Friday, April 11, 2014
Series Report Card: Gamera (1969)
5. Gamera vs. Guiron
Gamera tai Daiakuju Giron /
Attack of the Monsters
For some reason, “Gamera vs. Guiron” seems to be the most well-known of the series. It’s popped up on “Craig Ferguson,” countless horror host shows, and was referenced in “Pacific Rim.” If you’re looking for fan-art, it’s spawned far more then the rest of the sequels. Why exactly this is, I do not know. The original American television cut of the film, “Attack of the Monsters,” is in the public domain, making access cheap and easy. Then again, so are most of the other domestically edited Gamera flicks. The film was featured on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” where it received an especially biting reception. But, again, so did many of the other classic Gamera films. This wider reception applies to me as well. Before starting this report card, “Gamera vs. Guiron” was the only Gamera movie I had ever seen.
The film opens with an introduction from scientist Dr. Shiga who explains that every other planet in our system is uninhabited and that it would take 500,000 years to reach another inhabited world. I imagine this was for the benefit of the youngsters in the audience, especially since the rest of the film is hardly scientifically accurate. Anyway, the story follows Akio and Tom, another Japanese/American best friend combo. The two spot a flying saucer through their telescope. After tracking the saucer down, much to Akio’s little sister’s chagrin, Akio and Tom climb aboard. Automated, the ship takes the boys to a distant planet where they meet alien babes Barbella, Florbella, and their kaiju watch-dog Guiron. The aliens, obviously, have less then noble plans for the kids. Sensing a child in peril, Gamera shows up to save the day, starting a rumble with Guiron.
You’ll notice that story is very similar to “Gamera vs. Viras.” This wouldn’t be the last time the series would recycle the “aliens imperil children” plot that film pioneered. “Guiron” also marks the series further devolution into kiddie flick fare. The fifth Gamera movie feels much more like a sixties family movie then previous entries. The early scenes of Akio and Tom riding on their bikes, playing a prank on the local cop, feels like something you’d see in a Disney shopping cart movie. Similarly, Tom’s crack-shot skills with a suction cup gun winds up being important later. The script is obviously targeted at the kids. The adults don’t believe the stories of saucers and aliens. Akio flat-out says that “Grown-ups have no dreams,” an infinitely quotable line. “Gamera vs. Guiron” exists in that cinema-exclusive world where tween kids set out on wacky adventures, their parents unable to understand.
Gamera Fun Time! If you’re annoyed by kids shouting “Gamera!” repeatedly, you might want to skip this one. The UFO eventually out-speeds Gamera, separating the monster from his wards until the movie is ready for its kaiju battle. At this point, it’s hard to believe that Gamera was ever a murderous, dangerous creature. He’s a ridiculous, kid-friendly superhero now, one hundred percent.
Despite its sometimes shrill protagonists, “Gamera vs. Guiron” is too good-naturedly loopy to be unlikable. Actually, setting the film on an alien planet is a good idea. The land-scape, with its backwards flowing rivers and art-deco towers, makes a memorable visual. The interior sets are very impressive, even if a few props are obviously reused from “Viras.” I especially like the glass dome teleporters which crop up several times. Just taken from a production design perspective, the movie actually looks pretty awesome.
The movie also has some of the strongest human enemies in the series. What sci-fi fan doesn’t love some sexy space babes? More so if they’re actually evil? Hiroko Kai and Reiko Kasahara certainly look nice in the tight, ridiculous outfits. Both are appropriately icy in their evilness and sweet when luring the boys in. Notable, bizarre moments: The aliens actually evolved from bacteria, not vertebrates. The yellow eyes from “Viras” pop up again. The alien’s native language sounds like cassette tapes being rewound. When one of the villains is fatally injured, Florabella winds up responding in an amusing way. The funniest, weirdest thing about the alien girls is what they plan to do with the little boys. They want to eat their brains. They want to head to Earth so they can eat many more brains. What a silly, childish, goofy motivation.
Guiron is, doubtlessly, my favorite of Gamera’s enemies. The creature has lizard scales and the squat posture of a bulldog. Most notably, his head is a giant, curved knife blade. Holy shit, what an unforgettable image. I also love Guiron’s face, his sleepy, drooping eyelids and overbite-ridden jaw. Despite his small legs, Guiron can leap hundreds of mile into the air. Having a huge blade for a head makes for a dynamic weapon. “Gamera vs. Guiron” is infamous for its gory content. Memorably, Guiron dissects special guest monster Gyaos, showing up again. The rival monster looses a leg, both of his wings, and his head. Not done yet, Guiron decides to chop the giant bat’s body up into more easily digested, smaller pieces. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disgusted by the gore, as it’s so ridiculously silly.
The titular battles between Gamera and Guiron are also highlights. The film was incredibly goofy up to this point. Guiron leaping through the air, transforming into a crude rubber model, is likely to provoke laughter. This effect is employed several times, in haphazardly edited scenes of the creatures falling into water. Guiron’s sword-head proves sharp enough to pierce Gamera’s shell, pouring yet more green blood. Both monsters toss the other around, spinning through the air. In addition to his knife-head, Guiron can also shoot psychically control, organic shurikens. Amazing. After being nicked in the face by the ninja stars, Gamera picks up some ice and presses it to his pained head. Later on, the turtle actually dances in hopes of dislodging the stars. This moment is so ridiculous that the kids even call it out. This is, by far, the most anthropomorphized Gamera has ever been.
Round two features more over-the-top silliness. Gamera leaps high into the air, body-slamming the rival kaiju. The movie’s most absurdly memorable moment is when Gamera swings from a randomly placed cylinders, the turtle scoring a six on the parallel bar. As cool as it is, Guiron’s machete-face winds up being his undoing. For a first, the kids actually help defeat the monster, providing the missile that proves Guiron’s undoing. For all the insanity during the fight, the biggest laugh-out loud moment for me comes when Gamera magically welds a flying saucer back together. What can’t that turtle do? If you have a high tolerance for camp and monster suit goofiness, “Gamera vs. Guiron” is definitely a highly entertaining experience.
All together, the flaws are very easy to overlook. “Gamera vs. Guiron” has an awesome monster, hilarious antics, an entertainingly campy plot, and a lovable goofy streak a mile wide. Does it drag a little and are the kids kind of annoying? You just have to take the good with the awesome, man. I can’t call it the best Gamera movie. I can’t even really call it a good movie. But as far as rubber suit insanity goes, this one delivers on some high-octane monster madness. Our world would be lessened without the indelible, hilarious, incredible images this film delivers. [Grade: B]