The following post is edited somewhat from its original form.
Gigan. This is one of my favorite of all kaiju (giant monster). I’m not alone in my affection for this big baddie. Other Godzilla fans have clamored for years for a Gigan return appearance, and we finally got our wish in Godzilla: Final Wars, where Gigan showed up after a near thirty-year absence. He made a spectacular return as well; he’s easily the most impressive of the Big-G’s opponents in this movie and gets a hefty amount of screen time—especially for a movie with thirteen other monsters in competition for the limelight and many human-based action sequences.
Gigan’s first appearance was in the 1970s Godzilla films, which are the low-point of the series. Budget cuts hampered the franchise, the movie industry in Japan had fallen into a recession, and the death of special effects wizard Eiji Tsubaraya in 1969 further reduced the spectacle of the science-fiction epics. The films of the ‘70s aimed toward a children’s audience, the plots turned extremely far-fetched with aliens invading nonstop with mega-monsters in tow, and Godzilla acted as a superhero who arrives at humanity’s beck and call.
Gigan’s premiere movie is 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan, originally released in the U.S. as Godzilla on Monster Island—a nonsensical title, since the movie doesn’t take place on Monster Island, but Cinema Shares, the stateside distributor, probably figured the kiddies wouldn’t care. The Japanese title, Chikyu Kogeki Meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan, roughly translates as Earth Attack Order: Godzilla vs. Gigan. It translates as “bad” in any language. With no major Toho actors and a shoestring budget, the film looks depressingly cheap and shoddy. The plot tries to relive the grand alien invasion epics of the 1960s like Battle in Outer Space and Invasion of Astro-Monster, but the results are laughable. These price-conscious aliens have to wear business suits and work out of office buildings and a children’s amusement park. Endless stock footage of earlier Godzilla films, often wildly mismatched, pads out the effects scenes, and the robust music consists entirely of reused cues from other Akira Ifukube scores, sometimes hilariously misused.
Gigan is one of the film’s bright spots; he’s the only new monster in the picture. The other three monsters are Godzilla, the famous three-headed dragon Ghidorah, and Godzilla’s spiky-armadillo ally Anguirus. The Godzilla suit is literally falling apart after use in three movies, and somebody should have dry-cleaned the Ghidorah costume,or at least use some S.O.S. to scrape off the tarnish. Anguirus looks good however, and there’s something about his spunky never-say-die attitude even when vastly over-matched that endears him to fans.
But Gigan gets all the attention. He’s a cyborg monster from Space Hunter Nebula-M. His biology is never explained, but it would seem he’s a fusion of a giant alien creature with robotic technology. He has wicked scythes for hands, metallic mandibles, and a buzz-saw in his chest which he uses to gorily slice open Godzilla's shoulder. He can fly through some unknown, non-visible means. The poster of the film shows Gigan blasting a laser ray from his single visor-like eye, which makes sense based on his design, but Gigan never uses it in the movies from the ‘70s, probably to save money.
Special effects supervisor Teruyoshi Nakano has commented that Gigan’s design arose from a reaction to Hedorah, a.k.a. the Smog Monster, the villainous kaiju from the previous film. Hedorah is a creature with a soft, amorphous body made of sludge and slime, so Nakano designed Gigan as the opposite: a hard, sharp, metallic body. Even with the limitations of the effects of the day, Gigan’s suit looks awesome. He’s sleek and edgy, with wicked hooked hands and a devilish profile. He also has an impressive screeching sound effect.
An interesting bit of trivia: the suit actor who plays Gigan in his first two movies is Kenpachiro Satsuma, who would later play Godzilla in the 1980s and ‘90s movies.
Gigan returned in the following film, Godzilla vs. Megalon, probably as another money-saving technique so the filmmakers could reuse the suit and recycle footage from Godzilla vs. Gigan. Budget-paring must have been paramount in Toho’s mind, because Godzilla vs. Megalon is the cheapest, crudest Godzilla film ever constructed and ranks as the nadir of the series. It looks like a TV show mixed with professional wrestling, and represents everything negative about the kaiju genre. When non-fans make fun of Godzilla movies, it’s really this movies that they’re mocking. I can only suffer to watch it in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version—the theatrical cut just depresses me with how far the once mighty Japanese science-fiction film industry had crumbled in the 1970s recession. Yes, Gigan’s in it. He looks cool. But that doesn’t save this stupid film.
Gigan at last got his chance to appear in a good Godzilla film (or better film, depending on who you ask) with Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004. He gets one of the largest roles in the films, probably the most prevalent of the villainous monsters. His basic design remains the same, only made sleeker and spiker with an increased cyborg presence. Gigan is again the tool of outer space invaders, the principle weapon of the extraterrestrial Xillians in their Earth-takeover plans. They send Gigan to stop the human heroes from re-awakening Godzilla from his frozen sleep, but Godzilla rouses and then removes Gigan’s head. Not to be daunted, the Xillians fix Gigan and retro-fit him with new arm weapons, which for all the world look like tuning forks strapped with chainsaws! Gigan gets to slice off Mothra’s wing before Godzilla takes his head off… again! After this the Xillians decide to retire Gigan and bring on a new weapon, Monster X.
Good to see you again, Giggy. Let’s not make it another thirty years before you come back.