15 June 2014

The Classic Gamera Series on Blu-ray: Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa. Starring Nobohiro Kajima, Miyuki Akiyama, Chrystopher Murphy, Yuko Hamada, Eiji Funakoshi, Kon Omura, Hiroko Kai, Reiko Kasahara.

This is the Gamera movie that features the “letter opener monster,” the aliens who shave a kid’s head so they can eat his brain, and Gamera performing a men’s gymnastics routine. It’s also the one that decides plot is essentially optional when all you really need is kids wandering around science-fiction sets watching monsters have outlandish battles. This is an outgrowth of what happened in Gamera vs. Viras, only now stretched out to fill most of the movie. But thanks to the reduced use of stock footage and an abundance of bright weirdness, Gamera vs. Guiron ends up as a much more enjoyable movie, and arguably the one that will appeal the most to young children—if they aren’t squeamish about the threat of brain-hungry alien women.

The story could fit easily into a Little Golden Book, or perhaps one of the Marx Brothers’ films from Paramount. Two boys, Akio (Nobohiro Kajima) and Tom (Chrystopher Murphy), discover an empty spaceship that has landed near their homes. They get aboard, and the ship then zooms them off to the planet Tera, where the boys avoid a pair of aliens (Hiroko Kai, Reiko Kasahara) who want to snack on their gray matter. The boys stop occasionally to watch Gamera, who has come to rescue them, battle Tera’s guardian, the steak-knife monster Gurion. On Earth, people worry about the kids, but they don’t achieve anything except brief distractions from the action. Eventually, Gamera destroys Guiron and repairs the spaceship so the boys can go home. Gamera apparently took shop in high school.

The movie is a mere series of set pieces for the two boys to wander through, all designed to appeal to male viewers of the same age. Basically, all the “dull” stuff is cut out, and what remains is colorful stimuli on Star Trek sets with periodic monster fights. The similarities to classic Star Trek are remarkable: the planet Tera resembles most of the Season 3 planet sets, and the constant uses of teleportation machines with “beaming” effects will make any Trek fan feel right at home. The number of teleportation scenes eventually gets a touch monotonous, which makes me think it must have been the least expensive special effect the filmmakers had available.

Gamera continues to ramp up the superhero business. Now the mega-terrapin has telepathic abilities to communicate with children, and can detect Akio and Tom in trouble from far off-planet and runs to the rescue. When Gamera repairs the ship and escorts the boys back to Earth, the final barrier falls down and Gamera essentially becomes Mr. Rogers with a shell and flame breath.

Gyaos may have starred in a superior movie, but Guiron is the best opponent monster in the classic series: the bizarre thing has so much personality, and it takes such a perverse joy in using its massive blade head as a weapon. The fight scenes all take place on the Tera space base, which limits the interesting things the monsters can do, so the staging is based on the monsters’ exhibiting their personality and using occasional ridiculous fight moves—such as the legendary gymnastic spins that Gamera (or a Gamera prop) does with a parallel bar, complete without dismount.

Although it has slower choreographed fights than the last two movies, Gamera vs. Guiron does contain the best “finishing move” of all, with Gamera driving Guiron blade-first into the rocks, then hurling a missile into the slot in Guiron’s head and flaming it until the evil beast blows up. The bottom line is that the fights are adequate compared to the others in the series, but have more memorable moments. Nothing but memorable moments.

Speaking of memorable… the most infamous scene features a third kaiju, originally meant as a new monster, but presented as “Space Gyaos”—the Gyaos suit from Gamera vs. Gyaos spray-painted silver—to save money. To show how tough and mean Guiron is, it cuts down Space Gyaos one limb at a time in a perfect prognostication of the Black Knight sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Guiron then slices Gyaos into serving portions while giving a deep chortle. The original U.S. television release excised this scene, although the 1980s Sandy Frank version restored it—which means that MST3K also got to enjoy this scene. It may be a bit disturbing for the young ‘uns, but here is where the unreality of the special effects work in the movie’s favor.

Unfortunately, the story cannot divorce itself entirely from adults, and the sporadic scenes on Earth interrupt the pacing. A strange film like this doesn’t need comic relief, but we still have to endure scenes with Officer Kon-chan that are filled with miserable mugging. The opening starts as a miscue, with a typical scene of a scientist explaining a situation to a room of reporters who have nothing more important to cover. The sequence feels like set-up for a different movie, since it has no bearing on the rest of the story, and offers scientific explanations regarding alien life that children in the audience don’t need.

The alien situation brings up an irritating point: Did everyone in Japan miss that an alien invasion occurred in the last movie—quite publicly? The adults here are all convinced that intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is impossible and has been disproved, and they harp on Akio’s poor sister (Miyuki Akiyama) as a liar when she insists her brother went up in a spaceship. She should just shout: “Didn’t you see the last movie?”

Stock footage still shows up, and once again it comes from aliens doing a brain scan in order to learn more about Gamera. Mercifully, we only have three minutes to deal with this time around, just a quick jaunt through three previous moments when Gamera helped out children.

When first released in the U.S. on television through AIP, Gamera vs. Guiron appeared under the title Attack of the Monsters. I don’t know why AIP insisted on giving their Gamera films such generic titles like this, War of the Monsters, and Return of the Giant Monsters. At least Destroy All Planets has some life to it. The original Japanese title, Gamera tai Daiakuju Giron, translates as “Gamera vs. Evil Giant Beast Guiron.”

Gamera vs. Guiron has the distinction of being the best of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Gamera episodes. Not only is the film bizarre on a constant basis to supply Joel and the ‘Botsm with plenty of comedy material, but the Sandy Frank-commissioned dub is perhaps the worst I’ve encountered on a Japanese SF/fantasy movie. Not only are the performances terrible, the script idiotic, and the lips poorly matched to the dialogue, but the actors’ cadences are otherworldly in the way they start and stop: no human speaks this way. No aliens speak this way, either. (However, some of the stranger lines that MST3K parodies, like Akio’s obsession with traffic accidents, the constant confusion between “planet” and “star,” and Gamera “dancing Go-Go,” actually originate with the Japanese dialogue.)

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