Monday, October 17, 2011

Monsterthon: Gamera vs. Guiron

DVD cover and Amazon link

Gamera vs. Guiron is a movie I've seen many times via Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I was looking forward to seeing the full and proper version of it. Surprisingly it's not that different an experience, even in Japanese- the film doesn't seem like it was altered much for American release, and it's short enough that it didn't need to be cut down too much in order to be riffed on. Like the film before it, it's a slight, microbudgeted affair, but seems to wear it a little better. You really have to treat it as a kids' movie, and it appeals to a child's sense of wonder even if it is goofy as all get-out.

The movie focuses on two boys, Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tom (Christopher Murphy), who see a spaceship land in the woods one night. The next day they venture out and find it abandoned, with the hatch open, and climb right in. The ship, on autopilot, closes up and takes them off into space. They end up on a distant "star" (it's a planet, but even the subtitles get it wrong) called Terra, which is apparently on the same orbit as Earth but on the other side of the sun. It's a desolate and surrealist landscape inhabited by two hot space girls (Hiroko Kai and Reiko Kasahara) and their pet monster Guiron, who fends off attacking space Gyaoses. The two spacewomen act friendly towards the boys and want to come with them back to Earth, but what they don't tell them is that they plan to eat them on the way. It's up to Gamera to rush towards the new planet to save the children, but he has to defeat Guiron to do it.

This is a very small-scale film. While we get some scenes with scientists and reporters milling around as they are wont to do in kaiju flicks, the bulk of the action revolves around the four people inhabiting the entire planet of Terra (two of which are visitors). It's easy to draw a line from the previous movie, which was also about two adventurous young boys (one Japanese, one American) running afoul of an alien plot, and this film outdoes it for economy by removing the action from Earth, eliminating the need for costly scenes of cities being destroyed.

Which is not to say the film is without its wonders- indeed, it makes pretty good use of what were probably limited resources. The planet of Terra is mostly represented by one giant miniature set, with a weird deserted alien city sitting among craggy rocks. It's a neat visual, and a great playground for the monsters, and having all the kaiju action take place in outer space is something that Toho never got around to so there's a certain novelty. The sets for the human characters are a step up on the last installment as well, and though there is some re-use of footage from earlier films, it's not nearly as egregious.

Which brings me to Guiron himself, who is a giant knife. Frankly I'm not even sure this is the weirdest monster Gamera has ever faced, but he's up there, and in addition to his ability to cut through a tin can as easily as a tomato, he can throw giant ninja stars. Guiron's battle with an invading Space Gyaos results in some full-on monster dismemberment, ending with the knife-creature giving a guttural laugh as he slices his fallen foe into cold cuts. It's not quite as horrific as it sounds, but it's out there.

Ultimately this film compensates for its budgetary shortcomings by playing to a child's mentality. The story introduces a bunch of things that, if you're under 10, are really nifty, and uses broad strokes to establish the aliens as bad (they eat children!) and Gamera as good. Not a lot of time is spent trying to explain things in rational terms, and this is ultimately for the best, because it means the story moves too fast for any holes in the story to become too obvious.

So while fully appreciating Gamera vs. Guiron may require looking at it through younger eyes, there are definitely rewards for doing so. It's not so much turning off your brain as it is appreciating what it's trying to be. There's something impressive about how the Gamera series managed to amble along on good cheer, small amounts of money, and wild crazy monsters. This one may be a trifle, but it's a tasty enough one.

Written by Nisan Takahashi
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa

Grade: B

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