Book Review: ‘The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters’ by Jason Barr

Jason Barr’s The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters is really a mixed bag. It is a book I tried to like and get behind but ultimately, couldn’t.

It comes with several great reviews on Amazon but I guess I’m in the minority here.

The book is essentially a theoretical analysis of kaiju films throughout history. The author uses all kinds of examples to support his theories on the deeper meaning of all these films and how they change with the times. He covers politics, weapons of mass destruction, economics, foreign affairs, etc.

The problem is that the author just reads way too far into these films. Most people who are fans of the original Godzilla film understand the meaning behind it and the warnings it presents. However, most kaiju film after that were purely entertainment. Japanese culture certainly sprinkles in their philosophy and their view on life in many of these films but Barr digs so deep it feels like we are left to bear witness to him trying to make his theories stick.

It reminds me a lot of how conspiracy theorists over analyze things for so long that they can make anything into a conspiracy without much evidence and just a lot of theorizing and speculation. I feel like a lot of this book is cherry picking to fit the conclusions that Barr wants to make. It reminds me of Room 237, that conspiratorial documentary on The Shining, where the bulk of the rhetoric just seems like academic babbling.

Also, Barr takes sides on some of the issues and paints a picture that supports his stance. He also presents his theoretical analysis as if he is speaking factually and not simply theorizing.

In the end, most of these movies were made to capitalize on the kaiju craze of the 1960s. Many of the non-Toho films were just poor ripoffs of Gojira (the original Godzilla film). I just can’t buy into the idea that the writers, directors and producers sat down and tried to stuff so much political and social consciousness into these films, as Barr implies.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2: 1984-2014’ by John LeMay

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2 is a perfect continuation of what started in the first volume.

The first volume, which I have already reviewed, covered kaiju films through the Shōwa period. That is the era that most people are familiar with when it comes to the Godzilla and Gamera franchises.

This second volume covers the Heisei and Millennium eras. These are the films that were part of the attempts to resurrect the franchises in the 80s and 90s. They are lesser known in the United States but still beloved kaiju pictures.

John LeMay wrote this book in the exact same format as the previous one and I’m a fan of the way he organizes his information. He lists out the essential credits (similar to how I start my film reviews), then he gives a rundown of the plot, goes into the history and production of the film and then caps off each section with some trivia tidbits.

LeMay does a fantastic job of providing real context to each film he talks about. Also, the trivia bits are usually filled with facts that even I, someone who has been immersed in kaiju films for decades, didn’t know.

There are a lot of books you can get about kaiju movies but this and its predecessor are must owns for loyal fans of the genre.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 1: 1954-1980’ by John LeMay

I love kaiju. I love books. This is one of the best books on kaiju ever written. Therefore, I love this book.

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies covers pretty much every kaiju film from the years 1954 through 1980. It even covers some films that aren’t kaiju pictures but that have some relation to them, like Toho’s vampire films.

Each chapter focuses on a film and it gives a lot of analysis, facts, history and the author’s take on it. John LeMay did a great job of keeping the book straight to the point and well organized. There are several kaiju books out there but this one seems to be the most valuable and the one “must have” of the lot.

It spends a lot of time covering the early Toho Godzilla pictures, as well as Daiei’s Gamera and Daimajin franchises. The book goes into all the attempts by other studios to try and piggyback off of Toho’s and Daiei’s success with the kaiju formula. In fact, it introduced me to kaiju films I had never heard of and I’ve been a kaiju aficionado my entire life. Well, at least since I first discovered Godzilla on television in the mid-1980s.

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies is a fantastic and fun read. Especially, if you have a love of the subject matter.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)

Also known as: Gamera tai Shinkai Kaijū Jigura (Japan), Zigrah, O Terror do Planeta (Brazil), Gamera vs. the Deep Sea Monster Zigra
Release Date: July 17th, 1971 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Fumi Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Eiko Yanami, Reiko Kasahara, Mikiko Tsubouchi, Koji Fujiyama

Daiei Film Co. Ltd., 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the fifth and final Gamera film to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, it is actually the seventh Gamera film in the franchise and there were five more after it.

None of the Shōwa era Gamera films are that great. Really, they only appeal to those of us who have a dying passion for kaiju movies. Also, as the franchise rolled on, the films got worse and worse. While Gamera vs. Zigra isn’t the worst, it is still a pretty crappy movie overall.

In this film, you guessed it… Gamera fights a monster named Zigra. In a nutshell, Zigra is a gigantic shark with a nose like a swordfish. He follows the design scheme of many of Gamera’s foes in that he is very angular in design. Lots of sharp edges mean lots of weapons to try and pierce the shell of our tortoise-like hero creature.

Zigra starts off as a UFO that looks like an electrically charged candy dish with a dorsal fin. It brainwashes a girl on the moon and uses her to do his evil bidding on Earth, mainly chasing children. Gamera confronts the candy dish and it transforms into shark Zigra. Then it grows to giant shark Zigra. Then we get some killer low budget kaiju action.

The film is entertaining enough for kaiju fans that don’t have a lot of expectations. It certainly doesn’t play as well as the Godzilla films of the era but it isn’t a complete waste. It’s dumb, mindless entertainment but it does its job. Realistically, it suffers from being in a franchise that had already run its course while in a genre that was in rapid decline. Kids in Japan had Ultraman on TV and didn’t need to see big monsters on the big screen anymore, as they got them in their living room every week.

Gamera vs. Zigra isn’t innovative. It didn’t bring anything new to the genre or the series. Also, most of it takes place at a marine park and when has there ever been a good movie that took place at a marine park? Jaws 3-DFree WillyRevenge of the Creature? Okay.. well, I can’t knock the Creature.

If you are a Gamera completist, jump in the pool. If you don’t care about the big lovable goofy turtle, then why are you reading this anyway?

Film Review: Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)

Also known as: Gamera Tai Daiakujū Giron, lit. Gamera vs. Giant Evil Beast Guiron (Japan), Attack of the Monsters (UK)
Release Date: March 21st, 1969 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Fumi Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Nobuhiro Kajima, Christopher Murphy, Miyuki Akiyama, Yuko Hamada

Daiei Film Co. Ltd., 82 Minutes

gamera_vs_gurionReview:

“You know, guys… it just kinda dawned on me how weird this film is, you know? It’s kinda goofy.” – Tom Servo, Mystery Science Theater 3000

Gamera vs. Guiron is not a good movie, even for Gamera standards. Although it does feature the coolest kaiju in the original run of Gamera films and it is pretty hilarious in its hokiness.

In this film, Gamera battles Guiron, which should be apparent by the title of the picture. Guiron also battles Gyaos, a villain kaiju from a previous Gamera movie. Both battles are actually pretty cool but most of that is because of how cheesy and ridiculously violent they are.

At this point, the Gamera franchise was geared towards kids. Every movie featured young children with Gamera acting as their protector and friend. This was to give kids in the theater a natural way to relate to the big monster. Strangely, this film has no reservations about kaiju monsters dismembering each other. Guiron reflects Gyaos’ laser, which severs Gyaos’ leg. He then chops his head off and proceeds to cut him up into bits and wave around his fresh kaiju cutlets in total glee.

The plot of the film isn’t that important but in a nutshell, two boys hijack a UFO on Earth, end up on another planet after flying through space with Gamera, witness the battle between Guiron and Gyaos, they then get captured by aliens, they defeat the aliens and then cheer on Gamera as he defeats Guiron using gymnastics moves.

The film is stupid yet it is fun. There isn’t much more to say about it. But I’ll leave this review with Gamera’s version of the “Safety Dance”, as it’s a better look into this film than an actual trailer.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)

Also known as: Daikaijū kūchūsen: Gamera tai Gyaosu, lit. Giant Monster Midair Battle: Gamera Versus Gyaos (Japan), Return of the Giant Monsters (US)
Release Date: March 15th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Tadashi Yamauchi
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Kichijiro Ueda, Naoyuki Abe

Daiei Film Co. Ltd., AIP-TV, 87 Minutes

gamera_vs_gyaosReview:

After the original Gamera film, Gamera vs. Gyaos is probably the most important. The main reason being, it introduces us to Gyaos, which is a monster species that would reappear throughout the series. There is even a later film that features multiple Gyaos.

Having rewatched it for the first time in awhile, I found it to be better than Gamera vs. Barugon. Although I love the kaiju Barugon more than Gyaos, this film has more of Gamera, where the other film really lacked the title monster.

In fact, there are more kaiju showdowns in this film and they are executed better than the previous chapter in the series. This is actually the first film that feels like an all out kaiju war between two giant monsters.

This film also reintroduces the concept of Gamera being a friend and protector of children. That personality trait wasn’t existent in Gamera vs. Barugon. From this point forward, however, Gamera is homeboy to the kids.

As with all Gamera films, the acting isn’t great, the cinematography is just barely passable and the special effects aren’t as great as those seen in the rival Godzilla series. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t enjoyable. It has many flaws but it also has heart and for those who love old school kaiju pictures, those negatives don’t really detract from the excitement of seeing two big monsters throw down.

Gamera vs. Gyaos is pretty action heavy, which is a big benefit. There is rarely a dull moment in the movie and it’s just plain fun.

Plus, the people who designed the villain kaiju in the Gamera films, always created really cool and unique looking monsters. Gyaos is one of the coolest, which probably explains its inclusion in several films after this.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)

Also known as: Daikaijū Kettō: Gamera Tai Barugonlit. Giant Monster Duel: Gamera Versus Barugon (Japan), War of the Monsters (USA)
Release Date: April 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Shigeo Tanaka
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Chūji Kinoshita
Cast: Kōjirō Hongō, Kyōko Enami

Daiei Film Co. Ltd., AIP-TV, 100 Minutes (Japan), 88 Minutes (USA)

gamera_vs_barugonReview:

Gamera was never as successful of a film as Gojira (Godzilla) but it did spawn a franchise of its own that made Japanese kids jump for joy in the 1960s.

Gamera vs. Barugon is the first of the sequels. It is also the first film to pit Gamera against another monster. In this case, he fights Barugon, who was probably intentionally named that due to it being very close to the name of the famous Toho monster, Baragon.

Gamera the flying kaiju turtle was trapped in a rocket in the previous movie but in this, he was conveniently broken out of his cosmic imprisonment by a comet colliding with the rocket. This immediately caused Gamera to spin like a flaming frisbee back to Japan where he decided to tear up a dam.

The film then sees some guys go to a tropical Pacific island where they acquire a mysterious football shaped opal. The opal is actually an egg that gives birth to the kaiju Barugon. Barugon then goes on a bad ass rampage through Japan. He is equipped with a long extending tongue that looks like a Q-tip covered in jelly and spikes. The tongue also emits a freezing gas. Barugon’s ultimate weapon is a deadly rainbow that shoots out of his back.

Ultimately, the two monsters end up throwing down in the film’s climax. The strange thing, is that this picture features Barugon a lot more than Gamera. And when they do finally clash, it is a pretty quick affair.

This is one of my favorite Gamera films. I liked the nuttiness of Barugon and his weird powers. I’m not sure if the people behind the movie were really imaginative and wanted something insane and fun or if they were just crazy and intended for this to be serious. I’d have to imagine it was the former.

While Gamera vs. Barugon is a small budget picture, it has a larger scope than its predecessor. Maybe that has something to do with it being in color but I enjoyed the rampaging of Barugon in this installment more than the Gamera rampage in the original movie.

Gamera vs. Barugon certainly isn’t a great movie. However, it is a really fun and entertaining kaiju flick and a strange alternative to the Godzilla pictures of the time. It was also well above the quality of the Gamera films to come. 

*Gamera vs. Barugon trailer appears after Daimajin trailer in this video. Sorry, it’s the only version I could find on YouTube.