Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Great Monster Duel: Gamera VS Barugon




Gamera Shy

Great Monster Duel:
Gamera VS Barugon
aka Daikaijû kettô:
Gamera tai Barugon
aka War Of The Monsters

Japan 1966 Directed by Shigeo Tanaka
Daiei/Arrow
Gamera Complete Collection
Blu Ray Zone B


Six months after the release of the initial, very successful movie Gamera- The Giant Monster, the studio released the direct sequel, Great Monster Duel: Gamera VS Barugon (or marketed just as Gamera VS Barugon in various places, for some reason... ignoring the fact that the longer title is what is on the actual print of the film). This is part of the recent and very special Arrow Films boxed set, Gamera The Complete Collection* and, I had seen none of these before this release. Like the first film in the series, it’s an absolute humdinger of a movie.

Despite young director Noriaki Yuasa’s ‘left of field’ success with the first one, Daiei decided they wanted a more experienced director here, since they were going to give this one an 'A picture' budget and it would also be the first in the series shot in colour... so established and respected director Shigeo Tanaka was given the job. However, Yuasa was retained to oversee all the special effects sequences which... well, more on those a little later.

This was a more adult film than the original and, also, not what the series would become... though it really helps, in my opinion, not to have a bunch of kids running around in this thing. Starting with a narrative recap and footage from the previous film, with the monochromatic excerpts tinted slightly blue, the narrative comes back in several key places during the film to explain what is going on and is used as a kind of short cut to keep the action moving. It works well.

Now I’ve called this review Gamera Shy because... well, he’s barely in the film. Instead we have another monster, Barugon (not to be confused with Baragon from the Toho kaiju movies), who takes up the lion’s share of the kaiju footage in this movie. The film, however, starts off by picking up from the ending of the last movie. While the space capsule imprisoning Gamera is on its way to Mars, a meteorite hits said capsule and Gamera flies back to Earth to attack a damn. We have five minutes of great kaiju chaos here and then... nothing much monster related for a good long while. This sequence is presumably a strong kaiju carnage sequence to keep the audience expectations at bay while the strong story and characterisation from an amazing group of actors takes place.

Instead, we have the story of a guy going in search of a cave in a forbidden jungle area, where his older brother hid a giant opal during the war. One of his brother’s fellow army men from that time betrays both him and his other helper and he is left for dead as the human villain of the piece returns to Kobe with the opal. However, as he has been treating his athlete’s foot with infrared rays, he carelessly leaves the red  light on and the opal is in it’s path while he is off playing Mah Jong. Trouble ensues as the opal is transformed into Barugon, who attacks the city of Kobe with his ‘freeze tongue’ and the ‘rainbow ray’ he fires from his Gojira-like back plates. Gamera comes to fight Barugon but, if you remember the freeze bombs the humans used on Gamera in a sequence in the previous movie, he’s susceptible to cold and so, even though he punches a big hole in Barugon’s face which gushes oodles of blue blood, Gamera is easily defeated by Barugon’s freeze tongue and left for dead for all but the last ten minutes of the story, when he thaws out and comes to the rescue.

I really liked this movie. Normally I might find it dull that the monster action sequences are few and far between but the direction and shot design here is amazing. The director utilises elements like highly saturated colours so you’d have, say, a large area of bright red in the background on the left, a mid shot of full colour, and a smaller but hefty amount of oversaturated green on the right to balance everything out. He also uses lots of things to split up the shots and I especially liked some of the stuff in the cave scenes where he literally has the three characters walking about in two thirds of the screen in a jagged aperture made by the frame of the cave while the rest of the screen is just black. There’s loads of stunning stuff here in the non-kaiju content of the film to really excite the eye. There’s even a moment where, on the appearance of a ‘civilised’ character in a village of natives, the camera suddenly zooms in on his face from extreme long shot very quickly in the space of a second to highlight his introduction. There’s nice stuff like this happening all through the movie. Also, never mind the kaiju stuff... there’s a really well choreographed fist fight between two or three human characters much later in the film.

Now let’s talk about those effects sequences. Superb. Some of the best kaiju scenes I’ve ever seen. Noriaki Yuasa is a quick study and he does some stuff here which more than gives the Toho Godzilla films a run for their money. Even the sound design is better on this one. Gamera’s roar is pretty much like an extended tyre screech and, although Yuasa uses that stupid ricochet sound effect again (see my review of Gamera - The Giant Monster here), he only uses it once so it’s not nearly as irritating as it was before.

And then there’s the thing which absolutely stopped me in my tracks and made my mouth drop open. In one sequence, where Barugon is facing off against military tanks, the tanks are basically firing something which look just like the laser blasts from George Lucas’ original Star Wars movie. The blasts are being fired all over the place and it’s looking just as good as ILMs original effects for the Lucas films. Only it’s 11 years before Star Wars even happened. I’ve not seen the likes of these kinds of effects anywhere before 1977 and I didn’t realise they existed before then. If readers could post in the comments section below if they’ve ever seen effects like these, pre-Star Wars, in any other movies... I’d really like to know about it. I was absolutely bowled over by how sophisticated the effects work is here for a 1966 movie. Unbelievable.

So there you have it... that’s the second film in this mighty boxed set from Arrow that’s impressed me. Great Monster Duel - Gamera VS Barugon is a remarkable piece of work and I was so pleased to see this. The Arrow set also has the trimmed US cut of the movie, War Of The Monsters, included as an extra but, from what I understand, I don’t really need to watch that one as it has no alternate footage, apparently. I’m really looking forward to seeing what direction the series goes in from here and now, thanks to Arrow, I can.

*I believe this has since been reissued by Arrow, split into two separate sets.

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