plays with poor Mothra and that action offends Godzilla’s sense of honor, even though Mothra has, in the past, defeated him.

Mothra is quite the smart creature too. No doubt, Mothra goes it alone intentionally, hoping that Godzilla will detect the level of the danger, and be drawn into the battle to save the planet. That seems to be precisely what happens.

Indeed, what seems to separate good monsters from bad monsters in this thoroughly enjoyable film is a sense of justice or honor. 

Mothra, Godzilla and Rodan all demonstrate the capacity not merely for growth, but for cooperation. They are able to rally to a cause greater than themselves, in other words.  

By contrast, King Ghidorah is really a berserker with no value system beyond destruction.

I suppose that the question that must be reckoned with involving Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster involves changed premises or changed assumptions in the Godzilla franchise.  Are audiences willing to embrace Godzilla the hero, over Godzilla the avatar of nuclear destruction? 

And if so, is it a corruption of the franchise’s original idea?

Although on an artistic front, I do prefer the purity of the nuclear metaphor in Godzilla (1954), I must confess that on an emotional level, I love the idea of Godzilla as Earth’s (grumpy) defender.  I love the big green monster as a hero, and as a friend to the human race.  It may be a corruption of the original premise, but I do find Godzilla in these Showa "versus" films to be an appealing combination of innocent, tragic, and lovable.

One further quality of Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster that may keep it from being a corruption of the original franchise intent and rather an evolution of key concepts is the example of Mars.  The alien princess reports: “Centuries ago, the monster appeared in the skies of Mars. Within a month, the culture of Mars had been wiped out completely. The civilization on my planet had reached a stage of development which you people will not achieve for a long time…Today, because of the space monster, it is a dead world…dead and unpopulated.

Encoded there is a direct corollary to the warning in Godzilla (1954).  

Man has and will continue to achieve advances in terms of his technology, and his capacity for war. But if he brutalizes nature in that evolution, nature will have its revenge, and man will, in that conflict, lose. 

Ghidorah, in essence, here takes on the role of Godzilla from the first film.  He is Out-of-Whack Nature Personified: a threat that can’t be reckoned with in terms of technology or conventional war.

Ghidrah: The Three Headed Monster is such an imaginative and entertaining film not only because it features lovable and idiosyncratic monsters, but because it endows its monsters with a point of view that is not human-centric, and allows them -- in their  own destructive way -- to settles matters based on those points of view.  

To some, this approach of giving the monsters human personalities may seem silly or childish, but in a way, this creative choice perfectly expresses the childish nature of the Cold War conflict.

Are we really going to destroy the world because we can’t get along with each other? Can we stop kicking sand in each other's faces long enough to see that the planet needs our help?

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

This Godzilla movie from 1962 is undeniably a hell of a lot of fun, yet it is not quite the clash of the titans that fans of both King Kong and Godzilla might have hoped for.

I’ve probably seen King Kong vs. Godzilla ten times since I was five years old, and I certainly love it for nostalgic reasons, if not for its quality.

To wit, the film today seems a little superficial and shallow, and a bit like a missed opportunity. Specifically, Godzilla’s screen time seems unnecessarily abbreviated, and the Great Lizard doesn’t get to express much in terms of character or personality. 

Meanwhile, King Kong obligingly relives all the well-known moments of his particular mythology, with a baffling new power -- electricity eating! -- thrown in for good measure.

The nail in the coffin is the film’s anemic final battle, which doesn’t rate all that highly in terms of Godzilla franchise history. It’s a brief affair, and mostly lacking in tension, perhaps in an effort to keep it fair.

I mean, I love King Kong as much as anyone, but who really believes that Godzilla wouldn’t completely smoke the giant ape (literally) with his atomic fire breath?

Intriguingly, King Kong vs. Godzilla’s relatively inconclusive ending -- which occurs near water -- does seem to forecast, after a fashion, the closing moments of Freddy vs. Jason (2004). 

In that film, as you may recall, Jason emerges from the water with Freddy’s head…but Freddy winks at the camera, letting you know he may be down, but he isn’t out.  I remember thinking at the time that there was no way on Earth Jason would ever beat Freddy.

In King Kong vs. Godzilla, King Kong emerges (apparently…) triumphant and starts trudging it out for Faro Island, while Godzilla is MIA. 

He’s not visible, but you know he ain’t dead, either…

At this point, I should probably note a bit about my own biases. The Godzilla movies that I tend to love the most -- and admire most as works of art -- are those that are about, essentially, man’s stewardship of the Earth. 

Accordingly, two of my favorites in the cycle are the original Godzilla (1954), a searing document that has lost none of its power today, and Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1972), which replaces the terror of nuclear power with the terror of unrestrained pollution.

In both the 1950s and the 1970s, there is this pervasive fear in the Godzilla franchise of man ruining life on Earth, spiraling out control…creating ever more destructive “monsters” from his own lack of wisdom.

King Kong vs. Godzilla boasts little such overt meaning or deep sub-text, although its commentary on big business and Pacific Pharmaceutical’s avarice appears to set the tone for John Guillermin’s 1976 King Kong.  

In both films, Kong is seen not as a natural force of nature, but rather as a “tool” that can be used in terms of marketing a product to the public. 

I note this leitmotif with appropriate appreciation, but also suggest it is much more expertly featured in Godzilla’s next outing, the superior Godzilla vs. The Thing, a film which pits him against Mothra. 

In fact, that (very good…) film plays very much like a superior remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla, only with all the wrinkles here ironed out.

“We must bring them together!”
Eric Carter (Michael Keith), a news anchor for the United Nations, reports about a new environmental problem plaguing Japan.  A group of icebergs are breaking up in Japan’s sea.
When a U.S. submarine, the Sea Hawk investigates, it discovers that the bergs are radioactive.  The sub is soon lost, and presumed destroyed.
Later, a helicopter exploring the same territory sees Godzilla burst out of an iceberg, bringing terror to the world.  The giant radioactive lizard -- apparently a cross between a tyrannosaurus rex and a stegosaurus  -- heads immediately and instinctively for Japan…
At the same time, however, an exploratory team from Pacific Pharmaceuticals visits isolated Faro Island in hopes of bringing back more narcoleptic “soma berries,” and the legendary Faro Island Monster as a TV mascot as well. 
The natives on the island worship a giant ape, King Kong, and when Kong saves them all from a giant, carnivorous octopus, it is easy to see why. 
King Kong is brought back to civilization at precisely the same time that Godzilla makes his deadly march towards Tokyo.
The two titans meet, and King Kong gets the worst of it in the first battle. 
But after dining on some electrical wire, the giant ape is ready for the final battle at Mount Fuji, as the world watches…

“I hope we’ve seen the last of them for a long time…”

King Kong vs. Godzilla is basically a lightning-quick reiteration of two famous monster myths, and then a half-hearted climactic battle between goliaths.

In terms of Kong and his story, this film showcases his island home and the exploitation of the natives there by modern civilization.

At one point, Pacific Pharmaceutical employees give children and women cigarettes to assure their cooperation.

But more to the point, the film reveals the great wall separating Kong from the village, as well as the capture of Kong so that he can be brought to the First World as, essentially “a show-piece.” 

In this case, Kong won’t play on Broadway, but on TV instead.  The new wrinkle here is that Kong is downed not by gas grenades, but by a berry narcotic drink which he enjoys…and which makes him very sleepy.

Once in Japan, Kong goes through more of his familiar routine. He is curious about an urban train, and up-ends it…much to the chagrin of the passengers.  And the climbs to the top of a building -- an Empire State Building surrogate -- clutching a woman.  In this case, it’s not Fay Wray but unlucky (and gorgeous…) Fumiko (Mie Hama).

Godzilla, meanwhile, must reckon with the same set of challenges he already faced in his 1954 film: a ring of electric towers forming a barricade around Tokyo. 

Similarly, King Kong vs. Godzilla features approximately a dozen mentions of the atomic bomb, and whether or not it is appropriate for use in this circumstance.  The bombs are described as being ready, but they are never deployed, for the obvious reason that they would cause considerable destruction.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of King Kong vs. Godzilla today is the vastly expanded role of the U.N.  In this film, it has its own TV network, for instance, not to mention its own highly-advanced satellite. 

Indeed, the U.N. seems to be the hub of the civilized world here, which is something that would no doubt send Glenn Beck screaming under his bed.  But, apparently in 1962 there was a lot less cynicism about the organization than there is in 2014…

In terms of visuals, it’s fair to state that they are a mixed bag. The Faro Island wall looks completely amazing, for instance.  It’s a different design than the one we saw in the 1933 Kong, but nonetheless quite impressive.

But on the other hand, the Kong suit itself is really, really dreadful. King Kong looks ridiculous in this film.  He isn’t helped, either by a script which requires him to be the Kaiju equivalent of a heavy drinker.

King Kong vs. Godzilla also sees the regal ape carried from scene to scene by a clutch of over-sized balloons…

My greatest disappointment, though, is that Godzilla at this early relatively early stage in his career doesn’t showcase some of his best ticks and behaviors: the flapping of his arms in triumph after a successful blow, the occasional victory dance, and other expressive acts that mark the big guy as something more than your average radioactive dinosaur.

Also, I feel very strongly that the U.N. scientist here gets it all wrong when he notes that the battle in the film is brute force (Godzilla) vs intelligence (King Kong). 

As we all know, Godzilla demonstrates cunning and intelligence throughout the film series.  Even so – and as I wrote above – it’s clear that if the filmmakers were being completely fair about this, King Kong wouldn’t survive the first round.

Later monsters -- like Mothra, Megalon, and Rodan, for instance -- are capable of countering Godzilla’s atomic fire breath with weaponry of their own.  The filmmakers endow Kong with the power to re-charge from chewing electrical wires, but let’s face it…you can’t re-charge when you’re dead. 

Godzilla would set fire to Kong’s furry countenance with one good shot, and that would be it.

King Kong vs. Godzilla also quickly turns its corporate goon, Mr. Tako, into a buffoon or figure of fun.  The accent on humor absolutely undercuts the social critique about out-of-control business interests.  I mean, who can really be mad at a guy who almost accidentally detonates the dynamite on Kong’s raft?

I hope that no one perceives me as being too hard on this movie, because or all its flaws, it is eminently watchable and never dull. For me, watching the movie is like spending time with an old friend.

And yet, I also feel that King Kong could have been so much more, and that other entries -- like the aforementioned Godzilla vs. The Thing -- are so much stronger. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cult-Movie Review: The War of the Gargantuas (1966)

It’s no exaggeration to state that The War of the Gargantuas (1966) was a staple of my childhood TV-watching.

The Japanese monster movie -- released in America in 1970 -- aired frequently on our local station WWOR Channel 9 in the 1970s and 1980s; sometimes on The Million Dollar Movie, if memory serves.

Rightly or wrongly, I have come to associate these viewings of The War of the Gargantuas with the Thanksgiving holiday, or more accurately, the Friday after Thanksgiving. 

So today, I decided to take a look back at the film. Until last week, I had not seen The War of the Gargantuas since a holiday in the early 1990s when I introduced the film to my wife, Kathryn. We were at my grandparents’ house in Tom’s River, N.J. for the Thanksgiving weekend, so the film may have been playing on basic cable.

The War of the Gargantuas stars Russ Tamblyn as Dr. Paul Stewart and is a sequel of sorts to Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). In particular, the film’s Gargantuas -- brown and green -- were created from the cells of the Frankenstein Monster, which were cast into the sea in the previous film.  

And in Japanese, I believe, the creatures are referred to not as Gargantuas but as “Frankensteins.”

Directed by Ishiro Honda, with special effects from Eiji Tsubaraya, The War of the Gargantuas concerns the attempts of several scientists to save the life of the non-violent brown Gargantua, or Sanda, even while the Japanese Army plots the demise of the violent, carnivorous green Gargantua, Gaira. 

In the end, nature does away with the giant monsters instead. But the film serves as a meditation on the nature vs. nurture debate, comparing the wild, untamed Gaira with the kindly Sanda, who knew human companionship. 

Man’s violent nature is discussed as well, since the Japanese Army refuses to acknowledge the (obvious) differences between the gargantuan monsters, and goes forward with its plan to kill them both with napalm.

“Is it possible a gargantuan might exist?”

A ship at sea is attacked by a giant octopus, and later, a giant green monster or Gargantua. 

The only survivor of the incident reports the attack, and the Japanese press runs with the story, asking Professor Paul Stewart (Tamblyn) and his associate Akemi (Kumi Mizuno) if such creatures could be real. The scientists know from experience that it is possible.  Five years earlier, they cared for a gentle brown Gargantua, before it escaped from custody.

The Green Gargantua, Gaira, soon makes landfall at Tokyo Airport and does catastrophic damage there. Later, the same beast attacks the patrons at a roof-top night-club, and is repelled only by bright light.  

The Japanese Army brings in maser tanks to annihilate Gaira, but at the last minute, the injured creature is rescued by Sanda, the brown Gargantua who has been living in peace in the Japanese Alps.

Stwewart surmises that the Gargantuas are offshoots from the same unknown cells, and therefore their cells may be able to generate additional monsters.Alarmed, the Army plans to destroy Gaira and Sanda, over Stewart and Akemi’s objections...

“We were sunk by a hairy green giant.”

The War of the Gargantuas explicitly references, at one point, the Biblical story of Cain and Abel: the story of a man who murders his brother. 

That tale roils underneath The War of the Gargantuas as Sanda and Gaira  first discover one another, and eventually face off. Early in the film, Sanda saves Gaira from the Army and nurses him back to health after maser attack. But soon Sanda -- who was raised by humans -- sees that Gaira has killed and eaten a human boater.  Sanda realizes that he can no longer protect his sibling, and nor should he. They fight it out, even though Sanda is peaceful and docile.

The other set of “brothers” in the film -- mirroring this monster dynamic -- are human scientists and soldiers. The scientists, like Sanda, are peaceful and docile, hoping to investigate the crisis and save the more peaceful of the two Gargantuas.  The soldiers, by contrast (and not entirely unlike Gaira...) are bound and determined to destroy anything they deem a threat, including the innocent Sanda.  

Like the Gargantuas, scientists and soldiers possess “the same blood, the same cell structure,” and yet are incredibly different.The movie points out the hypocrisy of the Army's higher-ups. They are bound and determined to kill both Gargantuas, even without cause, even though they are acting in a murderous fashion, like Gaira. 

But brothers are supposed to be responsible for brothers, right?

In the end, the Gargantuas are put down not by each other, or by the auspices of man, but by an underwater volcanic eruption. Though spurred by a helicopter bombing, this eruption is the “other” key player in the film’s action: Mother Nature, or God, if you will.  

The Gargantuas -- as Frankenstein Monsters and creations of man -- are “unnatural” creations. Therefore, it is only proper that nature remove them. But had monster movie history been a little different, however, Sanda and Gaira would have likely returned in another film, perhaps to battle Godzilla himself.

On my recent screening of the film, I was pleasantly surprised by the effetive and atmospheric opening of the film. Like so many Japanese monster movies, The War of the Gargantuas opens with a ship at sea during a storm, and an attack by a giant monster.  

This time, that monster is a huge, menacing octopus, and the scene is very well-shot. The punctuation of the scene is a surprise too.  Gaira dispatches the octopus so that we think he is a hero, but then Gaira proceeds to attack the ship himself.  Out of the frying pan, into the fire. 

Later, in a scene that is a little shocking to behold, we see Gaira pursuing the swimming survivors from the ship.  He plucks them out of the water and eats them. 

The scene I most remembered from the film is set at a night club, where an American singer croons “The Words Get Stuck in My Throat,” unaware that Gaira is creeping up in the background, behind her.  

The movie misses a genuine opportunity, in my opinion, because the singer doesn’t get eaten (or stuck in Gaira’s throat...). That would have been a wicked (and nasty) joke but The War of the Gargantuas is a sincere entertainment and doesn’t tread into camp, at least intentionally. Still, it's hard not to giggle at the sea captain's cry that his vessel was attacked by a hairy green giant.

On this viewing of the film, I also admired how the filmmakers set up and exploited the comparison between Gaira and Sanda.  

Gaira is a vicious, inhuman thing that has never known love or companionship. By nature, he may have the potential to love, but he has never been nurtured.  He sees human beings only as food, biting their heads off first, apparently. This is terrifying to watch, and I remember, as a kid, being scared by Gaira.  

There's a moment in the film when a fisherman looks down into the sea, and there -- below the surface -- is Gaira, just waiting to spring. That moment offers some good old fashioned nightmare fodder, and Gaira represents nature gone wild, untamed and undisciplined. 

Sanda was raised by humans, however, and therefore understands love, companionship, and even brotherhood. That latter quality, brotherhood, is the very thing that Sanda seeks with Gaira, perhaps to alleviate a lonely, or even solitary existence.  

But Gaira simply can’t change his ways at this juncture, and is no doubt confused when his brother turns against him. Sanda, clearly, wishes events had turned out differently.

What I didn’t admire so much about The War of the Gargantuas is the fact that the mid-movie battle between Gaira and the Japanese Army seems to go on forever, and therefore lose some visceral impact.  

I fully realize that many nay-sayers disliked 2014’s Godzilla because there wasn’t a lot of monster-on-monster fighting in the film. The fights were used strategically, and mostly during the climax.

The War of the Gargantuas, however, validates that restrained approach.The battles here go on for so long, without relief, that they eventually become monumentally uninteresting. 

It’s probably sacrilege to say this, but the fights could have been pruned back by a full-third, and the movie would have moved with more grace, purpose and drive. The first thirty minutes or so of The War of the Gargantuas in particular, are terrific, and the special effects (especially during the airport attack) hold up rather well.  

Once the fighting takes center stage, however, The War of the Gargantuas feels like it is stuck in neutral. Long stretches of time go by where we just seem to be watching vehicles getting positioned, and masers firing.

The War of the Gargantuas is generally very well-regarded by fans, and I can detect why. Some feel nostalgia for the film, because they grew up with it. Certainly, I'm in this camp.

Others have keyed in on, quite rightly, the human, affecting nature of these particular monsters. You don’t want the Gargantuas to kill each other or die, and yet, at the same time, that outcome feels inevitable. 

All the best monster movies make audiences care about their creatures, one way or another. You either love them, hate them, or feel sorry for them. 

On that front, The War of the Gargantuas absolutely succeeds, and all those emotions bubble to the surface. Sanda, in particular, is heart-breaking. He attempts to build a bridge to the human world (which includes brotherhood and compassion), and carry Gaira with him -- his own flesh and blood -- across it, but doesn't succeed.  

His failure, one might say, is only human.