By this stage, the Gamera films must have felt like a real annual event as they were being released in Japan. The fourth film since 1965’s first entry, Gamera vs Viras (studio Daiei really did pump these films out!) is another giant monster smackdown, with the giant flying turtle beginning this entry in space, intercepting some very psychedelic aliens who seek to conquer and colonise the Earth.
Another upbeat song – and a ‘Special Thanks to the Boy Scouts of Japan’ in the credits – immediately suggest that, following the third entry’s repositioning of the series as being one aimed at kids, we’re leaning even further towards a more kid-friendly tone with the fourth film.
Sure enough, when the credits end we’re introduced to two mischievous boy scouts – Masao and Jim – whose antics see them messing with the controls of an experimental new submarine, to ‘hilarious’ effect, before somehow being allowed to take it for a spin (it’s good to see that the Gamera films have still not bothered with any sort of plausibility in their storylines). It’s not long before the trippy aliens return, however, with their sights set firmly on Gamera…
Though the comedy is awkward and unfunny, the underwater modelwork and photography is excellent – it feels a lot like a Gerry Anderson-style production at times – and there’s a really unique, groovily 60s look to the Alien tech, if not the decidedly Japanese aliens themselves. The film is really fun from the opening sequence onward and it’s good to see the series truly embracing its daftness, even if the music goes a little overboard in selling the wacky tone.
The montage of Gamera’s previous stories also helpfully catches you up with all you need if this is your first rodeo with film studio Daiei’s kaiju series – though it does drag out for some time, giving the impression that there was so little in the way of story, or perhaps budget, for this film that they needed a cheap way to fill out the running time (Gamera vs Viras is less than 90 minutes long – even with the clips of the previous three films included!).
The compositing of live action and models is well done too, with some nice bluescreen work that feels pretty seamless most of the time (there’s a notably bad sequence at the end as the evil monster grows to kaiju size though). The non-Gamera monster appears very late in the film – getting a quick introduction as a roughly human sized, seemingly friendly cephalopod before taking on Gamera for the finale.
Gamera vs Viras is my favourite of the series so far – it’s unashamedly daft, it breaks the formula of desperate scientists resorting to increasingly silly measures that the previous films seemed to settle into and it’s tons of campy fun. Extended clips from previous films aside, it moves at a decent pace and it gives us a brilliantly, hilariously OTT showdown with a great creature at the climax (probably the strongest non-Gamera monster of the series to this point – though maybe that’s just my preference for cephalopods speaking!). And believe me, it gets truly, deliberately stupid – no spoilers, but the climactic fight scene goes utterly mental by the end. Four films in, it feels like the series finally found the right approach for its daft premise, campy fights and charming special effects techniques.