If you find it strange, like I did, that the two boys who lead Gamera into full-fledged children’s movie territory with Gamera vs. Viras (1968) are named Masao and… “Jim,” it’s because Daiei had entered into an agreement with American International Pictures for the next Gamera films to premiere on United States television. As part of this agreement, AIP wanted American actors to share the screen with the Japanese actors. The fact that Maseo (Toru Takatsuka) and Jim (Carl Craig) both belong to a scout troop is the least strange aspect of the production.
Daiei was on the brink of financial ruin when the fourth Gamera film went into production, and its budget was slashed. Returning director/special effects director Noriaki Yuasa was certain this would be the last of the series. Instead, it turned out to be a hit at the box office. Maybe with the evolution of Gamera into kiddie fare, studio head Masachai Nagata had been right all along, and this was the formula that would finally make the giant flying turtle a star. This surprises no one more than me, who, against all expectations, really… really liked it.
What I really, really don’t like is the use of footage from previous movies, not just filling time as flashbacks, which they do, but also masquerading as new action set pieces. I mean, when the aliens that arrive on Earth brainwash Gamera and send him to destroy a dam, it’s the exact same series of scenes from Gamera vs. Barugon, two movies ago. I didn’t mind it so much here (it was one of my favorite scenes from the earlier film), but I understand the practice is going to become common as budgets remain low.
On the other hand, I’ve previously stated that the Gamera movies aren’t about the destruction; they’re about the monster fights, and the monster fights in Gamera vs. Viras are both spectacular and ridiculous… just like they sprang from the fever dream of a child. They are made with such imagination, I sat and watched in awe rather than embarrassment. Somehow, they tap into my childlike wonder which keeps my adult cynicism at bay. It’s worth repeating that I did not expect to such a positive reaction.
Maybe it’s because there’s also just a hint here and there that it was written by an adult. After being abducted by the aliens, and one of Maseo and Jim’s attempts to stop them has failed, Maseo says, “Oh, damn!” Then, when the giant squid-like monster attacks Gamera, it not only impales him (I believe this is the first of the films that identifies Gamera’s gender), but it repeatedly stabs him. It’s actually gory and kind of intense. In this scene in particular, the aforementioned fever dream morphs into a total nightmare.
As for the adults, Kojiro Hongo is back for a third time, playing yet another character: Scout Master Mr. Shimida. About all he does is laugh at the practical jokes that Maseo plays and threaten to send him to bed without supper. The punishment of withholding food from the kids is repeated throughout the movie, perhaps indicating another nightmare for a child. It’s been a few days since I watched Gamers vs. Viras, but I don't remember anything about any of the other adult characters.
I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals in Gamera vs. Viras, from the spaceship that looks like it’s made of five beach balls threaded on a hula hoop, to the aliens whose eyes glow like lights. (It may have been when Jim lassoes an alien’s wrist, and its entire forearm flies off and sails through the air toward the boy, that I submitted to the charms of the film.) Viras is the name of the planet from which the aliens came, so I don’t know the name of the monster, but with the bottom of an octopus and the top of a banana, it’s my favorite yet. It puts the "fun" in "functional."
Original Japanese Version Gamera tai uchu kaiju Bairasu
Released March 20, 1968
RT 75 min.
Written by Niisan Takahashi
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Starring Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig, Michiko Yaegaki, Mari Atsumi, Junko Yashiro
US Version Destroy All Planets (American International)
RT 90 min.
Home Video Blu-ray (Arrow Video, Gamera: The Complete Collection)