Direction: Haruyasu Noguchi
Screenplay: Iwao Yamazaki and Tyuzo Nakaishi
Music: Saitaro Omori
Special Effects: Akira Watanabe
Producer: Hideo Koi
"Gappa angry!" a young native boy warns the movie's protagonists. "Angry!"
But the Gappa clan don't stay that way for long. By movie's end, the Gappas have become more cuddly than an extended family of Barneys.
The uninspired story combines the major elements found in most Japanese monster movies of the day: scientists, reporters, mysterious South Seas islands, fearful natives, island legends, destructive monsters. Throw in a pinch (or maybe that should be a kilo) of Gorgo, and voila! A kaiju is born.
So down to basics. The only people interested in this movie will be giant monster fans; no others need apply. Indeed, Gappa would be one of the last movies I'd use to convince non-believers of the virtues of the venerable kaiju eiga. Which is not to say the movie is awful. It isn't. But it's not particularly good either.
Many "oldsters" out there (such as yours truly) will remember the AIP-TV title under which the movie played on television for years -- Monster from a Prehistoric Planet. But a hoot is still a hoot under any name.
After the protagonists (both scientists and reporters) land upon the clicheL exotic atoll, they spirit away a baby Gappa that has just crawled from its egg. This makes the infant's two parents crankier than Bill O'Reilly on a bad day. In short order, they demolish the island's native village along with a sizeable number of natives.
The ever-growing Gappa infant has been taken to Japan where it is confined inside a huge cage, so the two upset parents make for mainland Japan, where they engage in the usual ritual devastation of pretty miniatures. Supposedly, they have come to rescue their offspring, but their path seems circuitous at best.
The military is called in, but everyone knows how effective they are in your average Japanese monster movie. Using erratic blue rays that sometimes seem to be forming outside their mouths, the two monsters melt tanks and blow jets out of the sky.
Meanwhile, a native boy and the villain's daughter plead with the adults to let the baby Gappa go. But the villainous magazine publisher/Gappa owner will have none of it. Of course, once the monsters threaten Tokyo, the military ferries the baby Gappa to Haneda Airport. There, the Gappa parents re-unite with their offspring in a sentimental finale that will inspire either tears or nausea.
The Gappas make for a somewhat Munster-ish kaiju clan. The design of the two parents is interesting, combining aspects of reptiles, birds (the beak and eyes), bats (the wings), and a hearty helping of maninsuitasaurus. The glowing eyes intrigue. But overall, the Gappa costumes pale in comparison to most of the monster suits hanging in rival studio Toho's creature stables.
The baby Gappa is clearly designed to be cute, and no doubt children will find it appealing. In fact, in many ways, Gappa is a movie that will best be appreciated by young children, and it appears, in many ways, to have been made for them.
The special effects, alas, often falter, wavering from adequate to mediocre to awful. The major problem is the frequent lack of slow-motion photography -- without it, the real-time monsters appear jerky, their Japanese rampage toy-like. One of the worst sequences occurs "under" a lake; it's more than obvious that Mama and Papa Gappa are simply standing around on a dry set while studio lights flicker about.
Still, the movie boasts several enjoyable effects sequences. One is that of the Gappas' first destructive foray through a Japanese city; another is that of a Gappa-produced deluge that floods a coastal town. This latter scene is both comparable to and reminiscent of a similar scene in Toho's classic The Mysterians.
However, most of the miniatures don't compare well to the majority of Toho's miniatures of the era. Lighting is also a problem -- it almost always keeps us aware that we are basically looking at an elaborate electric train milieu. Sometimes, the backgrounds lack depth, as in the shallow scenes during which the two Gappas trash Atami Castle.
As for the English dubbing, even for a standard Japanese monster movie, it can be pretty bizarre. For example, while still on the island, one of the characters proclaims that Gappa is just "Bones. Old bones. Bones of animals that lived a million years ago, and they're all dead." Really? Baby Gappa sure doesn't look like a skeleton to me, and it appears lively enough.
The wildly anthropomorphized ending, during which Mama and Papa Gappa share hugs with Baby Gappa and tears are shed (!), is outlandish even for a 1960's Japanese monster movie. Indeed, the film should carry a warning label that the saccharine finale may send diabetics into an irreversible coma. However, the film touches upon an interesting notion, namely that the Gappas may think and feel as humans do. Still, their overdone show of affection at the end is a bit too mammalian to be credible. Still, fanciers of monster shenanigans (think Godzilla jigs and the like) won't be in the least distressed.
As you might expect, the film's character development, like ethics in government, is virtually non-existent. Still, the Gappa family does cause the three protagonists to rethink their priorities. The male reporter admits he has been too selfish; the male scientist regrets being too ambitious. And what have the Gappas taught the female protagonist? In a statement likely to leave feminists reeling, she says, "You know, I've decided to quit my job. I guess I'm just an ordinary woman. I should stay home, marry an office worker, and change diapers." Better break out the smelling salts for Gloria Steinem.
Gappa, the Triphibian Monster is a quaint monster movie that is not without its charms. Just realize going in that it's definitely second or third tier kaiju eiga. And if you can't bring yourself to watch the whole movie, you simply must catch the floridly melodramatic trailer ("Gap-pa! Gap-pa! Gal-pa!").