I caught this classic for the first time on MonstersHD. It's quite something, pure entertainment through and through. I saw the AIP dub of the film, which took some liberties with the Japanese version (which I haven't seen) including really screwing up the soundtrack (it was quite obvious that Ifukube's music had been mostly replaced.) The dubbing also tried to eliminate all mention of "Frankenstein Conquers the World;" the Japanese version of "War of the Gargantuas" continues that story.
The story revolves around two giants, Gaira and Sanda (those names are from the Japanese version, but the AIP version only calls them gargantuas, so there you go.) Gaira starts the movie off with a bang, fighting a giant octopus and then eating the sailors he just saved from the beast. Gaira goes on to attack Japan, attempts to steal a singer and fights the military.
When the military attack, they bring on one of the key weapons of Toho's kaiju films: the Maser cannon. That piece of firepower appears again and again in Godzilla films and plays a crucial role in "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla." And in this movie, the Maser cannon does what the military is unable to do in almost any other Toho film: they actually put harm the monster. Gaira is bloody and beaten during his fight against the Masers. He is only saved by the intervention of Sanda, his brown brother.
Sanda was created from the mix of Frankenstein's monster's heart and the radiation at Hiroshima (at least, that's what created Sanda in "Frankenstein Conquers the World"). Gaira is part of Sanda's flesh that was left behind at sea, somehow regenerating into the people-eating monster.
Sanda takes his brother in and tries to heal him up. But he's outraged when he finds out about Gaira's food of choice. He attacks his brother and they fight across Japan.
That's the basic monster plot line of the movie. Meanwhile, Russ Tamblyn and friends try to come up with ways to defeat Gaira and to save Sanda.
Tamblyn looks sleepy in this film. Tamblyn, over the years, has said he thought of this job as slumming and didn't care much about it. Until recently, he had never actually watched the film. His acting doesn't hurt most of the film, in fact his scientist just comes across as exceedingly calm and put together. The acting only hurts when Akemi's life is threatened toward the end of the film. Tamblyn seems neither concerned nor excited about his girlfriend's peril. In fact, he doesn't seem to care at all for Akemi. I don't think that's what the director wanted.
Gaira running across airports and over lines of tanks looks silly, but so much fun. Despite it still being filmed in Toho's usual slowed down speeds, he seems to fly across the screen, little vehicles scattering to either side. It looks fake, no doubt, but it seems so much fun and so much unlike anything else in the daikaiju canon that I can't help but love it.
The ending of this film is bizarre. It's reminiscent of Rodan, the two creatures ending their lives in the flames of a volcano, one of the creatures doing so heroically. But where it fit naturally in Rodan, it doesn't fit at all here. In the last 10 minutes of the film, the volcano suddenly appears in the water, where the two are already fighting, and they end up falling into it. It seems purposeless, it seems as if the scriptwriter just had nowhere to go with the film and just found a way to say "and they all died."
"War of the Gargantuas is flawed, but it's a lot of fun. I would love to see the Japanese version of the film to find out how much of the film's plot was lost through its Americanization. I hope MediaBlasters adds this to its list of kaiju films it releases in the near future. It needs to be seen cleaned up and in its original version.