Welcome to Angry Turtle!, a series featuring Deadshirt.net’s own Patrick Stinson and guest writer Andrew Tucker. We are going to be looking at the Gamera series, the films made by a rival studio to compete directly with the famous Godzilla series. The name comes from this charming video.
Patrick: This week’s film was Gamera vs. Viras, and while I remembered it as being a somewhat incomprehensible kludge of clips from other movies and overly precious preteens, it turns out that I was absolutely correct.
Andrew: After Gamera finally found his formula and style in Gamera vs. Gyaos, everything that clicked in that movie is thrown out the window in favor of a movie that resembles the low-budget American science-fiction movies of the 50s and 60s. It commits to Gamera’s relationship with children, but not much more.
Patrick: Actually this film is prophetic in a couple of senses. The opening casts Gamera as a sort of outer-space sentry for the planet Earth. He will continue in this role for three out of the next four movies, giving him another strong niche as a kaiju beyond the flaming flying turtle thing. It also sets out a “two kids get into trouble” structure that will continue through the Showa Gamera series. Finally, the heavy use of stock footage from the previous three movies makes it a prototype for the even more unfortunate finale of the Showa series, Super Monster Gamera. So the movie is influential, in spite and because of its flaws.
Andrew: As a fan of the Heisei (90s) series, I saw a lot of those movies in Gyaos. In Viras, I did enjoy the opening and was interested in the kids, especially since we’re given a Japanese and American duo as best friends, but the presentation of the aliens was surprisingly boring. And as far as the titular monster, Viras, well…
Patrick: Viras, the alien species that invade the Earth, are fairly creepy Doctor Who pastiches who drive the plot and narrate a good chunk of the film. Viras, the kaiju that they obligatorily summon at the end (or in this case merge into like an unholy combination of Transformers’ Devastator and Rita Repulsa’s “make my monster grow” routine) is awful. The technical achievement of the walking squid is fairly impressive, but his total lack of special powers makes him uniquely, unforgivably boring for a series that thrives in audacity. In his large form, he’s also a squawking idiot despite the fact that in-story he is an advanced alien being.
Andrew: Let’s start with the first act, where we meet our kid protagonists, Masao Nakaya and Jim Crane, and establish Gamera, as you say, as the celestial guardian of the Earth. I really enjoyed the opening scene. We see Gamera quite successfully fulfilling his role by fending off a spaceship. The Viras seem quite shocked by Gamera’s onslaught, which is a great way of establishing Gamera’s role as the returning hero. We see all of his powers being used in one scene, which is exciting but also leaves room for what’s to come.
Patrick: We keep bringing up this opening because Gamera legit stomps a mudhole into some aliens. It’s fricking tubular. But they summon an identical ship, unbeknownst to Gamera and the people of earth but knownst to us, and so Gamera returns to Earth to paddle around the ocean with our stars, the world’s Two Worst Boy Scouts.
Andrew: You know what, I really liked these kids! When we first meet them, at least, they’re scamps that run around messing with important, scientific devices and putting their instructors into mortal danger for the lolz. It’s a half-assed attempt at the Tom Sawyer character, but what really interested me was seeing a Japanese and American child so unquestionably close. And the American speaks Japanese! It brought to mind Nick Adams’ role in the early Godzilla film, Invasion of the Astro Monster, only here the character is a part of Japanese culture.
Patrick: International cooperation was a real theme of the kaiju films of the period, both due to the directors’ own views and with an eye toward international box office. This won’t be the last Western kid you see. Inevitably, Masao and Jim get caught up in Spaceship #2’s overly elaborate death trap for Gamera. At first this happens by coincidence, but then Gamera’s protective tendencies are actually observed and weaponized by the aliens. They abduct the moppets to paralyze Gamera’s and the United Nations’ attempts to foil them.
Andrew: This is where the movie, for me, falls apart and gets stepped on a few times. The aliens abduct the kids, and then tell them not to get into any trouble while they perform their nefarious tasks. This may have been the laziest plot device I’ve ever seen used in a movie. Of course the kids wander around and find the Viras kaiju hanging out in a back room. I liked the attempt to fool the audience into believing Viras was a good creature that the aliens had imprisoned, but that never went anywhere. I was hoping maybe the kids would release him, providing some room for growth in their maturity. Alas, no. Instead, they continue to wander around a barren set and get a stern talking-to by their captors. The eye effect on the aliens is a neat trick, though.
Patrick: But don’t worry, if you weren’t bored by the kids wandering around, you can be bored by the stock footage! The Viras discover Gamera’s weakness for young’uns with a “brainwave scan,” which takes the form of presenting directly to the audience the battles from Gamera vs. Barugon (a film which features no children at all) and Gamera vs. Gyaos. The two fights from Barugon are stitched into one (which actually improves them) and the first battle from Gyaos is presented virtually uncut. After this outright clip show, the movie then tops itself with a sequence in which the Viras plant a “brainwave controller” on Gamera and make him attack Japan. This is presented with unaltered clips from Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera the Giant Monster. Please note that the latter movie is in BLACK AND WHITE! When you add it all up there is probably no more than an hour of original footage in this film.
Andrew: I definitely checked out of a lot of the stock footage once I realized it was a full rerun and not selected clips. There’s no narration either, so I guess the aliens just sit back, pop some popcorn, and catch up on some Gamera. It’s not like Viras references any of the fights once he shows up in his full kaiju form, although he does do this nifty thing where he closes his blossomed up into a spear and lances Gamera through the chest. It’s cool, though. Gamera doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by this. In fact, he rockets into space in order to just shake off Viras. This is in such stark contrast to Gamera limping off after a hand injury in the previous film.
Patrick: This movie somehow manages to increase the gore but decrease the tension and empathy you feel for Gamera. It doesn’t help that the impalement scene appears to have been accomplished with a Gamera-shaped stress ball.
Andrew: There’s also an uncharacteristically dark scene where the Viras aliens are all decapitated before spawning into the Viras kaiju.
Patrick: To substitute for the lack of choreography and, well, originality relative to the Godzilla films, you can really feel this one leaning into stuff like gimmicks, long kaiju battles, wish-fulfillment (Masao has a wrist-worn compass with a radio, basically a 1968 Apple Watch), fumbling attempts at creepiness, and lots of blood/slime/gore. There is something to be said for just unapologetically being a kid’s movie and reusing old footage so kids get the most Gamera for their movie ticket money, but the way it’s implemented here obliterates the pacing and feels exactly like the lazy cost-cutting that it is.
Andrew: Gamera vs. Gyaos picked up on what its predecessors had stumbled into and made a movie that featured a truly original and entertaining addition to the kaiju ensemble, and even managed to create a disturbing antagonist in the process. Gamera vs. Viras, on the other hand, felt like the producers decided to celebrate a little too early and ran a midseason clipshow that set up what made Gamera so great only to abandon that for lighter fare.
Patrick: This movie essentially gets a better, weirder do-over with the next film, Gamera vs. Guiron. It’s kind of a The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker kind of situation here.
Andrew: Please don’t tell me you’re defending Moonraker here.
Patrick: Ok, I won’t tell you.
Angry Turtle! returns next week with more Gamera!