When 1965’s Gamera the Giant Monster was an unexpected hit, the Daiei Studio commissioned a sequel, upped the budget and appointed a more prestigious director. When that follow-up, Gamera vs Barugon, was not the popular success the studio had imagined, they dropped the budget back down and rehired original director Noriaki Yuasa to handle the third film: 1967’s Gamera vs Gyaos. It is not as effective a film as Barugon, but marks a solid improvement in technique for Yuasa over his original Gamera. Viewers with a hankering for breezy pulp giant monsters will have no problem enjoying this instalment.
Yuasa takes the opportunity of a third Gamera feature to shift the target audience from families to children. There is a young boy named Eiichi (Naoyuke Abe) who not only cheers on and is rescued from danger by Gamera, he actively contributes to the Japanese Defence Force’s strategy to defeat the new monster Gyaos. It all stems from a scene in Yuasa’s first Gamera, in which an almost identical young boy was rescued by Gamera while falling from a lighthouse. Audiences seemed to respond positively this moment, and so Yuasa simply shifts the giant space turtle from undertaking wanton destruction to actively helping the humans against other giant monster menaces. The “Gamera is a friend to all children” trope is born. In a way this seems reminiscent of the American Friday the 13th franchise; just like it took three films to reach the iconic version of Jason Voorhees with the hockey mask and machete, so it takes until here for the popular version of Gamera to finally emerge.
Gamera vs Gyaos sees a freeway development, stalled by local protests, to become the site of a giant monster breakout. From beneath the Earth comes Gyaos, a sort of triangular-headed bat with a laser beam mouth and fire retardant squirted from its nipples. It is a strong advance in weirdness from the more conventional Barugan in film two – that monster only had ice-breath and a spine that shot rainbows. There seems a particular sense of whimsy to Gamera’s foes – not to mention some bogglingly weak rubber suit designs compared to Toho’s more successful Godzilla franchise. Visually speaking, Gyaos looks terrible, but of course that forms part of the film’s present-day camp appeal. Its heart is in the right place, and its enthusiasm is infectious.
The freeway development setting – a topical element for late 1960s Japan – allows the film to gently touch on environmental issues at a time when Japan was pushing full-tilt into a massive post-war industrial expansion. Kojiro Hongo, the star of Gamera vs Barugon, returns in an unrelated role: construction foreman Shiro Tsutsumi, who valiantly tries to negotiate between villagers and freeway workers during the film’s early scenes.
The budget cuts that accompanied this film are fairly obvious, and in terms of tension and plotting it does feel a backwards step. While probably the least accomplished Gamera feature among the first three films, the charm still runs strong – and makes a valuable change in encouraging the audience to back Gamera himself in the fight. Not that the audience needed convincing; don’t we all barrack for the rubber-suit monster?