Kaiju Profile: Sanda and Gaira
Written by Astounding Beyond Belief, Les, The Boy Who Cried Godzilla, Titanollante, Surf Kaiju
Edited by Titanollante
Voiced by Daphne
Hey kaiju fans—I'm Daphne—and today we're talking about the warring Gargantuas, Sanda and Gaira!
Sanda and Gaira are the two shaggy brothers who star in the 1966 Toho film "The War of the Gargantuas." Their rivalry and habitats take inspiration from "The Sea Boy and the Mountain Boy," a story published in the first known Japanese book, the "Kojiki." Being descended from Frankenstein and effectively genetic clones, they are a classic example of nurture trumping nature: Sanda, who was raised by humans, views them as friends, while Gaira, who grew up in the wild, sees them as a light snack. After Sanda rescues Gaira from the military, a disagreement over the ethics of eating people leads to their titular war in the streets of Tokyo. Though the Gargantuas have yet to appear in another feature-length film, at least beyond stock footage, they found new life on Toho's low-budget superhero shows, and even got to fight Godzilla in the pages of "Rulers of Earth."
Following "Frankenstein vs. Baragon," Toho began work on a direct sequel. Takeshi Kimura turned in the first draft of the script in January of 1966, titled "The Frankenstein Brothers." Originally, Sanda was the white-haired "Mountain Frankenstein", while Gaira was the grey-haired "Sea Frankenstein." Ishiro Honda, who directed both films and had a rare screenwriting credit on “The War of the Gargantuas,” felt that the new story would stand better on its own. The connections to “Frankenstein vs. Baragon" are diminished in the finished film.
Gaira and Sanda were designed by artist Tohl Narita, known most prominently for his work as art director on the Ultra Series. He partially based Gaira on the Gill-man from 1954's "Creature from the Black Lagoon," which Eiji Tsuburaya was allegedly a big fan of.
Teizo Toshimitsu prototyped and modeled the heads of the suits, while the Yagi brothers Kanju and Yasuei, along with Eizo Kaimai, were responsible for their bodies. According to Kaimai, the suits did not use wetsuits as their cores despite the film's extensive water scenes, as he believed the rubber material would be too restrictive to act in. Instead, they were based around boilersuit-esque garments with skin and fur directly applied. Both Gargantua suits also featured football shoulder pads to emphasize their agility and strength. For the scenes where Gaira holds people in his hands, a giant arm and hand prop was composited into the shots using a blue screen, a technique which would later be reused for King Kong in 1967's "King Kong Escapes."
As the Gargantua with the most screentime, Gaira was played by Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima. Able to act with his eyes and wear a mask based on his own face, he would later call it his favorite role as a kaiju: "It was quite painstaking… it had to be neither a monster like Godzilla nor like a man." As usual, he also handled the Gargantuas' fight choreography, taking inspiration from professional wrestling.
For Sanda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya first asked Shoichi Hirose, who had already played opposite Nakajima as King Kong in "King Kong vs. Godzilla" and King Ghidorah in "Invasion of Astro-Monster." Hirose declined, favoring a part he had been offered in another film where he would actually get to show his face. Tsuburaya made sure that was the end of his career in suit acting! Hiroshi Sekita took his place, in the first of his many kaiju roles at Toho. Like Nakajima, his mask was a lifecast of his own face. The juvenile Sanda, who briefly appears in flashback, was portrayed by child actor Yasuhiro Komiya who wore an appropriately-sized mask and fur suit.
Toho reused the Sanda and Gaira suits for "Go! Godman" and "Go! Greenman," though each featured a new headpiece. The Gaira suit was in especially grim shape by the time "Go! Greenman" filmed, with the suit actors' ankles and legs visible in certain shots. Gaira returned in the 2008 "Godman" anniversary special, for which modeler Fuyuki Shinada created a completely new suit in the span of just four days. Inspired by the original Gargantua suits, he rigged the mask of the suit so that its jaw would move with that of suit actor Kenji Oka.
While "The War of the Gargantuas" itself seems to retcon the events of "Frankenstein vs. Baragon," placing Sanda in Frankenstein's metaphorical shoes, later media treat the film as a straightforward sequel. In any case, Sanda was raised by scientists in a Japanese laboratory, who originally called him Frankenstein. Though a peaceful monster, he escaped and seemingly met his end at Mt. Fuji. A piece of flesh he lost at Lake Biwa floated into the Pacific Ocean, where it grew into Gaira by feeding on protein-rich plankton.
Like many monsters from the series, the Gargantuas' origins went unexplained in "Go! Godman"; they merely appeared out of nowhere to terrorize humanity. In "Go! Greenman," however, both Gaira and Sanda were pawns of Maoh, sent to harvest children's blood needed by the Devil King to emerge from the underground cave where God banished him. Yes, the God.
In the Godman film, Gaira emerged out of a chunk of flesh from the giant monster Tsunojiras, dislodged following the monster's destruction at the hands of Godman. A second slab of Tsunojiras gave rise to another hairy, human-sized monster named Shilarji.
The War of the Gargantuas: A fishing vessel under attack by a Giant Octopus found itself saved when Gaira appeared to drive off the cephalopod. Unfortunately for the crew, he then pursued and ate all but one of them.
Gaira continued to menace the Japanese shores. The government contacted Dr. Paul Stewart, one of the scientists who raised Sanda, to ask if the Gargantuas were one and the same. Skin samples from Gaira seemed to indicate that they were, although Stewart and his assistant Akemi found Sanda's footprints deep in the Japanese Alps. Before long, Gaira attacked Haneda Airport, devouring a woman before the sun emerged from behind the clouds, driving him back into the sea. After he attacked a nightclub in Tokyo, the JSDF began planning his demise. Helicopters lured him into the firing range of Trip Wires and Maser Cannons, which chased him into an electrified lake. Writhing in pain, Gaira seemed doomed… until Sanda came down from the mountains to rescue him.
Far from humanity, Sanda helped Gaira recover. After regaining his strength, Gaira began hunting humans once more, pursuing a group including Akemi, who stumbled off a cliff while fleeing from him. Remembering his old friend and surrogate mother, Sanda rescued Akemi, but broke his leg in the process. When he returned to Gaira and discovered evidence of his Santa Clarita diet, Sanda went after him with a tree, like anybody who just nursed an ungrateful sibling back to health would do. Their short brawl led to Gaira retreating back to the ocean.
Having determined how Gaira emerged from Sanda, Stewart and Akemi urged the military not to launch an all-out attack against them, as it could potentially create millions of Gargantuas. Gaira, now associating lights with humanity, attacked Tokyo in search of his next meal. He nearly ate Akemi again before Sanda arrived on the scene. After failing to reason with his brother, Sanda had no choice but to battle Gaira once more. Building after building fell as the JSDF joined the fray, concentrating its fire on Gaira. Eventually, their duel spilled into Tokyo Bay and out to sea. Helicopters rained explosives down on them, only to be outdone by nature. An underwater volcanic eruption soon consumed the two brothers, still locked in combat.
In Go! Godman', Sanda looms over a group of boys playing ball before Godman appears to challenge him. For the next five parts, they engage in one of the most stupefying battles ever aired on television, until Godman finally makes Sanda collapse and explode with his Supersonic Wave attack. We don't have access to the full episode Gaira appeared in, but it's safe to assume the plot, such as it is, is similar.
In Go! Greenman, Sanda and Gaira were clay dolls mutated by the devil king, who used them to… terrorize the schoolchildren of Japan. Each time, the kids summoned Greenman, who charged into battle against the Gargantuas. He annihilated Sanda with his Flash Shock attack, while Gaira fell to the explosive tip of the Greenman Stick.
In the Go! Godman movie, Gaira emerged from a piece of Tsunojiras' destroyed body, and immediately threatened photographer Mika Ayase and traffic guard Koichi Matsushita. Koichi tried to fight him off using his signal baton, with predictable results. Godman arrived to defend them, but soon found himself overwhelmed when Shilarji came to Gaira's aid. After one of his bracelets fell off, Mika returned it to him and used the Green Call to summon Greenman to the battlefield. Godman, invigorated, used a Supersonic Wave to blast both monsters to pieces.
Sanda demonstrated his strength by uprooting a tree to attack Gaira, while Gaira shook a fishing vessel larger than himself violently and threw tank after tank to their doom. When battling hand-to-hand, their tactics include biting, strangling, kicking, and throwing.
Sanda and Gaira are less durable than the typical kaiju, although it's worth noting they're smaller too. Tank shells hurt Gaira and the JSDF's trap nearly killed him, while Sanda injured his leg after a boulder fell on it. However, attacking them at all has its risks: if a piece of severed flesh from Sanda or Gaira has access to enough nutrients, it could grow into a new Gargantua.
In "Go! Greenman," Sanda can make small objects vanish and foiled two of Greenman's projectile attacks, Greenman Breaster and Leg Arrow, by snatching them out of the air and eating them. He also breathed a debilitating pink mist.
Gaira, on the other hand… didn't get any new powers! He's as vicious as ever, of course, but that only gets you so far when you're a Monster of the Week. — Oh and, Gaira is strangely depicted conducting electricity through his hands in a Japanese poster and publicity still for "War of the Gargantuas."
Haruo Nakajima appeared as himself in an episode of the 1967 Toho television series "He of the Sun," donning the Gaira suit once more. His opponent was Kiyla, a villain from the original "Ultraman."
The lavish first draft of "Destroy All Monsters" included both Sanda and Gaira, along with just about every monster Toho had a suit for. A later draft gave Sanda a cameo as a Monsterland resident, although the Kilaaks left him out of their invasion plans.
Gaira gets caught up in the whirlwinds of stock footage in "Godzilla vs. Gigan" and "Godzilla vs. Megalon." In both movies, a shot of him fleeing from Maser Cannons is spliced into Gigan and Megalon's battles with the military.
During the long hiatus between "Terror of Mechagodzilla" and "The Return of Godzilla," Toho and UPA considered making a film in which the Monster King fought a Gargantua - possibly one of the concepts they bandied about after Toho announced a new G-film in 1978, under the vague title "US-Japan Collaboration: Godzilla." Whether this would have been Sanda, Gaira, or a new monster is unknown. At some point, Saperstein also allegedly (according to this book) planned to produce a sequel to "The War of the Gargantuas" where Godzilla would battle a cyborg version of one of the monsters.
In the universe of the Kiryu Saga, Gaira was the first monster to battle Maser Cannons back in 1966, which became the backbone of the Japanese Xenomorph Self-Defense Force for the next few decades. Though only the tanks of Godzilla and Kamoebas are visible on-screen, both Gargantuas' names are part of the DNA repository of giant monsters at the end of the movie.
Sanda and Gaira first appeared alongside the Big G in the Sega Pico game "Godzilla: Heart-Pounding Monster Island!!," where the King of the Monsters finds them fighting each other in the first level. They can be obtained in the Dreamcast VMU Godzilla game then battle in the Collected Coliseum in "Godzilla: Generations." In "Godzilla: Trading Battle," they're both one-star monsters.
In the IDW series "Godzilla: Rulers of Earth," the Chinese government captured Gaira and held him prisoner in a secret base, trying to figure out how to control him. Lucy Casprell, one of the kaiju researchers they recruited at gunpoint, ended up freeing him as Rodan and Varan attacked the base. Gaira immediately attacked Varan, who flew him out to sea. As they left, Lucy caught a glimpse of the other Gargantua, Sanda. After scuffling at sea, the brothers came ashore in Brisbane, Australia, where Godzilla's presence forced them to team up. Though they were far smaller than the King of the Monsters, Sanda drove him off by hitting him with a Saradian tanker truck after Gaira opened up a wound on his face. C.K.R. forces gassed the Gargantuas and transported them to the Monster Islands, where they lived in (relative) peace … until the Trilopods invaded. The Cryog's power-stealing monsters managed to capture them and assume their likenesses. After King Caesar freed them, they took part in the final battle between Earth's monsters and their Trilopod knock-offs.
Oh, and here's Brad Pitt talking about the first movie he ever saw for the 84th Academy Awards.
"I remember seeing a film called 'The Gargantuas'... I believe. There was a good Gargantua and a bad Gargantua. At the end of it the good Gargantua had to sacrifice himself - to defeat the bad Gargantua and... rid the world of evil."
An endorsement from Tyler Durden—what more could you ask for?
That's it for the Gargantuas. Thanks for watching!