Friday, April 07, 2017

Beyond Godzilla: Gamera 3 Revenge of Iris

Of all the kaiju, he is the only one who could challenge Godzilla for his crown. Understandably, Japan has a bit of a love hate relationship with the flying turtle. They can rely on him to destroy even worse rampaging kaiju, but he often leaves a massive swath of destruction in his wake. Tragically, that includes Ayana Hirasaka’s parents and Tokyo home. To extract vengeance, she will psychically bond with a mutant gyaos bird, as troubled teens will do, in Shûsuke Kaneko’s Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (trailer here), which fittingly concludes the Japan Society’s film series, Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema.

Gamera just saved everybody’s butts Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, but Hirasaka doesn’t want to hear about that. She blames Gamera for the death of her parents, which he sort of, kind of, inadvertently really did cause. Such is her hatred for our shelled hero that when she discovers a gyaos hatchling in the woods, she decides to raise it to fight Gamera. Tatsunari Moribe tries to convince her this is a very bad idea. Of course, she doesn’t listen, but she should. As part of an apostolic line of guardians vigilantly keeping watch for earth spirits, he is pretty well attuned to monsters and their intentions.

Meanwhile, Mayumi Nagamine is coordinating government research into gyaos and the increasing frequency of their attacks. She will find a close ally in Asagi Kusanagi, a young woman who once had a psychic link with Gamera, but not as co-dependent and symbiotic as Hirasaka’s connection to “Iris,” the juiced-up gyaos. However, she will not be well served by the advice of Mr. Saito, a former video game designer now working as a government advisor, who also happens to be a borderline psychopath.

Forget the Gamera movies MST3K used to mock. The late 1990s Hesei reboot trilogy marked a dramatic improvement in production values over the more formulaic 1960s releases. In this case, the creature battles are impressively brutal and Kaneko’s screenplay, co-written with Kazunori Itô, even features some intentional wit. At one point, the weary Nagamine turns to a government bureaucrat to ask which monster they will be discussing at their meeting. He replies: “does it matter?” That pretty much sums of the totality of life in a kaiju universe.

Although Gamera 3 still isn’t what you would consider an actor’s showcase, the cast is consistently polished and professional. As Nagamine and Kusanagi, Shinobu Nakayama and Ayako Fujitani get to play relatively proactive and forceful women characters. The film easily passes the Bechdel test if scientific analysis of the gyaos doesn’t count as a conversation about men. However, Hirotarō Honda’s catty Saito just cries out for a Dynasty­-style slap-fest, but he gets off too easy.

Granted, there are still a lot of things G3 that strictly speaking, do not make any sense, but it is a more than credible attempt to freshen up the franchise and realize the special effects at a level equivalent to that seen in major Hollywood releases of the time. Frankly, it is a shame the planned fourth film so clearly set-up in G3’s closing scene would not materialize, but you can’t keep a good kaiju down for long. Recommended with affection, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris screens tomorrow night (4/8), concluding the Japan Society’s Beyond Godzilla series.