Film Review: Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

Also known as: Gamera 3: Jashin kakusei (original Japanese title), Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris (alternative title), Gamera 1999: The Absolute Guardian of the Universe (UK closing credits title), Gamera 3 (unofficial title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1999 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito, Shusuke Kaneko
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai K.K., Toho Co. Ltd., 108 Minutes

Review:

“Every creature, however unappealing, fights to the last to survive. Humanity as well.” – Mayumi Nagamine

This is the last of the awesome trilogy of Gamera films directed by Shusuke Kaneko. With that, this also concludes the storyline of his reoccurring characters and brings to a close this version of Gamera canon.

I’ve got to say, though, Kaneko went out with a bang and this isn’t just my favorite Gamera film of his trilogy but it is my favorite Gamera film of them all!

This one took a longer break from its predecessor and with that, I think they had more time to fine tune it and refine it from a story and script standpoint to working out some of the special effects kinks.

The end result is a film that looks better and plays better than any of its predecessors.

I enjoy the story in this a lot and even if it doesn’t come across as wholly original (it feels like something lifted from an Ultraman episode), it still works for this film series and provides Gamera fans with a neat, energetic conclusion to possibly the best version of the property.

Furthermore, the enemy monster in this is really damn cool and it’s an unfortunate creature with a personal grudge against Gamera. Basically, the monster Gamera fights isn’t simply evil and its reason for fighting Gamera is pretty damn justified.

That being said, the third act of this movie is really f’n good. If you’re already a kaiju or tokusatsu fan, you should really dig it. The final battle is the best in the series and the final moments of the film are pretty heavy and emotional.

If Daiei really wanted to take Gamera seriously and give fans something great, this is where they truly succeeded. The two films before this one really set the ground work and built a solid foundation but this shows that their efforts paid off and the studio and director delivered.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Also known as: Gamera 2: Region shurai (original Japanese title), Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, Gamera 2: Assault of the Legion (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 13th, 1996 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Maki Mizuno, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Tamotsu Ishibashi

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Tokuma International, Toho Co. Ltd., 99 Minutes

Review:

The second of the three Heisei era Gamera films is pretty good. While I think it’s predecessor is a bit better, these movies are really consistent and much better than the original, really hokey Gamera movies from the Showa era.

Now while I like the first one more, this picture does have one of the best looking kaiju villains in motion picture history.

love Legion, even if the monster is a sort of mishmash ripoff of Biolante and Destroyah from the Heisei era Godzilla movies.

Since Gamera, himself, was Daiei’s attempt at ripping off Godzilla in the ’60s, “borrowing” heavily from a more popular franchise isn’t really anything new for this series. Besides, we’ve had some pretty original and cool monsters in the Gamera franchise and even some of them were ripped off for other films: most notably Guiron was used as “inspiration” for Knifehead in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

This film picks up a year or so after the events of the previous movie, which saw Gamera destroy a bunch of Gaos. Here, he returns to fight what is the biggest threat he’s ever faced in the franchise. Since this era is a reboot of the franchise, those older movies don’t really exist in the same canon but Gamera’s challenge in this chapter, is still his greatest.

This employs pretty good practical special effects for the time. As I said with the previous review, these ’90s Gamera films are good enough to rival the ’90s Godzilla movies.

Now I don’t like this as much as the 1995 reboot but it’s still a fun, solid, “giant monsters smashing everything” flick. Plus, the villain is cooler than Gaos, which might sound like sacrilege to some diehard, old school Gamera fans but sorry, Legion is just a cool f’n monster that was well-designed and looked really intimidating.

Overall, this is pretty satisfying. If Gamera films are your thing, this era provided the best of the lot and they’re all damn consistent.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Also known as: Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen (original Japanese title), Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown (Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Toho Co. Ltd., 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera movies are a lot of fun for hardcore fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks that want to go deeper than just the regular Godzilla films.

However, they were always sort of shit. That is, until this movie came out in 1995 and gave the world a Gamera picture that was taken really seriously and may actually be as good as the ’90s Godzilla movies. Hell, I’d say this is even better than some of them.

This has a darker tone than the jovial kids movies of the original run of films. Also, this has a harder edge and the monsters are more played up for scares than slapstick comic relief.

I like that the studio stuck to using actors in monster suits, as well as great miniature sets for them to wreck while duking it out over the course of the story.

In fact, the special effects for the time and budget are exceptionally good. Quality-wise, this is one of the best looking kaiju movies of the Heisei era.

Plus, I like the cast in this a lot more than what’s typical in these sort of films. The core characters stand out, have purpose and make the human part of the story a worthwhile one, which can often times just get in the way of what audiences really want to see, which is giant monster mayhem. 

This also sets up future films, which for this era in the Gamera franchise led to a pretty impressive trilogy.

From memory, I feel like each sequel improved upon its predecessor but since it’s been so long since I’ve watched these, I’ll refrain from actually stating that until I revisit and review them in the coming weeks.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Gamera: Super Monster (1980)

Also known as: Uchu kaijû Gamera (original Japanese title), Phoenix Dominator (Belgium), Space Monster Gamera, Gamera 80 (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1980 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Mach Fumiake, Yaeko Kojima, Yoko Komatsu, Keiko Kudo, Koichi Maeda, Toshie Takada

Daiei Film, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Space ship Zanon is about to attack. Even Gamera is not powerful enough to stop it. You must find some way. You must!” – Giruge, “Sister, you’ll be all right!” – Keiichi, “Thank you, boy. If it’s true we are reincarnated after we die, then I should be born here again. Goodbye.” – Giruge

This seems to be the one Gamera film that people vehemently hate. I don’t, however. But I’ll explain why that hatred exists and why I don’t feel the same.

One has to understand that this did come out when Daiei was in financial peril. Because of that, they revisited a plan that bailed them out once before. This plan saw them create a new movie in their successful Gamera franchise but in an effort to make it as cheaply as possible and to maximize profits, they reused monster fight footage from previous films and wrote the story around that in an effort to make it work, narratively.

So we’re essentially stuck with the second “best of” Gamera movie just a few years after the first one.

However, this one is better than the previous attempt and that has to do with how ridiculous and cool the story was that tied this great mess together.

To start, it recycled elements of the previous “best of” and had an alien threat summon all the monsters of Gamera’s past to do battle with the giant turtle. With that, Gamera has suspiciously familiar battles with foes we’ve seen before and they all go suspiciously the same way. I do like the alien warship in this, though, as it is a deliberate ripoff of the Imperial Star Destroyers from the first Star Wars movie. In fact, this film even replicates the opening shot of A New Hope.

The grand finale, after all villain monsters are destroyed, sees Gamera take on the faux Star Destroyer.

Additionally, the film has a wacky plot about these three alien sisters that have a van that transforms into some spaceship thing that looks like a glowing yellow ball. They do weird dance movies, terrible karate and try to help this film’s annoying little kid, who is really only there to scream encouragement at Gamera.

The weirdness doesn’t end there, however. This film strangely splices in footage from to legendary Leiji Matsumoto animes Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a Star Blazers and Galaxy Express 999. Why this was done, I have no f’n idea but these two animated shows were immensely popular at the time.

It’s all this batshit craziness that makes me love this movie, though. I can’t help myself. This, to me, is just so damn bonkers I can’t not love it. And man, it just feels like pure, cheesy tokusatsu of the greatest caliber, especially for its time.

In my heart and in my head, I know that Gamera: Super Monster is a terrible film. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a smorgasbord of wonderful, entertaining shit.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Also known as: Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Bairus (alternative spelling), Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Outer Space Monster Viras (US alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Kenjiro Hirose
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Daiei Studios, 90 Minutes (TV cut), 81 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“Attention all spaceship crew members. Attention all spaceship crew members. Gamera has been located. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Prepare to attack at once. Activate the super catch ray.” – Doctor A

This Gamera film is really a mixed bag but due to the behind the scenes troubles that Toei was dealing with at the time, their shortcuts in this film are somewhat excusable and the new stuff is pretty enjoyable for a Gamera picture.

What I’m referring to is that the studio was in financial trouble and they needed to make some money to stay afloat. The biggest money maker for them was the Gamera film series but since money was tight, this picture reuses footage from previous ones.

So on one hand, this plays like a Gamera’s Greatest Battles compilation while also providing a new, cool alien threat and an awesome kaiju creature for Gamera to fight in the final act.

From my youth, this was the Gamera movie that always stuck out in my memories, as the set design of the alien ship was just f’n cool. It’s pretty simplistic and just uses triangular screens and flashing light panels but it’s surrealness just burned into my brain. Plus, the outside design of the alien ship is cool and I always wanted a toy of it.

I also liked the monster Viras, who was essentially just a space squid with a sharp, pointed head and the ability to fly.

The plot is wonky as shit and the overall production is cheap and noticeable, even for a Gamera picture.

Still, this isn’t a bad way to waste some time, especially if you’re a kaiju fan and haven’t seen this one.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Also known as: Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Monster X (US TV title), Monsters Invade Expo ’70, War of the Monsters, Gamera vs. Giger (alternate worldwide English titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 82 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Gamera movie but I do have a few left from the original run of films that I haven’t yet reviewed. I already did all the movies that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but there are still three left that never made it on that show.

This one is mostly more of the same but it does have an interesting bit where Gamera, after a defeat, is essentially dead with a pale head. His body is left half submerged in the bay near the World Expo ’70 site, a world’s fair type of festival that takes centerstage in this movie.

With Gamera out of commission, two kids use a small submarine to enter his mouth and try to resuscitate him. While in there, they have to survive the heroic mission while outwitting killer parasites in the giant creature’s body. It’s weird, it’s neat and it’s pretty cool if you’re a fan of this sort of awesome cheese.

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Everything is on par with the other sequels but this at least stays afloat and has an edge over some of the other chapters because of the sequence with the kids inside of Gamera’s body.

All in all, a decent flick for Gamera fans but if you’re not a diehard kaiju or tokusatsu viewer, you’ll probably be scratching your head for eighty-two minutes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films’ by John LeMay

I am a big fan of John LeMay’s first two big books on kaiju film history, so when I found out about this one, I had to get a copy.

The subject of this installment also really peaked my interest, as I already knew a lot about existing kaiju pictures but this book was all about the lost films in the genre. It looks at films that were actually made but are now lost or destroyed, films that went into production but were never made, alternate versions of films that were scrapped, as well as some fan produced movies.

This is one of the best books I have ever read on the kaiju genre and it is certainly a must own for kaiju fans. It was just stacked with so much information on films that the vast majority of people have never heard about. It truly digs deep and fleshes out all these kaiju pictures that were lost or just not meant to be.

With a third book on the subject, John LeMay, in my opinion, has become the best English speaking writer on these types of films. I can’t imagine how much time was devoted to researching all the titles covered here. There are literally dozens of films discussed and analyzed with a few appendices added on at the end for dozens more where he wasn’t able to get enough info to write up anything larger than a blurb.

I have always been a big fan of “what ifs”, especially in regards to movies. This book is cool as hell and a lot of fun. LeMay deserves a ton of props for the work that went into this. I hope it pays off, in that this book lives on for years to come.

Rating: 9/10

Book Review: ‘The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters’ by Jason Barr

Jason Barr’s The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters is really a mixed bag. It is a book I tried to like and get behind but ultimately, couldn’t.

It comes with several great reviews on Amazon but I guess I’m in the minority here.

The book is essentially a theoretical analysis of kaiju films throughout history. The author uses all kinds of examples to support his theories on the deeper meaning of all these films and how they change with the times. He covers politics, weapons of mass destruction, economics, foreign affairs, etc.

The problem is that the author just reads way too far into these films. Most people who are fans of the original Godzilla film understand the meaning behind it and the warnings it presents. However, most kaiju film after that were purely entertainment. Japanese culture certainly sprinkles in their philosophy and their view on life in many of these films but Barr digs so deep it feels like we are left to bear witness to him trying to make his theories stick.

It reminds me a lot of how conspiracy theorists over analyze things for so long that they can make anything into a conspiracy without much evidence and just a lot of theorizing and speculation. I feel like a lot of this book is cherry picking to fit the conclusions that Barr wants to make. It reminds me of Room 237, that conspiratorial documentary on The Shining, where the bulk of the rhetoric just seems like academic babbling.

Also, Barr takes sides on some of the issues and paints a picture that supports his stance. He also presents his theoretical analysis as if he is speaking factually and not simply theorizing.

In the end, most of these movies were made to capitalize on the kaiju craze of the 1960s. Many of the non-Toho films were just poor ripoffs of Gojira (the original Godzilla film). I just can’t buy into the idea that the writers, directors and producers sat down and tried to stuff so much political and social consciousness into these films, as Barr implies.

Rating: 4/10

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2: 1984-2014’ by John LeMay

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2 is a perfect continuation of what started in the first volume.

The first volume, which I have already reviewed, covered kaiju films through the Shōwa period. That is the era that most people are familiar with when it comes to the Godzilla and Gamera franchises.

This second volume covers the Heisei and Millennium eras. These are the films that were part of the attempts to resurrect the franchises in the 80s and 90s. They are lesser known in the United States but still beloved kaiju pictures.

John LeMay wrote this book in the exact same format as the previous one and I’m a fan of the way he organizes his information. He lists out the essential credits (similar to how I start my film reviews), then he gives a rundown of the plot, goes into the history and production of the film and then caps off each section with some trivia tidbits.

LeMay does a fantastic job of providing real context to each film he talks about. Also, the trivia bits are usually filled with facts that even I, someone who has been immersed in kaiju films for decades, didn’t know.

There are a lot of books you can get about kaiju movies but this and its predecessor are must owns for loyal fans of the genre.

Rating: 7/10

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 1: 1954-1980’ by John LeMay

I love kaiju. I love books. This is one of the best books on kaiju ever written. Therefore, I love this book.

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies covers pretty much every kaiju film from the years 1954 through 1980. It even covers some films that aren’t kaiju pictures but that have some relation to them, like Toho’s vampire films.

Each chapter focuses on a film and it gives a lot of analysis, facts, history and the author’s take on it. John LeMay did a great job of keeping the book straight to the point and well organized. There are several kaiju books out there but this one seems to be the most valuable and the one “must have” of the lot.

It spends a lot of time covering the early Toho Godzilla pictures, as well as Daiei’s Gamera and Daimajin franchises. The book goes into all the attempts by other studios to try and piggyback off of Toho’s and Daiei’s success with the kaiju formula. In fact, it introduced me to kaiju films I had never heard of and I’ve been a kaiju aficionado my entire life. Well, at least since I first discovered Godzilla on television in the mid-1980s.

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies is a fantastic and fun read. Especially, if you have a love of the subject matter.

Rating: 8/10