As a follow-up to one of Toho's lesser attempts at the giant monster genre called Frankenstein vs. Baragon, the sequel War of the Gargantuas ends up being one of their all time best. Plagued by a few story issues which are lost in the background, this wild, action oriented monster epic is a classic, right up there with the studio's Godzilla efforts of the time.
For a sequel, War of the Gargantuas does a miserable job of explaining itself. Not only do the rampaging beasts bear no resemblance to the Frankenstein monster of the prequel, their origins are poorly explained. Russ Tamblyn takes on the role of the lead scientist and is used in flashback scenes as well. This might not be so noticeable if Tamblyn looked at all like Nick Adams, who took the role previously. Kumi Mizuno reprises her role, making Adam's absence more glaring.
All of that is forgotten or ignored quickly though. This is one of Toho's fastest paced epics, rarely stopping to catch up to itself. The opening scene alone contains more action and scare tactics than a lot of their films combined. One giant squid versus giant unexplained green monster fight later, the movie begins to introduce its story slowly.
As disasters happen, the scientific community who took care of the Frankenstein project is grilled, defending their beast as harmless. Given that the creature looks nothing like the one in the previous film, it's hard to imagine the media would even think this was same monster anyway. Regardless, this leads some epic battles between the military and this new creature.
This was the first movie to feature the use of Maser tanks, laser cannons firing electrical beams that simply look fantastic on film. They later became a staple of their films. Mixed in the additional military might of tanks, planes, and soldiers, this brings constant action. Miniature work is simply incredible aside from a few shots that end up being too close to the camera to withstand scrutiny.
This is also a violent kaiju film from the studio. People are eaten alive and killed on screen. While not graphic, this is a rare change of policies. Nearly all the deaths in the other films are implied.
Eventually, the green gargantua's eating habits are revealed after being named Gaira by the authorities. His brown brother, called Sanda, appears and saves his offspring during one of the many military battles. Not only does this shock the authorities, the scientific community can now conclude the brown monster was their test subject. Things are fine until Sanda finds clothes and bones from humans lying next to Gaira.
Sanda's strike is immediate, and sets off what has to be considered one of the greatest monster fights in the history of this quirky genre. The film's final 20-minutes are nothing but one massive brawl in the city, resulting in countless buildings being demolished, cars crushed, and numerous visible injuries to the creatures themselves. Before the action picks up its pace, there is a stunning shot from the actors point-of-view as Gaira searches the city for his next meal. It's eerie, effective, and without fault.
The monster suits, one filled with Toho regular Haruo Nakajima, are fair to a point. They lack heavy detail, likely to ensure the actors have room to move. Given how lively and fleet footed the battle is, there are movements called for that simply wouldn't be possible in a heavier set up. Their performances inside the stuffy costumes keep the pacing rapid, and destruction steady on a grand scale.
Aside from a miserable singing performance by Carol Burnett's sister-in-law Kipp Hamilton (how she even got into this Japanese film in the first place is unknown), nearly every moment of War of the Gargantuas is entertaining. Akira Ifukube provides a slightly repetitive though rousing score in the backdrop, adding to the film's many accomplishments. Taken as camp or seriously, it's impossible not to have a great time watching these obscure kaiju battle it out on film.
This Japanese print for the film is stunning on DVD, featuring nary a single speck of dirt or damage. The transfer has some minor problems, including inconsistent black levels. This causes the movie to look washed out or muddy. Detail is minimal.
The standard audio is 2.0 mono with an additional option to listen to the soundtrack only. The 5.1 mix is a misnomer, rarely being used effectively. For the most part, it serves to flesh out Ifukube's soundtrack. There's no audio from sound effects or dialogue that ends up anywhere other than the front channels.
The extras begin with a comparison between the US and Japanese versions of the film. The US versions are all full frame, though they show a lighter color tone. In fact, most of the movie in the US apparently looks like it takes place during the day, in addition to extra scenes. Outtakes show a few errors with the miniatures, including the models hitting each other and one of the actors out of his suit on set. Some photos and trailers (including the hilarious US one proudly proclaiming it "the most important film of our time!") round off the set.
Wisely, when the film was brought to the US, any and all references to the predecessor were cut. Frankenstein is never spoken in the dub. It's a rare change where the translation improves on the original.