Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)

Original title: Gamera tai daiakuju Giron

(This is not about the Sandy Frank version, thank Cthulhu!)

Mysterious radio waves from space hit Japan's space telescopes. Space scientists theorize these might be messages from aliens, but since humanity's lacking in proper technology, the only way to meet our brothers and sisters from space would be if the aliens came to Earth. Oh well.

The space diplomatic state of affairs changes when one evening three children - siblings Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tomoko (Miyuki Akiyama), and their friend for the international market Tom (Christopher Murphy) - witness a mysterious object going down through their telescope.

Obviously, the trio goes off to take a look at where the object must have landed the next day, only to find a proper, empty two-person flying saucer (from space!). The boys manage to trap themselves in the ship, and hurtle into space through the judicious random pressing of buttons. Poor Tomoko has to stay home and try to convince her stupid mother and a not quite as stupid, mild-mannered cop (Kon Ohmura) of what happened in a boring subplot I don't need to bother with further.

At the same time, the boys are merrily flying on their way through space, have a meeting with everyone's favourite flying turtle thing Gamera that's just long enough for the big G to save their lives from a meteorite and take part in a little song, until their ship leaves Gamera behind and finally crashes onto a planet.

There, the boys first witness the local monster Guiron making mincemeat (you can take that pretty literally) of a Gyaos just like Butcher Pete with a sword instead of a head, and then have fun with teleporting devices and one of those conveyor belts Arthur C. Clarke once prophesied would replace all sidewalks.

Eventually, the boys meet and greet the only inhabitants of the planet they're stranded on, space girls (short capes! helmets with little horns! ray guns!) Barbella (Hiroko Kai) and Florbella (Reiko Kasahara) who tell them a rather impenetrable story about how their planet's nature-controlling computer malfunctioned, produced monsters, etc. The space girls thought themselves trapped on the planet forever, until they somehow located the little spaceship and brought it back via a remote control. Now, it'll soon be time for them to flee their home and make off to Earth with the boys.

Or rather, with the boys' brains in their bellies, because these space girls may be charming, but they sure are hungry - and also need to eat the boys' brains to understand Earth better, it seems. Oh well.

Fortunately for Akio and Tom, Gamera truly is the friend of all children and will soon arrive on the nameless planet and go out of its way to save them, even if it means to fight a creature as freakish as Guiron.

Of the two biggest series of kaiju cinema, Daiei's Gamera films did identify themselves much earlier and clearer as made for and possibly by children than Toho's Godzilla films, what with their annoying child protagonists, horrifying/funny songs and tendency to be very, very silly. I do suspect that part of the reason for the silliness (and even some of the childishness) was the films' shrinking budgets. It is, after all, much less work-and-money intensive to let one's monster suits trawl through a rocky planet in outer space with a handful of domes than let it crush famous and beloved Japanese landmarks.

As far as I understand it, Gamera vs. Guiron is the most childish of all classic Gamera movies. Generally, that would make the film very much not my thing, but besides its childishness, its annoying protagonists, and its total lack of plot construction, GvG also features two of the most important hallmarks of many of my very favourite strands of Japanese filmmaking: it's absolutely batshit insane and (on paper) completely inappropriate for the audience it was made for, what with the brain eating and monster body parts flying in all directions.

You might think my plot description might give a slight hint of the film's insanity, but the brain eating, the aliens' non-plans (1. get space ship 2. eat child brains 3. travel to Earth 4. profit!!!), and Gamera's stoned facial expression and eye-rolling are just the tip of the iceberg here. Especially Gamera's two big fight scenes against Guiron are a "wtf!" a second - no wonder with Guiron's (who looks like a cross of a little child's nightmare and a sword) main fighting techniques being to saw its enemies apart with its head and to shoot shuriken from its neck. Gamera's answer to that is hiding away in water a lot, bleeding, getting revived by the annoying screeching of children - wearing a facial expression that says "they don't even leave me in peace when I'm dead" - and showing off its horizontal bar gymnastics skills.

In other words, if you like your kaiju cinema dignified, this is probably not going to be the film for you, but if you always wanted to experience what would happen if a kaiju film were scripted by a little boy on drugs, and realized for said boy's pocket money, this is just what you're looking for.


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