Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tortoise Interruptus: Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle(1999)

It seems hard to believe that ten years has gone by since the third and final "Gamera" film helmed by Shusuke Kaneko was released to theaters in Japan. Kaneko set the bar refreshingly high with the first of these Gamera films, Gamera Guardian Of The Universe, which was released theatrically in Japan in 1995. This movie was followed of course by 1996's Gamera 2: Advent Of Legion.

The classic "Gamera" films made between 1965 and 1971 all incorporated a man in suit to bring the giant turtle to life, much like Toho's classic Godzilla films. The battles between Gamera and his opponent monsters in these older films are consistently gritty, Gamera often wounded, even seriously, and with gouts of blood featured as both Gamera and his enemy kaiju bleed while they battle it out. I've always liked this aspect of Gamera films because the blood and peril, even near death experienced by Gamera in his battles brings a greater(though not what I would call "great") sense of realism to these older films.

The 90's "Gamera" films don't let Gamera off the hook at all: his opponent monsters are tough, vigorously engage the giant turtle in battle and employ an impressive array of weapons all their own, pushing Gamera to the limits of its abilities and will to prevail.

Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle, also known by its alternate title "Gamera: Revenge Of Irys", is widely considered to be among the best(if not the best) giant monster films ever made, even topping the first film in this trilogy. Is it to me? I think it's as good as the 1995 Gamera movie, perhaps better although I still prefer the first Gamera trilogy film because I've always liked the Gyaos design and monster(s) used in Gamera Guardian Of The Universe.

Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle, is a film of often spectacular special effects, and sees the return of familiar characters from the first trilogy film.

In the the third and final installment Gamera continues to wage war and a campaign of extermination against the Gyaos, genetically engineered monsters like Gamera itself. For the first time we see some considerable collateral damage from Gamera's early aerial engagement with a pair of Gyaos, thousands of bystanders killed by the monster battle. This early dire event sets the serious tone of the film well and serves to effectively illustrate why Gamera, who may be considered the protagonist, is still considered a threat by the military and also regarded with fear and disdain by the Japanese populace.

Interrupting Gamera's war on the Gyaos: the appearance of a new genetic variant on the Gyaos, a creature hatched from an egg and quickly named "Irys" by the young lady, "Ayana" who discovers the egg. "Ayana Hirasaka"(played by Ai Maeda), has lost her parents, who were killed during Gamera's fight with the giant sized Gyaos in the 1995 film. Through a flashback sequence we see Ayana's parents killed and the resulting deep hatred Ayana develops for Gamera. Ayana nurtures and protects the quickly growing, tentacled creature she has dubbed "Irys". In time Irys bonds with Ayana and envelopes her in a cocoon. The young lady is rescued by her would be boyfriend but Irys begins to grow and eventually reaches kaiju size.

Meanwhile, "Mayumi Nagamine"(played by Shinobu Nakayama - she's the scientist from the 1995 film who first investigates the Gyaos), has her hands full with the apparent return of the Gyaos. Also enter into the mix ""Asagi Kusanagi"(Ayako Fuijitani), also from the 1995 Gamera film, and "Inspector Osako"(played by Yukijiro Hotaru), who appeared in both the 1995 and 1996 films, and we have the makings for a very welcome reunion.
Irys eventually engages the local defense forces and then Gamera, their battle taking place around and inside the absolutely enormous Kyoto subway station. (no other spoilers)

Things I liked about the film:

1. first and foremost the special effects, which were often spectacular in this film. Kudos to effects director Shinji Higuchi for making much of the action look real, which is perhaps the best thing I can say about the effects overall.

2. the appearance of Gamera, particularly in the head and face. Gamera looks more menacing in this film and his facial appearance suggests a "take no prisoners" mentality from the monster, which is certainly backed up by Gamera's actions in battle in this movie.

3. the reappearance of actress Shinobu Nakayama in this film. Forgetting for a moment how beautiful she is, I thought her role in the movie was well written.

4. the return of Inspector Osako. Osako, who came off as a bumbling, marginally competent and jittery man in Gamera Giardian Of The Universe, takes his opportunity to redeem himself and runs with it very well. Osako appears in the 1996 film as a beer factory security guard, definitely a step down on the career "ladder" from being a policeman. By Gamera 3 Osako is reduced to being a vagrant on the streets of a park in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. With the help of Ms. Nagamine, Osako regains his pride and self respect in time to help out. Give credit as well to Ms. Nagamine, who showed kindness to Osako when he was down, and never showed the former police inspector any pity or condescension.

5. Gamera vs Irys in the subway station at the film's conclusion: one of the best giant monster battles in a movie I have ever seen. The special effects, and the fighting tactics employed by both monsters, are a spectacle. Anyone who questions Gamera's toughness and willingness to sacrifice it's own existence won't after seeing this battle...I guarantee it.

6. actress Senri Yamazaki, who played government official "Mito Asakura", just because she's gorgeous.

Things I didn't like about this film:

1. the bureaucrat "Mr. Saito". Despite his marginally improved treatment of Ms. Nagamine this fellow remains in dire need of a personality and doses of humility. Saito's wooden mannerisms are annoying. Kaneko could have saved budget, I think, by simply displaying a cardboard cutout likeness of Saito in his scenes with Ms. Nagamine and used a hidden tape recorder to play Saito's lines.

2. the overall design of Irys. I don't despise it but I believe it could have been better. The facial appearance of this monster appears, IMO too neutral.

3. the video game guru named "Kurata"(played by Tooru Teduka), a creepy and leering fellow who seemed to live for an apocalyptic end to our planet. An annoying and smarmy jackass in serious need of a mule kick to his behind.

4. the ending. At first I didn't like it all. Admittedly the ending is congruent with the title of the film itself. After repeated viewings I can tolerate the ending better now. It does leave me wishing a "Gamera 4" film would get made.

ADV Films released Gamera 3: The Incomplete Struggle(1999) to Region 1 DVD in 2003.

The trailer for the film: