Following the surprise box office success of Gamera: The Giant Monster, Daiei Studios put more money, but not more time, into producing a sequel. A mere six months after the original film was released, Gamera vs. Barugon (1966) opened in Japanese theaters. Based on what everyone learned during the low-budget process of making the first film, director Noriaki Yuasa became the director of special effects, and Shigeo Tanaka, one of Daiei’s best, became the director. Having seen both movies now, I prefer this one for a variety of reasons.
First of all, it’s made in glorious Technicolor! I have nothing against black-and-white, but the black-and-white in Gamera: The Giant Monster was not glorious black-and-white, at least not on the Arrow Blu-ray version. (The picture was not crystal clear, and sometimes even murky.) The presentation of Gamera vs. Barugon is absolutely beautiful. (The picture is crystal clear and always bright.) I’m not sure if it was the same Gamera costume, but the giant turtle looks better in color, even, dare I say, more realistic.
Next, I love Gamera’s nemesis, Barugon. It doesn’t look quite as good (or “realistic”) as Gamera; however, I love its powers. Out of its mouth shoots a long tongue with a bulbous tip that emits a freezing spray. (It looks kind of like the powdered mist from a fire extinguisher.) And out of the spikes on its back, when they’re lit, shoots… a rainbow. Yeah, so that sounds a little silly, but that rainbow causes widespread destruction, causing entire lines of artillery to explode. There’s no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow!
Next, I like the fact that there’s not a child to be found in the main plot. It’s a very adult story about hidden gems and back-stabbing thieves. Now, that’s both good and bad. After a terrific opening that recaps the first movie, then immediately depicts the Gamera-rocket crashing into a meteorite, Gamera seeks sustenance and attacks Karobe Dam. It’s awesome! However, we don’t see Gamera again until about 50 minutes later. (Barugon first appears 36 minutes into the film.)
I normally avoid the American versions that take liberties when editing the Japanese versions; however, at 106 minutes, Gamera vs. Barugon is the longest Gamera movie we’re going to see during GaMAYra, and it could stand to be trimmed. The American version, War of the Monsters, is a mere 88 minutes. It didn’t drag to me, but when Yuasa saw kids squirming in their seats during a screening, it didn’t necessarily mean, like he thought, that the series (in only its second outing) had lost touch with its audience… it may have meant it was just too darned long.
Back to the adult story… I know it’s not terribly original, but I really liked the cast through which it was told. As Keisuke Hirata, the hero who is unintentionally involved with releasing Barugon into the world (and takes responsibility for it even though we don’t blame him), Kojiro Hongo is one of the hunkiest male leads I’ve seen in a kaiju film, Toho or Daiei. The filmmakers take advantage of his physique, showing it off in muscle tees while he’s performing manual labor. Why, his skin practically glistens in the light.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you may or may not agree with me on that. You’d have to not recognize beauty at all to disagree with me about the female lead, though. As Karen, the native woman who returns to Japan with Hirata to help stop Barugon, Kyoko Enami is truly the loveliest woman I’ve seen in a kaiju film, Toho or Daiei. I’m being superficial, but it doesn’t hurt a movie when its characters are easy on the eyes. Plus, you’ve got to balance the ugliness of the monsters with some pretty faces.
As Onodera, the treacherous man who betrays the other members of his team, Koji Fujiyama is truly despicable. You want him to get what’s coming to him, but it can’t happen soon enough. (When it does, though, it’s wonderful.) As Harata’s brother, Ichiro, Akira Natsuki is sympathetic in his desire to retrieve an opal he hid in a cave in New Guinea 20 years ago during “the war.” He’s just underutilized, sending Harata, Onodera, and Kawajiri (Yuzo Hayakawa) to New Guinea to find it while he waits at home worrying.
These components are all good, but what about the one we’re really interested in… the monsters? Well, the opal is actually an egg and when Onodera exposes it to infrared light (he has athlete’s foot), Barugon hatches and goes on a rampage. Gamera senses the energy of the rainbow and attacks. However, Barugon sticks out his tongue and freezes it, leaving our heroes and the military desperate to stop Barugon. Frozen things thaw, though, and Gamera rises to spin through the sky again and act as an ally, not an enemy.
The special effects are notably improved in Gamera vs. Barugon. Instead of one-dimensional cardboard walls collapsing from buildings, there’s depth and texture to the destruction. I don’t believe there’s as much of the destruction, but there’s more fighting between the monsters. The exception is the opening scene where Gamera attacks the dam. He spins and continually rams the dam until it breaks, water exploding from the broken concrete. I didn’t dislike Gamera: The Giant Monster, but I liked Gamera vs. Barugon a lot more.
Original Japanese Version Daikaiju ketto: Gamera tai Barugon
Released April 17, 1966
RT 106 min.
Written by Niisan Takahashi
Directed by Shigeo Tanaka
Starring Kojiro Hongo, Kyoko Enami, Yuzo Hayakawa, Takuya Fujioka, Koji Fujiyama, Akira Natsuki, Yoshiro Kitahara, Ichiro Sugai
US Version War of the Monsters
RT 88 min.
Home Video Blu-ray (Arrow Video, Gamera: The Complete Collection)