IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRIS (1999)

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GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRIS (1999)

Shusuke Kaneko returned for his third and final Gamera film and delivers simply one of the best giant monster epics ever made. Not only does Gamera have to once again battle his old enemies The Gayos, but a new and far more powerful foe with an apocalyptic agenda.

The story opens with the return of the Gyaos due to the weakening of the Earth’s energy as a result of Gamera’s draining it to defeat Legion. Not only have the Gyaos re-emerged, but another more highly evolved creature has awakened as well. Encountered by troubled young girl Ayana (Ai Maeda)…who harbors a hatred of Gamera, as she blames him for the death of her parents…the creature she dubs Iris bonds with her and uses her hatred to aid it in it’s quest to destroy Gamera and thus be free to feed on the life energy of all living things on Earth. Adding to the mounting crisis is that the bond between Gamera and Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) was broken during the battle with Legion and he is now once more seen as a potential threat against humanity after an encounter with the Gyaos leaves thousands of people dead. Can Gamera stop the hordes of Gyaos appearing all over the world and also this powerful and evil new being that has been unleashed upon humanity, while once again being targeted by the military?

As co-written, with Kazunori Ito, and directed by Kaneko, Gamera 3 really delivers an intense and powerful kaiju movie like none that has come before it. The mood is apocalyptic and thick as the world and Gamera himself seem on the brink of destruction and Kaneko does not give his hero any quarter as his battle with Iris is almost shocking as to the punishment the flying turtle is willing to take to battle his opponent. Not only is Gamera at his fiercest here in look and actions, but Kaneko’s villainous Iris is a creature of true malevolence and is given a sinister personality that oozes evil to go along with it’s starkly unique design. There are some truly spooky and beautiful visuals surrounding Gamera’s new foe. There is also intrigue on the human side of the story with a mysterious pair of occultists who seem to want to see Iris win and the world plunged into chaos. They work to hide Ayana while Asagi and a returning Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) seek to find her and free her of Iris’ grasp. Working with a modest budget Kaneko chose to stage only two battle sequences, but makes them massive in scale and spectacular in scope. The first against two Gyaos in Shibuya and then the finale against the monster Iris in Kyoto are masterpieces of monster battle action and the FX by Shinji Higuchi are as good as any big budget Hollywood film at the time. Shibuya is left a smoldering ruin and the confrontation between Gamera and Iris that is fought INSIDE the Kyoto train station is simply a masterwork of model building and subsequent destruction. The cinematography by Junichi Tozawa is breath-taking and the film contains one of my favorite all-time scene transitions as Kaneko uses flame to dissolve between Gamera, Iris and Ayana as the three enter a stand-off before the final battle. Simply amazing filmmaking. Kow Otani also returns to compose the music and delivers one of his best with a powerful and haunting score to accent all the other goodies. The result is a monster movie on a a whole new level and it is still one of the best monster movies one can see.

Again, Kaneko gets good work from his cast with Fujitani’s Asagi and Nakayama’s returning Mayumi both showing a maturity and growth since we last saw them and they make a formidable team of heroines fighting on a human level on Gamera’s side. Maeda gives a very strong performance as Ayana whose deep rooted hatred for Gamera blinds her to the fact that she is playing host to a virtual devil in Iris. The flashbacks of her parents death during the first Gyaos attack from Gamera 1 add a lot of insight to her feelings and help one understand why she hates Gamera so much, though misguided. Senri Yamasaki and Toru Tezuka are both very effective as the villainous occultists who feel it is Gamera who must be destroyed and Iris who must prevail and they reminded me of an anti-Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. And, of course, the delightful Yukijiro Hotaru returns as Osako, now a homeless man living on the street who once again gets in the middle of the monster mash.

All in all, this is a powerful and spectacular kaiju movie. There may only be two main action sequences, but they are truly awe-inspiring and very intense and the final battle with Gamera and Iris will leave you breathless. What occurs in between keeps one interested and intrigued as well. There are flaws, but that are easily forgivable considering how much we get here. In true Kaneko fashion, the film’s final frames end on a daring note that resonates far better then any more traditional conclusion. A simply great monster movie…no…a great flick period.

Click HERE for my review of the first two flicks in this incredible series!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE and GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION

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Still being in a ‘kaiju’ mood, I decided to revisit Godzilla’s cinema rival Gamera, and take a look back a Shusuke Kaneko’s epic 90s Gamera Trilogy. When Toho revived Godzilla for the 90s Hensei series to much success, Daiei Film responded by reviving their giant monster, Gamera. But, gone was the kid friendly, silly adventures of the 60s and 70s, Gamera was back in an intense and very maturely written trilogy expertly directed by Kaneko and highly regarded as some of the best giant monster movies ever made, even today. Here are the first two installments for our Saturday Night Double Feature with the third film being covered on Monday…

 

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GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE  (1995)

The first in this new trilogy not only brought top notch SPFX to a series renown for it’s cheesy models and creatures, but also revamped Gamera’s origins changing him from another prehistoric creature awaked by H-Bomb testing like Godzilla, and turning him into the genetic creation of a doomed ancient civilization. A guardian, left here to protect the Earth from forces that would do it harm.

The film starts out with a ship encountering a strange floating atoll drifting across the sea. At the same time a small pacific island appears to be plagued by attacks from some new species of large predatory reptilian birds. Pretty young Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) travels to the island to investigate this dangerous new species while scientist Naoya Kusanagi (Akira Onodera) investigates the mysterious floating island. Unknown to them, their fates are destined to meet as these vicious flying predators, the Gyaos, are the out of control product of genetic experiments from a long dead civilization brought out of dormancy by man’s polluting of this planet…and the mysterious floating island is actually that civilization’s last attempt to right their wrongs and keep the Gyaos from destroying the Earth, the giant turtle-like monster Gamera! But can Gamera stop the rapidly reproducing Gyaos before the misguided military blows him out of the sky?

As Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, from a script by Kazunori Ito, Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe is a fun blast of a monster movie with some of the best Kaiju battles seen in quite some time. Kaneko gives the story some very strong dramatic weight and takes it very seriously, despite it’s far-fetched nature. But he doesn’t take it too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching the misunderstood Gamera battling his numerous winged foes while being henpecked by the military. He creates a very real and down-to-Earth Japan and then put’s monsters in the middle of it for a far more realistic approach than the Godzilla series which tends to present a more fantasy version of Japan filled with laser cannons and flying battleships.  Kaneko also gives his monster stars equal personality to his human cast and we really root for Gamera as he appears outnumbered and outmatched. The script uses the clever plot device of Kusanagi’s daughter, Asagi (Ayako Fujitani, who is 80s icon Steven Seagal’s daughter) who forms a empathic bond with Gamera and relays his motivations to us, as well as, also feels his pain in battle. This connection helps us identify with the monster even more. The SPFX by Shinji Higuchi are some of the best seen in a Japanese Kaiju flick, up to this point, and the battles and the model city destruction are spectacular and fast paced. The monsters are expertly realized and look far more real then they have before, though Gamera still has a little bit of a bug eyed look to keep him kid friendly in contrast to the scarier looking and extremely vicious Gyaos. The music score by Kow Otani is memorable and exciting and adds to the drama and atmosphere and really helps as the glue to lock all these expertly done pieces together.

The cast all create strong characters. Onodera gives Kusanagi and noble strength and conviction yet, shows his caring, nurturing side when it comes to Asagi. As Asagi, young Ayako Fujitani shows far more depth than her martial arts star father and makes Asagi a very endearing character who would appear in all three 90s films and would provide far more of an emotional center for Gamera than psychic girl Miki Seagusa in the Hensei Godzillas. Pretty Shinobu Nakayama creates an intelligent and resourceful heroine in her Mayumi Nagamine and the character’s dedication to her scientific interests never overshadow her compassion as a human being thanks to her performance. Also in the mix is handsome Tsuyoshi Ihara who makes a solid hero as Yoshinari Yonemori, a Marine Officer who first discovers Gamera and is drawn into the events. He is an honorable young man and is very likable for his committing to helping his new allies and country overcome this crisis. Also stars Zeiram’s Yukijiro Hotaru adding a touch of humor, as he always does, as Inspector Osako, a cop who can’t quite handle monsters.

All in all, this is a Japanese monster movie treat that pushes all the right buttons. It’s fun, has some epic battles, strong dramatic impact, endearing characters and a lot of respect from the filmmakers for the material. It’s one of the best examples of the genre and this coming from a rabid Godzilla fan. This series would only get better with the following two sequels…

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

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GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION (1996)

“My name is Legion for, we are many.”- Mark 5:9

Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe was fairly successful and spawned an even better sequel that upped the ante by having Gamera face a terraforming insect from space and her swarm of minions in the most action packed entry in this new series. The story, again written by Kazunori Ito, starts off with the classic falling of a meteor to earth and strange events that begin to occur soon after. It’s not long before a bizarre and large swarm of insect-like creatures begin causing havoc and have taken up residence in the Sapporo subway system and an enormous plant sprouts from under the streets… a plant that begins to effect our atmosphere. Gamera, who has been licking his wounds from the battle with the Gyaos, rises from the sea to destroy the monstrous plant and is swarmed by the insect creatures now known as ‘Legion’ after the Biblical quote referring to demons. He fends them off in a spectacular battle and destroys the huge plant, but not before being wounded and not before the enormous Queen Legion erupts from the ground and flies off. An examination of the plant’s activities bare frightening news…the plant’s purpose is to change our atmosphere to allow the ‘Legion’ to inhabit the planet. They are organic nuclear weapons and the space creatures plan to transform our Earth into a world they can exist in and we certainly cannot. Now, mankind’s only hope is that guardian Gamera can destroy the massive and seemingly indestructible Queen Legion and her swarms of subjects, before she and her kind take over the planet as their own.

Kaneko and his creative team return to the series and present an even more spectacular sequel giving the heroic and noble Gamera an even more fearsome opponent in the huge and uniquely designed insectoid Queen Legion and her smaller swarm of soldiers. The human drama and characters are as strong as before with Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) returning along with some new characters, such as pretty science teacher Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno) and handsome military officer Colonal Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima) entering the mythos. As usual Kaneko and Ito give us human and monster characters of equal depth and strength. The drama is strong surrounding the numerous battles and once again we get the portrayal of a realistic and down-to-earth Japan battling an otherworldly threat. We get three spectacular and really intense throw-downs between Gamera and the Queen Legion and/or her swarm, including a lengthy and edge-of-your-seat final battle in the suburbs of Tokyo. Kaneko is not afraid to put our gigantic shelled hero in harm’s way and Gamera suffers some really nasty injuries including having pieces of his shell blasted off and being caught in the nuclear explosion of one of the terraforming plants. This entry is intense and a bit darker than the last and to illustrate that this is a more serious affair, Gamera’s design has been altered to make him look more like a monster, more mature, if I may say. He is given a massive multi-armed and clawed opponent in Queen Legion, who is armed with weapons of her own to thwart the fireball-breathing turtle. She is impressive and the SPFX scenes of both creatures are once again masterfully executed by Shinji Higuchi and his staff. The battles are even better then last time and the Queen Legion is given a sense of great destructive power and poor Gamera is made to feel the effects of this power and as he is so likable and noble,  we feel it along with him, much like Asagi. Watching the battles here, it’s hard to believe Shinji would outdo himself again in the following Gamera 3. Kow Otani returns to compose the music and once again gives us a strong score that highlights the already strong drama and intense action.

The cast are good here once again. Kaneko directs actors well. Fujitani gives Asagi some nice maturity and growth as she now has come to handle the responsibility of being Gamera’s link to the human race…and has come to care about the gigantic creature/hero. Miki Mizuno gives us another smart and resourceful heroine in teacher Midori. Kaneko and Ito seem to like their female characters damsel free as they are all smart and can handle themselves when the city begins to crumble around them. They are the strongest characters in the trilogy. Nagashima also makes a solid hero and gives some nice personality to a military character. Kaneko also humanizes his military characters far more than the stick-in-the muds that sometimes populate the Toho flicks. Yukijiro Hotaru returns as a retired Osako, now a night watchmen who encounters the Legion soldiers in a warehouse. Poor Osako can’t escape monsters and again provides some unobtrusive comic relief.

Overall a superior sequel to an already far above average monster movie. Kaneko transcends the Kaiju genre and delivers a damn good movie, period. A solid Sci-Fi story, strong drama and some really intense and spectacular battles make for solid entertainment. Best of all, he took a silly character in Gamera and makes us not only take him very seriously, but makes him an endearing hero as well. And things would get even better in the trilogy finale Gamera 3: The Awakening Of Iris. Though the following film is overall the best of the series, this one may still be my favorite as it is almost non-stop action and despite it’s more serious tone, is still tons of fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH-GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2012)

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GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH-GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001)

With continual talk of Legendary’s upcoming Godzilla reboot, I thought I’d take a look back at one of the more interesting entries in this decades long running series.

Normally I would not consider most of the Godzilla films horror, except for maybe the 1954 original…but even that seems more like science fiction. If any Godzilla film could be categorized as horror, this 2001 stand alone entry in the long running series definitely would. GMK portrays Godzilla not only as a radioactive monster, but a vengeful demon whose rage is driven by the angry spirits of all the dead killed in the Pacific during WW2. A creature who enjoys killing and does so often. At one point he actually appears to find and finally kill a young woman who survived one of it’s earlier attacks. With demonic white eyes and elongated fangs he is truly a soulless monster and we watch as he slaughters innocent civilians and his guardian monster foes, equally with no mercy. Even in the original classic from 1954 he was treated as a destructive force like a hurricane or earthquake, but director Shusuke Kaneko (director of the awesome Gamera series of the 90s) brings us a Godzilla who is pure evil, one of the most savage and vicious Godzillas ever.

The story presents a Japan that hasn’t seen Godzilla since 1954, but it’s body was never found and the island nation has been forever vigilant watching for signs of the creature’s return…and with the disappearance of a nuclear sub, that return may have come. As Japan braces for the worst, other monsters appear, too. Yuri, (Chiharu Niiyama) a reporter for a paranormal show, begins to investigate and finds that Godzilla’a return to terrorize Japan has been foreseen and the only hope is from three guardian monsters, Mothra, Baragon and King Ghidorah…the first time in the series that the three headed gold dragon is a good guy…who will rise to defend the land. Caught in the middle of Godzilla’s path of destruction and his inevitable showdown with the monster guardians, is not only Yuri, who tries to cover the nightmare unfolding, but her military father Taizo (Ryūdō Uzaki) who has to somehow stop the rampaging leviathan from flattening his beloved homeland.

Kaneko gives this Godzilla flick a more supernatural tone and a more mythic background. To simplify, Kaneko’s Godzilla is a demon evoked by mankind’s evils and his three opponents are monster deities come to save the Japanese people from the demonic force created from their own misdeeds. The SPFX in this entry are quite good with CGI used to enhance the FX sequences and not become them. Godzilla and his foes are still men in suits or animatronics, except for a few shots, one with a resurrected King Ghidorah being obvious CGI. The battle sequences are fast paced with the early-on battle between Godzilla and Baragon being especially intense and vicious. The much smaller Baragon tenaciously attacking the far larger and stronger Godzilla, like a gigantic reptilian pit bull, is one of the film’s best sequences. Sadly, that is one thing that I consider one of the film’s missteps. Godzilla is so much larger than his opponents, there seems to be no hope that they can win. True, he is the bad guy here and sure needs to appear unstoppable, but he comes across as a big bully and his opponents never seem to have much of a chance. We know from the start that if he is to be stopped, it will be by some other means. Still, the battles are spectacular and Kaneko’s visual style is striking here as always. A shot of Mothra attacking Godzilla while her wings are on fire is a perfect example of Kaneko’s command of his camera lens. The human characters are well acted and are likable and Kaneko’s Japan is a more down to earth Japan than we are used to seeing in Godzilla films. There are no laser cannons, or giant robots to come to Japan’s defense, just traditional military hardware and that makes it far more dramatic to see how little they have to work with when facing the radioactive fury that Godzilla unleashes on Japan. The film is further enhanced by a great electronic score by Gamera composer Kow Otani which moodily suits the story and visuals.

All in all, GMK is a unique stand alone entry in the Godzilla series that is very entertaining and gives a talented filmmaker a chance to give the classic character a fresh perspective. Not everything works. His opponents are a little too outmatched from the start, King Ghidorah is one of the worst incarnations of the character in terms of it’s design with it’s short necks and floppy wings and the Mothra marionette lacks the usual fur and thus looks a bit plastic. Otherwise the FX are top notch for this type of flick and we are given one of the most fierce incarnations of Godzilla since he first waded on shore in 1954.  Definitely one of the better of the Millennium series Godzilla films that ended in 2004 with the final Japanese entry, Godzilla Final Wars.

Rated 3 (out of 4) battling behemoths!

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