ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An American living in London, Jennifer Upton is a freelance writer for International publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.
In the mid-1990s, Japan’s Daiei (later Kadokawa) films resurrected their 1960s competitor to Toho’s Godzilla series, Gamera. A giant flying turtle-like creature nicknamed “the friend to all children.” 1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was a considerably more adult film than its predecessors and was a hit with adults and youngsters alike, prompting the sequels Gamera: The Advent of Legion in 1996 and Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris in 1999 – all written and directed by the very talented Shusuke Kaneko. The first two films in the trilogy are very good. This movie is great. It’s not just a monster movie, it’s an art picture. It’s the Kaiju film that set a new standard in Japanese production for the genre, by which all others that came after we would measure it.
In the first two installments of the trilogy, Gamera derives his strength through his psychic link with a young teenage girl named Asagi played by Ayako Fujitani and fights off other invading monsters – including the giant bird-like reptilian Gyaos who preys on people like mice – not just a friend to children but as an ancient guardian of humanity. In this third installment, Gamera is a much darker deity. The people of Japan are sick of dealing with the destruction and unintended casualties from all our hero’s battles. Our new heroine, 13-year-old Ayana (Ai Maeda) holds him personally responsible for the accidental death of her family (including her beloved cat Iris) three years earlier, during a fight with Gyaos. Rather than see him as a saviour, she wants him dead. When she finds a large mysterious egg in a cave, she nurtures the ancient being and names it Iris. The theme of blossoming feminine maturity emerging in parallel with supernatural abilities is overt. As Asagi did in the first two films with Gamera, Ayana – a dark and brooding girl on the brink of womanhood – psychically bonds with the new entity who absorbs her malice for Gamera fully. The monster Iris grows into maturity simultaneously with Ayana and when she enters adolescence, attacks Gamera viciously.
At the film’s climax, physically absorbs Ayana’s entire body in a marvelous sequence of soft dissolves. The soundtrack cuts a single heartbeat as Ayana rests in the fetal position inside Iris in an amniotic-like fluid. The amazingly hypnotic scene that concludes with the mortally wounded Gamera rising to rescue her by ripping into Iris’s womb. He gets his right arm blown off in the process, proving once and for all to Ayana that he is the benevolent kaiju we’ve all come to know and love. Seeing the error of her ways, Ayana thanks Gammy in a quiet moment as emotionally effective as any interactions Fay Wray had with King Kong. Just then, a massive flock of Gyaos approaches the city. His strength depleted, our weary hero marches off to fight for mankind – probably for the last time. Fortunately for us, Gamera isn’t the first or last of his kind as evidenced by the ancient Gamera skeleton graveyard found at the bottom of the sea at the start of the film. He is one is a long line of guardian deities. Sadly, this would be the final time Kaneko would helm a Gamera movie but he explored the ideas of kaiju as Japan’s “old ones” further in 2001 with Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Daikaijû soukougeki, which was also very good.
Gamera 3 uses both the tried-and-true Suitmation/miniature model methods of classic Kaiju special effects in combination with ‘90s CGI to admirable results. Although few and far between, every action sequence is thrilling. No matter. The plot and characters are interesting. The film’s only deficiency lies in an underdeveloped sub-plot involving a mystical doomsday cult that worships Iris and attempts unsuccessfully to take control of her from Ayana.
When the credits to this film rolled at the American premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles in 1999, the audience awarded Kaneko-san with a 5-minute standing ovation. When the lights came up, he stood up a few rows in front of me, turned toward the audience and bowed, his face filled with emotion. Many people think Japanese giant monster movies are silly. If any film can change that viewpoint, it’s this one.