Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Gamera vs Barugon

Although it would be absurd to claim Gamera vs Barugon as some sort of unfairly maligned masterpiece, director Shigeo Tanaka's film does contain individual ideas and moments that range from conceptually sound all the way up to genuinely beautiful. Gamera's second big screen outing largely dispense with the rocket-powered turtle to mooch around with a gang of lawbreakers chasing a magnificent opal that is, in fact, a monster egg. Koji Fujiyama's Onodera is the most thrilling element in this human strata, a greedy, cowardly thug who is allowed a tremendous lack of repercussion for his murderous actions, enabling him to hurry the plot forward whenever the boring do-gooders hit a brick wall.

Onodera's most incredible moment arrives deep in the third-act, the burly wrongdoer staging a diamond heist in the middle of a calamitous, barely-holding-together military operation. With the Japanese Self-Defence Force distracted dangling glimmering trinkets in front of lead pest Barugon, Onodera blasts in out of the darkness, interrupting the attempt to lure the materialistic monster to his doom. Fujiyama's thief crashes his speedboat directly into the command vessel, jumps aboard then outguns the soldiers guarding the dazzling diamond being used as bait.

Onodera's unapologetic villainy is such that he feels precisely zero shame about inflicting Barugon on the world. He just wants to get paid, even if that means stealing the solution to the problem he has directly caused. Human greed and an indifference to ecological balance is a frequent driving force in Kaiju films but it's fun seeing these ideas expressed specifically in terms of street level criminality and passionate (but illogical) self-interest. The Gamera series is so committed to making human ingenuity a plausible solution to monster landings that it seems equally important, not to mention exciting, to pursue the ways in which the individual can scupper an otherwise unified defence.

Which brings us to the monsters themselves. While both Barugon and the barely featured Gamera conduct themselves with a stiffness normally associated with poorly pressed pocket money toys, Gamera vs Barugon does have an ace up its sleeve - special effects director Noriaki Yuasa. Daiei Film may not have the same kind of money, or international appeal, as Toho's output but Yuasa is able to iterate and innovate on the established language of monster confrontation. The special effects director's approach is distinct from that of Godzilla powerhouses Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya in that Yuasa is less interested in terrifying cataclysm, preferring to luxuriate in the company of these Kaiju and their surreal, seismic relationship with our world.

Perhaps lacking the confidence that Gamera and Barugon's Imperial stamped outfits will stand up to close scrutiny, Yuasa hides the creatures in nighttime sorties, lit by tracer rounds and blanketed by luminous but sooted smoke. The background and foreground are stacked with shattered detailing, stressing both the danger of proximity and the sheer scale of these beasts. This smouldering approach to monster mise en scene is absolutely rooted in Tsuburaya's work on the original Godzilla but Yuasa pushes the smoked-up technique further, accounting for clashing, blood-thirsty characteristics in these less otherworldly creatures. Tsuburaya's Kaiju tower over their surroundings, Yuasa's are caged by them, stuck thrashing against humanity's structures. This is wonderful, influential, work. Yuasa's gloriously gritty approach to special effects staging clearly discernible in Teruyoshi Nakano and Eiichi Asada's later, exemplary runs with the Godzilla franchise.

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