Saturday, February 4, 2012

Return of the Giant Monsters

Gamera vs. Gyaos
(Daikaiju Kuchusen: Gamera Tai Gyaos, 1967)

DVD Description: Released by Shout! Factory, (2010; double-billed with Gamera vs. Viras); Japanese version with subtitles; original AIP dub; Sandy Frank dub, publicity gallery

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa

Starring Kôjirô Hongô, Kichijirô Ueda, Reiko Kasahara, Naoyuki Abe, Taro Marui, Yukitaro Hotaru, Yoshirô Kitahara

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

With the third Gamera film of the Showa era, one can clearly see that, for Daiei Studios, a period of declining budgets and a focus on younger viewers was in the offing. While Gamera vs. Gyaos has more in common with its marginally grimmer-toned predecessors than with the juvenile romps that were to come, the increasing budget constraints of the day lend the special effects a cheesier quality than either of the preceding films, and the storyline ventures farther than ever before into the domain of the ludicrous. The Gamera suit is clearly cheaper and less menacing in appearance than the previous two, reflecting the monster's definitive transition from marauding daikaiju to savior of the earth's children. Gyaos is an interesting enough creation, clearly inspired by Rodan; however, the suit is poorly realized, far less convincing than even the inferior Rodan suit designs of the mid-to-late 1960s.

Ironically, despite their predominantly juvenile tone, several of the Gamera films—perhaps this one above all—do anything but shy away from relatively graphic violence. Gyaos is quite clearly carnivorous in this movie, and our protagonists even exploit the monster's taste for human blood in their attempts to destroy it.

One can't deny the imaginative allure of film's plot. An engineering corp building a new highway through the forest near Mt. Fuji encounters an unseen, horrifying unknown—something capable of emitting a highly destructive sonic beam. A team surveying the area is killed when the beam emanates from the forest and obliterates their helicopter. A reporter arrives to investigate the situation and ventures into the forest with a young boy named Eiichi from the nearby village. The monster Gyaos appears, and the reporter leaves Eiichi behind while attempting to escape. Gyaos devours the man, and it's not looking too good for Eiichi until Gamera appears and engages Gyaos in battle. Gamera saves Eiichi by placing him on its back and flying him away.

Scientists identify Gyaos as a type of prehistoric monster, whose unique, twin vertebrae structure functions as a kind of tuning fork to generate its sonic beam. Gyaos is vulnerable to fire and even sunlight, but despite this handicap, it remains powerful enough to severely injure Gamera during their next battle. Gamera retreats to the ocean to recuperate and Gyaos sets out to wreak havoc in the city of Nagoya. With some of its strength restored, Gamera attacks Gyaos again and attempts to destroy it by restraining it in the ocean as the sun rises. However, Gyaos uses its beam to sever its own foot and make its escape.

The Japanese Self-Defense Force attempts to entrap Gyaos by constructing a rotating platform filled with synthetic human blood (True Blood?), the idea being that the rotation will affect Gyaos's equilibrium and keep it immobile until the sunlight destroys it. Unfortunately, however clever, this endeavor fails. Now Gamera appears and engages Gyaos in battle once again, and this time, the big turtle manages to keep Gyaos from escaping the sunlight. Weakened, Gyaos succumbs to Gamera's superior strength and is finally destroyed.

Gamera vs. Gyaos never received a theatrical release in the United States. Instead, in 1968, AIP-TV released the film directly to television under the title Return of the Giant Monsters. In the 1980s, Sandy Frank released a number of the Gamera films with new (and mostly atrocious) dubbing to the American television market. This, and several other of the Sandy Frank–released Gamera films, frequently appeared on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

The Shout! Factory DVD release this time is a double-feature; Gamera vs. Gyaos is paired with Gamera vs. Viras, Daiei's next—and far sillier—entry in the series. The video and audio quality are quite good, per Shout! Factory's usual standards, and it's definitely a bargain to get two for the price of one. I must say, I'm glad that the original Gamera and Gamera vs. Barugon came out as single DVD releases, being that both are superior films and certainly warrant the more "respectful" treatment. As far as Shout! Factory is concerned, they probably make out better pairing the subsequent films as they have.

Despite its limited appeal, at least for me personally, seeing the entire Gamera series given a decent-quality DVD release is indeed a fine thing for us hardcore daikaiju enthusiasts.

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