Toho abandoned all pretence at seriousness for their twelfth Godzilla movie. Godzilla vs. Gigan begins as dopey manga artist Gengo (Hiroshi Ishikawa) fails to interest his editor in such crazy creations as “Shukra - Monster of Homework” and “Mamagon - the Monster of Strict Mothers.” His pragmatic, karate kicking girlfriend Tomoko (Yuriko Hishimi) urges him to take a job at Children’s Land, the new amusement park whose attractions include a one-hundred-and-fifty foot Godzilla Tower set to house a Monster Museum. So far, so cool but Gengo’s suspicions are roused when he meets Secretary Kubota (Toshiaki Nishizawa), who talks eerily of building a world of perfect peace, and seventeen year old math genius and company chairman Fumio (Susumu Fujita), who casually mentions they’re planning to wipe out Monster Island. Possibly so Godzilla won’t sue them for illegally using his image, or more likely with more sinister motives in mind.
Then Gengo meets cute miniskirted Machiko (Tomoko Umeda) and her fat hippie friend Shosaku (Minoru Takashima), who are searching for the former’s brother Takeshi (Kunio Murai), a scientist who went missing shortly after starting work at Children’s Land. The trio stumble across a mysterious tape that emits strange sci-fi noises picked up faraway on Monster Island by Godzilla himself. Although Toho had dabbled with talking monsters before in Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), this was the one that went down in monster movie infamy for the banter between Big G and his four-legged buddy, Anguirus.
It’s hardly scintillating dialogue (“Hey Anguirus, something funny’s going on. You’d better check”) and the original Japanese version opts for cartoon speech bubbles that better serve Toho’s intentions (more on that later…), but proved surprisingly influential for a brief period. Subsequent Seventies giant monsters - including those in Jumborg Ace (1973) (whose soundtrack was stolen from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon!), Super Infra-Man (1975), Dinosaur War Aizenborg (1977) a.k.a. Attack of the Super Monsters, Koseidon (1978) and The Six Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army (1979) - proved as chatty as they were destructive. But I digress…
Gengo, Tomoko (who in a too brief scene karate kicks hell out of the bad guys) and their newfound friends discover Kubota and Fumio are nothing but human meat puppets being used by alien cockroaches from “Nebula Spacehunter M”. World domination is what they want and so summon three-headed space-dragon King Ghidorah and a new monster, Gigan - part robot, part parrot with hooks for hands and a buzz-saw in its stomach - to face Godzilla and Anguirus in a grand battle for planet Earth.
Seventies Japan was a golden age for children’s entertainment led by rival studio Toei with their candy-coloured anime and sentai (“superhero”) shows, while Daiei studios were kept afloat by their child-friendly Gamera movies. Toho desperately wanted a slice of this lucrative market but on this evidence - along with their subsequent Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) - had no clear idea how to go about cracking it. The studio turned to the reliable team of Jun Fukuda and screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa. While Sekizawa was Toho’s go-to guy for light-hearted family fun, having written classics like Mothra (1961) and Gulliver’s Space Travels Beyond the Moon (1965), Fukuda loathed his own monster movies, even the good ones like Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966), to the point where in later years he refused to be interviewed about them.
Having started his career making stylish and popular action movies, Fukuda may have been miffed they were forgotten at the expense of his Godzilla flicks. Yet he co-wrote them all (something his illustrious predecessor Ishirô Honda never did) and even penned lyrics for the “Godzilla March” that plays over the closing credits. Fukuda’s lively pop art style with its vibrant colours mimics the comic book feel Toho were after, hence those speech bubbles in the Japanese version (the English dub abruptly drops the talking monster concept, so we never find out what Godzilla says to Anguirus in the climactic battle).
Just as Hammer Films tried to get “down with the kids” with Dracula A.D. 1972, much of Godzilla vs. Gigan plays like Toho throwing things at the screen in the hope they’ll appeal. Look kids - manga! Hippies! Karate! Sam Peckinpah style blood spurting! Okay, maybe there is no rational reason why a kids’ movie is so gory… As a notoriously conservative studio, Toho send out mixed messages by shoehorning hippies and idealistic slogans into the story but unmasking the peace-loving scientists as evil alien cockroaches. In the end military might proves triumphant and the characters seem oddly resigned to the idea that peace is a pipe dream and someday cockroaches will inherit the earth. And for a children’s movie Godzilla vs. Gigan regards its target audience with a certain contempt, notably when a Shinto priest recoils at the thought of a kids’ theme park: “Children’s land? Is that some sort of fancy name for a lunatic asylum?”
Sekizawa’s atypically dull, dopey plot crawls along before we get to the lively monster battles. It is hard to imagine any child sitting patiently through such sci-fi babble as “Synchronise the conductor!” or “Switch to plan six!” or the tiresome antics of goofy Gengo. He slips on a globe, faints frequently and calls his girlfriend a bitch - what is Tomoko doing with this sack?
However, he who is tired of giant monsters stomping Tokyo and slugging it out is tired of life, my friend. The monster scenes add some much needed pep. What new footage there is, is capably handled by Fukuda and effects supervisor Teruyoshi Nakano, although the shoddy (and virtually immobile) Ghidorah suit is a minus. Gigan was too outlandish to graduate to the top tier of Godzilla foes, but won over a young Ryuhei Kitamura who gave him an upgrade in his underrated Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Gigan also returned the next year in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) where the inhabitants of Nebula Spacehunter M sold him to new villains, the Seatopians. No doubt whilst thinking: “Suckers!”