Alright, here’s the Forgotten Films Japanese word of the day. The word is: Kaiju. It means “strange beast” and is the word given to the genre of movies featuring such big (and I mean “big”) stars as Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Gamera. I love Kaiju films…the formula is just so wonderfully simple! Giant monster comes to Japan, giant monster smashes Japan. Today, we’re going to look at a Kaiju movie that was actually mentioned by Brad Pitt during the last Oscar broadcast. It doesn’t feature any of the iconic characters listed above, but may be one of the best films of the genre…1966’s “The War of the Gargantuas.”
The film is directed by Ishiro Honda, the man behind the original “Gojira” (or Godzilla as we know him here), and is technically a sequel to “Frankenstein Conquers the World.” In this one, the monster madness starts quickly as a giant green ape-like creature emerges from the ocean and does battle with a giant octopus…destroying a nearby ship in the process.
A team of doctors is called in to learn more about the situation. Among them is an American, Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn), and his assistant, and romantic interest, Akemi (Kumi Mizuno). They fear that this “gargantua” may be a creature that they raised and studied when it was young and looked like one of the Monchhichi dolls. Remember those things? Sing it now…Monchhichi, Monchhichi, oh so soft and cuddly.
When the creature comes ashore and decides to tear up the Tokyo airport, our scientists begin to think that this may not be their gargantua. The creature makes several more appearances, smashes some stuff, eats some ladies, before a plan is hatched to lure it into the wilderness and zap it. Just when the military thinks they have the creature defeated, another one shows up. This one is brown, and is the creature raised by the scientists.
At first, the brown gargantua has compassion on the green one, but it doesn’t take long for him to see that old greenie is definitely the evil twin. The brown one attacks the green one and the two engage in a battle that takes them all the way to Tokyo. We’re talking all out destruction here!
Monsters battling each other is one of things that make Kaiju movies so much fun! But when you have Godzilla battling Ghidorah, or something like that, there is a limit to the dexterity of those creatures. A man in a giant lizard suit can only do so much. But in “The War of the Gargantuas,” the creatures are fairly humanoid…so when they do battle, they can really tear each other apart. This is like WWE Wrestling, Tokyo style! These guys throw each other around, slam into buildings…it rocks! Don’t even get me started on the finale which involves an underwater volcano! Amazing!
As far as the human characters go…well they’re often a necessary evil in a Kaiju movie. We need them to move the story along, but who cares what they’re doing…just get to the monster action! That’s not the case here, though. The cast deserves a lot of credit. I love Russ Tamblyn’s laid back approach to his role. He acts like giant creatures doing body slams into office buildings is an everyday event for him…and for some reason that smooth approach fits this film perfectly. I also loved Kumi Mizuno’s spirited, and slyly sexy, performance.
Director Ishiro Honda is considered by many to be one of Japan’s finest filmmakers, right up there with his good friend Akira Kurosawa. He shows why with “The War of the Gargantuas.” It delivers in big way…and hey, if it was good enough for Brad Pitt!