Clearly when you grade kaiju movies it tends to depend on a relative scale. You judge them based on other kaiju movies, and then admire a few special exceptions that can stand on their own as fully realized films. It’s not as close to cheating as it sounds, but basically a good way to examine any of these weird sub-genres. Unfortunately this does mean that basically the average is not that high, and many of them are not good films.
And some of them are just shit.
My eleven-movie Gamera set describes Gamera vs. Barugon as an “unholy battle between fire and ice” that “challenges the survival of mankind while bringing them an incredible slam-bang, knock-down monster slug-fest.” It was lying. 1966’s Giant Monster Duel: Gamera Against Barugon, directed by Shigeo Tanaka for the Daiei Motion Picture Company pretty much represents the worst of the tokusatsu kaiju genre. In just every way.
First of all it’s one of the longest Gamera movies, clocking in at one hundred minutes. Only seven minutes shorter than the longest of the series. That wouldn’t be so bad if anything happened in the movie, but that one hundred minutes feels inexorably long. Like a tedious war of attrition being waged against your sensibilities. This is one of those movies that bummed me out. For me the take away is what I would’ve wanted to do with that opportunity. Sure, you don’t expect kaiju films to be incredible, but that low budget type scene has bred truly stunning films in the past. Read about the production of the fantastic Targets for a great example of someone creating an artistically satisfying work within the constraints of a terrible system. There’s always potential, but the complete lack of identifiable effort being put into Gamera vs. Barugon is incredible.
The movie opens with a recap of the last film, up until Gamera is launched into space. His ship gets knocked out of space by a meteorite and Gamera lands back on earth. The movie shows about a second of him flying at dam in shell mode before cutting away to a dark room filled with people. We are then subjected to a solid eighteen minutes or so of this group’s terrible, terrible scheme. We find out Gamera’s literally been terrorizing the world off-screen during this time, but we see none of that. Literally for those eighteen minutes there isn’t a single rubber suit. There is, however, blackface, but we’ll get to that later.
Basically during some conflicts in the South Pacific this guy found a giant opal and hid it in a cave for reasons that are unclear, hoping to get it later. He’s assembled a crack team and a moronic plan to collect the opal. I could dwell on why the need fake papers if they’re randomly inventing excuses for their visit anyways, or the fact that they all where shorts for a trip to a cave they know is infested with scorpions, or what sort of grenade has a rubber looking fuse, or any number of any complaints, but that would be petty.
I feel my reaction to the countless Japanese actors in blackface playing South Pacific islanders IS merited though. Because holy shit that’s a thing that happens. In case you were wondering – yes, they do spend most of their screen time dancing and drumming. One of them, the attractive love interest, is completely unadorned by make-up and speaks perfect Japanese. Still meant to be one of the natives. The movie couldn’t even manage to be constantly racist. Of course the village has a whole mythology around why the cave the opal is in shouldn’t be messed with. The thing is that reason is the opal…which was hidden in the cave, right? Either that’s a bad choice of hiding spot or these natives sure rework their ancient religious beliefs fast.
On paper this whole opening is not really a bad idea – Indiana Jones leading into kaiju fights sounds pretty cool. Two bad it’s coincidence ridden garbage. One of the group betrays the others, letting a scorpion kill one of the team and tossing a grenade at our main character. Who survives, obviously. Of course the opal is an egg. At one point the love interest says she’s seen Barugon’s signature attack before, but it’s not clear if it’s ever hatched before. It’s not clear because in the same sentence she expresses a desire to see the “rainbow” for the first time. It’s almost impossible to tell if this is the result of the poor quality subtitles on my DVDs or the terrible script. There must have been another Barugon at some point though, because otherwise why the religious fear… Maybe it’s best not to examine it too much.
Basically the traitorous dude takes the egg on the boot home. However he contracts athlete’s foot, literally an incredibly important plot point. That’s how coincidental this movie is. He gets called to a card game one day and accidentally leaves the UV light he’s been treating his foot with pointed at the egg. It hatches, sinking the boot. He survives, so we later get to see him interfere with the one good plan the army has and beat the shit out of the wife of the guy who originally hid the opal. All of this feels very unnecessary.
So yeah, its a solid twenty minutes before we actually see any new kaiju action in this movie. Most of that is spent with shitty boring human’s. Boring human characters is definitely a tokusatsu kaiju trope – it’s expected. I’ve never suffered through any this painful, long, racist, or pointless. Twenty fucking minutes before Barugon shows up. All the while we’re told Gamera’s been doing wicked cool stuff they we don’t get to see a shred of! In fact the buck-toothed, fire-breathing defender of children is barely in this movie. But, sigh, more on that in a bit.
Let’s talk about how terrible the design of Barugon is! Occasional Gamera director (including the first movie) Noriaki Yuasa takes over the special effects in this movie. The only other Gamera movie he was allowed to do this one was the fucking clip-movie if that tells you anything. Clearly far better at directing than special effects. Literally the internet doesn’t care enough about Gamera vs Barugon to inform me of the man responsible for designing the piece of garbage that is Barugon. Barugon has the physique of a chameleon. He has a prominent upper jaw with a pointy nose-horn. He has no lower jaw to speak of. On perhaps more of an execution side than a design side he has massive dead-fish/googly eyes that are absolutely ridiculous. Worst is his tongue, which extends perfectly stiffly from his mouth and spays his ice attack from a knob at the end. It’s not good. It’s stiff, and awkward, and weird, and a dick. It’s a penis okay. His tongue looks like a penis that spays icy white smoke. His other attack is a rainbow that comes out of his back. Its gross. It’s a gross dick-tongued-rainbow-shooting chameleon.
The fight scenes are just as awkward and awful as you’d expect from the same special effects guy who decided Gamera’s fish-eyes were acceptable. Barugon’s first fight with Gamera ends when Gamera gets frozen. Gamera than spends almost the entire rest of the movie frozen. Apparently the military just left Gamera and the portion of Tokyo that got frozen around him for the duration of the film. No attempts to help or kill Gamera or study him or anything. They just fucked off and left him be. Also Gamera runs on fire, and it takes him DAYS to thaw from the icy smoke. Most of the actual kaiju action is just the military trying to lure Barugon into the water. Icy things are afraid of water right? By the way should an ice-themed creature be reptilian? That doesn’t really make sense, they could’ve really thought outside the box there and gone for something more unique and furry or mammalian or something. Like most kaiju movies there’s a lot of sketchy army-invented plans and convenient experimental technology that ultimate fails, luckily just as Gamera thaws.
Actually I’m not done talking about the army’s plan. After the failed attempt to lure Barugon into the water they start bouncing his rainbow ray back at him with a mirror-covered radar dish. Because that’s thrilling to watch. It sort of works, but because apparently animals instantly learn to never repeat actions if they hurt they know he will never try his rainbow attack EVER again. That’s not how animals work. The time I bit this one thing it was pointy, I’ll never bite anything again. That animal dies. That animal dies fast. Dumb, it’s a dumb movie. Gamera shows up and kills the wounded Barugon. It’s super boring.
Rainbow shooting dick-mouth monsters, jungle exploration, dumb plans, random domestic abuse, that might all have made Gamera vs. Barugon sound like campy fun. It’s not. It’s just a bad, boring movie best ignored.