Gamera 3 (Japan 1999)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 10/31/99
Alternate Titles: Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle, Gamera 3: The Awakening Of Iris, Gamera 3: The Revenge Of Iris, Gamera: 1999 - The Absolute Guardian Of The Universe
Cast: Ai Maeda, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani

I have no idea what the correct title of this film is supposed to be, so I'm just going to play it safe and stick with "Gamera 3." This film is a nice follow-up to both "Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe" (1995) and "Gamera 2" (1996), as events that transpired in those films play heavily in this new conflict. In a series of flashbacks to the first film, we see a young girl's parents get killed during a battle between Gamera and a Gaos creature. As a result, she blames Gamera for the death of her parents and craves vengeance. Lucky for her, she stumbles across an icky tentacled monster called Iris and influences it to kill Gamera for her. Meanwhile, the military has a nasty problem on their hands - a brand new horde of Gaos have showed up, and nobody knows how to handle them. Fortunately (or not), Gamera shows up and starts taking out the Gaos menace, along with thousands of innocent bystanders. Surprisingly, Gamera is shown in a very negative light for most of the film, and the amount of death and destruction that follows him is catastrophic on a human scale. Back in the forest, Iris quickly grows up and flies to Kyoto to find Ayana (the girl that befriended him) and do battle with Gamera. All too late, Ayana realizes the extent of the horror that she's unleashed and desperately cries out for help, and it's Gamera who heeds her call. Gamera takes some serious abuse as he gets skewered by the tentacled blood-sucking Iris, and in a desperation maneuver has to cut off his own hand! Our heroes miraculously survive as Iris (and most of Kyoto) is finally destroyed, and a not feeling so well Gamera staggers off into the night. The film ends on a maddening note as we see hundreds of Gaos descending upon Japan, nicely setting up the stage for a potential sequel.

The film is absolutely gorgeous and the special effects are superb, although a little too much reliance is placed on computer generated critters. The destruction scenes, while not as plentiful as in "Gamera 2," are shockingly vicious and extreme. (In a tribute to "Independence Day" (1996), there's a wonderful scene of an approaching fire wall that flings human bodies around instead of cars.) The actress who plays Ayana (Ai Maeda) is an incredibly cute tortured soul who resembles a fifteen year old Moon Lee. She burns through the film with a combination of intense hatred and awakening sexuality, and is a lot of fun to watch. It's also nice to see the return of Gaos specialist and mega-babe Shinobu Nakayama, as she teams up with Asagi (the girl with the psychic link to Gamera) to figure out just what the hell is going on. And for me, that's where the film just barely falls out of the "total enjoyment" realm. There is a lot of exposition going on that fills in the critical details about Gamera, Gaos, and Iris, leaving a non-Japanese speaking viewer such as myself a little stranded. There's some kind of connection between the Gaos and Iris, and there's some kind of link between Iris and a shell-shaped artifact that Ayana has (much like Asagi's Gamera artifact). There's also some mystical folklore thrown in, as it appears that Iris was a demon who was sealed away in a cave by some Shinto priest or priestess (shades of "Tenchi-Muyo!" (1992) and "Devil Hunter Yohko" (1990) here). Then there are a couple of shifty researchers (including a creepy effeminate Dreamcast programmer) who want the power of Iris for themselves and kidnap Ayana. And what about the Gamera graveyard that we see at the bottom of the ocean? There's a lot going on this film that just left me confused and frustrated, but it really does pay off in the action sequences and all of the girls are beautiful and fun to watch. (cute babes, flying turtles, massive destruction - what more could you ask for in a movie?)

Once again, Gamera gets a facelift, but it falls a little short of the excellently conceived design in "Gamera 2." Most notably, his shell is not solid, and is made up of a series of flexible scales and spikes. His tusks are awkwardly angled outward, and his head looks disproportionately small while his neck looks too long. His flight mechanics are also different as he now sports a couple of rear tail fins, and his front arms don't transform into flippers anymore (I really liked the flippers from "Gamera 2"). He still looks bad-ass though, and is definitely not the "friend of the children" that he used to be - that's Mothra's job these days.