Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969) – MST3K Review

The story starts when two boys Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tom (Christopher Murphy) see a flying saucer land in the field near Akio’s house. They get pretty darn excited about this and head off to investigate. Akio’s little sister dogs their trail and they manage to avoid the goofy local cop named Officer Kondo (Kon Omura). When they find the saucer they discover that the ramp is down. So they just walk right on in and start messing with the controls. Well wouldn’t you know it, the ship blasts off and they are traveling the solar system to a mysterious planet.

Gamera (friend to all children) tries to save the boys, but the saucer is too fast for him. When the boys land on the mysterious world they meet two space babes named Florbella (Reiko Kasahara) and Barbella (Hiroko Kai). The two gals try to convince the boys that they want to meet peacefully with the people of earth. But obviously something sinister is afoot. They control a horrible monster with a knife shaped head and a lousy attitude. His name is Guiron, and he’s just itching for a fight with the biggest monster of all – Gamera! Will Akio and Tom escape the clutches of the space babes and survive the epic showdown of Gamera vs. Guiron?

Movie Review:
Guiron attacks the city of tomorrow!
To me this is the best of the Gamera films from this era. It has Gamera beating up monsters, it has bad dubbing, it has creative miniatures and special effects, it has a couple kids caught up in the action – it just hits all the right beats. But on top of all of that, Gamera vs. Guiron goes completely off-roading in the plot department. This nearly breaks the goofy meter and makes the whole thing a blast to watch.

Most of these movies, from Gamera to Gamera vs. Gaos (and most of the Godzilla movies as well) have a standard plot. A Major metropolis is threatened by giant evil monster. Japanese scientists and the military attempt to stop the threat, but fail. The Hero monster shows up and faces the villain monster. Much property is destroyed, but the hero monster fails. Villain monster goes on the rampage, and our primary human characters are threatened. The Hero monster returns and proceeds to beat the tar out of the Villain monster. More property damage is caused, but in the end the earth is saved.

The only way that saucer could pass me was if
was running on Nitro.
Gamera vs Guiron eschews that plot and focuses on the adventures of two young boys. This plot is something that only a young boy who has grown up on Japanese monster movies could come up with. Our heroes live the ultimate adventure! They ditch their parents and little sister. They outrun a ROCKET POWERED TURTLE! They find an alien planet. They meet space babes. They see a super scary monster that has the head of a knife and can shoot shuriken (ninja stars) from his face! Then it turns out the space babes want to eat the kid’s brains (see, girls have cooties and are scary!)  Finally Gamera arrives to rescue our heroes, trounce the monster and save the day. When the boys get home, they are famous, praised for their bravery and Akio even delivers an emotional speech that inspires the adults. I’m telling you, this film was aimed directly at the target audience and delivered.

So yeah, the 8-year-old boy in me thought this one was just great.

Space babes provide Akio with a close encounter.
One of the reasons this film is more interesting to watch than the previous ones is the amazing creativity on display for the alien world and technology. Granted it isn’t anything super complicated, but it is all bright, colorful and just plain wacky looking. The space babes are dressed in ridiculous costumes, and I love that their normal language is sped up chipmunk style gibberish. The transporter pyramids and triangle buttons are really cool looking. And then you have all the model work for the alien world, which provides Gamera vs. Guiron with plenty of material to destroy and use in the battles. The flying saucer is cool looking even sporting fins and spinning lights. But one of my favorite bits of technology is the trap the space babes use to shave Akio’s head so they can devour his brains. One of these devices should be in every home.

Guiron himself is ludicrous looking. He crawls on all fours, slices and dices with his knife head, and can shoot shuriken in just about any direction he wants. Only a kid could come up with that creature. When we first see him, he actually fights with a Space Gaos (a silver version of the monster seen in Gamera vs Gaos). Guiron makes quick work of the monster and starts slicing him up like a sushi roll. The amount of monster blood on the screen is surprising. But this also makes the viewer realize that Guiron is one bad monster. Remember how much trouble Gamera had with Gaos? Well Guiron just kicked Gaos’ ass without even trying. Damn!

I swear this looks less obscene in the movie... kinda.
Needless to say the monster fights are a ton of fun . With so many whirling blades, Gamera really takes a licking. In fact Gamera is spouting blood from many wounds by the end of his first encounter. There are a few classic moments in these battles that you have to see if you love giant monster films. Gamera swings Guiron by his tail in one scene. In another you witness Gamera perform some gymnastics… a scene so hilarious it matches Godzilla popping a wheelie in Godzilla vs. Megalon.

One of the new elements of Gamera vs Guiron that immediately catches your attention is the score and song by Shunsuke Kikuchi. The score is comprised of some really catchy tunes. Unfortunately they are played over and over again, so you may start to lose your patience with them. But this is also the first film to feature the Gamera theme song! This puppy is an instant earworm, and you’ll find yourself singing along in Japanese before you know it.

Here's a tip, if the door to the alien craft is open...
don't wander in!
Let’s talk a bit about the dubbing. Yes, it’s horrible. But we knew that going in. What is really strange about this dub is the odd stilted way the kids are performed. Most of their dialogue sounds clunky and way too elaborate to be coming out of kids who are in the single digits. I’m not sure if this was done to match the lip flaps, or if it a more accurate translation. The final result is some stupendously awkward line readings by Akio and Tom. Another oddity is that they keep referring to planets as stars. So when the boys land on the strange alien world, they keep referring to it as “a newly discovered star”, even though the planet is still in our solar system. Also of note is the scientist in the opening sequence. His speech during the press conference is absolutely horrible. The way the script is written he…. keeps pausing… at the strangest…. times, and …. often confusing the point…. he… was trying to…. make. It is so stilted you’re wondering if it is supposed to be funny, or just one of the worst dubbing jobs you’ve ever seen.

Kon-chan finds a clue.
Aside from that, most of the acting works OK. Akio and his little sister are probably the best of the lot. Tom is a bit wooden, but hey, if you watch the Japanese version, you’ll notice that he and his mother are actually speaking their lines in Japanese. Not bad for gaijin. Comic relief comes in the form of Officer Kondo, who the kids call Kon-chan. By adding “chan” to the end of his name, this make it sound like he’s a little kid, and Kon Omura plays the part very broadly like a child-like adult. He is the only one that believes the little sister (Miyuki Akiyama) that her brother flew away in a saucer. He is also the first person to believe that Gamera may be able to save the boys. Kon-chan mugs quite a bit, but he doesn’t have much screen time.

Time for us to kick this film up a notch.
One of the biggest improvements Gamera vs. Guiron shows ever the likes of Gamera vs. Barugon is the pacing. The movie plugs along at a fair clip, always putting the boys into new adventures, new environments, or adding a twist to the plot of the Space Babes. The only slow part is that fairly useless sequence with the scientist at the press conference at the beginning of the film. It doesn’t have much impact on the rest of the story, and it drags like you wouldn’t believe. But once the boys show up everything starts moving a lot better.

To me, this is a very entertaining giant monster movie. It’s creative and fun. It has moments that come out of left field. It has some bloody and brutal monster action. Best of all, it moves at a really good pace. As much fun as Gamera vs. Gurion is without any riffing, for Joel and the bots, this is a gift-wrapped present that they can’t resist.

Episode Review:
He looks great so far, but will he land the dismount?
Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a lot of fun with dubbed Japanese movie riffing. Godzilla vs Megalon is a classic. Time of the Apes and Fugitive Alien are some of the best riffing of compressed televisions shows into movies they’ve ever done. But when it comes to Gamera, Gamera vs Guiron is the funniest episode by far. Everything is fair game and the writing just nails all kinds of riffs from the obvious and silly to the absurd and obscure. There is so much good material here, I don’t want to spoil any of it, but I’ll give you a few ideas of where the boys go.

Some of the funniest riffs come from the score and the Gamera theme song. In the early portions of the film, a silly little tune plays as Akito and Tom attempt to reach the saucer. Joel, Tom and Crow come up with various lyrics for the tune that will crack you up. But the big musical winner here is the Gamera theme song. It is so catchy and exciting Joel and bots can’t help but bounce around in their seats and soon adapt lyrics for the song. This spills over into two musical host segments based on the Gamera theme.

Cornjob is filled with surprise and delight at Gamera's
This episode also features a couple of running jokes. Because of the poor dubbing, Joel and bots don’t hear that the kids call Officer Kondo, Kon-chan. Instead they hear, Cornjob. So the rest of the film they keep calling him officer Cornjob and take off with the riffs on this buffoon.

The other running joke is that little Tom looks a teeny tiny bit like Richard Burton – you know if you squint real hard. So the boys just have a field day with all kinds of Richard Burton jokes and lines. So yeah Gamera vs. Guiron now has a connection to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Who knew?

Of course the monsters get a lot of attention by the riffers. Guiron with his knife shaped head induces all kinds of cutting and knife puns. Just when you think the boys are spent, they come up with another clever play on words. Gamera’s actions inspire plenty of riffing, especially his turn at acrobatics. I love when Gamera comes charging in and Crow gasps, “Gamera is playing chicken!” Tom responds, “No, he just tastes like chicken.”

"Don't start with me Akio!"
The model work on the alien world also gets its share of riffing. Tom decides it looks like “a Ramada Inn from 1976.” But Joel thinks it looks like “Fraggle Rock”. But once Guiron explodes from the earth, Tom decides, “Oh they landed in California: earthquakes, no water, giant monsters.”

Near the end of the film a group of scientists rush to the saucer-landing site, Tom quips, “We are form the padding department. Show us to the plot hole.” Crow determines that Gamera vs Guiron “is just like Hamlet.” Tom replies, “Yes. There are many parallels…. Wait, WHAT?”

The host segments are pretty solid too. The episode starts with Tom and Crow discussing trading school lunches from MST3K lunch boxes. For the invention exchange, the Mads create Rorschach test centerfolds. They see some pretty steamy stuff in those inkblots. Joel creates a collapsible trash can for camping. At the first break the boys hold a “Let’s Go Gamera” sing along! At the next break Joel attempts to saw Crow in half using Tom as Guiron blade. Crow ruins the whole skit. When we come back again, the Crow is Richard Burton and Joel narrates a biopic of his life. Tom rounds out the cast as Liz Taylor and Lee Majors. When the episode ends, Joel and the bots attempt to sing the Gamera theme song in Japanese. This is either really silly or borderline offensive. I can’t deiced which, but it is pretty darn funny either way. The episode ends with Mike playing Michael Feinstein crooning to the Mads and telling them the origin of the Gamera theme song. The Mads are driven to kill.

The Gamera Theme song gets mutilated by Joel and the bots.

Well this may not be a Shakespearean epic, but it is a lot of fun. I’ve just given you the tip of the riffing iceberg, so go ahead and seek this episode out. You will not be disappointed.

Gamera will return in Gamera vs. Zigra!

I give Gamera vs Guirion five gymnastic rocket turtles out of five.

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

And now, the Gamera Song, so you can sing along at home...


  1. I first encountered films from the early 60s such as "King Kong vs Godzilla" or "Mothra vs Godzilla" (in the theater no less) while still part of the target audience. Yes, my friends and I knew they were cheesy even then, but we didn't care. This film I saw at 16, and it might have been the first I enjoyed purely on a so-bad-its-good basis. If so, it brings to mind WC Fields' line about the woman who drove him to drink: "That's the one thing I'm so indebted to her for." If this film did indeed drive me to the so-bad-its-good habit, I am in its debt.

    1. Yeah, I've got a similar movie that taught me the joys of "so good its bad". Its a horrible 80s fantasy flick called "Wizards of the Lost Kingdom". It was just plain stupid, and silly and bizarre. My friend and I watched that thing a bunch of times on VHS, I think we wore it out. I keep hoping to see it get a DVD release one of these days, because I bet it holds up as a cheesy bad movie.

  2. As I understand it, the whole star/planet controversy stems from how the Japanese word hoshi can mean either a planet or a star (in the sense that they're both lights in the night sky), and the translators apparently Just Didn't Care. Tragically, this sort of mistranslation still happens. I don't know if you remember Nobunaga the Fool. It was an anime series with a concept (in this case Oda Nobunaga teaming up with Joan of Arc and Leonardo da Vinci) that sounds awesome on paper but falls flat in execution. Anyway, the setting has two planets, one based on Sengoku era Japan and the other on (mostly) Renaissance era Europe. Their names get translated as Star of the East and Star of the West respectively.

    1. Gotcha. That does make a lot of sense. Japanese has a lot of words that mean multiple things but it all depends on the context of the sentence to figure out which meaning to go with. Took about a semester of the language about 10 years ago and that was one of the real struggles I was having (as well as having a very poor teacher).