Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Unlikely vs the More Unlikely: Gamera vs Gyaos

Gamera vs Gyaos is the footprint on which future Gamera films will be based. A child actor as the main character, ridiculous action, and a goofy opponent. Gyaos is, like Godzilla and Gamera himself, an ancient creature awakened into the modern time. Most later Gamera films will involve some sort of alien invader.

Introducing GYAOS!

The effects are better than previous enttries from Daiei. After some stock footage of volcanoes, the viewer is presented with a lovely Mt. Fuji eruption in miniature, complete with lava flow. Daiei has been honing their miniature craft, and their experience is showing.

Better than the volcano you built in school, guaranteed.

The film owes a moderate amount to Godzilla vs Mothra. First off, the instigator of the human plot is a greedy corporation, this one determinted to drive their road through a village, any cost. We are clearly meant to sympathize with the villagers, although after the initial protest, we find out that they are only resisting to get more money out of the Road Corporation. The Road Corporation laborers are hapless comedy figures who bear the brunt of the villager's displeasure as well as are also meant to be sympathetic. They have no effect on the plot, their time finished when the monsters appear on-screen, and given only a perfonctory closure at the end of the film.

As a team of scientists investigate Gamera's hoped-for death after he throws himself in Mt Fuji, an action echoed when Godzilla gets dropped into Mt. Mihara in The Return of Godzilla, their helicopter is sliced in half by a mysterious ground-based yellow beam. When a group of Starfighters attack, they are also neatly sliced up.


When a group of reporters are taking pictures of Gyaos rampaging through Nagoya, Gyaos's beam slices the car neatly between the diver's and passeneger's side. Except for the engine and the chassis. If you look at the right half of the car, you can see the support strut used instead of the wheel. This particular effect, and that particular bobble, is something that we'll see in another film, also released in 1967.

I got the engine in the divorce.

And introducing the Timmy. Eiichi is the name of our precocious and annoying little protagonist, and he does very little to endear himself to the adult viewer. Our first real encounter with him involves a reporter, a slingshot and a stone. The very close camera angles do the kid no favors, we hear his name a lot. He is subsequently involved in just about everything the adults do. From the military plannng session to attack Gyaos to suggesting the plan that ultimately works. There are worse examples of the supercompetent preadolescent character coming in both monster franchises.

Half of what's wrong with the Gamera franchise in a single picture.

While Gamera films are made explicitly for kids, they do include a lot more bloodletting than the more genteel Godzilla films. Our first glimpse of Gyaos comes when he eats an annoying reporter. When Gamera first arrives on the scene, Gyaos shoots his ultra-sharp beam, and makes Gamera bleed copious amounts of green blood. Gamera replies with his flaming breath, and the initial encounter is a stalemate.

How about a little fire, Scarecrow!

Gyaos is typical of the opponents in the Gamera films. The suit looks cheaper than Godzilla's opponents. Interestingly, it has a pair of weaknesses. One, because of its twin throats, it cannot turn its head. Also, its flesh shrinks from, ultraviolet light. Both of these are ultimately irrelevant, since Gamera dumps its enemy into a volcano. Like Rodan, Gyaos can cause hurricane-force winds with its mighty wings, which is how it defeats the Japanese self-defence forces. After doing so, it takea s flying tour of Nagoya, destroying Nagoya Castle (last seen in Godzila vs Mothra) in the process.

And there goes the castle... again.

In a second, bloody confrontation (Gyaos's blood is purple), Gamera tears off two of his enemy's toes, which are discovered floating in the bay and hauled to a lab for analysis. Luckily, Gyaos doesn't possess the recuperative powers of Reptilicus. It regenerates the toes, but the toes do not create another Gyaos. After some experimentation, it is determined that Gyaos's flesh shrinks when exposed to ultraviolet light. Like the creature's inability to turn its head, this is not part of Gamera's solution, but it serves to give the humans something to do while Gamera is under the sea, healing his cuts.

Really, just another reason not to swim in Ise Bay.

The humans' crazy-ass solution is to get Gyaos, a flying creature, onto a turntable to disorient it. To lure it, scientists will have to create an articifial blood that will lure Gyaos to the spot. Which they do, quite quickly. This is the same wacky logic that led us to multi-ton turtle into space in Gamera. Of course, this fails. The military revs the turntable too high, like the commander melting the relays in Godzilla vs Mothra, and the motor shorts out allowing Gyaos to escape. Poisoning the bait, I have to assume, was too technically complex.

Gyaos is totally not drunk. Now if this turntable would just stop moving...

The next awesome plan, suggested by Eiichi, is to set a forest fire, since Gyaos doesn't like fire, and Gamera loves it. Of course, it works, and the two gigantic monsters have their final showdown in a somewhat less impressive forest fire than Frankenstein and Barugon got. Oh, and Gyaos has some sort of fire-extinguishing mist that it sprays from it's abdomen. Gamera is able to stop Gyaos's most dangerous weapon, the sonic beam, by throwing a rock into its mouth. After that he gets a grip on Gyaos's neck, and hauls him into a volcano. Vulnerability to ultraviolet radiation? Unhelpful. Discovery that Gyaos can't turn his head? Also unhelpful. And then it's a kids' chorus singing Gamera's praises as we see the giant turtle's greatest hits behind the credits.

And now for some prehistoric monster on prehistoric monster action.

Gamera just unable to hold my interest. Yeah, it's a giant monster, but the human stories are so astonishingly goofy. The concentration on the kid, the uselessness of all adults, fact that Eiichi is the only person who can make a worthwhile contribution to the defense of Japan, all make me roll my eyes. Yes, I understand that it was a terrible time in writing and film history. The dead-end plots that point out Gyaos' vulnerabilities and then do nothing with them. Showing us Gyaos's weird powers (it can emit flame-retardant?) and then not using them for anything significant. All of these disappoint me, because Checkov's Gun is a wonderful thing when it is handled properly. But that requires effort on the part of the writer. Godzilla films of the era aren't much better. I really didn't like Son of Godzilla. There's no subtlety, no subtext to these films. They are being churned out on a schedule, which means that if a good idea can't be had, a mediocre one will do, and a bad one will get used if a mediocre one isn't available.

Wait, he can do WHAT?

Next week, the biggest Thanksgiving Turkey to ever grace the screen!

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