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: Wrath of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin gyakushû (original Japanese title), Daimajin Strikes Again, Majin Strikes Again, The Return of Giant Majin, Return of Majin (US alternative titles)
Release Date: December 21st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuo Mori
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, Muneyuki Nagatomo, Junichiro Yamashita, Toru Abe, Takashi Nakamura, Hiroshi Nawa, Tanie Kitabayashi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the third and final Daimajin film. These movies were all shot and released in the same year. Sadly, this great concept didn’t continue on like other kaiju and tokusatsu franchises but maybe that’s for the best as every Daimajin film has real quality.

From memory, this was my least favorite. However, seeing them all again after so long, I have to say that this one slightly edges out the other two. I think that the first one had the better story and the second one had the better finale. However, this one seems to be the most balanced, as its story rivals the first film, its action rivals the second while both of those things are really, really good.

This installment in the series is also carried by a group of child actors. This can often times be disastrous or just lack in quality but these kids were great and loveable.

I also really liked the three samurai that were trying to capture the runaway kids. They had good chemistry and they played off of the kids really well.

The story primarily follows these kids on a great journey across a region of feudal Japan. It draws allusions to The Fellowship of the Ring in that way, as they have to reach their objective over a long distance while being pursued by a great, deadly force.

In the end, we get to see the giant stone demon come back to life and crush vile tyrants. This is always the highlight of these films and it is used to great effect, here, even if some of the shots appeared to be reused from the previous films. This was pretty common in Japanese kaiju pictures, though, but at least it isn’t a technique that was as bastardized as it would become in the Gamera movies.

I love the hell out of this series. But what I love even more is that they don’t lose steam and that the series goes out on a bang.

That being said, I’m fine that there are only three of these and the short-lived franchise quit while it was ahead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Release Date: March 24th, 2021 (Asian markets)
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein, Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Based on: Godzilla by Toho, King Kong by Edgar Wallace, Merian C. Cooper
Music by: Tom Holkenberg
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Lance Reddick, Zhang Ziyi (scenes cut), Jessica Henwick (scenes cut)

Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Toho, 113 Minutes

Review:

“The myths are real. There was a war. And they’re the last ones standing.” – Ilene Andrews

*There be spoilers here! No, seriously, I spoil the shit out of stuff in this one.

My review of the previous film in the MonsterVerse series ended with:

The moral of the story review is:
Monsters punching monsters: Good!
Human family drama and storytelling: Bad!

That still holds true for this movie but one half of the human story was really good and the best use of human characters, thus far, in this series, which has now made it four films deep.

This is also the best film out of the four, as it found a really good balance between action and storytelling and seemed to have fixed some of the biggest criticisms of the series. Well, except for the human characters but it did get that half right, as I already stated.

Looking at the human stories first, I’ll start with the bad.

This brings back the daughter and father of the family with all the drama from Godzilla: King of the Monsters. With that, it primarily focuses on Millie Bobby Brown’s character and just uses Kyle Chandler pretty sparingly. Honestly, it felt like Chandler probably filmed all of his scenes in a day or two. Also, this isn’t a knock against these actors, it’s just a knock against how they’re used, especially Brown.

In this movie, Brown’s Madison teams up with Julian Dennison, the fat kid from Deadpool 2, and Brian Tyree Henry, who plays a really annoying conspiracy theory podcaster that I can only describe as a male Leslie Jones. Basically, he’s loud, awkward and unfunny while trying so hard to be the comedic relief in a movie that doesn’t need any.

Anyway, this odd trio easily break into high tech, high security facilities and somehow end up in Hong Kong and just accidentally stumble upon MechaGodzilla. When it comes to them stepping up to the plate to save the day, they more or less fail, but then somehow short out an evil supercomputer with booze from a mini flask.

Needless to say, everything that happens around these characters is stupid, convenient and if they were completely edited out, it wouldn’t disrupt the main story and it’d actually be a much better movie.

Now on the flipside, we get the second group of human characters, who were f’n excellent! It’s almost like their scenes were written by someone else than the other group. The stark contrast between the quality of these two different human plot threads is kind of astounding and baffling.

This other group consists of Alexander Skarsgård, a guy I’ve always liked, as well as Rebecca Hall and the orphaned deaf girl she cares for, played by Kaylee Hottle, who ended up giving the best performance out of any human being in these movies.

Hottle’s Jia is a native of Skull Island and she’s the only person that Kong trusts, as they’ve developed a way of communicating with each other, secret from the adults on the island. Jia is the voice of Kong throughout the film and she is also his conscience at times. Frankly, it’s a really beautiful relationship that was crafted exceptionally well. It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the emotion of their bond and the pain and love they share throughout the picture.

Additionally, Skarsgård and Hall are absolutely perfect in this and if any characters come back for future films again, I sincerely hope its these three.

Now on to the monsters!

As should be expected, both Godzilla and Kong were great in this. Every single battle was visually incredible and it far exceeds what has been done in the previous movies. Plus, we get to see MechaGodzilla show up to the fight in the last twenty minutes of the film.

The special effects in this are just superb. There were even moments where I almost thought that the CGI was a practical effect, that’s how good some shots were. The big final battle in Hong Kong is, hands down, the best action sequence that this film series has given us, thus far. Granted, I hope that now that they’ve really found their footing, it’s just a taste of what could come.

Something I wasn’t expecting and was thoroughly impressed by was the Hollow Earth stuff. Kong and the humans I like in the movie return to Kong’s true home and Kong even sits on the throne of his long dead ancestors. This part of the film also shows us a lot of cool creatures and we see Kong mix it up with some of them.

As far as the story goes, it’s simple, pretty easy to follow but I felt like it left me with a lot of questions that I hope are Easter eggs to be answered in the future. Especially, in regards to the Hollow Earth stuff and the mythos around Kong’s ancestors and their seemingly advanced kingdom.

I honestly feel like this would’ve deserved an 8 out of 10 or possibly higher but that bad human subplot really takes you out of the film when it pops up. I honestly wish all that crap would’ve been wiped from the script and freed up more pages to develop the story and the good characters more. But I think that Brown and Chandler had contracts that had to be honored, regardless of what that meant for the total package of this motion picture.

Still, everything else is so good that I really, really enjoyed this movie. I just hope someone does an edit, removing the bad parts at some point because I’d like to see it and I think it’d make the plot flow better and wouldn’t detract from the movie’s strengths.

I know that nothing is currently announced, following this film, but Warner Bros. needs to get moving on a follow up. Honestly, this is really the only good thing the studio has going for them after they’ve squandered the DC film universe.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Legendary Pictures’ King Kong and Godzilla films before this, as well as the original Japanese films King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes.

Film Review: Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Majin (France, US), Majin the Monster of Terror, The Devil Got Angry, Majin the Hideous Idol, Majin the Stone Samurai, The Vengeance of the Monster (US alternative titles)
Release Date: April 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Jun Fujimaki, Ryutaro Gomi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

The Daimajin trilogy is mostly forgotten today. Many fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks haven’t even seen or heard of the movie. There are several kaiju film friends I’ve met online over the years that were actually introduced to these movies by yours truly. However, I didn’t know about them either until I came across some photos of the movie’s monster online in the late ’00s.

I bought the American Blu-ray set when it came out around 2012 or so and since then, I’ve developed a really deep appreciation for these movies due to their uniqueness and coolness.

They’re not traditional kaiju movies and I guess you could even debate whether or not they even fit the kaiju genre, as they play more like a jidaigeki with heavy fantasy elements. Plus, the monster is just a giant stone statue that occasionally comes to life to crush tyrants and their minions.

My brain categorizes it as a kaiju flick, though, as ever since seeing this, I’ve always thought about how this film’s big stone demon would fare against Godzilla, Gamera and other well-known giant monsters if he were scaled up to a similar size.

The story here is simple and it’s pretty much the same for all three movies despite the smaller details. A tyrant in feudal Japan does bad shit and draws the ire of this angry god, who feasts on the sounds of the crunching bones of a tyrannical army.

Daimajin doesn’t say anything but his presence is greatly feared as he is simply a force of nature in the form of a stone man, cleansing the Japanese countryside of scumbags. He’s unrelenting and will not stop until small corrupt empires are flattened and crushed.

The story that leads up to the monster coming to life in this movie is pretty good. It filled in the blanks nicely and made you have an emotional connection to the people being victimized by the evil bastards that deserved their fate.

I love this movie, the film series and the monster. This is one of the coolest kaiju film series of all-time and frankly, it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. These are much better movies than what’s typical in the kaiju genre.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

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.

Comic Review: Sporkman Goes to Japan, Vol. 1-3

Published: December, 2020
Written by: Eric J. Berry, Charles Bonetti
Art by: Gifney Richata, Gingerfoxy

Wikid Publishing, 96 Pages (total)

Review:

This was a crowdfunded comic that I backed a few years ago. I think that it initially failed and had problems funding but eventually, after multiple campaigns, it got the money to come to life.

I didn’t mind waiting and I remember the price for these three comics as being rather low when compared to other campaigns out there. Being that I thought it was a good value and that it had a strong tokusatsu vibe to it, I supported it.

I’m glad that I finally got these three issues in my hands and I was impressed by the overall quality of the books, the paper stock, the printing and the colors. I work in a field where I manage a lot of print jobs and this did not disappoint in that regard. So extreme kudos to the creators for not taking shortcuts.

As far as the story goes, this is straight comedy and it parodies the tokusatsu, kaiju and mech genres of Japanese sci-fi.

The best thing about this was that it was actually funny and the jokes landed well. I liked the bumbling hero and seeing him rise to the challenge in spite of his generally buffoonery and the lack of faith from his allies.

This was a fun, amusing and most importantly, entertaining comic. It was a value, in my eyes, from day one and honestly, the finished product exceeded expectations.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other comedy tokusatsu inspired comics.