Cheap kaiju quickie Gamera, the Giant Monster (which I have reviewed) was a reasonable hit for film studio Daiei in 1965, so they wasted no time in getting a sequel produced. Eschewing the economic benefits of black and white film for colour, Gamera vs Barugon begins with a recap of the first film – though this quick overview of the story so far does end with a new epilogue that explains how Gamera was able to come back to Earth almost immediately after being shot into space at the climax.
However, much of the running time of Gamera vs Barugon is taken up with the story of a treasure hunt for a valuable opal, hidden in a cave by a former prisoner of war – and now being retrieved by two of his friends, as well as his brother. However, this quest goes awry as greed overtakes the hunters – with fatal consequences. Though the opal is retrieved, disaster strikes when the valuable jewel turns out to be an egg – and a mishap with an infrared light being used to treat athlete’s foot (yes, really) leads to the egg’s inhabitant growing to a freakishly huge size. Fortunately Gamera is on hand to assist – and thankfully, he doesn’t hold a grudge against humanity for blasting him into space…
There’s some genuinely unusual stuff here for a kaiju film, with the betrayal and twists arising from the jewel hunt being a particular highlight that’s pretty well handled. The birth of Barugon itself is pretty neat too, making use of some excellently gooey practical effects – even the little Barugon puppet looks reasonably convincing, up to a point at least.
Barugon itself is a mixed bag in terms of design – the quadrupedal design is a good contrast to the obvious man-in-suit, bipedal design that we usually see with kaiju, but there’s some very odd choices made with other aspects. Barugon’s stiff tongue is one of those terrible ideas, unfortunately – and his flashing spikes are another oddity, though they do at least add to its unique look. Barugon’s ‘Terrible Rainbow’ is another charmingly bizarre element to add to the mix – and it seems that the problem with dead eyes that plague Gamera’s implementation are also present for the new creature too.
The longest of the Showa Era films, the first fight between the two titular creatures doesn’t arrive until almost an hour in – but it’s a pretty good one, with plenty of destruction and a testing of Gamera’s fire vs Barugon’s ice. I can’t go without mentioning the excellent purple gore either!
An issue that tends to plague the earlier Gamera films is the plans that the scientists have to keep coming up with – they become increasingly convoluted and also seem to increase in their absurdity, as they decrease in scientific believability. Not that believability is ever something that’s a necessity when it comes to classic Japanese monster movies, but even so – it’s still amusing to see them make these deadpan scientific discoveries and put their convoluted plans into action (the discovery of Barugon being a creature with ice powers who has a weakness to water…huh?).
There’s a weird narration that comes through at certain points as well – and, rather than letting the various (not exactly difficult to understand) montages speak for themselves or allow less awkward methods of exposition to tell the story for us.
All in all, however, it’s a definite improvement over the first film – especially with the addition of the backstabbing treasure hunt subplot, which works surprisingly well. The monster action is fairly sparse – and it’s as goofy as you’d expect it to be – but as one of the last ‘mature’ (comparatively, at least) Showa Era Gamera films, which took an increasingly kid-oriented tone as they went on, it’s a much more interesting film than it would at first appear to be.
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