Monday, January 10, 2011

Brothers In Arms: "War Of The Gargantas(1966)" revisited

It had been longer than I care to admit since I had watched a classic Toho kaiju film so a few nights ago I decided to sit down and watch War Of The Gargantuas , a classic Toho monster feature that was originally released in Japanese theaters by Toho back in 1966. The film is directed by Inoshiro Honda and the special effects are courtesy of Toho SPFX maestro Eiji Tsuburaya.

As anyone familiar with the older, 60's Toho monster films knows, "WOTG" is a sequel of sorts to Frankenstein Vs Baragon(aka "Frankenstein Conquers The World"), which was released by Toho a year earlier in 1965.

Whenever I watch a film again I often try to pick up on things I didn't notice before, good or bad, and sometimes I just get a reminder, watching the film again, of what I like and dislike about the movie itself. This "revisit" will hopefully be a combination of both. Some observations about WOTG, a favorite of mine, some of them positive and some of them not:

What I liked:

1. Kumi Mizuno whose character in this film, "Akemi" brings a sympathetic angle to the monster "Sanda". Sanda is the protagonist but we need Akemi's interaction with a baby Sanda and later the adult Sanda injuring its leg in order to save Akemi to fully appreciate that the 30 meter tall creature, while hairy and brutish looking, is no menace at all to humanity.

2. the renderings of "Sanda" and "Gaira": both creatures are suited well, the costumes making the suit actors look like giant, ape like sasquatches and, for me anyway, sufficiently creepy to look at. Both monsters also possess flattened heads, like the Franken boy giant in FCTW(1965), presumably an homage to Universal Studio's classic Frankenstein monster. In particular Gaira, the 25 meter tall villain monster. Gaira is ugly and has what appears to be a somewhat deformed face, uglier looking choppers and a generally hostile disposition regarding people in that the green colored, hairy giant, apparently not satisfied with consuming fish, crustaceans, seaweed and other things found in the sea, has begun incorporating humans into its diet, this plot angle adding a significant element of horror to to the film. I like the decision by Toho to allow the suit actor's actual eyes to be used through the suits: this added some realism and emotion to both monsters.

3. the miniature effects in the film are marvelous, especially during the military's initial engagement with Gaira. The military, unlike in other kaiju films, actually appear disciplined, competent and determined in their approach to eliminating Gaira as evidenced by the sequence in which the defense forces set up their lasers and mobile maser cannons. 

4. both monsters, Sanda and Gaira, have outstanding entrance scenes: Gaira, while IMO shown a little too soon in WOTG, still is introduced to the viewer in full action mode, fighting a giant octopus, sinking a freighter and subsequently snatching a pair of crewmen out of the if their day wasn't already shot to hell when their ship was trashed.

Sanda's entrance is also well rendered as he saves Gaira from certain death at the hands of the local military...all while confirming the building suspicion among the scientists that there are in fact two of these giant creatures and not just one.

5. the final battle between Sanda and Gaira in Tokyo: while I thought more high speed filming could have been used while the two giants battled each other in the city the overall fight was well choreographed:

-both monsters threw each other into buildings, blasted each other about the shoulders and head with overhead hand strikes, slammed each other to the ground, kicked each other and employed similar tactics after they had fallen into Tokyo Bay and continued their battle in the water.

6. the score: one of the best, I think!

What I didn't like:

1. Russ Tamblyn, who plays "Dr. Stewart": Tamblyn's character is remarkably nonchalant throughout the entire film despite the presence of a monster that threatens the security of Japan itself. The character Dr. Stewart appears emotionally mute and a dullard for most of the film save the scene where Akemi nearly dies after falling down the lake side slope. I've seen some harsh criticism of Tamblyn's performance in this movie in various web reviews of WOTG, the actor's performance generally blasted as inept and "phoned in". I'm not disagreeing with this but with more viewings of this film I don't notice this as much, whatever that means.

2. the rendering of the "baby" Sanda: I would have liked seeing the baby made to look a little more menacing: granted the small creature wasn't going to look like the monstrosity in the film "Basket Case" but IMO the toddler Sanda looked too cuddly and akin to something a toddler might want out of a stuffed toy machine.

3. the local police in this film who struck me as not being the brightest of light bulbs. I wouldn't characterize them as buffoons but they seemed a day late and dollar short during their (thankfully) brief interactions with the scientists.

4. I noticed again something in this movie I've noticed in other Toho kaiju films: members of the military saluting civilians: in WOTG it was a sequence in which a defense force officer saluted Russ Tamblyn's character "Dr. Stewart". I've often wondered if this is some kind of cultural thing prevalent in these opposed to handshakes or pats on the shoulder. Also, why do the JSDF officers always wear white gloves?

Overall: War Of The Gargantuas(1966) is one of my favorite non-Godzilla kaiju films, marvelously done and absolutely a must on DVD for any self respecting fan of Toho's monster films!