While the second part of the Gamera trilogy was a rather disappointing effort, the series bounces back with a spectacular finale. In the three years that passed between movies, the filmmakers have corrected the flaws that detracted from the earlier installments. The result is an innovative and wildly imaginative installment that is also the crown jewel of the series.
The Gyaos are back in full force, this time appearing all over the world instead of confining themselves to Japan. Gamera dutifully arrives to exterminate them, but this time something’s changed. He no longer cares about the humans he protects, and destroys the Gyaos mercilessly with a horrendous amount of collateral damage.
In rural Japan, a young girl whose parents were accidentally killed by Gamera finds a mysterious infant creature. Calling it Iris, she raises it with the purpose of exacting revenge on Gamera for her parent’s death. But this beast is far from benevolent, and is actually a lifeforce-draining entity that could destroy the world if unchecked. It’s up to Gamera to fight off the Gyaos, while at the same time confronting the new threat of Iris. But most importantly, Gamera must remember whom he’s fighting to protect and re-establish his bond with humanity.
“Gamera 3” is a film that succeeds on numerous levels. Back for the third time, director Shusuke Kaneko makes the creature battles no longer just exciting, but now with a realistic brutality to them. This time around, the creatures act more like animals fighting to the death. Kaneko also experiments with several ground POV shots, making it appear as if we’re looking up at the monsters. These shots emphasize just how huge these creatures are, and how frightening it must be to have them in the vicinity and be powerless to stop them. Kaneko also manages the difficult feat of developing the human characters while at the same time moving the film along rapidly, leaving no room for dull moments.
The script by Kazunori Ito and director Kaneko is innovative and smart enough to focus on Gamera as well as other dramas. It’s also brave enough to depict the harsh realities of having creatures like Gamera lurking about. When giant monsters brawl, especially in highly populated areas, innocent people die and lives are destroyed. Never has a kaiju film truly focused on the consequences of having these creatures around in such a pragmatic fashion. The script also introduces an interesting explanation as to why Japan is constantly harassed by monsters, as well as showing a graveyard where past Gameras were laid to rest.
The special effects are again handled by Shinji Higuchi, who gives Gamera a sleek, evil looking appearance that turns him into a dark defender of the Earth. The Gyaos remain largely unchanged in terms of design, but looks far more realistic in flight than before. But Higuchi really outdoes himself with the ethereal looking Iris. Whether rendered by gorgeous CGI or a terrific monster suit, Iris is one of the most fantastic kaiju creations ever to grace the screen, and puts to shame anything from the “Godzilla” series.
“Gamera 3” also features strong performances from the human cast, which manage to avoid being overshadowed by the carnage around them. Yukijiro Hotaru returns as Osaka, first seen living as a homeless street vendor trying to escape his traumatic past. Osaka manages to find the courage in himself to overcome his fears, and redeems himself by joining the team to fight Iris. No longer just hysterical comic relief, Osaka actually manages to appear somewhat heroic at times. Ai Maeda is also good as Aiyana, ably conveying her character’s burning desire to avenge the death of her parents. Probably the most memorable is Hirotada Honda as the eccentric video game designer now in the employ of the government. His over the top performance steals every scene, and he offers a welcome dose of dark wit.
Visually impressive and with a terrific script, “Gamera 3” is probably the best kaiju film to come out of Japan in several decades. It certainly raises the bar for the genre, and dares the rival “Godzilla” series to match it. In the five years since the film’s release, the Godzilla filmmakers have yet to do so.
Shusuke Kaneko (director) / Shusuke Kaneko, Kazunori Ito (screenplay)
CAST: Yukijiro Hotaru, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Hirotaro Honda