Friday, October 2, 2015

Movies You Already Should've Seen (filler week): GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS

at 1:00 PM
I swear we watched PSYCHO though. Golem said he didn't want to write it this week as a show of respect for the pope coming to America.

AKA: Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris
Directed by: Shûsuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Itô and Shûsuke Kaneko

GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS in one sentence:
Yourself: Iris? Iris... Iris! IRIS?! IRIIIIIIIIIISSSSSS!

Here's a story about me and GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS:
Yourself: I still can't watch these without wishing it was Godzilla instead of Gamera, but at least this trilogy makes for far more consistent popcorn entertainment than its hair-pullingly stupid Toho counterpart. Who would've known a writer/director can make better creative decisions than a boardroom of executives? Not Nintendo, that's who! Zing! Video game satire!

Get the plot bitching out of your system:
Yourself: Erm, like usual we have one protagonist too many. GAMERA 3 is really the story of teenage orphan Ayana's hatred of Gamera, but she only hangs around til the midpoint. I will at least give the script that it's sticking to the series formula - sidelining Iris' human avatar when the monster takes over is exactly how GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE handled Gamera's avatar, Asagi. I can appreciate the structural consistency, even if I consistently don't enjoy watching boring bird-watching de facto protagonist Mayumi.

It is not necessarily a failing that the series doesn't scale the stakes linearly over three movies, but it certainly threw me in terms of traditional trilogy pacing. In retrospect, LEGION was really the climax of the Gamera story and IRIS is more of a prolonged denouement, addressing the emotional aftermath of the previous two films.

I appreciate the injection of a high-ranking government official who apparently belongs to some Gyaos-worshipping, Gamera-hating cult. It is never directly addressed as such, but Asakura's presence certainly seems to hold a cardboard sign by the side of the road reading "Hey. Maybe this is why the military keeps inanely treating Gamera as an enemy."

The aesthetic [of the monsters] is basically:
Yourself: Iris is more fantastically batshit demonic weirdness, flinging tentacles and lashing obscenely as a weird sort of phoenix/squid hybrid. There is the unifying sense that these are ancient deities more than monsters, their bodies purposefully evocative of historical aesthetics and stylized reinterpretation of natural form. The Nazca lines come to mind. Iris, Legion, Gyaos, and Gamera could belong to the same pantheon, and the movie even briefly suggests as much.

Gamera sadly seems to have gotten a downgrade. He's far from awful, but just compare the suit in that poster to the one from ATTACK OF LEGION. The neck is longer, the snout shorter, the shell oversized, and it just looks way more like a person than a turtlesaurus rex. But more importantly, the sweet original flame-based attacks continue (again, I won't spoil the final move, but you may feel encouraged to shout the name of a particular fighting game special).

It is also nice to see a brief return of Gyaos, though forgive me for being too rusty to distinguish this new mutation from the original. Gyaos gets particular credit for providing fodder for some of the more gruesome practical effects, first when one is revealed rotting in the sun, later when another is mauled by Gamera. I almost felt a little bad for the bird boys, they were getting horrifically murdered so frequently. In fact, the first two movies occasionally flirted with gore, but IRIS is the first that gets legitimately nasty. There are lots of cocoons and fluids and such gushing around, even a bit of body horror when Iris essentially grafts itself to Ayana. I would not necessarily show this to a kid.

But the elephant in the room this time is CGI, as there is simply so much (more than the previous two films combined) that it needs to be mentioned. The big showcase fight between Gamera and Iris is aerial, and that means 100% CGI. It just looks really weightless, scaleless, and unclear, and as a result I never got the sense that flying Iris was the same character as grounded (man-in-suit) Iris.

Performances to speak of?
Yourself: While neither were exactly showcases, ATTACK OF LEGION was a lot campier than GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. It made sense in the most Gamera-centric of these three movies - there's not a lot of subtle emotion that can play on the same screen as a screeching giant turtle. GAMERA 3 wants to ground things in human drama again, and while I continue to temper my compliments, Ai Maeda's central performance as the brooding Ayana does exactly that. Ayana is kind of unpleasant and not all that likable. She's quiet, frowny, and standoffish. Even if I can't attest to that as a documentary-quality portrayal of a bitter teenage orphan, it is at least in keeping with cinematic convention, and she is first and foremost sympathetic. I get the character. Mayumi on the other hand....

But then, a couple actors seem to wholeheartedly believe they're in GAMERA 2, and I don't know what the hell Kaneko was thinking leaving the door open to such clashing tones. The two cultists, in their broadcast evil manipulation of Ayana's hatred, are basically supervillains. Dreamcast hobbyist Kurata in particular is maniacally laughing in almost every scene, including as he dies. The performance is theoretically fun, but majorly distracting set against the dour Ayana and plain Mayumi (so's the treatment of Dreamcast as an open software development platform, but don't get me started).

A really cool shot or scene:
Yourself: Just to go with a brief shot, it's pretty bitchin' when Gamera lights up a Gyaos over Tokyo and the immolated corpse delicately falls to the ground. That is some sweet dramatic tension, breaking from the action to a solitary shot against a black sky that slowly carries us along back into turmoil.

Oh hang on, my mental notes remind me the one I wanted to write about is this scene in a forest where a young couple's picnic is rudely interrupted by tentacles. It is true slasher movie fare, complete with Monster Vision, and a testament to the not-ripping-off-ALIENS-anymore nature of the brief horror segment of the film before Iris is fully unveiled.

What does it all really mean?
Yourself: Whelp, in "Jesus the Giant Turtle" moments, Gamera brings a girl back from the dead. To demonstrate forgiveness.


Note to future self on watching GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS:
Yourself: The only thing I expect a daikaiju movie of this vintage to provide is cool monster fights, and IRIS has two out of three monsters and two out of three fights that are cool. Even the CGI waste and weaker Gamera suit are easy to forgive alongside human drama strong enough to hold things together. This is not to say (as many have) that the movie is a return to "characters before action" GODZILLA '54 form, as the emphasis still leans heavily on the battles. It's just the rare iteration of the post-VS. formula that doesn't need to be saved from itself.

[UPDATED 10/13 because the original edit came across way too negative for a movie that I very much liked]

Come back next week to find out what Greg and Greg's new excuse not to be covering PSYCHO will be.

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