Gamera vs. Guillon

Space adventure giant saucer turtle

By the end of the 1960s, the audience for Japanese monster movies had changed dramatically. Monsters were showing up as villains on TV superhero shows — programs made specifically for children — and these shows were tremendously successful. And so, the monster movies followed suit, warping from tales of terrifying hell-beasts into fantasies about children and their adventures with gigantic playmates.

The Gamera series was on this track almost from the outset. Created by Daiei Studios to be a box office rival for Toho’s Godzilla, Gamera made little effort toward a scientific explanation for its title character. A few Inuit talk about a legendary creature, paleontologists yammer a bit about a beast in suspended animation from a bygone age — but in the end, you either accept a giant fire-breathing jet-propelled turtle, or you don’t. The recent trilogy of Gamera films has made a better try at creating an origin, but back then nobody was really trying to fit Gamera into the fossil record.

With a monster that already had one clawed foot in the world of pure fantasy, Gamera took a step further by featuring a scene in which the turtle pauses in his rampage to save the life of a little boy. In the second sequel Gamera vs. Gyaos (aka Return of the Giant Monsters), another kid is saved by Gamera. And in Gamera vs. Viras , the turtle went out of his way to help two boy scouts in a mini-sub. These scenes turn up as a quick flashback smack in the middle of Gamera vs. Guillon , as part of an explanation by kidnapped Earth kid Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) to his captors that “Gamera is a friend to all children.” This has since become one of the main tenets of the Gamera legend.

This also represents one of the Gamera series’ other trademarks — the use of Gamera stock footage. This trend would grow in the ever-cheaper remaining entries in the series throughout the 1970s, until later entries had more stock than new footage.

Akio and his American pal Tom (Christopher Murphy, who has grown up to play in genre fare like The Abyss, Carnosaur 2, and House of Frankenstein 1997) are typical little boys, interested in science and dismissive of Akio’s little sister Tomoko (Miyuki Akiyama), whom Akio repeatedly refers to as an “idiot”. But Tomoko’s not dumb enough to climb inside a flying saucer the boys find settled in their playlot. While the boys play spaceman (inside a real spaceship) the saucer takes off.

When a meteor shower threatens, Gamera appears to protect the boys. However, the ship picks up speed and their escort is left behind. Next thing you know, the saucer lands on an alien world. Akio theorizes that since it has a breathable atmosphere, they must be on another star. He just has that kind of analytical mind. He’s also quite the dreamer, wishing not only for world peace, but a world free of traffic accidents. In fact he expresses this wish four times during the film, which leads me to the conclusion that Akio’s dad may have been killed in a car wreck.

About the closest thing to a father figure for the two boys is Gamera. The only other men they know is a comic cop named Kondo (Kon Omura), and elderly scientist Dr. Shiga (Eiji Funakoshi, who was also in Gamera). Tom’s mother (Edith Hanson) never mentions a husband either, and is perfectly satisfied to leave her son with her Japanese friend indefinitely.

Even the boys’ captors are female, twin beauties named Barbella (Hiroko Kai) and Flobella (Reiko Kasahara, also in Gamera vs. Gyaos  and Gamera vs. Zigra), who are decked out in costumes straight out of the Buck Rogers comic strip. The women at first seem friendly, letting the boys play with their teleporters and explaining that they represent the last survivors of an advanced civilization that failed in an attempt to flee the planet. It seems the planet is suffering from many catastrophes: the planet is freezing over with glaciers, under attack by a species of space Gyaos, and suffering from an increase in traffic accidents (okay, I made up the last one).

Previously, the boys had been attacked by one of the Gyaos themselves. They were saved by the intervention of the aliens’ watchdog, evil monster Guiron — a huge, vaguely reptilian beast with a head shaped like a giant butcher knife. Guiron uses his head in battle, chopping up the Gyaos into neat slices.

But the alien gals’ friendly pose is a ruse. Before long the boys learn their true plan: to take the saucer back to Earth to conquer it. At least I think this is their plan — it’s never made clear. What is made plain is that Barbella and Flobella are cannibals, planning to take the boys along on their trip “as rations”! The even shave Akio’s head in preparation to eat his brain (a scene which I believe is unique in the annals of alien invasion movies), but are luckily interrupted by the arrival of Gamera.

Gamera goes into battle against Guiron, and after a rough tussle, is knocked into a coma by Guiron’s poisoned ninja stars. No, I’m not making this up. Will Tomoko convince her mother that the boys took off in a saucer? Will Gamera revive? Will Barbella and Flobella make shashimi out of Akio and Tom?

This release from Neptune Media marks the fourth version of this film — and fifth, since they’ve concurrently released subtitled and dubbed versions on tape. It began as Gamera tai Daikaiju Giron, the fifth entry in Daiei’s successful monster series. American International bought rights to it, along with other Gamera movies, and hired Bret Morrison to supervise English dubbing. They then edited the film (excising the cartoonish gore of Guiron’s butchering of Gyaos), and released a hideously panned & scanned version to television under the title Attack of the Giant Monsters, which I saw quite a few times on Saturday afternoons, and was later picked up by King Features Television. During the 1980s, Sandy Frank Productions picked up several of the Gamera movies for video and TV distribution. Set up with their own dubbing operation for the (many) other foreign features they’d acquired, Sandy Frank chose to redub the films themselves, rather than pay for the AIP print. This resulted in much hilarity when the dubbing cast (including actress/cabaret star Sandra Bernhard) decided to give the alien women hillbilly accents! Their transfer was even worse than AIP’s, but restored much of the excised footage and returned the title to Gamera vs. Guiron. This version is probably the one most familiar to US fans, mostly due to its appearance as Experiment #312 on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Neptune Media has made a name for themselves among fans for their release of the first Gamera film on video both in its original Japanese version, Giant Monster Gamera, and in its original American version as Gammera the Invincible. Both versions also made it to a laserdisc release. Now, they’ve reassembled what should prove to be the definitive version of Gamera vs. Guillon (the alternate spelling chosen to correct the name’s origin from “guillotine” — the Japanese make no differentiation between “R” and “L”, and the translator just heard the name as Guiron. Similarly, Gojira is pronounced “Godzilla”). The gorgeous print is taken directly from Daieiscope original elements, restoring the image to widescreen glory. In addition to a subtitled release, there is also an edition available containing the AIP’s original English tracks. Dubbed foreign films don’t get much respect in the USA, but the cast did an excellent job with their adaptations, synching difficult translations as closely as possible to lip movements while attempting to recreate on set ambiance.

The tapes also include three versions of the original Japanese theatrical trailer (with title translations, dialogue subtitles, and a “clean” version without anything), plus AIP’s television trailer for Attack of the Monsters (which shows just how bad it looked in comparison). There’s also a section of Gamera stills and poster art accompanied by music from Shunsuke Kikuchi’s memorable score.

Though long the object of derisive laughter from fans and casual viewers alike, this beautiful release of the original Gamera vs. Guillon shows that at least the filmmakers were in on the joke, and knew full well what kind of bizarre and entertaining children’s entertainment they were creating — although I doubt they’d have guessed it would be treated so respectfully in the 21st century.

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