The Making of "Sanda vs. Gaira"

One of the most influential of the Showa series films, "War of the Gargantuas" is a legendary picture. Some 44 years after it’s theatrical release, here is what I hope will be the most complete offering of what happened behind the scenes of this film.

1966 was the year of the most kaiju films ever made. Toho's role in this was that other than Godzilla, they were making science fiction films off the bat. "Rodan", "Mothra", "The Last War", and "Atragon" were all part of this. Whether based on a book (Mothra) to a loose remake of Gojira with the only real aspect kept is the anti-nuclear theme (Rodan), these films took the world's box office by storm year after year. Most of this was because these films showcased the best special effects the world ever saw (till Star Wars was made). After the success of the latest out-going of the sci-fi film craze "Frankenstein vs. Subterranean Beast Baragon" (better known as Frankenstein Conquers the World), continuity was going to be added for the first time to this string of unrelated, critically good sci-fi films. For Toho, an original Sci-fi film and a Godzilla film had never been made in the same year. The one exception was 1965's "Frankenstein Conquers the World" and "Invasion of The Astro Monsters". This theme, which would have been great, marked the beginning of Ishiro Honda's pull out of the Godzilla franchise along with Akira Ifukube. Other than Tomoyuki Tanaka, Eiji Tsuburaya was the only one to stay with both productions of the same year in 1966. This change with Ishiro Honda especially could have been caused by one of two factors: too much work or the amount of change the "Godzilla, Ebirah, and Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas" was too much for him since the script got so many edits at one time, including the fact that the Ebirah script was originally a film adaptation of the animated "King Kong" series of the time and then a Ebirah vs. Kong thing to Godzilla ultimately replacing King Kong (I can go on about the changes of this script). Another theory I have read was that the higher-ups in Toho thought that with the Godzilla series, Honda was losing originality, with no original monsters being shown in Monster Zero and with the exception of Ghidorah, all other kaiju Godzilla battled were from a stand alone sci-fi film already and the theme of space invaders, while popular, became tiresome.

The idea for this film and it's script came from 1965 by Takeshi Kimura under the title "Frankenstein's Sons". As with the Ebirah script, "War of the Gargantuas" had the same burden with it's script: numerous changes. One thing that was for certain was that since it was a sequel to "Frankenstein vs. Baragon", it has to reference the original film. After some editing of the original Kimura script, the first official draft of the script called "Frankenstein's Brothers", submitted on January 26, 1966, was turned in with the omages to the previous film. The plot of the draft was ever so similar to the first draft, with the only major difference being the cast, which was originally having the same characters from the first film. But for unknown reasons, names and cast listings were changed into what we have today: Russ Tamblyn replacing Nick Adams (for the record, they were close friends in America), Kenji Sahara replacing Mr. Takashima and Kumi Mizuno was kept under a different character.

Controlling this script and making sure the same thing did not happen as with the Ebirah script, Ishiro Honda started taking up the pen and paper for the script. A second draft was written called "Clash of the Frankensteins". No real details about the differences with the second draft were reported, but a third draft was written called, "Duel of the Frankensteins". Unlike the other titles from the other drafts, "Duel of the Frankensteins" was a title that almost stuck to the project, until a last minute change was made to call the film "Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira". Something that these scripts had in common was the slow watering down of the number of connections between this film and the first film along with mention of the original film. However, the biggest change was something not even related to the continuity between "War of the Gargantuas" and "Frankenstein vs. Baragon": the finale. While the finale was much like the present one, it was to be much bigger than the one we got. While the military attacks the Gargantuas at sea, the military are the ones which start the volcano in Tokyo Bay and while just a coincidence, the volcano doesn't stop with devouring the Gargantuas but also killing the rest of the Frankenstein cells which were scattered through out Tokyo due to military engagement. Tomoyuki Tanaka was the one who ordered this change since he feared it would eat up and expand the budget more than what he, as a producer, could afford. It was rejected even after Honda suggested that they mix the finale with stock footage from a previous Toho film, "The Last War".

As mentioned, Nick Adams was not in the film due to reasons of other shows and movies he was doing back in America (we was quite busy, according to IMDb) so we got the new cast of Russ Tamblyn, Kenji Sahara, and the keeping of Kumi Mizuno. All the cast got along great, but it was Russ Tamblyn who was the biggest case. Even though good friends with "Frankenstein vs. Baragon" star Nick Adams, Russ did not speak a word of Japanese. This was just a small matter that played into a big dilemma which plagued the film's development. A good actor in his own right, Russ Tamblyn was not active into acting around the time, more interested into art. That was until he got the script when he was referred to by Henry Saperstein, a producer of "War of the Gargantuas". Russ found the script not to his liking. This was likely because when the script was translated, the translation was bad with not having everything be correct grammar-wise and not sounding the same as we would say every day-to-day things. Thinking that this was a good way to get a quick buck and a good chance to see Japan, Russ accepted. Along with shooting two films, he acted the role. Without knowing Japanese, he had to hire a translator, Heihachiro "Henry" Okawa. With this being a burden, there were no real rehearsals with Russ, he just had to learn his cues. One day he saw a set where the Gargantuas were duking it out. The thing he thought was "Oh my god, I am in trouble."

Thinking that this film would never reach the states, he went back to the US without seeing the film in any form. But the film which was not to his liking had since received a very large following, enough to make one US TV station show the film at the same time one a day for a week, shocking him especially since he did not even know the film got theatrical distribution in the US ("Monster Zero" was double billed with "War of the Gargantuas" and was almost double billed again with "Godzilla's Revenge"). Another incident of "War of the Gargantuas" popularity was when Russ was doing a film, "Human Highway". In the film was the band Devo. The main singer of Devo, Mark Mothersbaughm, came up to Russ and said, "Oh my God, you did one of my favorite films of all time." Then Matt when on dropping the name "War of the Gargantuas" along with other things about the film, including having a tape of the song in the film, "Feel in My Heart" which Devo has covered. Years later at Godzillafest 2004, Russ Tamblyn with his family sat together and made kaiju history as the first time the film played in theaters and the first time Russ saw it and finally started appreciating the film. It was also around this time that Russ found out that Nick actually went out with Kumi Mizuno. So that was the story of what started Toho's craze to start adding American stars to their pictures, such as "King Kong Escapes" and even "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" (1993).

Without interference from the Ebirah production, this film got the best of almost everything. So let's talk about the best thing about this film: it's special effects! Duking it out with a Godzilla film, three Daimajin films, a Gamera film and a newly developed Ultraman series, it was going to be hard for Eiji to keep up a high standard, but he did that. With Eiji Tsuburaya at the helm of four projects of the year (The Ebirah project, Ultraman, King Kong Escapes, and this), you could say that he was against himself. I can say that he did his best here in WOTG for the year of 1966. With all three aforementioned projects done at different times (all mostly guesses - WOTG in early 1966, Ultraman mostly the May 1996-February 1967 - my guess, and the Ebirah project being done from August - November 1996), Eiji Tsuburaya at least did have enough time to do one project and not three projects at once. As I mentioned, he did the best out of all three here. The most noticeable thing that can be said that was new with Tsuburaya with this production was the Gargantuas being only half the size of Godzilla at the time, (Godzilla was 50 meters and Sanda, the tallest Gargantua, was only 30 meters tall) the call for bigger sets and models was called for. The sets have been reported to have been enlarged to 1/10 scale. This really called for serious budget and serious detail. Quite suitably, Eiji Tsuburaya along with colleagues Yasuyuki Inoue and Mutsumi Toyoshima really outdid themselves here. The buildings are set perfectly and when the Gargantuas crash into them, it looks very realistic. With bigger sets, you have to have bigger military defense vehicles, and just vehicles in general. One example of vehicles in general is when Gaira is walking down a street in the finale of the film, we get a close up of Gaira's foot (Nakajima's bare, green painted foot!) walking on top of a car. The car is crushed. The effect still holds up today. In fact, there is a similar shot in Godzilla 2000 that has Godzilla stomping on top of cars and it pales in comparison.

When it comes to more important vehicles, which are usually the Japanese Self Defense Force vehicles, we get a real treat here. One of which no matter how overrated it becomes has to be talked about: the birth of the iconic Maser Cannon. The person most related to creation of the Maser Cannon is most probably it's designer: Mutsumi Toyoshima. Remote controlled, this little machine was one of the most difficult vehicles to make and use. One reason concerned the iodine lamp bulb which was used to illuminate the necessary parts of the maser cannon. The iodine bulb was a pain in the neck because unless it was perfectly parallel to the ground, it would not light up. That was the most important part of it all, since the laser itself would be animated. The iodine lamp bulb is physically an elongated glass bulb in a phallus shape. So half was exposed outside and the other side was in the tube which connects the saucer part of the cannon with the main body, acting like the neck joint of the cannon. Thankfully, it was a success. An interesting note about the maser cannon was that while the whole conception was Mutsumi Toyoshima's, the base of the cannon was recycled from "Monster Zero's" A-CYCLE Cannon, which was Shigueru Komatsuzaki's design. The Maser Cannon has since become an iconic weapon, from having it's beam color change from blue (most films) to red (Godzilla 1985) to Gold (Godzilla: Tokyo SOS), to having so many names that it isn't even called a maser anymore, but more like names like Hyper Maser (Kiryu's chest weapon in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS) to names like MBT-92 (Heisei films).

One of the most interesting parts of this film's special effects is the sets. Unlike most kaiju films of the early Showa era, a film with a 75% forest settling was mostly unseen until this film's prequel was made: "Frankenstein Conquers The World". The reason for this was because of the troublesome work that goes into this - more troublesome than the metropolis models. You see, the Toho staff had to make sure that every tree on the set had legit-looking roots and even roots at all since they did not know which trees the kaiju were going to pull up! For the branches, they used a small pine tree called Himuro Sugi and trimmed it, mostly trimming off the natural roots. For the new roots, they use the roots of giant golden rods and connect the two usually with wire. The plants lasted three days, meaning that for these hundreds of trees they had to plant, they had to replant. That is also taking into account that weather or not the lot at Toho studios in which these plants just happened to grow would run out and buy additional supplies of these plants.

The two best instances of this effects was one in this film, where Sanda pulls a tree in which he smites Gaira with. The second was in the often condemned film "Godzilla vs. Megalon" when Godzilla uses a tree's roots to choke Megalon and smack the other rival kaiju around. Often times though, the tree that would be used for the offensive would not be specified. Then you have to ask about where and in what are these mini-trees planted in. First, the ground which they were on were usually 1-2 feet off the ground just so that they can get ground shots and stomping shots easier. But the trees in WOTG were more on the mountains than on the ground, which the actor's bare feet (more on this latter) would have to walk on. With the sets being 1/10 scale, the mountains were huge. The mountains were underneath a gigantic metal frame with the top of the frame being in the desirable pose. As for the top soil, a canvas of rough hemp cloth, which is just laid on top of the sturdy metal frame. On top of that is the application of FRP (Fiber-reinforced Plastic) and/or plaster. Some dirt was used and put on top and around the tree which would be used to hit an opponent with. Considering the materials used, it seems like the trees were put in place with the plaster or FRP sprayed around it to make it keep it's balance. The FRP and plaster was strong enough that in a making of clip on the Japanese DVD, a mask-less Haruo Nakajima is standing on a cliff. These mountain structure were known to me moved around.

The most interesting part of the special effects would be Sanda and Gaira themselves. Mostly because of how humanoid the Gargantuas were compared to other kaiju. Playing Gaira, the green Gargantua, is the ever so famous Haruo Nakajima. In interview, Nakajima mentioned that out of all his kaiju suit acting outings this was his favorite (many people may question this, but in many other interviews people ask for favorite Godzilla suit acting and not general kaiju). He liked it because he based the choreography, which he was in charge of in the Tsuburaya years, on professional wrestlers, which he thought it turned out well. Playing the role of Sanda is Hiroshi Sekida. Mr. Sekida was not always originally going to play Sanda. Showa King Ghidorah suit actor Shoichi "Solomon" Hirose was to be the original Sanda. This never came to pass as Hirose and Tsuburaya developing some bad blood. Apparently when Tsuburaya asked Shoichi to play the role, he turned it down since he simultaneously got an offer for a film in which Shoichi could, "act while showing his face". This angered Tsuburaya who went on to cast Hiroshi Sekida for Sanda. Turns out in the film Shoichi was in, he did not show his face at all since he had to wear a kendo mask, making it seem as if karma had gotten back at Shoichi. If one takes into consideration "what if" Shoichi was to have taken the offer, then Gaira would become taller than Sanda. That would be against what the script called for, meaning that either the actors would have to switch roles or Shoichi would have to be in prosthetics to make him taller. If they switched roles, Gaira's character would not be as vivid as what was given to us in the film. The Gargantua's human-like appearance was attributed by two characteristics: one was that except for glue-on nail's and some colored make up, the actor's feet and hands were bare. This is most noticeable when there are close up parts of Gaira's attacks. Another thing of humanity which attributes to the Gargantua's human-esque appearance is the eyes - the actor's eyes are totally exposed. The eyes are the windows to the soul. They can enlarge, turn red, look tired, look angry, squint, cry, look confused, just a whole closet full of emotions. That is what give's the suit actor's something award-deserving. But how were the eyes get exposed? Simply put green or brown colored make up on the eyelid and around the eye socket. Nakajima and Sekida would just walk around the set without the masks on but still have the make up on. Once the make up was applied, the masks were applied.

Post production went like normal. However, one abnormality was that the dialogue track was lost. This was one this that irritated Russ Tamblyn, since he had to do ADR for lines which he for a fraction of the film ad-libbed (although that was said by Russ, Japanese cinema historian August Ragone claimed that it was to make sure that the word "Frankenstein" was not uttered for the American print). The most famous part of the whole film production happened though publicity photos. Publicity photos seem to be something which makes the viewer of the film feel like the film needed more. There are millions of publicity photos. Gaira jumping onto Sanda in the forest, Sanda stomping on Gaira's stomach, vice versa, Gaira on the ground about to get his face kicked in my Sanda, Gaira jumping onto Sanda in the city with masers from even a helicopter shooting. A lot of action. While no actual shot was filmed, they are photos which has led to the legendary status of this film, especially this picture: Sanda and Gaira holding hands. One hand above their heads and one hand below the belt line. This has become a photo synonymous with this film and has been imitated by millions, including Fuyuki Shinada on a Scifi Japan article on Gaira's appearance on a specially made episode of "Go! Godman!" and famous kaiju journalist Norman England on his blog "Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira" was released in July 31, 1966 in Japan. It is safe to assume that it was as successful as any other Toho scifi film, not unlike the Godzilla films of the time were gaining box office draws of an average of $2-3 million dollars on distribution earnings alone.

Henry Saperstein was one of the main producers of this picture. With being an American and having ties with UPA, he was the ideal person to distribute the film throughout the states. Something which has always puzzled fans of the films as to why some Toho films have to wait a full decade or over just to get theatrical showings here. It is because not only was this film’s American print edited and made in Japan, but they also have to ship all of the different materials like original negatives and soundtracks for example. The changes in the film were all improvised by Saperstein, who has also impacted such productions as "Monster Zero" with having the monsters appear earlier in the film to help American audiences not get bored. Doing the same with the film, the beginning credits were moved to after Gaira attacks the ship at the beginning of the film. Most other changes were more adding and no deleting. In fact, the American print of the film is longer than the Japanese print by two to four minutes longer. This was by adding footage, including Sanda walking to Gaira for his first scene, Gaira spitting out a woman's blouse, extra building destruction clips, extra military vehicle shots, among other scenes. It all sounds good till we get to the soundtrack. Ifukube's soundtrack for this film is, while well known, was edited. Changes included having Gaira's theme being played repeatedly instead of the dark theme which is played during the beginning credits. A good example of this is the scene where Gaira was running from the mountain and he runs through the village with the fire burning to keep the Gargantuas away. In the Japanese print, Ifukube's dark theme is played. In the American, the Gaira theme. Other Ifukube music was replaced with Ifukube's themes from "Monster Zero" and some odd choices of music from the film, "Blood Waters of Dr. Z."

Distribution of the film though has more problems than the late timing. Most people know that the film was double-billed with "Monster Zero", but that is not the full story. A question which is not often asked is, "how did the title get changed from 'Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda vs. Gaira' to 'War of the Gargantuas'"? Gargantua originated as the name of a French book about a father named Gargantua and a son named Pantagruel. The name was soon given to a gorilla in the Ringling Brothers circus. Saperstein must have known of this circus and called this film "War of the Gargantuas" since Sanda and Gaira do resemble only slightly a gorilla-like animal (in fact, Russ Tamblyn called baby Sanda a gorilla). The finished film was made and was shipped to America to UPA in 1970. But another problem came up: Saperstein also owned the distribution rights to "Godzilla's Revenge". "Godzilla's Revenge's" distribution is also along one. Other than having to cancel calling "Godzilla's Revenge" "Minya: Son of Godzilla" due to Son of Godzilla already been released, early posters for Godzilla's Revenge showed Godzilla's Revenge being double billed with War of the Gargantuas. These posters, while they exist, are rare. After "War of the Gargantuas" was put with "Monster Zero" permanently, the posters advertising War of the Gargantuas with "Godzilla's Revenge" were changed to "Godzilla's Revenge" with a film called "Island of the Burning Damned". "War of the Gargantuas" was released double billed with "Monster Zero" in July 29, 1970 with a box office earning of $3 million, with the film being shown mostly at grindhouse cinemas and drive-ins.

In Japan, the film built a following, like any other film. But American viewers provided the biggest following for the film. With no Laser Disc or VHS or even Beta release till 1992, War of the Gargantuas became a classic on such specialty channels such as Channel 7's "4:30" movie and KTVU-Creature Features with Bob Wilkins. One reason why I can see this film becoming a cult classic on television is that in full screen, you can see Nakajima's and Sakida's eyes better due to full screen being nothing but really a close up on the faces of the characters. In fact, the film's biggest fan was it's producer Henry Saperstein. In 1978, same year Terror of Mechagodzilla was released in America, Henry Saperstein decided to want to make a Godzilla vs. Gargantua film. Originally, it was to be the first American Godzilla film. Being a production between Saperstein and UPA with an American-written script fallowing the American version of the film, it was to have a budget of $6 million, a gargantuan budget for the time. But the project evaporated with Toho giving it a no. It is unknown how the gargantuas would be put into the film, weather if Sanda or Gaira survived or if the cells blasted off of the Gargantuas during the army attacks. "War of the Gargantuas" would not get a valid sequel till 2002 with the release of "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla".

In the years that followed, "War of the Gargantuas" became more and more popular. The gargantuas has become a pop culture icon. In 2004, the film Kill Bill Vol. 2 was released in which The Bride (Uma Thurman) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hanna) fought, with the main inspiration of the fight being the film War of the Gargantuas. Before doing the scene, Quientin Tarantino showed both actresses his print of the film and said that he want the fight to be like "...War of the Blonde Gargantuas", making Kill Bill Vol. 2 a collector's piece in someone's Gargantua collection. Japanese director Kazuo Komizu often lists himself the pseudonym of Gaira. Gaira, Sanda, and 1965 Frankenstein were parodied in the 2008 edition of The Simpson's "Bart Simpson's Treehouse Horror". An in 1972 and 1973, Toho-made shows like "Go! Godman!" and "Go! Greenman!" has Gaira and Sanda appear to do battle with Ultraman-like rip offs. It is unmistakable that " War of the Gargantuas" is a pop culture icon. While not up there with the ranks of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and even Ghidorah, the Gargantuas have enjoyed a rather long prosperity period and have affected society and history of film as a whole and is a cult classic. But one thing makes me sad: Guy Tucker (RIP) interviewed Ishiro Honda (RIP) and Honda said this, "Actually, I find [the film] a little boring. I'm glad it's popular, but [I feel that it] doesn't really have much heart." I do not share Mr. Honda's judgment on the film. I agree that it is, "...one of Director Honda's masterpieces of monster mayhem."

This paper is a tribute to a late friend.

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