After having been quite horrified by the outlandish weirdness (even by the standards of Japanese pop culture!) of 1971's Godzilla vs. Hedorah, series producer Tanaka Tomoyuki had one demand, and that was for the next year's movie to be a sane and normal Godzilla movie like all the other Godzilla movies. And by God, but that's exactly what he got: Godzilla vs. Gigan is about as derivative as the franchise could possibly be, and not just because its plot is the third, barely-altered incarnation of the scenario already presented by Invasion of Astro-Monster in 1965 and Destroy All Monsters in 1968 (that is, an alien race wants to colonise Earth and uses mind-control on giant monsters to do it, with King Ghidorah as their biggest weapon). The even more literal debt the film owes to its forebears is that as a cost-cutting measure, a huge portion of the kaiju action comes in the form of effects footage from earlier films, primarily Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Destroy All Monsters. What I find even more galling is that the musical score is likewise raided from the Toho vaults, consisting almost in its entirety of cues Ifukube Akira had composed for earlier Godzilla films, and these cues are not chosen randomly or without some intent, but the results are still flattened and generic in their fashion. And Ifukube is given an onscreen credit, which is downright nasty.

Just about the only thing Godzilla vs. Gigan can claim for its very own is an especially loopy and out-there visual sensibility that pairs well with the dimwitted B-movie spy antics that seemed to be the constant result of director Fukuda Jun and screenwriter Sekizawa Shinichi putting their heads together. I would go so far as to say, in fact, that Godzilla vs. Gigan is downright pleasant to look at, especially in its first half, when the film is still busily introducing us to its weird sci-fi sets and costumes (the former courtesy of designer Honda Yoshifumi; there doesn't seem to be a credited costume designer), and Hasegawa Kiyoshi's camera is free to soak up the très 1970s oranges and silvers that everything a simultaneously gaudy and sleek futurist glow. Bright colors abound in Godzilla vs. Gigan; that is the one thing I take away from it more than anything else, and certainly it's one of my only largely positive responses to the movie.

The protagonist, as befits a bit of pulpy trash aimed at a young audience, is a kids' manga writer, Kotaka Gengo (Ishikawa Hiroshi). His two latest monsters - one representing unfinished homework, the other strict mothers - are unbelievably dumb, and he's unable to sell them to his editor; this causes his girlfriend, Tomoko (Hishimi Yuriko) to ride him even harder about finding real work than we can presume she usually does, and that's how he ends up at the offices of Children's Land, a new theme park dedicated to the twin ideal of giant monsters and world peace - its big eye-catching central structure is a giant tower in the shape of Godzilla straddling an elevator shaft. It's okay if that seems weird even for a Sekizawa screenplay; it's not sane humans putting this together. The fact is, the head of the park development, Kubota (Nishizawa Toshiaki) and his eerily young head of technology, Sudo Fumio (Fujita Zan) are really alien body snatchers who've taken over a pair of human corpses to be their vessels in a plot to take over the planet. We don't find that out for a little bit, and it's a bit later still that we find out their reason: their homeworld was destroyed by pollution, and they now want to kill all humanity before we can do the same thing to Earth, thus rendering it unsuitable for a takeover. To fight the aliens' champions of King Ghidorah and the stunningly odd new daikaiju Gigan, who should be making a beeline from Monster Land in the Pacific to Japan, but our old buddies Godzilla and Anguiras.

That's streamlining things a lot, because Godzilla vs. Gigan is bursting at the seams with plot details that feel inexplicable and tacked-on; I didn't even find room to mention Gengo's partnership with Shima Machiko (Umeda Tomeko) and her hippie friend Shosaku (Takashima Minoru), hunting for her brother who has gone missing while working at Children's Land, since it doesn't end up informing much. Nor the matter of Godzilla and Anguiras speaking in the sound of tape distortion. For a film that's awfully busy and awfully manic, Godzilla vs. Gigan turns out to be quite a dreadful slog, undoubtedly because the ideas seem so unbelievably stale, and the plot doesn't flow so much as hopscotch.

In part, I have little doubt that this was because of a tremendously compressed schedule, owing to how many times the project was re-conceived before it was finally put in front of cameras. Godzilla vs. Gigan began life unrecognisably, as a far more ambitious movie with King Ghidorah and several new monsters squaring off against Godzilla. Extreme budget limitations turned that into a new project, and then that one had to be simplified yet again into the sublime exercise in cost-cutting that we see before us now, where every choice was seemingly made from a cost-cutting perspective (down to the casting of Anguiras as Godzilla's ally; that suit, built for Destroy All Monsters, was in the best shape of any of the series dramatis personae). The results are generally dismal: the shifting quality and design found in the various pieces of stock footage end up making the movie look as much like a clip reel as anything, and the new footage is almost uniformly worse than all of it, as effects director Nakano Teruyoshi lacked either the skill and comfort (this was his second Godzilla film, after Hedorah), or simply the time and money, to do things right. There are over-lit models that look more like plastic miniatures than anything in any Godzilla film prior to this; an interior shot of a department store that Gigan is destroying desperately tries to make vinyl baby dolls look like mannequins. The Shoshingeki-Goji suit, built for DAM and used in every film since then, was starting to look just awful, and even the not-terribly-attentive viewer can literally see it falling apart in some close-ups during the climactic battle scene. Such a terribly sad farewell this turns out to be for Nakajima Haruo, whose last performance as Godzilla this would prove to be (he would, however, put in stock footage appearances in the future). Surely, he deserved something better to do in his final turn as the character he did as much to define as anybody, than to look like he was wearing a ratty rubber area rug and being prohibited from moving too vigorously, lest he tore something.

Counterbalancing all this, if it could ever be done, is Gigan, easily the strangest-looking Toho daikaiju to that point. Not always well-executed, mind you; the vertical buzz saw emerging from his abdomen is brought to life by a thoroughly unconvincing effect. But then, did you notice what I just said about a buzz saw in his abdomen? AND the digitless metal spikes he has for arms, AND the mechanical beak-face, and the glowing red single eye - it's gleefully weird and impossible in all ways, a sign perhaps of a certain sense of "let's just fucking do this, because screw logic" infecting the franchise as it began to bottom out in earnest.

Anyway, something had to smack of inspiration in all of this. It wasn't the story, certainly, and it wasn't Fukuda's sloppy directing, which sometimes has the distinct foulness of a scene that had to be shot with a minimum number of set-ups that didn't necessarily cut together well, because there wasn't enough time to do it right. But a crazed steampunk-dragon kaiju, and dazzlingly colorful style; that is, at any rate, more than Son of Godzilla ever thought to give us, and Godzilla vs. Gigan at least has the decency to be relaxingly dull in its stupidity, instead of actively painful.