Sunday, April 3, 2016

Turtle Talk #7: GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS (1999)



LUCA:

We round out our adventures in Heisei turtlehood with Shusuke Kaneko’s 1999 opus GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS. Huh? A monster named Iris? Is it going to attack Gamera with its special budokai knitting needle triple stab attack? Maybe stuff him with sweets after he has long ago tried to communicate that no no, he’s quite full up, thank you? Allow me to allay your fears (hopes?) of this granny monster and inform you that Iris is actually the weirdest, most perverted and disgusting monster I’ve seen in all of my kaiju journeys so far. Grosser than Hedorah? I dare say exactly that! But let’s take this all back to the beginning. Our intrepid heroine Dr. Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is still trotting the globe in search of Gyaos activity. That’s right, the disgusting troll-birds have been popping up again, and are still miserable piles of meat and slime. As Mayumi’s jeep cuts a path through the South Pacific jungles, another old familiar friend is reintroduced to us: Ko Otani! The maestro of the previous Heisei GAMERA films does wonders for the film – an already pretty good-looking one, at that – and its ability to transport viewers into mankind’s unknown prehistory. His orchestrations reminiscing on Atlantis of old inject some much-needed mystical ambiance in this monster menagerie… and what a menagerie it is!
For those who were skeptical of Iris perhaps being a super-evolved Gyaos, fret not! Even though Mayumi tells us these Gyaos are “evolved” from their previous incarnations, they’re mostly fodder for the first two acts of the movie, indicating that the Earth is changing and the ancient protectors (and, of course, enemies) of mankind don’t quite know what to do with these man-made alterations to the world. Can you smell an allegory coming? Well, you must have very developed olfactory senses then, because this movie certainly isn’t hitting you over the, uh… nostrils with it? No, let’s stop this sarcasm – I actually quite like the movie not being subtle one bit. The sins of the past are coming back to haunt us, in several ways! Climate change in the form of a mana-overload, driving Gamera mad with destructive power? Check! Long-thought-dead Gyaos returning in evolved form? Check! An ancient Atlantean failsafe monster meant to take care of Gamera if this scenario ever happened? Check! A vengeful teenager who is the perfect vessel of bitterness and hatred to nurture this assassin monster until it gets to proper city (and turtle) smashing size? Check, check and check, onii-chan!
This teenager is Ayana Hirasaka (Ai Maeda), a girl who lost both her parents and her cat Iris (oh yeah) to the destruction caused by Gamera and Gyaos in the 1995 events of GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. In these heady geek times where we all must have strong opinions on whether or not Superman was appropriate in making out with Lois in the wreckage of ten 9/11s in MAN OF STEEL, it is perhaps sobering to reflect that a decade and change before Zack Snyder’s film, Shusuke Kaneko was already exploring the aftermath of city destruction in (still fairly light-hearted!) movies aimed at kids. Laughs are a little bit more sparse in IRIS as opposed to GUARDIAN or LEGION, but it’s perhaps only fitting that things get a bit more dramatic in the closing chapter of a trilogy. I hope you weren’t too bummed out, Travis!




TRAVIS:


I was not bummed out at all, Luca! This is a rousing finale to Kaneko's splendid Gamera trilogy, and yet we are in for darker times. IRIS really explores how horrifying living in a world of giant monsters would be. Kaiju fights are typically destructive yet inconsequential sequences, but IRIS explicitly cuts to civilians running for their lives or getting crushed or burned to death in the wake of the monsters. There's no shying away from the many people being obliterated as kaiju kollateral damage. It's frankly not hard to see why Ayana would hold such a hard grudge against Gamera. Even the heroic turtle himself is photographed to look more sinister by shrouding him in darkness and shadows and having the lighting highlight his razor teeth and the sharp ridges on his shell. A “go go go!” Gamera march certainly would not be appropriate for these proceedings!
Thank goodness there are some decent humans around to ease all of this. Along with Mayumi, we see also see the return of Asagi (the former teenage companion of Gamera) and Osaka (the cowardly ex-inspector/Kirin warehouse guard, now a hobo with monster PTSD). It's nice to see these returning cast members round out the trilogy, but my favorite performance in IRIS belongs to Toru Tezuka as Shinya Kurata, the mysterious video game designer who claims to be an Atlantean descendant. He doesn't do much in the movie aside from delivering expository whatever, but oh how colorful he is doing it! Clad in black clothes with a limp hand always perched on his face, he gleefully tells our heroes how humanity is pretty much doomed to having monsters use Earth as their battleground in such an entertainingly aloof manner. He understands how macabre this all is and perversely enjoys it. He reminds me of Ernest Thesiger's wonderfully campy Doctor Pretorius from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, who also delighted in dealing with death. Even as falling debris comes hurdling down upon his head, Shinya looks up with a wide smile and says, “Oh! This is really scary!” before he's smashed to smithereens.
Shinya may seem like a bit of a creepy guy, yet the creepiest character in this movie probably is the titular Iris! When the creature first hatches from its gooey egg, it slithers around on its many slimy tentacles, and its head and neck are rather... uhh, flesh colored and resemble a certain part of the male anatomy. Ayana nurtures Iris in its first stage in life, but the bond between girl and kaiju soon becomes a little uncomfortable. At one point, she finds Iris in the forest, laying weak from searching for its human companion. When the feeble Iris starts to nuzzle the young Ayana, its phallic-shaped head and neck start to become.... more erect.... and rigid... and upright standing. In fact Iris's whole body is suddenly awake and glows with new life. Also glowing is the amulet around Ayana's neck that gives her the psychic connection to Iris. She slowly unbuttons up the top of her school-girl uniform shirt and grasps the pulsating object saying, “It's so warm.....” in a hypnotic haze. She then walks into the embrace of Iris as its tentacles surround her and pull her in closer and EWWWWWWWWW! Now keep in mind, we're still in “PG-13 for kids” territory, so it doesn't reach hentai heights, yet a cold shower might be needed to wash away the stench of Pedo Iris! Luca, let's get some clean thoughts in here quick! Any last words on REVENGE OF IRIS or the Heisei Gamera trilogy overall?
LUCA:

Oh wait, Travis, let me just… yeah, get outta there, you shokushu, you!
Filthy pervert Iris is truly the culmination of pink movie director Kaneko sneaking in some of his classic sensibilities. While teenage girls feeling connections to kaiju had been a staple of the genre for ages – a girl being “fused to”/“part of” a giant monster most famously being the main plot of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE – it had never been quite so… suggestive as it is here! The framing, the actor’s direction, the monster design, you really need to be a kaiju fan in the single digits to not be getting the strong sexual connotations here. And to think that “jokes for parents” in American kids’ movies are just references to celebrities and politicians!
Friggin’ Shinya, man. You know, Travis, you’ve exposed another of my pop cultural blind spots, coincidentally also regarding monsters, although of a wholly different sort. I’ve never seen any of the classic Universal monster movies! Guess I was always just a Hammer Horror kid growing up. Who doesn’t love Technicolor, set design and heaving bosoms? And speaking of big boobs, that dolt Shinya – lacking the Frankensteinian background you possessed – reminded me of video game legend Hideo Kojima, creator of the METAL GEAR SOLID series and all-around weirdo equally known for spouting semi-philosophical crap on his Twitter straight from between his butt cheeks. Shinya’s haughtily amused greaseball remarks highly put me to mind of Kojima-san to the point where I was wondering if this also wasn’t an inside joke, but I guess it’s just a character type. What I loved about this guy was that he indeed just CLAIMED to be an Atlantean descendant, and the movie just kind of accepts his presence (and running commentary). Equally baffling is Senri Yamasaki as Mito Asakura, a sinister lady whose allegiances I couldn’t quite parse, but very much hates Gamera… for reasons! Both her and Shinya are basically just there to spice up the human scenes with weirdness and wacky acting. Speaking of wackiness, IRIS contains one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in any kaiju film I’ve ever seen so far. Miss Nagamine sits down at a meeting of the MONSTER DAMAGE ASSESSMENT COMMITTEE (the government being all official about big monsters is already funny in and of itself) next to a terminally depressed looking bureaucrat. “Which monster are we discussing today?” she asks. In a drawl worthy of Droopy Dog, the man replies: “Does it matter?” Oh, how I laughed!
The gore-levels in IRIS are worthy of any classic Gamera movie as well: of note is the EVIL DEAD 2-reminiscent climax in which Gamera’s hand is ripped off by the big guy himself after Iris grabs hold of it to syphon off the turtle’s life force. On top of that there’s of course impalement, crushing, Gyaos-disintegration, and the forcible removal of Ayana from Iris’ chest by Gamera. All in all, a splattery good time that would surely have parents raise an eyebrow or three at the appropriateness for smaller kids. Gosh, Travis, I thoroughly enjoyed this Heisei Gamera trilogy! Just a monster-filled schlocky good time with wacky characters and inventive set pieces filled to the brim with cool designs and copious splatter. What did you think, o Godzilla loyalist?


TRAVIS:

As I've said before, I was a die hard Godzilla fan through and through. Seeing Gamera's pandering Showa stuff was merely showing to me how much of a pretender to the throne the big turtle was. It wasn't until the Internet allowed me to explore my kaiju interests that I discovered that much of the Godzilla fan community *GASP!* also liked Gamera! How could they?! That ridiculous flying tortoise with a penchant for hanging with precocious kids?! Relax, fellow G-fans assured me, because he ain't so bad, and in fact, his Heisei movies are quite kick ass! By that time, the only Heisei Godzilla movie I had seen was BIOLLANTE, so I dove into Gamera's 90s era adventures with snobbishly high expectations. Let's see if ol' shellback could outdo the King of the Monsters fighting a big rose plant!
And you know what? I soon became part of the legions of children willing to call Gamera his friend. The Heisei Gamera trilogy truly is a high mark in the pantheon of the kaiju genre. The 1990s was a decade where Hollywood blockbusters became bigger and more bombastic, and they invaded the Japanese box office to much success. The seemingly archaic Godzilla still powered on valiantly, yet when watching his Heisei era output, you can sense a tired dinosaur attempting to fit into today's modern movies. It would only be a matter of time before Godzilla himself would sell his soul to American studio Sony. But Gamera persevered, and perhaps always living in the shadow of the King of the Monsters meant he could forge his own path without being the figurehead of kaiju flicks. GUARDIAN, LEGION, and IRIS are vibrant, kinetic, and bursting with an energy that embraces its past to remain lively in the present. Not enough accolades can be said of Kaneko, who gave us such exciting adventures with that silly turtle that Toho gave him the reins on GODZILLA, MOTHRA & KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK. Truly a man for all monsters! Again, I was a dye-in-the-wool Godzilla fanatic, but Kaneko's trilogy made me yell GO, GAMERA, GO!
By the way, did we ever mention in these reviews that Ayako Fujitani (who plays teen Gamera companion Asagi) is Steven Seagal's daughter? How friggin' cool is that fact?!
LUCA:
As Sensei himself would say, Travis, we are but mice in the house of the eagle...

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