Friday, November 14, 2014

Gamera vs. Barugon (1966) - MST3K Review

This Gamera flick picks up right where the first one left off, with Gamera, the giant rocket powered turtle, being shot into space in a rocket. Before you can say “watch out for that tree!” a meteor crashes into the rocket and Gamera is free to return to earth and wreck a little havoc.

While all this is going on three men journey to an island in the South Pacific to find a giant opal. One of men, Onodera (Koji Fujiyama) is a real jerk and wants the gem all to himself. So he kills his buddies and returns to Japan. Little does he know that Kawajiri (Yuzo Hayakawa) survives the attempted murder. A lovely girl named Karen (Kyoko Enami) tells him that the opal is actually the egg of a wicked creature called Barugon. Now that egg is headed to Japan, and hatches! Barugon is a large reptilian beast that has a long chameleon-like tongue that can spray a freezing blast. In addition this monster can fire a very FABULOUS rainbow beam that destroys anything it touches. Barugon starts to really trash Osaka. Kawajiri and Karen attempt to work with the Japanese military to stop Barugon using an enormous diamond. But the wicked Onodera is still around and when he finds out about the diamond his greed gets the better of him. Oh yeah, and Gamera decides to waltz in at the end and actually give us the title Gamera vs. Barugon, but only because Onodera the Greedy Bastard just wasn’t as catchy a title. Prepare yourself for intrigue, mayhem and lots of tonguing in this film. Just don’t prepare yourself for much Gamera.

Movie Review:
"Gamera comes running for the creamy taste of flames."
The first time I watched this episode I thought that maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it. Gamera vs. Barugon seemed like a dull slog of a movie. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Gamera film, but it seemed to have a bit more life than this movie. Sadly, this second viewing only confirmed it. This second Gamera flick just doesn’t work for me.

Part of the problem is that the monster action gets seriously sidelined for a good portion of the film. Gamera himself only shows up about three times. Each time his appearance is abbreviated. His battles with Barugon just don’t amount to much more than the two rolling around. Yeah Barugon gets the upper hand on their first meeting, but even the thrilling backdrop of Osaka castle doesn’t help the thing: it just kind of a bland affair.

Barugon himself really seems like an odd creation. His lizard-like body is interesting, and I like his long tongue attack. But the freezing blast and rainbow beam – well it just seems extremely goofy. Of course calling anything Gamera related “goofy” is redundant. Keep in mind; the series eventually delivers a monster with a head shaped like a knife. The rainbow blast just reminds me of all those rainbow themed kid focused art, stickers, and shirts of the 1970s and early 80s. That isn’t’ the creators fault, but that is the side effect here. Barugon blasts Gamera with his super sparkly happy rainbow beam. The Care Bear Stare LIVES!

I don't think Kermit had this in mind when he sang, "The
Rainbow Connection."
So it seems that the “versus” part of Gamera vs. Barugon is flat, but what about the rest of the movie. Well this is the only movie in the original franchise that does not feature a small child somehow involved in the story. Instead all the human characters are adults. Normally I think that is a great idea, since an over abundance of kids can drive me batty (I’m looking at you Prince of Space). But Gamera actually works best when the kids get in on the action. Without even a kid like the annoying Kenny of Gamera running around, things just don’t seem as fun.

Instead you get the thuggish and greedy Onodera, who is just a jerk from the moment you meet him. His greed drives many of the nasty consequences in the film. Even Barugon’s rampage can be put on this guy’s shoulders. Fujiyama gives a good performance, and you really detest the guy before he is finally devoured by Barugon (in one of the best death scenes in the entire series). Kawajiri is our stalwart hero. He’s a bit rough around the edges but has a heart of gold. He does seem to be easily discouraged though. After his plot to defeat Barugon fails, he just crumbles. Enami as Karen is an interesting character. She’s an islander who knows all about Barugon and tells us about his history and his abilities. She also comes up with an idea to drown the giant creature, but it doesn’t go well, and she breaks down too. See, this is why we need the little determined kids to show these adults that giving up is not an option!

"Oh no, he thinks it's a fire hydrant!"
Gamera vs Barugon is in rich color and that does help the film a bit. Since the previous film was in black and white, I can see why the creators went with an extremely colorful attack for Barugon. But the color also helps when we see Gamera rampage at the beginning of the film. His flames now have real heat to them. We even get some gore in this flick when the monsters have their final showdown, and this stuff is also rich in color. This style will set the tone for the following Gamera films, which all went big and loud with the colors.

Model work in the film is pretty darn impressive too. I love the Osaka castle model during the first face off between Barugon and Gamera. That thing looks so cool. But the port of Osaka gets really trashed by Barugon too, and the entire sequence is pretty impressive.

Alas, the dubbing in this film is about as poor as it was in Gamera. Some of the cast sounds bored to tears. Other folks sound confused by the lines and the whole concept of the Gamera film. Once again, the villain gets the best performance, with the voice actor chewing the scenery and providing some unintentionally funny moments with his hyper-intense performance. Some of the dub script is just bizarre and nonsensical, and that always works for some laughs.

Way too much screen time is spent with these
Unfortunately the real issue with Gamera vs Barugon is the pacing. This movie just drags. The script set up with the search for the opal and the aftermath takes up way too much screen time. The human characters aren’t that interesting. The plots they come up with to defeat Barugon aren’t too interesting. The script meanders from scene to scene. In a lot of ways it seems to be following the template from Gamera, but with Barugon in the title role. It’s an odd choice, especially since Gamera is still wandering around, but in the world of the film he just… um… is sleeping or something.

The movie just doesn’t deliver what it promises: two huge monsters slugging it out in Japan. Yeah it eventually happens, but it is too little and too late. The film seems slower than Gamera, and has a less interesting script than that film. But the scope is bigger in Gamera vs Barugon and the addition of color and some amazing model work makes this a slightly more entertaining film. But only by a little bit. Still all these colorful additions may be just what Joel and bots ordered for their second tackle of this turtle-tastic film.

Episode Review:
"He's making everything Christmasy."
So Season Three continued to truck along with Gamera films, and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew was ready and raring to go. In some ways I think the addition of color energized their riffing efforts a bit. At the same time, the human side of the story didn’t give them nearly as much to work with. Kenny was the main focus of their riffing in Gamera and with him gone from the film (and no surrogate in sight) I think they found the film a bit harder to write jokes for.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t laughs to be found in Gamera vs Barugon. This episode has plenty of great riffing. It just feels like the best moments are ones when either Gamera or Barugon is on the screen. Sadly, that just doesn’t happen that often in the middle portion of the film.

When the boys realize the film is in color Crow quips about Gamera, “You know in color I thought he’d be a strawberry blonde.” But once Gamera disappears from the film, Tom asks Joel, “Wasn’t this a Gamera movie?” Joel replies, “He must have a real good agent.”

Extreme joy or extreme constipation.
The funniest riffing for the middle portion of the film revolves around the three explorers on the island. Of these jokers, Kawajiri (Yuzo Hayakawa) spends most of his time mugging away and acting like a spazz. When the trio finds the “opal” he starts dancing around and shouting, only to be stung by a scorpion. His death throws are something to witness. Crow declares “He died as he lived: goofy.”

Gamera vs. Barugon picks up when Barugon hatches form his opal and starts to trash Osaka. As he hatches Tom declares, “Caution: filling his hot… and alive.” Barugon’s tongue attack is perfect for quips, and when he shoots it out Joel does his best Freddy Krueger imitation with “I’m your boyfriend now!” This riff would re-appear in The Giant Gila Monster. The frosty blast from Barugon’s tongue causes Joel to say, “You don’t see that too often in nature.” To which Tom adds, “Frosted mini-tanks?”

"Help! I'm being frenched to death!"
One of my favorite lines from the movie is when a defense minister declares, “This monster destroys everything with its tongue.” Crow adds, “You try saying that without laughing”. And speaking of that tongue, it also leads to one of the funniest (and naughtiest) exchanges of the film. When Barguon uses his tongue to capture and ingest a man, Joel declares, “There is something about watching a man getting tongued to death.” To which Tom replies, “That’s how I want to go.” Joel and Crow just turn and stare at him.

The host segments start off with a classic battle. Tom is a Mac user and Crow is a PC user. They can’t agree on anything, until Joel shows up and says he’s using his Amega. They proceed to mock him mercilessly. For Joel’s invention he takes the dancing soda cans (remember those things?) and turns it into a spokes-can for recycling. The Mad scientists unleash the Cummer-bubble-bund - cummerbund that shoots bubbles. But this one is adapted for Disco! It has to be seen to be believed. At the first break Joel and bots perform a radio ad for Make Your Own Tokyo playset. It has a bunch of models, fire, and a panicky Joel. At the next break Tom and Crow dress as monsters going out to eat at TGI-Tokyo. Joel is their server and he has a lot of flair! For the next break Joel tries to convince the bots that the Gamera series is filled with big named stars. He rolls a slide show and proceeds to give all the Japanese actors celebrity identities. The bots don’t buy any of it. When the movie is over the bots complain about the lack of Gamera in Gamera vs. Barugon. Joel explains that Gamera was behind the camera for this one.

I wonder if he pitched the Jack Daniels grill already?
As far as Gamera’s directorial debut, well this movie has its moments. Some of those moments translate into some fun riffing. As a MST3K episode I rate this one higher than Gamera but still less entertaining than the episodes that followed it. Is it worth checking out? I think if you are a fan of Gamera and MST3K, yeah it’s a no brainer. But if you want to start with a single Gamera episode, I’d say give Gamera vs. Barugon a pass, and seek out Gamera vs. Guiron instead.

Gamera will return in Gamera vs. Gaos!

I give this episode 3 opal/eggs out of 5.

This episode is available on the MST3K vs Gamera boxset (Vol. XXI).


  1. I was a history major in college and in consequence was a fan of unabridged collections of documents. Books like "The Selected Letters of Alexander Hamilton" were just annoying, because I never could be sure that what I wanted wasn't in an omitted letter. "Show me ALL of them!" I would lecture the book (which never listened). So, in a similar way, yes we must have ALL the Gamera films. That said, I just barely remember this one, though I do recall the greedy dude and the opal egg. Maybe one day I'll go somewhere over the rainbow and peek at it again. MST3K is probably the least painful vantage.

    1. Yeah the series gets goofier and goofier as it went along, but in a way that made it more fun to watch. These first few lack some of the crazy momentum of the later ones. Oddly, this film seems to take the concept pretty darn serious still. Hard to imagine with a creature destroying things with his tongue. :)

  2. I haven't seen the Misties take on the Gamera films, though I imagine they are fun to watch. I do have the first one without MST3K on them, which is fun if you're in the mood for such a film. When I was in a Godzilla mood back around the time the newest movie was coming out, I have another friend who loves Godzilla and SF in general, and I was talking to him about what were his favorite Godzilla films.

    He said, I like Godzilla Final Wars (monsterfest), Godzilla, Mothra, & King Ghidorah: All Monsters Attack, Godzilla vs. Ghidora (90's version). My favorite kaiju films of all is the Gamera trilogy from the late 90's. Mill Creek put out a cheap blu ray set of these films. I feel these are the best giant monster films least until Pacific Rim came out.

    I wasn't even aware of the updated Gamera films until he mentioned them.

    1. I need to check out those 1990 Gamera flicks. I've heard a lot of good things about them. And yeah "Pacific Rim" is a lot of fun. One of my new favorite Summertime flicks.

  3. I don't know if you've seen the anime series Baccano. Anyway, there's this bit from the first episode which gives the impression that they may have a more pessimistic view of rainbows in Japan. Setting the scene, we have a little girl admiring a rainbow, at which point her guardian rattles off the following:

    "From the time we are but children, we see rainbows as beautiful things. Without a doubt in our heads, upon sight, they are harmonious to our spirit. I've always wondered why that was. Of course, people who do not understand science or the refraction of light might see this anomaly in the sky as the harbinger of a natural disaster, thinking that something unwelcome might be coming down from that rainbow. Perhaps vegetation might be ablaze at the foot of the rainbow, bringing destruction. At any rate, we still see these seven-colored pieces of information with a sense of faerie tale magic to them."

    Really makes you think, don’t it?

    1. Never seen Buccano, but I've heard of the series. I remember hearing it was pretty darn good.

      I think you may be on to something with the cultural view of Rainbows being different. In the Kurosawa film "Dreams" there is that moment in the final segment where the little boy has seen the foxes marriage and now he must leave home forever. As he steps out from the home he stares out across the wide open world and sees a rainbow, but the scene as a whole feels eerie and lonely , not hopeful. Of course those moments are all based on dreams, but there could be a cultural resonance that that I wasn't understanding.

    2. First segment, not the final segment.