Thanksgiving Blogging: The War of the Gargantuas (1966)
And in Japanese, I believe, the creatures are referred to not as Gargantuas but as “Frankensteins.”
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 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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.