Gamera III: Revenge of Iris
I'm willing to secondguess that the majority of people reading this enjoy Japanese monster movies (let's refer to them as Kaiju films from now on, because that's the kind of clued-up nerds we are) more for their (purposeful or not) comic value than any other quality. You watch a Godzilla film to see him wrestle with a giant golden three-headed dragon sent from the moon by evil, sparkly showercap wearing aliens, not for the dramatic tension or believable special effects. You'd rather appreciate Rodan trashing the Tokyo Tower while the Japanese army vainly try to stop him using a pathetic laser cannon than the finer points of the human cast's acting abilities. They're poorly plotted, badly acted (made worse by some awful dubbing) and the special effects range from bad to worse, yet we still adore them because they're so unashamedly ridiculous - where else can you see an 80ft lizard perform a highland dance on the moon?
Having been a fan of the original Godzilla films and their mid-nineties remakes (equally enjoyable with improved special effects) I approached the 1995 Gamera film with some trepidation - at the time I wasn't even aware of Gamera's existence. In fact, I'll admit that I only bought the film because there was a 'buy two get one free' offer and I'd run out of Godzilla remakes to buy!
Then imagine my surprise when I shove the tape in the VCR and every single preconception of Kaiju films I hailed sacred are shattered before my eyes. The sudden realisation that we needn't suffer inferior acting, ill-conceived plots and slow, cumbersome fights to enjoy a Kaiju film. The sudden realisation that, despite popular opinion, perhaps Godzilla wasn't the 'King of Monsters' after all. Gamera had arrived in my life and changed my conception of Kaiju films forever - this was the standard by which all others would be judged. And Godzilla, as fond as my memories are, just didn't cut it anymore.
Fast forward several years and ADV have finally got around to releasing the second and third films in the Gamera trilogy on UK shores (sadly, the production company responsible will not be making a fourth). Unsurprisingly, my expectations were that much more demanding this time around having held the original film in such high esteem for such a long period - a recipe for disappointment, you might Image 1 of 4. Click to enlarge
Image 1 of 4. Click to enlarge
Gamera III: Revenge of Iris kicks off, strangely enough, right in the middle of the first film. Gamera, during his decisive battle with the Gyaos bird, wrecks havoc on the streets of Tokyo forcing the population to flee or suffer the consequences of being caught under his sizeable foot. Those unlucky few unable to make their escape watch on in terror as the fight destroys the city around them, devastating homes and taking the lives of family and loved ones. The remainder of the tale centres around one such aggrieved survivor of that fateful battle - a young girl called Ayana who harbours an understandable hatred of Gamera for killing her family. Several years later, now living with a foster family in the relative safety of the countryside, she's transformed into a distant, unsociable and bitter individual who regularly entertains thoughts of revenge. When an opportunity arrives in the form of an unusual creature found in the depths of a local shrine, she helps raise the tenticaled monstrosity under the name 'Iris', hoping that it will one day carry out her vengeful designs. As the creature develops at an alarming rate, it looks as if her wish might be granted sooner than she'd thought possible...
The first thing about the plot of Gamera III that might strike you as unusual is the fact that it centres not around a heroic plot to save the day from evil monsters, but one girl's selfish ambition for revenge. This character-led narrative offers a more appealing storyline than traditional Kaiju fare, and despite the inclusion of several genre cliches, manages to remain fresh and original throughout. Ayana's struggle to avenge her family's death at the hands of Gamera brings a new perspective to the Kaiju film, showing us the previously neglected adverse effects of two giant monsters fighting in a heavily populated city - people will die, innocent people, and those unfortunate few that do lose their friends and family will find it difficult to contemplate Gamera as a national hero. It's a great little Image 2 of 4. Click to enlarge
Image 2 of 4. Click to enlarge
This idea of presenting the film from the perspective of an innocent bystander is one seems to have influenced the direction of the entire film, not least the action sequences. As with the prequels, Gamera III's fights are about as far removed from Godzilla's sloth-like wrestling as is possible with a couple of guys in rubber suits - they're fast moving, full of energy, excitement and directed and designed with a flair that's totally absent from its closest rivals -the first time I saw Gamera spin in the air and fly off in to the night sky, my heart skipped a beat. Put simply, Gamera's fight sequences not only set new standards, they're a class apart. Where this title differs from its predecessors is the decision to film a good portion of the fights from street level, in and amongst the ordinary people caught in the middle of the battle. Here we see first hand the exactly kind of devastation and loss of life that has caused Ayana to take such drastic measures against her life-long nemesis Gamera, all the while admiring the ferocious beauty of gigantic creatures that have caused it. Such sequences are not uncommon in Kaiju films - some of the US Godzilla remake's best moments revolved around street level action - but none have been so bold as to shoot the entire film from this perspective. A pity they didn't give it a try, because Gamera III proves that it can work.
This more humane view of such an alien concept also helps (by accident or design) eliminate a few of the more tiresome of genre cliches. One particular fight begins not with a warning to government officials that Gamera is closing in on Tokyo's airspace and is likely to arrive within 15 minutes, but with a burning Gyaos bird plummeting towards the ground with Gamera close in pursuit. Not only have we been given no indication that an action sequence is about to take place, we've not even been shown the fight from its beginning. This kind of innovation helps to further distinguish a film that could have quite easily rested on its laurels and deliver more of the same.
The special effects have also been improved to lend the action a level of realism I wouldn't have thought possible when we're dealing with guys in rubber suits. The model work on the backgrounds Image 3 of 4. Click to enlarge
Image 3 of 4. Click to enlarge
There are a few negatives, believe it or not. The story, while infinitely more interesting than the usual Godzilla affair, can at times become confusing. Several characters, some from previous films, are introduced that really needn't have been included at all. They only serve to complicate matters and dilute an otherwise strong cast of characters. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the whole sub-plot involving Dr. Nagamine and Inspector Osaka was entirely unnecessary and the only remaining connection to the Kaiju films of old - the enquiring busybody who makes it their business to research the rampaging monster, conveniently explaining the details of the plot in the process. It doesn't spoil the rest of the film, but it nevertheless grates that such an innovative film can reduce itself to such tired plot devices and timeworn characters.
The film also ends on something of a cliffhanger - particularly disappointing given the enticing nature of the cliffhanger and the fact they won't be making a fourth. Still, for many it should make for a poignant and fitting ending to a excellent trilogy and one of the, if not THE greatest Kaiju ever to grace our TV screens.
I hope I've done enough to persuade you to experience Gamera for yourself. That said, despite the numerous improvements and innovations it has gifted to the genre, I wouldn't expect a non-kaiju fan to appreciate Gamera III to the extent that myself and other fans of the genre might. To its credit, it successfully avoids all the humour inherent in so many Godzilla films which may alienate those expecting another Godzilla vs Hedorah. This is so far removed from those old Kaiju films it could also be in a genre by itself.
For everyone else, this is a must-buy.
Before reading this, I must warn you, this title is deffinently only for certain people with a certain taste. Most probably won't agree with this review. Lucky for me, it was right in with my type. Yo...
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