Direction: Shusuke Kaneko
Screenplay: Kazunori Ito and Shusuke Kaneko
Music: Ko Otani
Special Effects: Shinji Higuchi
Monster Suits: Tomo Haraguchi
Gamera: Revenge of Iris is, in many ways, the gifted stepchild of its less cerebral
kaiju eiga siblings. Bristling with strangeness, the film’s tone is dark, its intentions serious, its
depiction of warring kaiju nothing short of ground-breaking. Never
have I seen a monster battle as realistic and compelling as that
between Gamera and Gyaos in Shibuya. The low camera angles work
beautifully -- almost all the action is filmed from the perspective of
terrified humans watching creature carnage break out all around them.
Amazingly, dozens, if not hundreds, of these civilians are killed on-screen –
crushed, scalded, incinerated.
Of course, such carnage departs from most giant
monster movies, especially those of Japan, during which we usually see no one killed on screen,
least of all civilians, and rarely even soldiers. This departure in tone
characterizes the whole movie, and thus makes it not exactly the “family film”
most Japanese monster epics strive to be.
Take the plot: Detailed and more character-driven
than the average kaiju eiga, the story is one of revenge, ambition,
hope, and redemption. Along the way plenty of weirdness transpires. One of
the more haunting (and disturbing) scenes depicts Iris enfolding Ayana in a
tentacled embrace as the two psychically (and apparently otherwise) bond.
Ayana’s parents and cat were killed by Gamera in 1995
when the “defender of the earth” squared off against Gyaos in Tokyo (see Gamera:
Guardian of the Universe). Ayana’s hatred against Gamera fuels Iris and
indeed brings the monster to life, and it is Ayana’s thirst for revenge that forms
the trunk of the film’s story; indeed, all other story elements branch from
this single seed.
The movie posits the question of whether Gamera is
really friend or foe. It all depends on one’s perspective: If he killed your
parents, would you regard Gamera as humanity’s pal? The film’s finale doesn’t really
answer this question, but does suggest Gamera may not have completely severed
his ties with humanity.
Due to its daring, Shusuke Kaneko's and Kazunori Ito's
script should reap kudos. It strives to be literate, and mostly
succeeds. From the emotionally wounded Ayana Hirasaka (Ai Maeda) to the
protective Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama), the characters prove interesting
and vital; they are far more than “window dressing” bridging the monster
Mito Asakura (Senri Yamazaki) represents misguided
mysticism, while Shinya Kurata (Toru Tezuka) distills nihilistic glee, and both
may seem over-the-top much of the time (though it can’t be denied that
Shinya’s condescending but cheerful cynicism boasts a certain twisted charm).
But if this peculiar pair does appear cartoonish, it is from a cartoon written
and directed by David Lynch.
As for the visuals, they remain the best of any
Japanese monster movie to date. The combination of suitmation, miniatures, and
CGI is excellent; both convincing and harrowing in its detail, the
Shibuya sequence is a SPFX milestone in kaiju eiga history. Indeed, if I
were going to show a “non-believer” an example of what modern kaiju eiga
can achieve, I would play them this sequence.
Of course, the final battle between Iris and Gamera in
the Kyoto station is also first-rate. Iris’s landing in the city is especially
effective, rain slicing through the night sky as the willowy kaiju descends,
while hundreds of terrified citizens flee in the foreground. Here Iris embodies
the deadly grace of an otherworldly jellyfish.
Shinji Higuchi, who turned in outstanding work on the
first two Gamera movies of the nineties, outdoes himself here, proving himself to
be Japan's current master of special effects. What makes
Higuchi’s work all the more amazing is the fact that he had such a small budget
to work with. Just imagine what he could do with a Hollywood-sized
In addition, Shusuke Kaneko's direction gives the
film a somber tone. Ayana's nightmares of a Gamera From Hell killing her
parents are especially evocative. Certainly Gamera 3 is not a
movie for young kids. It is undoubtedly the darkest, most
violent giant monster movie yet filmed, complete with mummified corpses
and sober themes.
Even the music is gloomier than usual. Ko Otani’s
score proves more effective than in the previous two Gamera movies. His simple
yet evocative theme for Iris and Ayana captures the film’s mystical bent well,
hinting of dark realities and sharp emotions best left unsheathed.
As for the movie’s monsters, Iris is a peculiar kaiju,
more like an alien life-form than a mythical creature of evil.
Certainly Iris is original in execution -- graceful in the air and
menacing on the ground, with its tentacles whipping about like sinuous
serpents. In fact, the creature in some ways seems to be part animal,
part machine, and part Lovecraftian Old One.
The other monsters are also extremely
well-wrought. Gamera looks fiercer here than ever before. And the
flock of Gyaos heading for Japan likewise appears sinister, the creatures’ wings
flapping with bat-like realism.
Of course, the film's deliberately inconclusive finale
is likely to frustrate many viewers. The ending may be one reason why Gamera:
Revenge of Iris never saw an American theatrical release. But in
retrospect, it also remains one of the film’s strengths.
Gamera: Revenge of Iris didn’t start any trends; five years after its
Japanese theatrical release, it remains in a class by itself. It
stretches the boundaries of traditional kaiju eiga and demonstrates that
such movies can be both technically proficient and dramatically sound. Does
anyone other than us fans care? Maybe not. But I’m sure among “we happy few,”
Gamera: Revenge of Iris will continue to be regarded as one of the best giant
monster movies ever made – a giant among behemoths.
ADV Films' widescreen DVD transfer of Gamera:
Revenge of Iris is crystal clear; you’ll almost feel as though
you’re watching a pristine print of the movie. The sound is nice as well. You
can also choose between an English-dubbed track and the original Japanese track
with English subtitles. However, I’d avoid the “Redneck Gamera” segment and
stick to the movie proper and its legitimate extras, such as numerous Japanese
TV and theatrical trailers.