Opening in a coal-mining village between the volcano Mt. Aso and the city of Kyushu, Rodan immediately unfolds the tension as miners go missing in a mysterious flooding accident. Logic flies right out the window, of course. "We don't know what happened or where the miners are," they say. "Let's find the source of the water," is the directive. "Is it safe?" they ask. "Yes," is the reply. OK ... at least creepy scenes of men skulking through dimly-lit, flooded mine shafts never fail to chill. When bloodied bodies and huge insectoid larvae turn up to terrorize everyone, it's pretty much on. Employing scale better than any other monster movie ever, it turns out the giant larvae are just snacks for a baby Rodan, whose mom has a wingspan of about 300 feet! More sobering even than the ultimate source of these beasts (nuclear tests) is the speculation that global warming might be the culprit. Have we known about this that long?
But before our winged wonders get to blow everyone away with some of the most unique destruction in kaiju history there's lots of tepid detective work from a bunch of really skinny guys in glasses. Fuzzy photographs and chaste love affairs conveniently point toward a prehistoric answer, and finally the fun starts. Somehow, the surprisingly graphic (for the time and genre) mayhem and creepy bugs of the beginning render Rodan's destructive reign and unwieldy man-in-suit flight scenes less joyously crunchy and more poetically visual. I guess it's toward this end that, despite the fact that Rodan and friend do plenty of killing, the bulky birdies seem more regal and noble than anything else.
Rodan returned to fight alongside Godzilla on other occasions, but this first outing represents his best work. Ishiro Honda's direction effectively romanticizes rural Japanese life before cutting it up with huge bugs and blowing it down under awesome wings. Skinny guys in big glasses and ties and girls that cry over Rodan's protracted fate cut into the fun a little bit, but as giant monster movies go, Rodan soars above most of the crowd.
War Of The Gargantuas:
Amble on down the road to find the Frankenstein (now named Sanda, covered with fur and topping about 200 feet) has passed on to urban legend, until his cellular regenerate brother green Gailah emerges from the sea to start munching on people like popcorn shrimp. Japan's military might is once again put to the test, as Gailah starts making midnight raids on the refrigerator known as Tokyo. But when Sanda reappears to mess with the mix, his one-time father figure (played with slack, C-list matinee indifference by American Russ Tamblyn) must do what he can to at least keep his own beloved Gagantua off of a titanic slab.
Kaiju (giant monster) movies were never long on plot. Before they became fun for the kids the main thrust was the subtext - mess with the atom and we'll all get smashed - but the point was mostly for monsters to crush stuff and maybe to put a little scare into the viewer. Though not a favorite of most, for my money War Of The Gargantuas comports itself admirably, (save some soft spots in the middle) even providing a few chills for the weak-at-heart. Let's forget about the humans; even through dubbing and subtitles Tamblyn's character is lame and his performance pathetic. Though he displays more interest in his comely student Akemi than in big old Sanda, he seems oddly lethargic when it comes to doing little things like saving her life. He'll look around perplexed for a bit, say something stupid like "hold on for a moment while I try to save you," and generally just struggle to raise one eyebrow, as if thinking to himself through a valium haze, "if I were only just a little more handsome I'd be acting in something else."
What makes War Of The Gargantuas special are the creatures themselves. No dudes weighed down under 100 pounds of rubber, these monsters are ugly, agile and very humanoid. Weird guys like Gigan are nice, but when you see what is essentially a humongous man dunking a huge trawler or crushing a building with his brother's head it's somehow much easier to suspend disbelief. And they're scary, too. Gailah in particular, once rising menacingly up from the depths, is the stuff of nightmares. And he eats people! When was the last time you saw that in a Toho movie? Nighttime atmospherics, (our huge friends are afraid of the light) foggy mountainsides and other unusual Toho scenarios make all the stomping that much more convincing and delightful. A ridiculous ending and Gargantua Gailah's incessant habit of screeching 'chert, chert, cherrrrrrrt!' eventually test even sturdy nerves, but War Of The Gargantuas nevertheless represents a gritty, creepy, excellent side trip in the Toho canon.
From 1956, Rodan makes its way onto this DVD in its original fullscreen 1.33:1 ratio. Fairly rich colors, inky blacks and a nice sharp transfer, with only a little bit of film damage here and there, will please kaiju fans. Rodan is free from almost all compression artifacts and problems other than during a few scenes (mostly set in a volcano) where heavy use of digital noise reduction makes different sections of the image appear to move independently of each other. Aside from that annoyance Rodan looks rather nice.
War Of The Gargantuas
Comes in a good old TohoScope 2.35:1 ratio presentation. While looking much better than what I remember watching on Monster Theater (KATU, dateline: 1978) some problems with the transfer trouble me. Probably due to having two versions on one disc, plenty of aliasing crops up, and heavy application of digital noise reduction makes lots of scenes - especially nighttime ones and parts where there is lots of camera movement - suffer the watery warbles the same as scenes from Rodan. It's a real shame, since there are plenty of nice and unique bits of camera work to be enjoyed. Posterizing is also noticeable at times. Otherwise, the picture is generally clear and sharp enough, while colors are fairly robust. I'll take this over nothing, or a worn-out VHS, but it could have been more solid.