Giant monsters have been entertaining cinemagoers for over 90 years. Ever since Harry O. Hoyt’s prehistoric adventure, The Lost World, dazzled and frightened audiences in 1925, behemoth beasts have gone on to become cornerstones of science fiction, fantasy and horror cinema in the decades since. In the past four years alone we’ve experienced somewhat of a blockbuster resurgence thanks to films like Pacific Rim (2013), Godzilla (2014), Jurassic World (2015), Shin Godzilla (2016) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), and with more on the way until 2020 (at least), they don’t appear to be going out of fashion any time soon.
When it comes to giant monsters, the poster boys for the genre are King Kong and Godzilla – and rightfully so. Both are pop culture phenomenon’s whose respective franchises have stomped their way to success for generations. However, genre cinema boasts a litany of wonderful monster movies outwith those starring our favourite troublesome twosome – the majority of which have emerged from the East. Throughout the years Japan, in particular, has become synonymous for their prolific output when it comes to giant monster movies, and you can’t go wrong starting there when exploring what the genre has to offer.
Therefore, as a way to pay tribute to all things kaiju for our Asian season, we asked a couple of our writers who grew up with these movies – Joseph and Simon – to recommend a monstrous double feature. Both of these films are known and celebrated in kaiju fan circles, but you could also argue that they don’t receive the widespread recognition they deserve as well. Either way, I’m sure we can all agree that you can’t go wrong with this double bill when the mood for monster mayhem strikes.
What is your favourite giant monster double feature?
The War of the Gargantuas (1966)
By Joseph Perry
Growing up in northern California in the 1960s and 1970s, I was fortunate enough to have a Saturday afternoon movies series called CPM Theater that introduced me to tons of incredible science fiction and monster motion pictures. It was thanks to this program that I first fell in love, at a tender young age, with The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Mosura tai Gojira (Mothra vs. Godzilla AKA Godzilla vs. The Thing, 1964), Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People, 1963), Maneater of Hydra (AKA The Blood Suckers, Island of the Doomed, and La isla de la muerte, 1963), and many more, including a kaiju film that captured my heart like no other, Furankenshutain no Kaijū: Sanda tai Gaira (The War of the Gargantuas, 1966).
I was already a big fan of Godzilla and his allies and foes by the time I discovered The War of the Gargantuas and was therefore well acquainted with the concept of giant beasts tossing each other around to establish dominance, protect their territory, or even save the world. Something was different with this film, though; the green monster from the ocean Gaira seemed a bit more savage than his Toho baddy brethren — including eating people rather than just crushing them underfoot — while brown mountain monster Sanda seemed to have more of a good-guy conscience than even Mothra. It wasn’t long before my young self-realized that the dynamic between these two creatures was remarkably similar to what I had recently started watching as soon as CPM Theater finished each week: professional wrestling.
In both The War of the Gargantuas and Roy Shire’s Big Time Wrestling (the northern California promotion that I watched then), lines were clearly delineated between the heroes (or babyface, in pro wrestling parlance) and the villains (the heel, in wrestling terms). Gaira was the hairy-suited equivalent to the likes of the seemingly insane, goldfish-eating Moondog Mayne, and Sanda’s kinder, gentler approach to life was not unlike that of, say, “Flying” Red Bastien. In both this darker approach to kaiju films and in the squared circle, the good guys tried to teach the bad guys the errors of their ways. More buildings were crushed and casualties suffered in the movie than with the grapplers of Big Time Wrestling, but the lessons taught and entertainment provided by both were equally impactful, and have remained with me since first discovering them on Saturday afternoon television as an impressionable young lad.
By Simon Ball
My favourite kaiju without any doubt has to be Mothra. Amongst the legion of giant reptiles, crustaceans and space aliens that populate the Toho cinematic universe (only from a time before every studio and their dog had their own cinematic universe) the concept of a giant moth monster that is telepathically linked to a pair of tiny shobijin fairy twins (played by Emi and Yuru Ito, AKA The Peanuts) just seems so completely mad that I can’t help but love the whole crazy idea. And with Mothra you get two monsters for the price of one; the larval stage armed with its silk spinner and the adult moth using its wing downdraft to topple buildings and skitter cars across highways. Then there are the fabulous miniature landscapes complete with tiny radio controlled tanks and missile launchers that Mothra’s larva (six men in a rubber suit) lumbers spreads death and destruction through plus the series of oversize sets inhabited by The Peanuts
However, Mothra is more than just a bonkers idea. Conceived as the kaiju for the whole family with its comedy and action mix, the movie also makes a serious point about Japan being used as a pawn in the Cold War between the USA and Russia. Both are contracted into the nation of Rolisica and it’s the wicked Rolisicans who test the nuclear bomb on Mothra’s island, kidnap The Peanuts and supply the atomic heat ray that cooks Mothra’s cocoon. The Japanese do get the last laugh though when Mothra lays waste to Rolisica’s Newkirk City.
To top that, Mothra has one of the most infectious theme tunes of any monster movie. Composed by Yuji Koseki it sounds even better with The Peanuts singing the Mothra summoning song over the top, all together now: ‘Mosura, ya Mosura,’