Directed by famed monster-creator Ishiro Honda, who is best known for being the man who gave the world Godzilla, the movie is actually very strong. The reason that this may be is because the filmmakers at no point stop to ever wonder whether this project is as “silly” as it probably seemed. The drop dead serious demeanor that the film takes aim at the subject matter actually somehow manages to work. Where you might think this attitude would lead to many unintentional laughs throughout, and granted that may be the response from some viewers, instead I found myself thoroughly drawn into the movie. There are even some relatively creepy moments throughout. Honda really handles the darkness and flashes of light very well and makes the best of his budget, as the movie simply feels enormous. I know that sounds rather ridiculous when you are talking about a movie with giants attacking Tokyo, but believe me, there are some audacious moves made in this picture.
Along with that large scope, the pacing for War of the Gargantuas is utterly ridiculous! The movie starts off with an immediate jump into the action, as we see a gigantic octopus monster being tackled and beaten by the water based Frankenstein monster. Literally, Frankenstein is in action within the first four minutes of the films running time. After that, the movie takes us to the peaks of Mt. Fuji and to the middle of the ocean. The film simply runs through every obstacle, jumping from topic to topic and situation to situation. This is probably the best aspect of the movie, as it adds to the general excitement that the film manages to create. There are bizarre moments throughout, such as a song and dance routine performed by a Western woman who is immediately picked up by Monkeystein and then randomly dropped to the concrete. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a reference here to King Kong, but if there was I couldn’t make the connections.
There are a lot of really fun moments like that throughout, including a sequence where we see the earth-based Frankenstein as a young child in which he closely resembles Chaka from Land of the Lost… only without the decent makeup effects. In truth, the gigantic monster Frankenstein’s suit looked far more plausible than this baby Frankenstein creature. Another classic moment shows a group of fishermen out on the sea when one of the men looks overboard and sees the ocean-based Frankenstein staring and waving at him from under the water. Despite it seeming impossible that a body of water could be so clear that one could see that far under the water in order to make out the details of Frankenstein’s body, the shot is effectively creepy to say the least. Just another of a myriad of moments that simply shouldn’t work as well as they do!
A great deal of this success should probably be attributed to the score, as provided by Akira Ifukube. Ifukube is a highly influential film composer who had nearly three hundred credits to his name for his soundtrack work. He is probably best known for his work within the Godzilla franchise, but he also contributed music for the Zatoichi series, Chusingura, Battle in Outer Space and so many other films! The soundtrack here is actually very traditional in terms of the Japanese film industry. If you were to build a time capsule of seventies-era Japanese film sounds, you could throw in the theme to War of the Gargantuas right next to the theme to Battles Without Honor or Humanity and you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless you are a big fan of either movie. It has that very jazzy influence, but with the whirring screams of random saxophone playing. It actually gives the movie a very epic scope due to how big the sound is at it plays throughout. You add the massive number of sets and the extreme pace, and you have one very BIG Kaiju movie!