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Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris - Review

(a.k.a. GAMERA 3 and GAMERA 3: AWAKENING OF IRYS)

A Review by Mike Bogue

4 Stars - Excellent

(Released in Japanese theatres in 1999; officially available on North American DVD in 2003)





Direction:  Shusuke Kaneko

Screenplay:  Kazunori Ito and Shusuke Kaneko

Music:  Ko Otani

Special Effects:  Shinji Higuchi

Monster Suits:  Tomo Haraguchi




Gamera 3 Still. 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 scenes.

Gamera 3 Still.

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 effects budget!

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.

Gamera 3 Still.

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.



DVD NOTES

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.



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