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!
3 and 1/2 Gameras.