Space Cannibals and Guillermo del Toro:

On Gamera vs. Guiron

If you feel so inclined you could watch along (with the surely inferior Americanized version):

Going into Gamera vs. Guiron I very swiftly started to get concerned. My concern was simple: what if the Toho portion of this series peaked back with Gamera vs. Gyaos? There weren’t that many movies to go before the Toho era ended. These things already had a tiny budget, but to go delving into the shallow back-catalogue of preexisting footage was a pretty clear sign of a sinking ship. They were starting to cross over the line from good into bad without taking any of their redeeming qualities with them.

As Gamera vs. Guiron started rolling along it didn’t exactly quell my fears. Right away I had this bubbling suspicion that it might literally have started with a variation on the same script as Gamera vs. the Space Monster Viras. It doesn’t start with “[boy scouts singing]” or anything, but comes kind of closer than I was comfortable with. Two kids, one American, are hanging out. The Japanese kid drags his little sister along with them. They go exploring, basically. They have a “comedic” meeting with a goofy cartoon character of a cop. I think my hair starting greying during this scene, for all it actually mattered to the story.

The exploration continues and the kids come across their goal – a flying saucer that landed in the forest. Thing one and thing two leave thing one’s sister behind and get into the ship. They play around with the controls, miming takeoff. In a shocking turn of events the ship actually takes off! For real! In an almost clever development it turns out the ship was basically waiting for people to show up to take off back to its point of origin.

When the kids are in space they come across a flying Gamera. They then proceed to reenact the opening scene with Gamera in Gamera vs. the Space Monster Guiron. They race Gamera and generally pal around with him, until he has to save them from a suddenly developing danger. Of course this time it’s not even a story-based threat, just a random encounter with an asteroid. Gamera kicks the rock’s ass. It’s not very exciting. The flying saucer leaves Gamera behind and he slowly follows them, recognizing the need to save them.

So in all honesty, one of the necessary ingredients to a proper kaiju movie is having a main kaiju with personality. Part of why 2014’s Godzilla was amazing was how much of a world-weary vibe the titular monster exuded. Gamera’s silly personality is increasingly what’s saving these movies. Or not saving but at least adding to them. He’s ludicrously good-natured. Loves kids, tries to save them, likes hanging out with them. Has a surprisingly keen understanding of these sorts of complex situations. He’s basically a goofy live action cartoon character. Which only gets clearer as the series goes along.

So the little flying saucer takes the kids to a planet. They end up on the surface. They can see a spider web of buildings, a river, and some alien-looking protuberances and landscape and stuff. These sorts of scenes really work a lot better with some budget behind them. This movie doesn’t have a lot of budget, so it just looks a little forced.

Then Gyaos shows up. Like straight up. The term “Space Gyaos” is used. It is unquestionably the suit from Gamera vs. Gyaos spray painted silver. The river starts running backwards and a hatch opens and this movie’s new kaiju appears. Guiron bursts from the ground, as he is given a pretty fierce introduction. It’s kind of like that superhero trope – prove how cool the new villain is by having them dramatically defeat a fan favourite.

But it actually works pretty well. Guiron ends up jumping and decapitating Gyaos with ease. It’s so unexpected I couldn’t help but love it. Then the stubby monster starts mutilating the deceased remnants of the vermeil Gyaos. This scene was so violent according to Wikizilla it didn’t make it into the American edit. Guiron (the name is sorta meant to resemble guillotine) actually kills a second space Gyaos too. Apparently there are a couple of them around.

So I doth declare it Monster Design Time.

Guiron is kind of hilarious. He’s this stubby grey guy with some fins on his back legs and a giant knife extending from the top of his head that’s close to the length of his body. Guillermo del Toro watched these movies as a kid and this design was a clear influence on Knifehead. These proportions make his more agile moments come across as completely hilarious. For instance he leaps an incredible distance through the air to decapitate space Gyaos, which is giggle inducing, but in a good way. At least at first. That’s not Guiron’s only weapon either. He has a little hatch in his head that opens and has throwing stars in it that he can shoot out. This is officially too toyetic and silly. What kind of evolutionary scenario leads to head-throwing stars? Live action cartoon or not it’s distractingly silly.

Speaking of distractingly silly – the rest of the movie!

The kids get ushered into the nearby structure by two space aliens. Two space aliens who look remarkably like normal Japanese women. They begin info-dumping all over the place, expounding on the basic set-up of their planet. Which is…cartoony would be the polite way of putting it. The impolite way would be to imply the writers were too busy snorting glue and watching children’s cartoons to really attempt any world building. Dune this isn’t.

So the planet they’re on is called Terra. It is in our solar system. It has never been spotted by earth scientists because it orbits “exactly opposite to earth.” Someone get Neil Degrasse Tyson over here because I smell something fishy about this science. The other stuff is comparable. Space Gyaos is hanging out because the tech the aliens use to control everything there is to control on their planet mutates the surrounding flora and fauna uncontrollably. Guiron is their watchdog, who keeps them safe. There are some mysterious glances shared when the kids ask about other inhabitants on the planet. They also seem pretty suspicious of this Gamera thing the kids keep mentioning.

The kids are pretty impressed by the supposed utopia these aliens have built. Specifically the Japanese kid is impressed by a world “without wars and traffic accidents.” Weird, weird sentiment. Especially for a twelve year old kid. That kid doesn’t give a shit about traffic. Plus I feel like there’s an implication that traffic accidents are worse than war? That’s a total children’s cartoon line. I like cartoons as much as the next nerd but…. Well addressing my complaints just yet would be bad for the flow of this article. Bear with me.

The space aliens usher the kids into another room and proceed to hypnotize them and examine the contents of their mind. Clips of Gamera! They inspect memories of Gamera, because these movies have given up on original content. Actually these clips are of a far more acceptable length than the last couple of films, so that’s good. Or at least good comparably. Anyway they scan these kids’ brains then let them wander around.

The space aliens, named Barbella and Flobella, have an ulterior motive for just hanging out with these underage kids though. As one would expect from space aliens. It turns out their food of choice is…well it’s brains. They eat brains. Not really an exciting or interesting turn of events honestly. Cannibal space aliens are one of those things that sound awesome on paper but in a silly live action cartoon just feel toothless and unexciting. They do trap and shave the Japanese kid bald, which is pretty funny.

Of course Gamera shows up, finally catching up to the kids he wanted to save. So we get two scenes running sort of parallel. The kids start trying to escape from the cannibals using pathways, teleporters, and “ingenuity.” It’s a little slapsticky and generally boring. It culminates in Flobella and Barbella getting in their spaceship and heading for all the tasty brains on earth. Guiron slices the spaceship in half and Barbella dies. Flobella dies later.

The main draw is the fight between Guiron and Gamera. The whole series dances around the line between cartoon and serious, but this scene just barrels right past it. Gamer gets the shit beaten out of him and has to heal and come back a second time, but all this is completely robbed of weight by the ludicrous nature of the fight. Gamera and Guiron leap around like the goofiest wrestlers ever. At one point Gamera gets thrown through the air and grabs a bar between two towers and proceeds to swing around it way too many times like some sort of gymnast. I swear to god he lands afterwards and holds up his hands as if he’s waiting for applause.

After this lame, goofy fight he uses his direly breath to fuse together the halved spaceship and take him home. The Gamera theme plays and one assumes that marks the ending. Nope. There are a few more stagnant minutes with the kids returning and espousing a message of peace and safe roads.

Come on series. You can do better than that.

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Harry Edmundson-Cornell is obsessed with comics and film and writing, and he fancies himself a bit of an artist. He's dabbled in freelance video production, writing, design, 3D modelling, and artistic commissions. He mainly uses Tumblr to keep track of what he's watching and reading and listening to. Occasionally he uses it to post original works. You can find his email and junk there too, if you want to hire him or send him hate-mail.

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