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

 MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

Gamera-3-poster

bars

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.

gamera rating

 

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: ZEIRAM and ZEIRAM 2

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

double feature_Z_Z2

bars

Unleashing a new column today It Came From Asian Cinema. I am a huge fan of Asian fantasy and horror cinema from the old classic Godzilla films to more modern horrors like Ringu. From Japan to Hong Kong to the new wave Korean cinema, I really enjoy some of the innovative and outrageous films of the Far East and decided to give it it’s own category as it’s time to start looking back at some of the classics, as well as covering things that are more current. I hope you will join me!…
Going to start off  the new column with a double feature of two guilty pleasures of mine, Keita Amemiya’s Zeiram and it’s sequel Zeiram 2!

zeiram poster

ZEIRAM (1991)

Zeiram is a fun live action anime style Sci-Fi thriller co-written… with Hajime Matsumoto… directed and designed by Japanese filmmaker and artist Keita Amemiya. I am a big fan of Amemiya’s films especially his unique design work on the characters, creatures, weapons and settings and his sometimes off the wall story directions. This is his most famous flick and tells the story of a vicious and seemingly unstoppable biological weapon called Zeiram (Mizuho Yoshida) a humanoid creature that escapes from imprisonment, decimating a squad of soldiers in the process, and appears to be headed toward Earth. Planning to intercept and re-capture Zeiram is Iria (Yuko Moriyama), an alien bounty hunter who is equal parts lethal and adorable and her computer partner Bob (voiced by Masakazu Handa). She plans to lure the creature into an alternate dimension and then trap it, but things go awry for the beautiful bounty hunter when two bumbling electric company employees Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru) and Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) come to investigate her illegal power usage and get plunged into the alternate dimension with her monstrous adversary. Now Iria must somehow rescue these two…if innocents are killed, she’ll loose her bounty…and stop the alien killing machine before he claims any more victims.

Under the creative guidance of Amemiya, this anime style take on Terminator and Alien is a lot of colorful fun. It has plentiful action on what appears to be a very modest budget and the FX and action scenes are all very ingenious and creative. The Zeiram creature is very imposing, looking like a mutant samurai on steroids and then transforming and reshaping itself as our trio of heroes attempt to destroy it. The creature has a very formidable personality and Amemiya gives it some very inventive abilities like being able to eat a victim and use it’s genetic material to create other creature minions to do it’s bidding. Each time our three leads think it’s down for the count, it gets up in another form and is back on the attack. But not only do we have an enjoyably invincible juggernaut, but a charming and tough heroine in Iria. Amemiya gives us a live-action anime warrior woman with numerous weapons and gadgets and his star Moriyama gives us a tough yet charming heroine who is deceptively pretty and loaded with sex appeal, even when she’s fist deep in alien minion brains. Iria is an endearing character and she and Ida and Hotaru have a real nice chemistry together and make a solid trio to root for. And as our unlucky electric company workers, Ida and Hotaru both give us two very flawed, but noble and ultimately likable and heroic bumblers who are as equally endearing as our leading lady. They give us some fun comic relief, but rise to the occasion when they are needed most. And it all adds up to 90+ minutes of entertaining Sci-Fi action with some truly original creature and weapon designs and some wildly inventive FX sequences…including some delightfully old fashioned stop motion model animation…on a thrifty budget.

We get a very memorable and effective monster in Zeiram and an endearing trio of heroes to root for. The storyline may not be the most original, but it’s execution is and that’s what really counts here. Keita Amemiya gives us some of his best design work and a really fun B movie to surround it with. A cool, fun Sci-Fi monster thriller from a very unique filmmaker. Highly recommended if you like Asian Sci-Fi flicks or anime or both.

3 and 1/2 Zeirams!

zeiram rating

plus

zeiram-2

ZEIRAM 2 (1994)

Three years after Keita Amemiya’s Zeiram put him on the map with Japanese Sci-Fi/anime fans, the designer/director brings back his sexy and dangerous bounty hunter Iria (Yuko Moriyama) to once again do battle with a new incarnation of her most lethal opponent. Hajime Matsumoto’s story finds an amusing way to bring back Iria’s most infamous foe by having her chosen by a client to test a new, advanced combat robot while she’s is on a mission. But unknown to her and Bob (now voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue) the combat robot has been installed with a Zeiram unit to increase it’s lethality and effectiveness. Bad idea. As she, Bob and new partner, Fujikiro (Hiroyuki Tanaka) are on Earth on a mission to reacquire an ancient alien transportation device, the robot is sent to assist them and then be put through a simulated combat trial. But things don’t go as planned and when Fujikiro betrays Iria to steal the device, the robot intercedes and lays bloody waste to an army of bounty hunters. Iria is horrified, but the worst is yet to come…the Zeiram unit has tasted blood and now takes control of the machine and erects an alternate dimension to begin the all too real combat training and even worse, electric company workers Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) and Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru) have discovered their old friend is back on Earth and their efforts to reunite with her puts Teppei inside the combat zone with Kamiya stuck on the outside trying to repair a Fujikiro damaged Bob and rescue both his friends.

Zeiram 2 is an enjoyable sequel though it falls short of the fun and inventive first film. One of the reasons is the more obvious, that this is the second go round and thus things aren’t as fresh and despite being a different incarnation of the Zeiram character, it has a lot of the same capabilities and thus there are familiar aspects to Iria’s battle with it as there are familiar aspects to the story such as battling in the alternate dimension and racing to escape before it collapses. Another hinderance is that there is a period in the middle of the film where both Zeiram and Iria are indisposed for a while and the film gets sidetracked with Teppei and Kamiya dealing with the traitorous Fujikiro. It stops the film’s momentum dead in it’s tracks till the Zeiram gets back on it’s feet and Iria is rescued and the film gets back to heading toward it’s showdown finale. In terms of the design, the Zeiram indeed looks more like a black skinned, jackal-headed robot, but since it is mostly a cyborg, it doesn’t have the inventive shape shifting abilities as in the first film. It can repair itself and create weapons out of other technology, but the multiple creature transformations from the first film are lacking and that was gooey fun. It also only creates one minion this time, a dog-like creature…the Zeiram unit eats a dog…that has very little screen time or purpose in the story. The action scenes are still entertaining and there are some inventive sequences and effects, but it just doesn’t have quite the same energy or sense of fun as the original. Moriyama is cute and endearing as ever as Iria and she and her co-stars Ida and Hotaru are a fun pairing and the three still work very well together and we wish they all would have gotten together sooner in the story.

I enjoyed Zeiram 2, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the cult favorite that is the original and seems to be more of a lateral move then an effort to expand the Zeiram universe and take the endearing characters in a fresh direction. In conclusion it’s a slightly disappointing, but still entertaining sequel and one that made me hungry for a really out-there third installment, but Amemiya never returned to these characters a third time…at least not yet. And it’s a shame because Iria is a character that had a lot of potential. There is an animated mini-series that served as a prequel with a young Iria’s first encounter with her nemesis, but it doesn’t seem like Amemiya was directly involved and it’s not really satisfying as a part of the film series. Would loved to have seen hottie Yuko Moriyama suit up as Iria one more time and make it a trilogy. At least she does however appear in Amemiya’s Moon Over Tao, a bizarre feudal Japan set Sci-Fi/horror that I will cover in the future.

3 Zeiram equipt combat robots!

zeiram 2 rating

tumblr_m5lxrlGmhG1r9l7xlo1_500

Cutie Yuko Moriyama as the lethal bounty hunter, Iria.

bars