Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 2, 2020)
Just when I thought I was out, Gamera pulls me back in! Every time I watch a film about this giant turtle, I plan to make it my last, but then I find a reason to give another tale a look.
This leads me back to 1967’s Gamera vs. Gyaos, the series’ third entry, but the fifth I’ve watched, as I jumped ahead to 1980’s Gamera: Super Monster and 1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. Will there be a sixth? No comment.
When some Japanese volcanoes erupt, the one at Mt. Futago attracts the attention of Gamera the enormous fire-breathing turtle. After a youngster named Eiichi Kanamura (Naoyuki Abe) witnesses this event, he finds himself drawn to Gamera.
Before long, a sonic beam emits from this location and destroys a helicopter. This came from Gyaos, an enormous vampire bat-like creature. Aided by his connection to Eiichi, Gamera fights to stop this new menace.
Eventually Gamera became known as “Friend of All Children”, and I guess the first movie sowed those seeds. It featured a prominent subplot with Toshio, a turtle-obsessed young weirdo who loved the big reptile.
Although Gamera did save Toshio at one point, though, the film didn’t really develop this “friend of all children” notion in any meaningful way. 1966’s Gamera vs. Barugon completely omits any youngsters as characters, so it does nothing to advance this theme.
Enter Eiichi and we see the formal origins of Gamera’s kid-friendly side. Barugon did push the notion of Gamera as a protector of humanity – I guess, as the movie doesn’t make it terribly clear that Little G battles fellow monster Barugon to help mankind. It seems plausible that Gamera acts out of these motivations, but the story doesn’t elaborate well.
Gyaos manages to make this notion more explicit, again largely due to the connection between Gamera and Eiichi. Since we see that bond, we know that Gamera is a noble creature who wants to help.
I guess this idea makes sense since the series pursued Gamera vs. Whoever as its overriding concept. Though the first movie included no monsters beyond Little G himself, the subsequent flicks all pitted him against ginormous peers, so it seems logical that the filmmakers wanted to add some meaning to the battles beyond just “crush, kill, destroy”.
While I understand that decision, it never makes a ton of sense. After all, Gamera really is just a large, super-powered prehistoric creature – why should he care about humans or what happens to them?
Anyway, the franchise needed an angle to permit story developments, so I guess Gamera’s evolution into mankind defender seems acceptable. It does soften the character more than I’d like, though, as it robs Gamera of some inherent menace.
Which seems to have been part of the purpose. After all, a series about giant monsters will obviously appeal to kids, so why not make this orientation even more overt?
Because it could alienate the grown-ups in the audience – that’s why. And that becomes a potential issue with Gyaos, especially after the more adult-focused Barugon.
No, Barugon wasn’t sophisticated, but as noted, it lacked kiddie characters, and it definitely brought a more somber, serious tone than I expected. That goes out the window with the campier, goofier Gyaos.
Honestly, Gyaos is the movie I expected as the follow-up to the original. The studio churned out Barugon in record time, as it made it onto screens less than five months after the original’s debut. On the other hand, Gyaos enjoyed a more leisurely schedule, as it hit cinemas about 11 months after Barugon.
If you didn’t know those schedules and guessed based on the films themselves, you’d assume Gyaos was the quickie rushed into theaters and Barugon offered the longer production schedule. Everything about Barugon seems better thought-out and more professional.
My biggest issue with Barugon stemmed from its running time, as it went 100 minutes – 22 minutes longer than the first flick, and too long for a simple monster story. Gyaos improves on that concern, as it spans a tighter 87 minutes.
That doesn’t make Gyaos a more effective movie, though, and it doesn’t use its cinematic real estate especially well. While I didn’t much like the human-oriented plot to Barugon, at least it attempted something ambitious – and something different than the original flick.
Gyaos doesn’t explicitly remake Giant Monster, but it still comes a little too close for comfort, mainly due to the involvement of Eiichi. He seems less like a sociopath than the first movie’s Toshio, but he nonetheless offers a clear echo, and he tends to dumb down everything in his wake.
Though the franchise would definitely go even more “kid-oriented” for later films, Gyaos pushes matters in that direction, and that remains a disappointment after the surprisingly somber Barugon. Gyaos does include some “mature” plot threads, but it also relies on much broader performances and cheap humor than its immediate predecessor.
As noted, the 1966 movie’s visual effects fare much better than do those of its 1967 successor. Gyaos sports elements that evoke laughs more than terror, as they consistently seem cheap and phony.
Funny – I didn’t love Barugon as I watched it, but my time with Gyaos makes me appreciate it more. Gyaos probably is no worse than the original Gamera, but it fails to muster any excitement, and its multiple flaws ensure that it becomes a less than enthralling effort.