Not even a year after Toho blessed Japan with Frankenstein vs. Baragon, its sequel, Frankenstein no Kaijū: Sanda tai Gaira (called War of the Gargantuas in The States) was released.
Though the monster in Frankenstein vs. Baragon was killed at the end of the movie, he had grown from the heart of the original Frankenstein’s monster. If he could grow from that, then new monsters could grow from him. Thus the sequel was born!
When I sat down to watch this, I was in the mood for a good monster movie. Actually, I was in the mood for a Godzilla movie, but watched this because I’m watching them in chronological order and War of the Gargantuas is next in line. However, it didn’t disappoint. That very well could be because pretty much everyone who worked on it had worked on the Godzilla movies in the past.
Regular Godzilla Director, Ishiro Honda was at the helm for War of the Gargantuas, even co-writing the script with Takeshi Kimura (who wrote Rodan, Frankenstein vs. Baragon and others).
Akira Ifukube again provides the score, even using a saw in the opening theme. And of course, Eiji Tsubaraya heads up the special effects department.
What is important is the story…
Tossing about on the sea is a small boat that is suddenly attacked by a giant octopus! It nearly kills the pilot when suddenly a huge green hairy humanoid beast appears, rips the octopus apart killing it… then turns on the boat!
The local authorities called up Dr. Stewart who’s an expert on Frankenstein. He tells them that it can’t be Frank – Frank lives in the mountains, not in the sea. Also, he doesn’t eat humans.
Nevertheless, more and more shipwrecks are occurring. The media is quickly placing the blame onto Frankenstein. But how could this be possible? Frank was just spotted in the mountains!
Since everyone is freaking, Dr. Stewart and his assistant, Akemi, head to Tokyo to try to sort things out. Stewart wonders aloud if there could be two Frankensteins.
It’s been surmised that the gargantua attacking Tokyo doesn’t like light so much. He only attacks in cloud cover or at night. During a night club show, when an American woman is singing “Feel in My Heart,” the green gargantua attacks! Everyone runs, but he’s able to capture the singer. Before he could eat her, however, they turn the lights on, he drops her and heads to the mountains in confusion. ((“Feel in My Heart” has the chorus “The words get stuck in my throat.” I recognized it from a weird Devo cover/parody of it – with Mark on vocals as Boojie Boy – on a live bootleg I had long ago.))
The people living in the mountain villages light bonfires to keep him away as the army chases him down with tanks and light fixtures, keeping him from the populous.
In a rare plan that actually works, the army decides to fight him with electricity. They throw bolts of lightening at him and even send electrical current through a nearby river in an attempt to kill him. What’s odd is that it’s nearly successful. Because of the constant artillery pounding and electrocution, the green monster is down for the count.
The military come up with the names Gaila (for the green one) and Sanda (for the brown). Sanda, who was raised in captivity by Dr. Stewart and Akemi, nurses the bloodied Gaila. They lay low for awhile.
Unable to find them, Dr. Stewart and Akemi take their search to a nearby lake. Some crazy teens are also there on a little fishing trip and sing-a-long. The sun is out, so what bad things could possibly happen? Well, soon the fog rolls in and before anyone could get anywhere, Gaila, the green gargantua, rises up and scares off the teens!
Akemi tries to run away, but falls down a cliff, saving herself by holding onto a root… but how long can she hold out? Dr. Stewart tries to save her, but can’t get there in time. Akemi falls, but is saved by Sanda, the brown gargantua! He lovingly places her at the feet of Dr. Stewart.
Fed up, the army comes up with an awesome plan: electrocute the entire lake and burn the forest down with napalm! High fives all around! Dr. Stewart and pals are not amused and really need to figure out a way to save Sanda and apparently nature.
Meanwhile, Sanda catches up with Gaila and sees the evidence that those wild teens didn’t get too far. The clothes of the dead are scattered around him. Sanda is pretty pissed and it’s time for Gaila to stop being such a load.
Dr. Stewart again insists that Sanda is innocent and that the army should only attack Gaila. They seem to listen to him and as the monsters are fighting each other, bomb the crap out of Gaila. He heads back to the ocean.
But another thought occurs to Dr. Stewart. If the gargantuas grew from cells of the first Frankenstein, wouldn’t more gargantuas grow from Sanda and Gaila’s cells? They’ll be scattered all over Japan! The conclusion is that Sanda must be saved and Gaila should be killed, but don’t blow him up or anything because that would be really bad.
What can be done? Gaila has entered Tokyo and Sanda is coming off the mountains to fight him! The city is evacuated while tanks bombard Gaila. He quickly smashes them with the debris of fallen buildings. Finally Sanda finds him and seems to urge him to be calm.
Gaila is having none of it! The gargantuas fight, pummeling Tokyo and themselves in the process. To lessen the destruction, Sanda leads Gaila out into Tokyo Bay when all of a sudden a giant underwater volcano erupts! Who will survive this incredibly convenient movie-ending plot twist? Find out on War of the Gargantuas!
Thoughts after watching?
It’s not a Godzilla flick, but, with the really obvious exception of the ending, it should have been. This is how monster movies should be made. Pretty well everything about it is high quality. From the monsters to the models – even the actors are good.
Speaking of models, since the monsters were smaller than your typical Japanese monsters, the model buildings had to be made larger. This required more detail and, not surprisingly, Tsubaraya and his team pull it off. The miniature forests made with real trees look exactly like forests. When Sanda rips a tree from the ground and beats Gaila with it, it’s real.
My only complaint is the score. While I’m usually a huge fan of Akira Ifukube’s music, this is really repetitive. Especially the march that is played over and over. It sounds like a generic Civil War march and will be stuck in my head for days, thanks. Oh, and the bow saw only being played over the opening was such a tease!
It was, however, fun to see Russ Tamblyn in a Japanese monster flick. Russ was Riff on West Side Story and the creepy Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks. His daughter, Amber Tamblyn was Joan from the underrated TV series, Joan of Arcadia. He, like Nick Adams before him, knew no Japanese. He spoke his lines in English while the other actors spoke theirs in their native tongue. He was overdubbed in the Japanese release, they were overdubbed in the American release (which kept Russ’s original vocal track).
The US version was released to theaters in 1970, sharing a bill with Monster Zero (Invasion of Astro-Monster). This American release is four minutes longer than the original Japanese. They must not have cared for the original score either as much of it has been replaced with Ifukube’s music from other Toho films. Also, they threw in some music from Blood Waters of Dr. Z for good measure.
There’s also an added scene from the airport sequence. Just after Gaila ate the woman, he is seen spitting out her clothes. The American release shows her clothes hitting the ground.
War of the Gargantuas is a mixed bag. You’ve got a great story that is actually centered completely around the monsters, but you also have a way too convenient ending and so-so music. Since I’ve already demanded that you see the movie Rodan and since War of the Gargantuas is packaged with it, why not give it a spin?
Here is the original trailer. This is great because it shows Russ speaking in English while everyone else is speaking in Japanese.
Monsters: Sanda, Gaila, and giant octopus
Locations: Kyoto, Tokyo, rural areas around Tokyo
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka | Director: Ishiro Honda | Screenplay: Takeshi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya | Score: Akira Ifukube
Released: July 31, 1966 | 90 mins | Color | 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio