aka Awakening of Iris aka Gamera 1999: Absolute Guardian of the Universe
The final installment of Shuseke Kaneko’s trilogy of Gamera films aspires to be more than a giant monster movie when the giant flying turtle faces multiple foes – with the most deadly being a teenage girl. An unrelenting rollercoaster of a ride, Gamera 3 achieves the feat of becoming the most serious kaiju movie since the original Gojira stomped onto the screen. Combining an emotional plot, terrific pacing, and high attention to detail makes for a memorable movie whose images linger on well after the end credits roll.
Opening with haunting and evocative music, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris presents us with an unidentified location on the Ecuator in 1999. Doctor Mayumi Nagamine (Shinabu Nakayama) from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has been called out to a remote jungle village where the body of a young Gyaos lays decomposing. Absent from the second movie, the ornithologist has been spending her time researching the bird like monsters and now their return adds an ominous air to the proceedings.
While the good doctor is busy with her specimen, a mini-sub exploring irregularities on the ocean floor is stunned to find many giant turtle shell shaped formations in the depths. A closer examination reveals them to be the skeletal remains of multiple Gameras. And with that the title flares on screen and segues to montage of clips from the first movie.
Those clips are shown in black and white, nicely conveying that they are from the past. So when the date of 1995 appears, it appears we are going to get something new from that time. Sure enough, the frantic evacuation of a tween to a van by her father takes place while the battle between Gyaos and Gamera in Tokyo is fought. In a slick bit of retro continuity, young Ayana (Aki Maeda) watches helplessly as her father, mother, and tiger cat Iris are killed.
But there is something off about Gamera’s appearance, for he is much more sinister looking, appearing like a grotesque deep see fish with white orbs for eyes. When Ayana (Ai Maeda, Aki’s twin) awakens in 1999, we find that it was a nightmare based on the memories of her family being killed by the giant turtle. Now living with her little brother, aunt, uncle, and cousin, the orphaned girl does not get along with her new family. Her relationship with them is strained except for her protective older cousin.
Over in Tokyo, a strange and beautiful woman, Mito Asurako (Senri Yamazaki) investigates the comma shaped stones associated with Gamera that the government has collected. Oddly, all have decayed and fractured since the fight between Legion and the guardian turtle in the previous film. As strange as she is, her companion Shinya Kurata (Tooru Teduka) is much more odd -- and unexplained. Asurako compounds the weirdness by speaking of a prophecy about the end of the world.
I should point out that deftly interweaved stories are a characteristic of this movie, so many cuts back and forth between all the characters are the norm. Lending an urgency to the proceedings, it propels the story forward without being erratic. Not many directors can manage such juggling, but Kaneko does so with aplomb.
One focus is on Ayana and the boy who has a crush on her, Tatsunari Moribe (Yuu Koyama). Alerted to the girl and her brother being bullied by his younger sister, the young heir to the local shrine attempts to intervene on her behalf with mixed results. Arriving too late to prevent her moving a sacred stone in a cave connected to the shrine causes a chain of events that play throughout the movie. It also raises the question of what is the Ryuseicho that is supposed to be sealed away there.
Another focus is on the characters from the previous films. Nagamine runs into a familiar face when she encounters a bum selling magazines for booze money. The former inspector and security guard Osako (Yukijiro Hotaru) refuses to acknowledge his identity to her. Horribly embarrassed by his fall in society, the man reluctantly allows her to buy a magazine. It is an uncomfortable scene, which is what it should be when Japanese societal norms are considered.
Ominous events indicate that Gyaos creatures are becoming a threat again, with the oily minister from the first film having a cameo to warn Nagamine about Asurako. It turns out she is the Japanese government’s fortune teller, which raises the good doctor’s eyebrow. A government sponsored psychic is never a good sign, in my opinion.
So where is Gamera during all of this? Waiting to make an incredibly dramatic entrance. The first battle is an extended sequence that is dazzling and brutal, beginning with a drunken Osako looking up into the sky to see the shadowy forms of Gyaos flying above. That would be bad enough for the devout coward, but it gets worse with glowing fireballs illuminating the sky. A direct hit takes one Gyaos down and its burning body plummeting from the sky is a very impressive effect. Setting the aerial combat against regular city night life adds to the realism greatly.
Yes, I wrote realism, for this battle shows what would really happen if such creatures existed and decided to fight it out in a metropolis. The carnage and loss of human life is extensive, with it being show up close and personal rather than just model buildings being destroyed. Bodies fly through the air and people are incinerated indiscriminately by Gamera, who is more of a danger than a protector in his zeal to dispatch the flying lizards.
Not since the original Gojira/Godzilla has the sense of helplessness in the face of mass destruction been so effectively portrayed in a monster movie. It is one moment of sheer horror followed by another as Gamera destroys people and his reputation in one fell swoop. In the midst of the carnage, a rock like egg begins to split open in the cave of the shrine.
While the government deals with the aftermath of Gamera’s devastating attack, Ayana returns to the shrine to find the Ryuseicho has hatched. Depicted as a phoenix with tentacles, the hatchling creature does not quite live up to ancient manuscript billing. Somehow both creepy and cute, the monster is quickly named Iris by Ayana. Finding a stone much like the ones connected to Gamera, the girl decides she has found a way to seek revenge on the giant turtle. Moribe is not comfortable with this, but decides to let the girl raise the monster he is sworn to seal away. Here we see the dangers of young love as he allows his feelings for Ayana to influence his decisions.
So the teenage girl gains a stone to connect with a monster, but what happened to the girl who did the same with Gamera four years ago? It turns out the now grown up Asagi Kusanagi (Ayako Fujintani) has been traveling the world researching the the star of the movie. Reconnecting with Nagamine, they compare notes and a theory involving “mana” is first introduced. Mana is the essential life force of the planet and can be depleted by politically correct worries such as the Gulf War, the atomic bomb, and whatever.
Hence Japan being the destination for all the giant monsters… umm, okay. It does not really make sense, but all Japanese kaiju movies must kneel before the alter of environmentalism. Suffice it to say, mana is what powers Gamera and keeps Gyaos in check. If Gamera consumes too much mana more Gyaos will arise.
With Gamera now considered enemy number one by the Japanese people, Ayana continues to care for Iris. Having no mouth, the creature feeds through its tentacles in vampiric fashion. When she is late to feed it canned food, the panicked girl finds it suffering in the forest. After affectionately nuzzling her, a sudden growth spurt stuns the girl. But Iris wants to be closer to her. Much closer.
After a nearly too late rescue by her admirer, Ayana ends up in a coma like condition and is taken to a hospital. Meanwhile, Nagamine and a cleaned up Osako investigate the strange story of the girl in her village. There they find the village nearly wiped out and whatever did it left mummified bodies behind. The shrine is a wreck, but there they spy a guilt ridden Moribe and soon find out the details of what has happened.
Now knowing about Ayana, Nagamine and Osaka visit the hospital to see the comatose girl. Odd brain scans and the strange stone remind the ornithologist of her friend. One phone call later and Asagi is on her way to see for herself. At last all of the main characters are coming together. Or are they?
Asakura and Kurata turn up again to spirit Ayana to Kyoto while the others are away. The strange duo seem to be slightly at odds with each other and it is soon revealed that the woman is a priestess of a lost cult. A cult that worships the Ryuseicho and views Gamera as evil incarnate. The disparate plot threads are being woven together and the tapestry is beginning to make sense. What we have here is a conspiracy to kill the turtle…
Using her psychic powers, Asakura links to Iris through Ayana and look through its eyes. Being a new species derived from Gyaos but able to absorb and take on the genetics of other beings, Iris has mutated even further as a couple of randy teenage campers find out. Yep, it is a classic horror movie trope and the pretty teen girl gets what you expect. We are at the one hour mark and the movie is rocketing along.
Now gigantic (and semi-humanoid thanks to Ayana’s DNA), Iris is a surprisingly regal and disturbing looking threat to humanity. An interesting choice was made to use whale songs for the sounds of the monster, which adds to the surreal and unearthly aura of the creature. Oddly, it appears to want to be left alone out in the forest. Or at least left in peace to feed on campers.
The threat of another monster and the deaths in the region have the military mobilized and the ground forces of the JSDF engage Iris with small arms fire. While the Howa Type 64 7.62 NATO caliber rifle is a hard hitter, it would be like shooting spitballs at an elephant and this film being realistic, they have no effect on the beast. For that matter, the antitank rockets only annoy Iris and it sweeps the soldiers away with ease.
Taking flight, Iris becomes even more unearthly in appearance. Very good CGI makes the monster a pretty sight as it flies above the clouds of a gathering typhoon. Not what I would describe as a phoenix, but a fascinating creature indeed. A stunning aerial battle ensues as F-15J jet fighters patrolling for Gamera are diverted to intercept the new threat.
A tip from an acquaintance leads Nagamine and Asagi to Kurata who in turn leads them to Ayana, all the while espousing a nilhistic philosophy about humanity deserving to be destroyed. It is clear he cannot wait for Iris or the Gyaos to destroy the world, which deeply antagonizes Nagamine. Once again, the doctor defies the science fiction stereotype of supporting the alien/monster/invader and is the voice of reason championing the human race.
All things and characters begin to converge together once Ayana awakens. The typhoon, Iris, and Gamera all arrive in Kyoto for a final and fateful encounter. Will the world’s survival be determined by the hatred of one vengeful girl?
Quite a flick.
That was what I thought years ago after watching it late one night on DirecTV pay per view. After seeing it again over a decade later, I still think that. The ending stunned me back then and had me in an odd melancholy mood for a couple of days as I digested what I had just seen. It certainly was not what I expected out of a monster movie.
So how to describe the movie? Words such as grim, dark, sad, beautiful, emotional, intelligent, and spiritual all apply to this movie. While I have written what may appear to be a detailed description of the events contained within, only the surface has been scratched. Though the spoilers section will contain more, this is a rather extraordinary film with an impressive amount of detail. Whether it be the effects or the characters, all are depicted with depth and care.
Equipped with a larger budget and advances in CGI, director Kaneko took full advantage of the three year gap between movies to deliver a tour de force that should have redefined the kaiju genre. While that did not happen, Revenge of Iris is a loving tribute to monster movies that also proved that a serious take can work.
Gamera 3 is at least an equal to the original Gojira, though they are different movies with the 1953 film being more agenda driven and this one more character driven. One thing that I liked about this film is that it refuses to condemn humanity outright and actually espouses the need to fight for survival. Also interesting is that dichotomy between Asagi and Ayana. Each bonded with a monster and influenced it, one with love and the other with hate.
Young film makers would do well to study the framing of scenes and editing in the the movie. There are some very clever and subtle visual shots, such as moment where a building is hit by an energy beam and you see the results in the reflection on the windows of another building. So many little things are present that I am still finding them after multiple viewings.
While unrated, this movie is clearly a hard PG-13 due to the massive amount of human deaths and monster gore. There are also some very grotesque images involving Iris that younger children would not handle well at all.
I highly recommend Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris to science fiction fans, horror movie buffs, monster movie lovers, and those who enjoy well crafted films.
Being the third movie in the Gamera Trilogy Blu-ray release from Mill Creek Entertainment, it would stand to reason that the quality would be the same as Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion on the first disc. Actually, that is not the case. Where the other films were allotted 8 GB each, Gamera 3 is 14 GB and the increase in visual quality is significant.
As a result, the picture is much cleaner and more finely detailed with far less noise. The darker scenes still have noise, but it is not bad at all. Colors are vibrant as scenes involving the adult form of Iris demonstrate.
Sound is very good too, with full DTS-HD tracks in both Japanese and English. However, there is a serious problem with the English subtitles. They are incomplete and quite a few lines are never translated. I have never seen such a disastrous job done on subbing before, not even from amateur efforts. So for the first time in a review I have to recommend the dubbed version. Fortunately, it is a competent dub and does not detract much from the original material.
The extras are comprehensive and contain the making of materials for all three films. Only the extras for Gamera 3 will be commented on here, please see the other reviews for theirs. The extras are in DVD quality, except for the trailers which are in HD.
Broken into three sections that are not easily chosen separately, the extras feel experimental in presentation. The first section shows some of the bigger effects scenes intercut with compositing, effects, storyboards, and behind the cameras shots all in real time. The second section is The Awakening of Iris Remix which is more of the same but done to a screeching techno tune that is annoying. The final section consists of alternate takes and cut scenes, some of which explain things in more depth.
Given how fascinating some of the making of shots are, I wish they had done a more straight forward documentary on the production like was done for the first film. More detail on the puppetry and costume making would have been a better move.
At least there are glimpses into the CGI work this time around. With most of the flying sequences being rendered on computer, there is a lot to look at. I was grateful for a clearer look at the new flying form of Gamera. Some influences from jet fighters are noticeable, with ventral fins like those used on the F-16 and Su-27 being prominent. Less apparent is the F-4 inspired revision to the flying turtle’s tail and rear exhausts.
Wire work and classic scale model effects are seen as well. It appears every kind of special effect method known was used in the making of the movie and I have to say they turned out very well.
BEWARE! HERE BE SPOILERS!!!
I liked the byplay between Osako and Moribe late in the movie. The older man quickly picks up on the boy’s feelings for Ayana and pushes him to go rescue her. Later on he makes it possible for the teen to get to where she is by assaulting a police officer in an improbable act of bravery. One of the running themes in the movie is redemption and forgiveness, with Osako having a redemptive arc through his helping the boy.
Speaking of needing redemption, Moribe has failed as the custodian of the shrine in allowing Iris to hatch and continue living. The sacred dagger entrusted to him turns out to be ineffectual against the monster, but it does snap Ayana from the trance she is in. Of course it costs the boy his life to her horror.
Previously willing to merge with Iris, the attack on her suitor changes everything. Taken unwillingly into the central crystal of the monster to complete the merger, the frantic girl flashes back on the apartment she and her parents had lived in. That moment rang true to me, for it is the everyday things you connect with those who have died and bring out the strongest emotions – at least in my experience. But it is the guilt upon seeing the memories of Iris killing her aunt, uncle, and cousin that that triggers her desperate cry for someone to help her.
That makes for a dramatic moment when the giant clawed hand of Gamera reaches inside Iris to envelope her. The object of her hatred has somehow heard her plea and very quickly finds his other hand run through and pinned to the wall of Kyoto Station. I blinked several times when I watched this, for the imagery is very Christian and appears to reference the Crucifixion.
Unable to free himself or use the hand that has Ayana in it, Gamera finds his life being drained out of him by Iris. Not only his life, but his energy, or mana. As the tentacles power up the turtle takes the extreme measure of blowing his own hand off, making a sacrifice to defeat his foe.
After defeating Iris, the gigantic turtle approaches Nagamine and Asagi to gently deposit the cocooned Ayana in front of them. All is quite, with no music, just the frantic sounds of Nagamine performing CPR on the girl. Then the rain starts and so does mournful music as it becomes clear she is dead and cannot be revived.
Watching over all of this is Gamera, who is strangely attentive. Then he utters a cry…
Ayana breathes and awakens, while in the rubble the lifeless arm of Moribe twitches. Both have been brought back from death by Gamera and Nagamine cannot believe it. But Asagi can, for she never lost faith.
Having been saved by the being she hated above all others, Ayana asks, “Why?” Then Moribe finds her and takes her in his arms. Bursting into tears she clings to him, apologizing repeatedly to everyone.
The themes of sacrifice, forgiveness, redemption, and resurrection are all shown here. Since the second movie quoted from the New Testament, it appears that Christian concepts and imagery are not accidental. It is a surprising and spiritual end to a very dark and tragic movie.
After witnessing all of this, Gamera goes off into the flames of burning Kyoto, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of Gyaos are converging on Japan. Asagi notes that he will keep on fighting no matter what and the film ends on that grim, but slightly hopeful note. What is more interesting is that Ayana says Gamera’s name the way she did Iris’s earlier, for she has become a convert. Now she understands he is there to protect the world, despite the apparent harshness of his methods.
The fates of the two teens, Asagi, and Nagamine stand in stark contrast to Asakura and Kurata. The former is obliterated when she tries to take control of Iris in the mistaken belief that her being the high priestess of the creature’s cult would give her that power. Kurata delights in dying, being a true nihilist to the very end. It was a memorable death, I must say.