Friday, March 21, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #12: GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ blog Proton Media, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

TRAVIS:

Years before MEN IN BLACK, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN already gave us the heads up that cockroaches were actually intergalactic parasites bent on annihilation. Coming from a dead planet similar to our world (think Earth-2) that succumbed to pollution, they’ve arrived on our world to bring peace as only movie aliens know how: destructive totalitarianism. They don’t seem too concerned about concealment however. They operate under the guise of constructing the new high profile theme park World Children’s Land, and they speak pretty openly (and sinisterly) about their plans for achieving peace. They also have taken human form by inhabiting the re-animated bodies of the recently deceased, which might especially rise suspicion from people. Maybe they figure once they call for Gigan and King Ghidorah that it’s not a big bother to hide since cities are gonna be razed to the ground anyway. Don’t worry though, folks! A young, starving manga artist, two girls who can stand up to any tough guy, and a hippie are here to save us! Go, young generation, go!

The monster scenes are quite nice yet severely hobbled. Toho goes the cheap route again, filling in the new scenes with action beats from GHIDORAH, INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. What makes it stand out even more is that all the battle scenes take place at night, while the spliced-in footage is clearly in daytime. C’mon, Toho! You couldn’t have at least dimmed that stuff a little bit for continuity sake? The new fight footage shot for GIGAN is good and fun, yet one can’t help but notice the rough state some of the costumes are in. Godzilla’s skin is supposed to look irritated due to radiation, but pieces of rubber seem to be dangling off his hide. Close ups of Anguirus’s beat up face also reveal that they probably should’ve stuck with medium shots. And don’t forget the gore! In possibly an attempt to ape the rival Gamera movies (where kaiju routinely hacked off limbs and oozed out body goo), both G and Angy are lacerated by Gigan’s torso-mounted buzz saw and gush out brilliantly red eruptions of blood from their wounds! Gigan doesn’t fuck around.

Let’s talk about the alien warrior from Nebula-M for a minute! In our review of ALL MONSTERS ATTACK, I wrote how the influence of over the top monster TV shows would influence the design of new characters in the Godzilla franchise, and Gigan might be the most stacked-up, silliest looking one. He resembles a chicken but is overloaded like a Power Rangers villain with his cycloptic red visor, blade hooks for hands and feet, his set of three wings on his back, and that aforementioned chest buzz saw. It’s like a kaiju drawn by Rob Liefeld. Is Gigan really Toho’s own Cable? I actually love his ridiculous appearance, and I also enjoy how much of an asshole he is. He’ll mercilessly beat G and Angy on the head with his hooks and taunt them with his screeching laugh. My favorite bit has to be when he tosses G into the Godzilla tower then turns to Ghidorah all “Aw bro, did you see how far I threw him? Fuckin’ riot!” Did Gigan endear himself to you, Luca?

LUCA:

The Liefeld kaiju! What a perfect way to describe Gigan! My favorite moment of his was whenever he kicked things when they were down with his big one-toed foot. "Take that, tanker that's already on fire! Take that, Godzilla who's already writhing on the floor in pain after being hit by space lasers from Godzilla Tower!" What an asshole! And of course he really fucks up G and Angy with his buzz saw belly. Gigan is like an asshole redneck wearing all denim with a bare chest, gold chain and 90s sneakers but who is actually quite adept at kicking ass so despite his ridiculous countenance he's still a force to be reckoned with. I mean come on, chicken with a Cyclops visor... King Ghidorah, a golden three-headed dragon, comes across as the model of style and restraint compared to Gigan! He's like the dignified Bolo Yeung and Gigan is, I dunno, Triple H.

Maaannnn, another alien invasion with kaiju. Just STAHP, Tomoyuki Tanaka! Yoshimitsu Banno's crazy Hedorah shit was the right way to go, man! Look, I appreciate your good will towards me by allowing funny shit like Godzilla and Anguirus talking to each other (speech balloons and all!), someone dramatically revealing themselves to the camera in a swiveling office chair and three guys chuckling at how stupid a dead teenager was, but PLEASE can we stop with the aliens? We've done aliens four times in twelve movies already, and three of those have involved completely different races trying to take over the Earth with kaiju. I'll concede that, actually going with in-movie continuity, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS hasn't happened yet. But it has to the viewer! Our eyeballs have processed DESTROY ALL MONSTERS already! And a few select parts of it twice even like Godzilla's neckstomping of Ghidorah and Anguirus' Wild Ride that were cheerfully transposed into this film. C'monnnn man!

Godzilla's surly asshole persona is upheld in this movie since all he does is boss poor Anguirus around. Sorry I snapped your neck and burned you to ashes last time we met brah but I really need you to check out this annoying high-toned kaiju frequency sound here. Oh, and be quick about it! I had called Angy the George Michael Bluth of monsters on Facebook earlier, but maybe it's more correct to say that he's the eager-to-please Hank/Dean Venture to Big G's Rusty. Some more (intentional?) pop culture references I spotted, appeared in the use of the bodies of the deceased as vessels by the aliens like in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE but seeing as it was only 1972, I don't think it may have had its reputation yet. You say MEN IN BLACK, but I actually thought of TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE's final reveal that Kim Jong-Il was actually an alien cockroach. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Godzilla fans! Is GIGAN more to your liking than HEDORAH, Travis? Still a fun enough time, but definitely a step down for me!

TRAVIS:

In our last installment, I wrote that the traditional kaiju smash ups are easier for me to digest than the peculiar (but very enjoyable!) HEDORAH, yet as far as GIGAN goes, it’s pretty middle of the road for me. The monster stuff is plentiful and fun but the overuse of recycled footage dulls the excitement. Director Jun Fukuda again shines the spotlight on the youth of today as our heroes like he did in EBIRAH, yet the characters aren’t that engaging. You’d think that a manga artist as a protagonist in a Godzilla film might yield interesting developments. However, aside from thinking up ideas such as a homework monster and a nagging mom/sea creature, he’s not that distinguishable from any other bland lead. I’d rank GIGAN around the “okay” scale alongside ASTRO-MONSTER.

What helps the movie along for me is seeing Godzilla and Anguirus pair up. Though many fans will assign Mothra or Rodan as G’s de facto sidekick, I always thought Angy was the true brother in arms. PARDON ME AS I WRITE SLIGHTLY ROMANTIC ABOUT JAPANESE MONSTERS. I can see your POV, Luca, on viewing G as the selfish taskmaster to Angy akin to Michael Bluth being a controlling asshole to son George Michael (ironic since George Michael would engage in kaiju-like battle himself via jetpack in the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT episode “Mr. F”). For me, I view them as two old buddies who’ve seen it all (they were the very first two monsters in the series after all) and are still willing to fight with a world-weary attitude. More like Riggs and Murtaugh then? Maybe G’s too old for this shit and sends hothead Angy since he’s always hot for action. Oh, and a word about the differences between the Japanese and US cuts of GIGAN… one of the oddest moments has to be when the two of them talk to each other in comic book dialogue balloons. When GIGAN was Americanized, those scenes remain, yet the balloons are excised and replaced with warped, scratched voice overs for G and Angy. Yes, folks, after seeing the King of the Monsters fly in HEDORAH, he can now talk in GIGAN. We might assume that it’s a side effect from those cassette discs the villainous cockroaches use, but whatever, it’s funny to watch.

Sorry to say, Luca, but you’re gonna have to get VERY used to alien invaders from this point on. It’s simply an easy origin point for introducing new kaiju. You might enjoy the bizarre, intergalactic ways new foes are created in the Heisei era, but I’ll leave those as surprises. We’re only three movies away from the end of the goofy Showa era, so has any other fatigue set in yet?

LUCA:

Aw man! Oh well, I signed on for this shit as a rational adult and that's how I'm gonna end it. To be completely fair, the aliens have always gotten more interesting with every new race that was introduced. I mean, body snatchin' Eggers is definitely more out there than "dudes in sunglasses". Gigan is an interesting looking and (most importantly) NEW monster, which gives GvG the edge over ASTRO MONSTER in my book. You'd think that some fatigue might have set in with the human characters, but as you point out with this installment's mangaka protagonist Gen, they keep it fairly varied. I'll tell you though, I'm glad we're done with concerned men in suits and lab coats for protagonists! There's probably a blog (or at least an amusing Tweet) to be written about how horror/sci-fi movies from a certain era could be termed the "Concerned White Men Puffing Pipes" genre.

Another positive to me is the series' first instance of an ass-kicking female character (besides Mothra). Now don't get me wrong, I don't think women should fight in order to be ass-kicking characters, but if you look at it historically, portraying fighting women is a line that was pretty edgy to cross at the time. Now, the Godzilla series had certainly had its spunky, driven female characters up to this point but GODZILLA VS GIGAN was the first one that portrayed a physically dominant woman. Granted, it's a bit of a joke reveal, as our protagonist had called her a nag before, but the important thing is that she never gets "put in her place" after that. She's revealed to be an asskicker, and that's what she is until the end of the movie. The men hide behind her and comically point to the advancing Eggers so that she may take care of them. Meanwhile, our male protag draws a big SPLASH PAGE of the heroes which they pull up in a doorway so the villains are distracted by it. A hilarious detail is that they didn't color the big drawing so the aliens were SO IMPRESSED by Gen's amazing linework that they just assumed light fluctuations on this planet worked that way. A woman using brute force and a man using pretty drawing skills -- I like this positive inversion of traditional gender roles! Keep going, Toho!

Join us next time as Godzilla battles another new guy in GODZILLA VS. MEGALON! That kinda sounds like a shark monster to me, which is definitely something we haven't seen yet. JAWSOME!

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