Friday, 20 July 2018

The War of the Gargantuas












Like the majority of Toho's monster movie sequels, War of the Gargantuas isn't content to simply pick through its predecessor Frankenstein Conquers the World for narrative grist. Instead Gargantuas magnifies and expands certain ideas from that film while overwriting and rejecting others. Writer-director Ishiro Honda and co-writer Takeshi Kimura reconfigure their previous work, abandoning a Nazi super-science backstory, that might otherwise muddle the thematic aims of their latest iteration, to stage a monumental clash between nature and nurture.

Gargantuas concerns two hirsute titans, Gaira and Sanda, the former a savage green people-eater, the latter his dignified, morally mature parent. Gaira, played with manic glee by Showa era Godzilla actor Haruo Nakajima, is squat and animalistic, the unloved result of his parent spilling some of his invincible, fissile flesh into the ocean. This hellish, fish-eat-fish environment has produced a creature whose idea of recreation is to bound about quaking Japanese airports, gobbling up as many women as he can lay his hands on. His (eventual) rival Sanda is the opposite. Raised in captivity by Kumi Mizuno and Russ Tamblyn's chummy scientists, Sanda has grown into a noble loner, content to roam snowy mountains like an atomic age Yeti.

Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya uses Japan's well-funded Self-Defence Force as the centrepiece in a series of scale confrontations between the giants and clatters of increasingly spectacular tanks. These forest-shredding military manoeuvres also introduce the Maser Cannons, a satellite-tipped artillery designed to blast monsters with a stream of lightning that scours and burns their flesh. These fantastical batteries are essentially War of the Gargantuas' third monster and are therefore photographed with the same loving care. The Maser technology, and indeed even the exact film footage featuring these weapons, was recycled repeatedly throughout Toho's 1970s Children's Festival output, bolstering Godzilla's then-money poor effects work.

Honda and Tsuburaya's biggest coup though is the simmering interpersonal tensions they weave between Gaira and Yu Sekida's Sanda. Although mute and essentially, biologically, the same being, the two have evolved into completely different beasts. Sanda breaks his leg trying to save the scientist who mollycoddled him; Gaira treats people like squirming delicacies. This ideological clash marks the beginning of their falling out, facilitating the film's most perfect moment. After rescuing his goblin offspring from Japan's futuristic lasers, Sanda discovers the child chowing down on some teenage ramblers. As the abashed parent raises an uprooted tree trunk to clobber the bad thoughts out of the youngster's head, a blistered, defeated-looking Gaira gazes up at his horrified father, completely unable to parse the horror creaking into Sanda's latex features.

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