"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Thursday, May 8, 2008

フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ

Tsuburaya directs Haruo Nakajima as Gaira, 1966.

Furankenshutain-no Kaiju Sanda tai Gaira (Toho, 1966), 88 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Director of Visual Effects EIJI TSUBURAYA

One of the most beloved of Toho's non-Godzilla kaiju eiga, THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Japanese title "Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira") was produced as a direct sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), but this connection was obscured in the US version by co-producer Henry G. Saperstein. His reasoning was that the characters did not look enough like the Giant Frankenstein from the previous film — the four-year gap between the release of FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in the States, may be a better (and more logical) explanation.

The first draft of Mabuchi's screenplay featured the same trio of characters from the previous film, "James Bowen" (Nick Adams) "Sueko Togami" (Kumi Mizuno) and "Yuzo Kawaji" (Tadao Takashima), but for unknown reasons, Nick Adams was not available, and so the characters' names were changed and the parts recast, with Kumi Mizuno (MATANGO) being the holdover (as "Akemi Togawa"). Kenji Sahara, the star of RODAN (1956) and THE MYSTERIANS (1957) replaced Takashima (as "Yuzo Mamiya") and Adams was supplanted by Russ Tamblyn (THE HAUNTING) as "Paul Stewart." The rest of the cast is rounded out with the usual stable of character actors, including Jun Tazaki (ATRAGON), Yoshifumi Tajima (MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA), and Ren Yamamoto (GODZILLA).

Prominently featured in the film are the Self-Defense Forces' mobile Maser Cannons, one of the more evocative and iconic creations in the genre — a tradition that started with the Katusha Rocket Tanks in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), the Markalites in THE MYSTERIANS, and the Atomic Heat Ray Cannons in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959) and MOTHRA (1961). The principal behind the weapon was a concentrated microwave beam, used to disrupt the cellular structure of its targets. Designed by Mutsumi Toyoshima (the unsung genius behind some of Toho's famous "mecha"), the Maser Cannons were built upon the A-Cycle Light Ray Cannons previously featured in MONSTER ZERO (1965). The Maser Cannons were also featured in GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), and while offshoots and variants appeared in the Godzilla films of the 1990s, the originals were revived for GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) and GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (2003).

Another element that has made the film memorable was the Gargantuas themselves and the striking use of the monster suit actors' own eyes, emphasizing the physical performances of Haruo Nakajima (as Gaira, the Green Gargantua) and Hiroshi Sekita (as Sanda, the Brown Gargantua), and allowing for a realistic and unsettling effect. This element of realism is one of the contributing factors in the film's rabid cult following on both sides of the Pacific, coupled with Tsuburaya's highly detailed studio and outdoor miniature sets (roughly 1/10 scale) which achieve a greater illusion of reality — and the furious fight to the death between the monsters — making this one of Tsuburaya's best monster films. Unfortunately, Honda's original concepts concerning the Gargantuas' growth from another's cells (adding a threat of more such creatures), and the original ending, having the undersea volcano engulfing and destroying Tokyo in flaming magma (an ironic twist that Honda wanted to punctuate the ending with), were cut from the final script. Honda later stated that shooting these destruction scenes would have run the film well over budget.

There were a number of editorial changes made between the Japanese and American versions of the film that are worthy of spotlighting: Tamblyn was given more scenes for the US version, including those only featuring Japanese cast members in the original, emphasizing his central importance in the narrative (Tamblyn was also asked to loop his dialogue to remove any references to "Frankenstein"). S. Richard Krown replaced Ifukube's repetitious military march with more suspenseful stock library music cues (including cues cribbed from MONSTER ZERO), which actually help the scenes in question. And there are additional visual effects scenes, unused in the Japanese version, which were employed to great effect, and help to make the US version four minutes longer than the Japanese. Honda told the late Guy Tucker (in his 1996 book, "Age of the Gods"), "Actually, I find [the film] a little boring. I'm glad it's popular, but [I feel that it] doesn't really have much heart."

Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA and KENICHIRO TSUNODA Screenplay KAORU MABUCHI and ISHIRO HONDA Production Design TAKEO KITA Cinematography HAJIME KOIZUMI Film Editor RYOHEI FUJII Music AKIRA IFUKUBE Visual Effects Production Design YASUYUKI INOUE Monster Design TOHRU NARITA Visual Effects Photography SADAMASA ARIKAWA and SOKEI TOMIOKA [US Version]: Producers HENRY G. SAPERSTEIN and REUBEN BERCOVITCH Original Story RUBEN BERCOVITCH Dialogue Supervisor RILEY JACKSON Film Editor FREDERIC KNUDTSON Production Supervisor S. RICHARD KROWN

Starring RUSS TAMBLYN (Dr. Paul Stewart) KENJI SAHARA (Dr. Yuzo Mamiya) KUMI MIZUNO (Dr. Akemi Togawa) JUN TAZAKI (Colonel Hashimoto) NOBUO NAKAMURA (Professor Kita) YOSHIFUMI TAJIMA (Hirai, Maritime Safety Agency)) NIDAO KIRINO (Lieutenant Kazama) REN YAMAMOTO (Saburo Kameda) and KIP HAMILTON (Nightclub Singer)


Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

No disrespect to a master of the genre, but Honda must have been nuts to think of this film as boring. Even people who don't normally enjoy kaiju eiga love this one! Maybe he'd just been involved with too many such movies and eventually got jaded?

August Ragone said...

The way I see it, THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is more Tsuburaya's film than Honda's — the human characters don't have much to do except move the narrative along — it's very effects driven and ends up being much more about Sanda and Gaira and their battle to the death (and that's not a bad thing).

Now, as far as Honda calling the film boring; I can see his point, with all of the end-to-end monster scenes, while fun for monster maniacs, comes up somewhat lacking in its human drama. Could it be that perhaps Honda just didn't have his Frankenstein's Heart into making the picture?

Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

The points you make are completely valid, and I hadn't really considered it from those angles.

Having been a rabid giant monster flick addict since as far back as I can remember, I always appreciated it when the filmmakers got in as much titanic rock 'em-sock 'em as possible and didn't really care about the human interest stuff unless the script engaged both my imagination and my heartstrings. When it comes down to Toho films that offer equal parts of monster thrills and characters/situations that really involve the viewer, I'd have to put the first Godzilla film and the original Mothra at the top of that heap, and while many of the others in the genre provide a bit of emotional investment, none come close to those two. But one of the things frequently cited by anyone I've ever known who's into this stuff is that War of the Gargantuas moves them because of the polar opposite nature of the sibling monsters and Sanda's compassion toward his malevolent brother, a point driven home by our being able to see the eyes of the actors.

Some of the more opulent films during the showa cycle are stunning tableaus of destruction and fantastic creatures laying waste to the works of man, sort of an anthropomorphization of the unconquerable power of the natural world (my favorite example of this being Mothra in the original film, a creature that advanced weaponry means zilch against because she's a freakin' goddess), but while we fans may come to love the various kaiju for their individual personalities and merits, the monsters just can't provide the kind of narrative interest provided in a story with human characters, and Honda was definitely all about the meat of the story first.

August Ragone said...

Well said!

Ivan said...

Mr. Ragone,
Great book and fab site!

Is there any word on the rumored Gargantuas DVD release?

Not to disagree with Bunche, but I recently saw a bootleg War of the Gargantuas (off of the admittedly awful pan-and-scan print many TV stations used), and while I'll withhold complete judgment until I see the film widescreen (and I'll be first in line), right now, I'd have to agree with Mr. Honda. But if anything, I thought there was too much human interest. However, the fight scenes (in pan-and-scan) seemed a little distant as well--but losing half the screen can do that. Which means I have to see it widescreen.
P.S. But "The Words Get Stuck in My Throat"? Perfect!

August Ragone said...

Thanks, Ivan! I hope that we'll be hearing more detailed information on the impending September release of Classic Media's double-feature DVD of RODAN and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in the near future.


August Ragone said...

UPDATE: Classic Media will be issuing a two-disc DVD set containing the Japanese and US versions of RODAN and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on September 9, 2008!


Anonymous said...

Wow. I was looking for a picture of Gaira coming out of the ocean, and look where I ended up (it was the picture of Tsuburaya-san with Gaira on the airport set that caught my eye).

I loved WOG when I was a kid. I was never really impressed with the suits, but...well, I'm not sure why I liked it so much; I just did. It had a different tone and feel from the other kaiju eiga I got to watch.

Thanks for the great post. I'll be back often.

Bonus: In the early 1970s, KTLA TV in Los Angeles would play the same movie every weeknight for a full week, so I got WOG and Voyage into Space (my all-time fave) and other great movies five nights in a row!

August Ragone said...

Nice, Max! Up here in San Francisco, we would get these films shown "without commercial interruption" in prime time, sponsored by an auto dealership or something. Those were the days when films like this really pulled in the television ratings!


X7 said...

what a great movie. nuff said! course ima say more.

had no idea what it was about when i saw the listing on tv, so was pleasantly surprised to see it had giant monsters- a true war of them, as well. the second time it aired, on "Sci Fi Flicks" they actually had aired a teaser for it, of Sanda seeing the clothes after Gaira ate the picnickers (he didn't want their pickanick basket at all). just made me excited to see the movie again.


uncleporkchop said...

Okay I am the biggest WOG fan! LOL! This film is and will always be Toho's best of all time. The reason why I say this is for the two monsters themselves. For the first time since Frankenstien we are seeing two monsters thinking and showing acting skills. The green Gargantua's action were very chilling in some scenes. Even as a kid I was scared of him. You could see his eyes. When he was pissed you knew he was pissed. I felt a real since of pain when he was getting his butt kicked in the forest. I even felt alittle sorry for him when he was hurt and wanted him to be as good as the Brown one. The fight at the end was the best . Not only was I fed up with the Green one at this point for not turning his life around but I didnt want the brown one to be hurt. The Brown ones action were hart felt. For the first time I had a connection with Toho monsters. Godzilla is great but i could never feel for him even when he did goofy human things. He was always cool but you can't get to close to him. The Brown Gargantua was real to me. I wanted to save him. To me the green one is the most evil of all toho characters. Not because he has cool powers and lasers coming out of his eyes but for the fact he knew humans are not to be eaten. Just look at the look he gives the brown one. He's saying " Yes i did it and what the hell are you goning to do about it!" Evil man Evil! Even the turning point of the final battle when the Brown one loses his mind. Just great thinking there! As for the humans? Well yes Russ was wooden but really what did he really have to do in the film but look for the Gargantuas. The story wasn't about him. If anything Green gargantuas was so over the top I didnt want anyone to out shine him. Everyone being so low made him stand out more for me. And really the monsters are what these films are all about. it's not Gone With the Wind it's a fantasy sci fi movie. But a really good one.

August Ragone said...

Unclepork's Pen,
Thanks for posting your thoughts on the film; it really seems that this movie struck a cord with North American audiences, because we were so exposed to this film on television in the '70s and early '80s. It really left an impression.

Your words mirror those of many other fans of this film, and I pretty much agree with all of your comments (although I disagree that Godzilla can't emote, since that's Nakajima in there doing his damnedest).

I don't care if THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is not GONE WITH THE WIND, because I'd rather watch GARGANTUAS any day!


uncleporkchop said...

War of the Gargantuas is better than Gone with the wind. Thinking about it I see what you see in Godzilla. The thing i loved about the Frankenstien Monsters is they had Human traits about them but they were still monsters. If anything this was Nakajima's biggest acting as a monster. We were able to see his eyes and the freedom of seeing him with a range of movement. Running Green Gatrgantuas kicks ass. I love playing back the scene where he runs out of the airport into the ocean. The great thing about Nakajima as Godzilla is he gave the character a since of being. Godzilla was Godzilla when he was in the suit. But we can go in circle all day over this. It's the same man and I think we all agree he did a outstanding job on every creature he came across. Even Varan LOL. But Green Gargantua to me won the monster Oscar for him.

Bryan said...

I'm so glad it came out on DVD, I just introduced this movie to my 5 year old nephew, he liked it, My brother in told me yesterday, he has been drawing the masers going after the monsters and he keeps the masers from hitting his version of the brown one, like they did in the film.

I noticed a few people talked about the eyes of the actors in the suits, thats one of the things why I love this movie and as a kid it scared me along with that SCREAM of the Green one, The eyes definately have it and make it, also I heard the actor in the green gargantua suit was the same actor in the orginal Godzilla suit when they used a suit in some scenes?

August Ragone said...

Thanks for posting! Yes, the same actor who played the original Godzilla and the Green Gargantua (as well as many other Toho monsters) from 1954 to 1972, was Haruo Nakajima.

Please look up my blog entries on Mr. Nakajima, and keep your eyes peeled for the dates for his upcoming appearance in San Francisco next year!



uncleporkchop said...

my 3 year old watches it all the time and understands it. I got hooked at three as well. Its just a great monster movie as well as a toho movie never to be remade. It was a great time for toho it was at there peek of efx and everything. The monsters were as real as you can get and very well designed. Great stroy as well. I love this film.

SSV said...

Hi August, and everyone else here! I must agree 200% concerning War Of The Gargantuas! I first saw it on a cold winter night in 1972 when I was 6 years old. The exact date was January 28th, 1972 and I have never been the same since! They aired in in prime time (8:pm)on a Friday night on the local channel 50 here in Detroit. It was one of the few times a film like this got that kind of top treatment. I just wonder how it did in the ratings back then in that slot. They had advertised (im not kidding) the film for at least a good month before playing it. They would show long sequences on Saturday nights Creature Feature, whenever the main feature would end early. I would give anything to have those original airings and spots today. They would be far beyong priceless! I was totally taken and blown away by this flick back then. Still love it today and I cant say how many times I must have seen it. I loved Godzilla as well, but the gargantuas seemed more believable if you will? I mean, in a world gone awry, it just seemed a bit more feasible and actually seemed like if any giant monster could exist, it would have been the gargantuas. Frim age 6 onward, I never missed an airing, that is until I was able to record it on VHS in 1983. Love this posting guys :)

uncleporkchop said...

awsome post War Of the Gargantuas works to this day as one of toho's best films. my kids love it and there friends that see it to. It's funny the music used to scare the hell out of me and one day i put the soundtrack on for my sons twins 7 years old and my three year old and it freaked them out that night. my little one said the Green gargantua is going to eat me. LOL. it was cute and funny at the same time. but thats what makes a great monster. that green dude was just plain bad to the bone. angry and wild.

SSV said...

I agree with you 200% Uncle Pork! Excellent film and I have never been the same since seeing it back in 1972. I would have killed to be lucky enough to have seen it on the big screen back in July of 1970when it played on a double bill with Monster Zero :) Thanks for helping to keep its memory alive and for letting your kids know about it :) You are cool :)

uncleporkchop said...

thanks dude

I know just being on the set watching the acters fight would have been up there with meeting Bruce Lee back in 73. LOL. Just in the beginning of summer they showed the movie at a hollywood theater and I missed it because my kid was sick. That would have been so great to see. Hopfully my kids will pass it down to there kids. The film is well known around the family table. This is something that should never be remade or even touched with a ten foot pole. I saw not to long ago that they remade a Green Gargantua suit for the new Godman tv show. It looked like him but it lost that old toho charm of the character looking griddy matted and weather beaten. It was bright green and to clean. Plus not only is it about the suit but the acter as well. There will never be another green gargantua becuase there will never be another Mr. Haruo Nakajima or a Eji Tsuburaya .

nough said.


SSV said...

Hi again Uncle Pork. Would have posted sooner but I have been busy working. Again bud, I agree all the way with you. Even as a kid I always fantasized about being able to be on the WOTG set too! As a kid I tried to draw pictures of the gargantua's faces, but back then we had no VCR'S so it was just too complicated to draw such intricate features from memory. Yes, I saw that green gargantua imposter as well! As you said, it looked like him but was just too polished. Thats the problem today with film making, everything looks too polished and perfect, that in itself making it look fake in my opinion. And yes also to your comment about Bruce Lee! Now you really opened up a topic! I just happen to love Bruce too. Haa I can see we are much alike. Bruce puts all these sorry excuses for martial artists to shame, even 36 years after his death.
Thanks for posting bud.
Peace and blessings to you and family :)

Unknown said...

the wotg is the best toho film of all time. hands down. god bless.

Unknown said...

the war of the gargantuas is the best toho movie ever. hands down. god bless.

SSV said...

Absolutely Sullivan! God bless you too.