Gamera vs. Gyaos (Daikaijû kûchûsen: Gamera tai Gyaosu)
Japan (1967) Dir. Noriaki Yuasa
Despite the second Gamera film Gamera vs. Barugon failing to replicate the success of the first film, Daiei Studio continued with the franchise undeterred. Combining the child-friendly appeal of the debut and the more serious storyline of the second, the formula that would prevail for the remainder of the series is established here.
A series of volcano eruptions brings Gamera out of hiding to investigate, climbing into a volcano at Mount Futago in Shizuoka to recharge his energy and keep the volcano from erupting again. A research team looking into the eruptions and Gamera’s actions have their helicopter attacked by a slicing sonic beam emitted from a cave in the mountains which they assume is either Gamera or the volcano.
Meanwhile, a construction company wants to a nearby road, against which the villagers are encouraged to stage a protest by the village chief (Kichijiro Ueda), in a ploy to get more money from the company to sell their land. Both plans are scuppered when a giant winged monster called Gyaos emerges from the mountain and captures the chief’s grandson Eiichi (Naoyuki Abe), prompting Gamera to come to the rescue.
The failure of Gamera vs. Barugon must have shocked Daiei Studio but they didn’t seem too disheartened by this, and they came back fighting with Gamera vs. Gyaos. With Noriaki Yuasa restored a director, this isn’t too far removed from the prior film in terms of narrative and presentation, but is back to under 90-minutes long and sees the return of the clued-in kid to act as Gamera’s friend/cheerleader/provider of ideas.
Fans of the Gamera franchise will be aware that the Gyaos would return as the principle adversaries for the 1995 trilogy, this time in triplicate and better designed. Here, it is a rigid looking beast, with a flat head and eyes that don’t move, but can fly so through getting to flap its wings frequently, the actor inside the suit gets to do a lot more than just move around clumsily like some of the other monsters.
Indeed, Gyaos has a varied arsenal – the sonic slicing beam is deadly from being able to cut right through any surface or element (except atomic turtle shell, natch), it breathes fire, and emit a gas from its bottom(!) that can put fires out. Yet, Gyaos is not entirely invincible as young Eiichi has been keeping a scrapbook on this winged terror and has figured out its weakness, such as being nocturnal thus susceptible to sunlight and prone to dizziness.
Quite how Eiichi is able to get close enough to Gyaos to ascertain these facts, not to be mention being able to understand what they mean for someone so young is something we are expected to overlook, similar to how the adult scientists are able to obtain a complete biological breakdown of Gyaos from a few glimpses courtesy of a surveillance helicopter, and decrypt this information so quickly of what is surely an unknown quantity to them.
Eiichi is the template for all the young boys to form a bond with Gamera in subsequent films, though without the American sidekick. Eiichi’s first meeting with Gamera comes after he is left for dead in the mountains by a cowardly reporter after Eiichi acts as his tour guide to give him the big scoop on Gyaos. Karma ensures the reporter is killed by Gyaos but Eiichi is his next target – but not on Gamera’s watch. The young lad gets to fly on Gamera’s back and makes the news headlines as a result yet his fame is mostly downplayed until the military need some advice on how to counter Gyaos.
Regarding the subplot of the villagers protesting the road building, this provides the film with a moral distraction beyond the old vs. new mentality of Japan, with a slight twist. The villagers are set in their ways and somewhat detached from the modernity of the inner city, but for the right price they are more than happy to sell their land and upgrade their modest existences, instead of being self-contained luddites.
Once everything is ruined, the contrite village chief concludes Gyaos was punishment for their greed, an admission apparently sufficient to placate the angry mob who minutes before were about to lynch him. Also suffering as a result of the monster rampage is the construction company, represented by Shiro Tsutsumi (Kojiro Hongo), losing most of his workforce by either death or resignation, but in befriending Eiichi through his older sister Sumiko (Reiko Kasahara), becomes a key player in the Countermeasures Group.
But even with their ingenious plans to thwart Gyaos, it rests on Gamera’s shoulders to do the heavy lifting and there are three clashes between the two Kaiju spread out across the 88-minute runtime. In the second, Gamera actually bites off two of Gyaos’ toes but they grow back again, whilst we are treated to a rare aerial battle to provide a change of scenery for the rubber-suited rumpuses.
Like with Gamera vs. Barugon, the production values are still quite high in spite of the reduced budget, and the story is much more than the functional set-up to give this some resemblance of substance. Also, the insipid Gamera March theme tune makes its debut during the end credits, jarring against the dark content that precedes it, and serving as an omen for how the future films will turn out.
Unfortunately from the next film onwards (Gamera vs. Viras), the Gamera series would coast along with recycled plots, overambitious concepts the budget couldn’t fulfil, and an imbalance in the focus on the junior characters as the human protagonists. Even Godzilla suffered from becoming kiddie-friendly but those films made money so at least Toho were able to deliver on the spectacle front.
Essentially, the run of credible Gamera films of the classic Showa Era ends here, but at least Gamera vs. Gyaos can hold its head high as a solid, enjoyable, and decidedly less hokey slice of Kaiju hokum.