Kaiju Appreciations: Iris (Updated)

My latest appreciation video is now up. This one’s a remake of the very first one, a tribute to Gamera’s most vile and sinister opponent, Iris.

Iris is a very interesting figure among the kaiju. He’s pretty clearly based on Viras from the Showa Gamera films – an alien squid monster – but they took him in such a different direction that he became a distinct character in his own right (the same thing happened with Legion in the previous film, who was based on Zigra). The story of Gamera III centers on Ayana, a teenage girl whose parents were killed during the climax of the first of the trilogy, partly, if I remember correctly, because a medical condition that she had prevented them from evacuating sooner. Ayana blames Gamera for their deaths, and when she discovers a cute, squid-like creature in an ancient cave, she decides that it will be able to enact revenge for her.

Except that the creature, which she names Iris after her dead family cat (symbolically incorporating it into the family she lost), has its own agenda; to use the psychic link it forms with the girl to become ever more powerful, and eventually consume her entirely.

(At times there’s almost a twisted sexual undertone to their relationship, especially in the scene in the woods. Yikes).

So, yeah, this is a really good movie (the whole Gamera trilogy is great: a shining example of making the most of unpromising material), and Iris is probably one of the best and certainly most vile kaiju villains out there. Remember what I was saying about how Lovecraftian influence is everywhere? Iris is a textbook example (no, not just because he has tentacles, but because he’s an ancient, eldritch being of uncertain origins and purposes brought into the present to corrupt and destroy the very mind and soul of the people he encounters).

He also shows off the then-increasing use of CGI to supplement the suitimation, and it holds up surprisingly well, largely due to the fantastic art direction on his design.

I made the original video over a decade ago (which is depressing to think about), and then I could only record with demo software, so the quality is awful and there’s a distracting ‘Unregistered Hypercam 2’ notice in the top left corner. I always meant to go back and re-do it in better quality (literally said I would in the introduction). Looking back, the editing choices are kind of odd and out-of-step with the rest of the series, focusing as much on Ayana as on Iris himself. She of course needs to be present in the video, but looking at the old one it feels like half the video is about her. So for the new one I used more footage of Iris wherever possible, in the process finding a lot of really impressive shots that I somehow missed the first time (or didn’t think I could use with the rotten film quality).

Original

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” as rendered by the Jonas Brothers is a lighter and, well, cheesier fare that I would have liked, but at the end of the day I decided that I didn’t want to open up the rabbit hole of swapping out songs on these ‘remakes’, as that would kind of mean they were simply completely different videos, whereas I think of them as just updates or remasterings (there may be one exception down the line, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it).

(Also, I had to try to recreate the title animation by hand, since that particular ‘style’ doesn’t exist on Final Cut).

Kaiju Appreciations; Dagahra

Managed to get another appreciation video up. This one is for Dagahra, the villainous sea dragon of Rebirth of Mothra II, the second film of the Mothra trilogy from the late 1990s.

Dagahra’s story is that he was created by an ancient civilization called Nilai Kinai to clean up the pollution they had put into the oceans. But instead Dagahra went mad and began producing ‘Barems’, toxic starfish-like creatures that consumed the oceans in an effort to destroy everything that polluted the seas. He was subdued, but is awakened in the modern day by human pollution, where he clashes with Leo, the son of Mothra (who is the main star of the three films).

(As a side note, in my head I like to imagine that the Mothra trilogy is in fact in continuity with the Heisei Godzilla films, so that Leo’s mother is the same Mothra that fought Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mothra. Consequently, I like to imagine that Battra is his father)

Now, when I did my Kamacuras appreciation I said that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Toho kaiju without personality, but…well, Dagahra might just be an exception. He’s really not very interesting, despite a cool design; just another rampaging monster for Leo to fight in a series of extremely repetitive and largely dull battles that mostly consist of them shooting animated beams at each other with little effect. The idea of him having gone mad in the past from being corrupted by the very task he was created to perform is sort of interesting (and served as the basis for my song choice), but nothing is really done with it. It’s just an excuse for him to be there.

Honestly, the second Mothra film is pretty bad: possibly the worst kaiju film Toho produced in the 90s (the first one isn’t very good either, but at least has some emotional charge with the death of Mothra as she gives her life for her son and has a pretty cool villain in Death Ghidorah: a twisted clone of King Ghidorah). The child stars are extremely annoying (though I found out the girl actually went on to a pretty successful career) and the anti-pollution message is as subtle and artfully done as a meteor. The pseudo-Indiana Jones action that fills out the non-monster scenes is pretty awful, and it doesn’t help that Dagahra’s backstory is an almost exact copy of the Gyaos from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, which is one of the better kaiju films of that era, not to mention being simultaneously very similar to Battra’s from Godzilla vs. Mothra, both of whom are much more interesting characters (hence why Battra has become a staple of the Godzilla roster while most people forget Dagahra even exists).

For the song I went with The Hate in Me, initially just because I’d been meaning to use that for someone and I figured it was fitting enough to work (I really just wanted to get Dagahra over with; his video was a real chore due to how repetitive the monster scenes in that film tend to be). But in retrospect I’m pretty pleased with it: taking his backstory into account it feels like he’s calling out both Leo and the Nilai Kinai people for creating him and then not letting him do his job as he understands it. The line “There’s no apology for your hypocrisy” feels to me as though he’s calling Leo out for simultaneously pretending to defend the Earth while protecting the very people who destroy it. Likewise “You made me what I am.”

Overall, despite the struggles, I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Enjoy!

Kaiju Appreciation: Sanda & Gaira

For those who don’t know, one of my hobbies is editing together music videos, particularly ones celebrating the various Godzilla and other Toho characters. My latest one (first in nearly a year for one reason or another) is for Sanda & Gaira, the gargantua brothers from War of the Gargantuas.

For those unfamiliar with Kaiju eiga, War of the Gargantuas is a loose sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World and tells the story of two giants or ‘gargantuas’ that grew from pieces cast off of the regenerating Frankenstein monster from that film. One, Sanda (the brown gargantua), was raised by humans who loved and cared for him, the other, Gaira (the green one) grew up alone in the sea. Now fully grown, Gaira is a savage monster who preys upon people (spitting out their clothing), but when the military traps and nearly kills him, Sanda appears to rescue his brother and care for him. Only, when Sanda discovers his brother’s murderous appetites, he tries to beat the habit out of him, prompting a war between them.

This is really one of the best kaiju films of Toho’s classic era. It’s a good story based on a creative premise, and there’s a lot of real pathos in the relationship between the two monsters, where Sanda genuinely cares for Gaira and keeps trying to reach out to him even well into their fight, but Gaira is having none of it. But you can’t help feeling bad for him nonetheless, because Gaira clearly doesn’t have the capacity to understand the idea that Sanda can love him and still chastise him, making their showdown a full-blown tragedy (most of the best monster films are tragedies at heart).

Haruo Nakajima, best known for playing Godzilla in the first twelve films of the series, here assails Gaira. He called this his favorite non-Godzilla role by far, since the costumes left the actor’s eyes exposed, allowing for much greater emoting. I imagine the lighter costume and greater scope to show his athleticism also helped.

Anyway, for this appreciation I went with the song “How Can I Live” by Ill Nino, which seemed to fit the tragic, yet violent tone of the film (it’s the song that played during the credits of Freddy vs. Jason, though I actually first discovered it in a now-long-lost video tribute to…War of the Gargantuas!).

Enjoy

Kaiju Appreciations; Kamacuras

One of my hobbies is making music videos out of songs and film clips (though between one thing or another it’s been a long time since I’ve actually completed one). In particular, I’ve been working my way through a series of tribute or ‘appreciation’ videos for the various Toho Kaiju ever since my college days. Today, I finally got the next one up.

Today’s video is for Kamacuras, the giant praying mantis, who debuted in Son of Godzilla. There are actually three of them to start with, and they all end up being killed off over the course of the film; two by Godzilla, one by the giant spider Kumonga. Kamacuras didn’t return until the massive 50th anniversary film Godzilla: Final Wars, where he was one of the large stable of mostly B and C level kaiju filling out the film. He destroyed Paris under direction of the aliens from Planet X, then got taken out by Godzilla as part of what was essentially a montage of brief battles.

There’s not a whole lot of meat to Kamacuras; he’s a giant praying mantis, with all that implies, looking for food, and serving as a kind of starter opponent for Godzilla’s son, Minya. The three mantises menace the newly-hatched kaiju, and then the remaining one serves as the antagonist of Minya’s first solo fight (which Minya more or less loses, requiring Godzilla to drive the mantis off).

Though, that said, I don’t think there is any such thing as a Toho kaiju without personality. Kamacuras has a number of delightful little character touches, like the way he very clearly does not take Minya seriously when he comes to challenge him: he just kind of looks at the little kaiju then goes right back to menacing the film’s heroine. There’s a sense of glee when he’s pursuing his prey or attacking people, as though he’s eager to cause pain. He also seems to have an inflated image of his own power levels, rushing into battle against the likes of Godzilla and Kumonga (a trait that carries on to Final Wars). Think of him as the skinny, switchblade-wielding thug of the kaiju world; dangerous in his own way, but not nearly as dangerous as he thinks himself and way out of his depth with the more high-ranking characters.

Hence why I chose the song Get Ready to Die; a light, but gleefully aggressive little number, the exact kind of thing a character like this would sing.

Indestructible

The irreplaceable Caroline Furlong of A Song of Joy shares music videos featuring two ear-catching song both titled ‘Indestructible.’ One of the songs I’m well familiar with and used it as the theme of one of my favorite Godzilla characters: the indomitable Anguirus, which I now present for your consideration. Enjoy!

(Apologies for poor video quality: this was before I’d ironed out the video-capture process)