Monday, August 16, 2010

Gamera, Absolute Guardian of the Incomplete Struggle for the Awakening of the Revenge of Iris

Gamera 3: Revenge of Isis
(Jyashin Irisu Kakusei, 1999)

DVD Description:
Released by ADV, 2003; additional material: interview with SPFX director Shinji Higuchi, press conferences, behind-the-scenes documentary, promo events, trailers, TV spots

Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

Starring: Ai Maeda, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru, Shinobu Nakayama, Hirotaro Honda, Toru Tezuka, Senri Yamazaki

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Yes, Gamera 3 has a crapload of aliases; The Awakening of Iris; The Incomplete Struggle; The Absolute Guardian of the Universe. Revenge of Iris is the official U.S. release title, so for our purposes, we'll go with that.

This film seems to be the fan favorite of the Heisei series, and not without good reason (although I marginally prefer both of the other films in the series, as noted in their respective reviews). It's true that the monster battle scenes boast some of the finest special effects ever to appear in a daikaiju flick, and the sense of actually being in the middle of a giant monster attack may be the most authentic ever. No complaints there, at all. Where the film falls short is in the backstory department, which—very much like Kaneko's GMK—relies on the trappings of pseudo-mythology, and it's all very muddled and superficial. It does become clear that the Gamera of the Heisei films is but one of a number that were created in ancient days by a highly developed but extinct civilization (possibly Atlantis), for a graveyard of "beta version" Gameras is discovered under the sea.

The film begins with a young Ayana Hirasaka (Ai Maeda) remembering Gamera's first battle with Gyaos (from Gamera, Guardian of the Universe), during which Gamera apparently kills her parents and beloved cat, Iris. She and her younger brother go to a small village in the mountains to live with relatives, who keep them only reluctantly. Ayana's hatred of Gamera is at odds with most of those around her, who believe Gamera is the planet's protector. She discovers that the villagers believe in a mythological monster that lives in a cave, and she goes to explore it. In the cave, she finds a giant egg, and in short order, it hatches, releasing a monster that is obviously related to Gyaos but is far more evolved. It bonds with Ayana as if she is its mother, and she names the monster Iris, after her cat, vowing that this monster will destroy Gamera.

A Gyaos appears over Tokyo, pursued by Gamera, who sends it crashing to earth in flames, killing many hapless citizens. Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) discovers that the Gyaos are rapidly evolving to become bigger, stronger, and more prolific. Soon, Iris reveals itself, now gigantic—and sharing a psychic bond with Ayana. Nagamine enlists the aid of Asagi Kusanagi (Ayako Fujitani), who had shared a bond with Gamera, to break Iris's hold on Ayana, but to no avail. Now, Gamera returns to battle Iris, decimating a large part of Kyoto in the process. During the battle, Ayana experiences Iris's memories, which include killing her own relatives in the village. Beyond that, she also discovers that it was Gyaos, not Gamera, that killed her parents and her cat. She feels completely lost, but Gamera finally prevails over Iris and saves her life. However, as the film ends, a massive horde of Gyaos monsters is seen careening through the sky, heading for Japan.

There is a rather unsatisfactory subplot involving government official Mito Asakura (Senri Yamasaki) and the eccentric Shinya Kurata (Toru Tezuka), who believe that the Gyaos—and Iris, as the ultimate Gyaos monster—are destined to destroy humanity, and they actively work to expedite the process. In the end, Iris destroys both of them, fulfilling their own prophecies of doom.

For what it's worth, the more fantasy-oriented plot works better in context than it does in GMK, Kaneko's next daikaiju entry. Gamera, in the Showa series, became known as a friend to humankind, particularly children; in the Heisei series, Gamera is less a friend than simply an entity whose purposes occasionally coincide with humanity's, though with little or no consideration of the devastation it wreaks. Still, the film's backstory reveals to some degree Gamera's motivation for destroying its enemies.

As the final film of the Heisei Gamera trilogy, The Revenge of Iris offers an unprecedented giant monster spectacle, and ends by setting the stage for what could have been an even larger scale epic, had that ever been Kaneko's plan. As it is, one can only infer that the outcome, whether Gamera might win or lose, would be the ultimate daikaiju cataclysm.

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