Oh, how I miss Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, when you could turn on the TV and be almost guaranteed that a Japanese monster movie was playing on at least one channel.
Yet somehow, during those years, I never saw War of the Gargantuas in its entirety. But I’ve now remedied that situation and have to say that it’s far from classic kaiju, but it breaks the mold in some interesting ways.
It’s a dark and stormy night, and a fishing vessel comes under attack. Not from a gargantua, as the title would have you believe, but from a giant octopus. This is rather an effective scene, all the more so because the octopus seems to be sadistically toying with the poor soul who’s just trying to steer the boat, grabbing him with tentacles and putting the squeeze on him. But suddenly the octopus is dragged away and killed by a giant, green, hairy apelike creature. Gargantua ex machina! Or not. Because once the gargantua has vanquished the octopus, he promptly sinks the fishing boat.
This is just the first of several attacks by the not-so-jolly green giant. At first his attacks are confined to seaports and fishing villages, but he soon branches out to an attack on an airport (a bloodless but strangely grisly scene, as the gargantua stuffs people in his mouth and spits out their shredded clothes). So the people of Japan turn to the world’s most laid-back scientist, Dr. Stuart (Russ Tamblyn phones it in) and his assistant Akemi (Kumi Mizuno). They had captured a baby gargantua some years ago, but it escaped (Tamblyn delivers this line with total unconcern, as if losing a rare and possibly dangerous creature was up there with losing your Starbucks treat receipt). Could there be two gargantuas? Could a big battle be in the offing? Especially one with lots of destruction of model buildings?
While War of the Gargantuas does stick close to the formula, but there are some things to set it apart from the usual. First, the gargantuas are not the usual reptilian creatures but apelike ones, and as such they are more human in their movements, body language, and expressions. There’s a bit of genuine pathos when the brown or “good” gargantua tries to protect his cranky green relative, and when those efforts come to naught. Also, the military’s big weapon, an elaborate laser, actually is semi-effective for a change, causing visible harm to the green gargantua.
But there are the usual clichés as well, some welcome and some not. Tamblyn’s performance is truly terrible, not just because he is obviously just collecting his paycheck, but because it makes his character look pathologically unconcerned with the goings-on. More horrifying than any of the gargantua’s predations is the musical number “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat” which unfortunately should be titled “The Song Gets Stuck In Your Head”. And I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say an eensy-weensy bit more thought might have gone into it. Just saying.
Still, it’s a fun treat for those of us looking to recapture those lazy Saturday afternoons of monster movies.
The DVD offers the movie in both its English and Japanese versions (bear in mind I was only able to watch the English version).