I’ve stated before that my favorite half of the Showa Godzilla series is the more whimsical latter half and I can tell you precisely the film where that joyful attitude ignites: Godzilla vs. Gigan. This was one of the first Godzilla films I ever saw. In fact, when they ran it on TV back in the day, they used the obsolete US theatrical title, Godzilla on Monster Island. Eventually, TV broadcasts switched over to the more recognized Godzilla vs. Gigan title, which only proceeded to confuse me, as I kept wondering when they were going to play my “favorite” film in the series (at the time), Godzilla on Monster Island. But they never did (or so it seemed).
The alternate titles for these things could really piss me off, sometimes.
Cartoonist Gengo (Hiroshi Ishikawa) has just received a cushy job working for the Children’s Land theme park, designing monsters for their Godzilla Tower attraction. What Gengo doesn’t know is that Godzilla Tower is actually under the command of the evil Nebula M aliens: Giant shape-changing cockroaches from beyond the stars! Using a special tape recording, they summon a pair of fearsome “space hunters” to lay waste to the Earth: King Ghidorah (Kanta Ina) and Gigan (Kenpachiro Satsuma). As Gengo and a small unit of corn-eating hippies plot to take down the Nebula M aliens from within, Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) and Anguirus (Koetsu Omiya) depart from Monster Island to engage the monstrous space hunters.
Like I said: Corn-eating hippies.
After the experimental and not-so-enthusiastically received Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Toho took something of a back to basics approach with Godzilla vs. Gigan. Jun Fukuda returns to the Director’s seat after a break and creates in this film something of a hybrid between Ishiro Honda’s classic sci-fi Godzilla films and the more modern stylings the series had been enduring by that point. Fukuda actually balances it out pretty well. The return of Akira Ifukube’s triumphant score brings back memories of Godzilla’s glory days while the ridiculous space roaches feel like they could have stepped out of any one of Honda’s offerings (he’s the one who gave us the hilariously weird Xilians and Kilacs, after all). Elements of the kid-friendly variety are retained, such as Godzilla doing some Mohammed Ali-style boxing moves and the monsters interacting on a very bizarre level (more on that later), but I always found that to be part of the latter Showa series’ charm.
Fukuda seems desperate to win back the audience Godzilla vs. Hedorah apparently lost by upping the monster count as far as the budget would allow. Via the power of stock footage, Rodan, Gorosaurus, larva-form Mothra, Minilla, Kamacuras and Kumonga all make cameo appearances on Monster Island at the film’s beginning. But so far as the actual monsters involved in the film go, we’re treated to a tag match between Godzilla/Anguirus and King Ghidorah/Gigan.
Another one of the reasons I adore Godzilla vs. Gigan is that it’s the first film to cast fan-favorite Anguirus as Godzilla’s grumpy little sidekick. I love Anguirus and a lot of other American fans do, too (though apparently he’s not as popular in Japan, from what I’ve read). I like the idea of saddling Godzilla with a diminutive sidekick who’s always ready to jump into the thick of battle even if, realistically speaking, he’s not particularly strong. He’s like the Krillen of the Godzilla universe.
Jesus, did I just describe something as ‘The Krillen of the Godzilla universe’? Kill me.
King Ghidorah’s back for a fourth helping, but I don’t want to talk about him. I want to talk about Gigan. He’s a giant cyborg praying mantis-bird thing with a glowing Cyclops visor, hooks for hands and a chainsaw tummy. The only word in the English language suitable for describing Gigan is “rad” and I don’t use that word lightly. He’s one of the weirdest, most original monsters from the entire Godzilla franchise and tragically one of the most under-utilized. Following his return appearance in Godzilla vs. Megalon you won’t be seeing him again until Godzilla: Final Wars.
With Eiji Tsubaraya gone, Teruyoshi Nakano comes in to handle the special effects. He does a serviceable job emulating Tsubaraya’s style (and stealing a lot of his footage), particularly in regards to King Ghidorah’s and Gigan’s Tokyo rampage. My only real complaint is that he couldn’t seem to remain consistent with the time of day, as it shifts between day and night whenever the scene cuts. The fight choreography for the final monster brawl is full of energy and personality as the monsters behave in a more human-like manner than ever before. There seems to be a bit of a lesson at the end, as Godzilla and Anguirus triumph thanks in large part to friendship and teamwork, while Ghidorah and Gigan drop the ball when they begin to “argue.” Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty hilarious, as Godzilla grips Ghidorah in the monster equivalent of a full nelson and then encourages Anguirus to sucker-punch the villain over and over again.
Godzilla also judo-slams Ghidorah three-times in a row by recycling the footage.
Godzilla vs. Gigan is one of my favorites in the series, full of lots of monster action and one of the coolest-looking villains. It strikes a nice balance between Godzilla’s classic and then-contemporary styles and moves pretty rapidly through its eighty-nine minutes. There are some odd moments where Godzilla and Anguirus “talk” in a language that can only be described as “a DJ scratching a record over and over again”, but that aside, there’s really little to complain about in this installment.