Gamera VS Barugon!

Gamera Vs Barugon – 1966, Shigeo Tanaka, Japan


I love this big, lumpy, turtle shaped idiot.

Gamera’s big debut was a little rough. It was enjoyable, yes, but in today’s world, Gamera The Giant Monster just isn’t a movie that anyone needs to see unless they’re already way into kaiju cinema. It fell a little flat, and for the most part, looked more at home amongst American B-movies of the 1960’s than alongside the higher quality Japanese monster movies it wanted to imitate. All that shit is over now, though, because Gamera Vs Barugon is the huge, lumbering bumble forward in quality we want it to be. This freakin’ movie is absolutely worthy competition for Toho, and in fact, it leaves some of their lesser “name brand” Kaiju in the dust. (Suck it, Varan!)

THE PLOT- After an adventure to smuggle a priceless Opal out of the jungles of New Guinea backfires, Barugon, who is in no way a rip off of Toho monsters Anguirus or Baragon (he totally is) is unleashed on Japan, and he’s eager to hit them with a blast of irrational, crazed lizard fury the likes of which they’ve not known for several weeks. And he might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that meddling Gamera, who is back on Earth after our efforts to kill/launch him into space proved to be a failure. The two big bad beasties slug it out, in keeping with tradition, and in the end, it’s giant reptile VS giant reptile in a heated, knock down, drag out lizard war for the ages. Why don’t people just move away from Japan at this point? No excuse is a good enough reason to stay put with this crap going on.

The first thing you need to know about Gamera Vs Barugon is that Gamera is barely even in it. Actually, that’s the movie’s greatest flaw, no where near enough screen time for the headlining act; our gluttonous tortoise beast shows up, is prompty frozen solid by Barugon’s icey gas spray (quit laughing), and then he’s out of the picture for 90% of the runtime. It’s just Japan versus Barugon until the eleventh hour, when a freshly thawed Gamera whirls into frame to beat Barugon’s ass, and then the credits roll. This is not an ideal situation given that this is Gamera’s sophomore outing, but since the burden of carrying this picture is all on Barugon, we should probably talk about him a little bit.

Firstly, I want to address the elephant in the room; This dopey ass lizard creature is undeniably a straight up rip off. The whole “BARAGON/BARUGON” thing is, for sure, pretty dammed hard to dispute.


This is BarUgon (Daiei).


And this is BarAgon (Toho).

BarAgon, who, as you can see, looks quite a lot like our boy BarUgon, made his debut appearance in Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World one year prior to the release of this film, so trying to argue that there wasn’t any sort of plagiarism here would be a lot like when Vanilla Ice tried to say he didn’t rip off Under Pressure. That argument would just be embarrassing, and Daiei would be better off just admitting to the theft and taking their lumps. The weird thing is, however, that aside from the name, Barugon actually has more in common with Anguirus, than he does with Baragon. Check out the facts; Anguirus is, yet again, another four legged, gigantic lizard monster who had a horn on his Schnozz and spikes on his back. In addition, Anguirus and Barugon both first appear in the second installment of their respective franchises (Barugon here in Gamera Vs Barugon and Anguirus in Godzilla Raids Again, Toho’s second Godzilla film), and both films feature dramatic monster battles that take place in Osaka, Japan, right outside the famous Osaka Castle. I even think Barugon looks a bit more like Anguirus, right down to a mutual lack of floppy ears. Have a look:


They could be brothers.

In summation, yeah, Barugon is a damn rip off.

All that being said, I hated this freakin’ guy before I even started watching this movie. How could I not, given that he was little more than a shameful xerox of Baragon, who had long since warmed my heart with his floppy ears and hilarious antics. I knew from photographs I had seen that Barugon didn’t even have ears, so he was indeed on my shit list right out of the gate; but imagine my surprise when he won me over more or less immediately! Barugon is actually a really well done monster, the suit looks like garbage, of course, but Daiei managed to squeeze more personality into him than Toho did with either of Anguirus or Baragon in their respective debut films. This big, scaly dofus does some really great stuff that I’ve never seen a giant monster do before; firstly, he’s the only Kaiju I’ve ever seen sit down in the middle of a decimated city and take a nap. Barugon totally does that. After smashing up Osaka, he thinks “That was good. This place is mine now. Think I’ll take a snooze.” Awesome. Then, when Gamera shows up, our boy Barry hunkers down behinds some trees with just his eyes poking up, as if to get a feel for the situation before figuring out how he wants to react to the appearance of this potential foe. The decision he reaches is that it’s time to throw down, and so after a brief confrontation, Barugon blasts Gamera with his ice spray and freezes him solid, at which point he prods Gamera’s big, frozen head with his horn, as if to make sure his opponent is really down for the count. These are all small things, but they make an amazing difference in selling this ludicrous looking puppet as a living creature, and I came out of this fairly impressed by the attention Daiei put into the subtleties of Barugon’s personality. That, more than anything else, excuses his plagiarized monster lineage, and so B-Boy get’s a pass from me, ultimately.

There are also other ways in which Gamera Vs Barugon succeeds where many films in this sub-genre continue to fail. The best thing the movie does is that it gives us interesting human characters and a story which would still be fun, even if it didn’t have a single giant monster in it. That’s huge. The bungled Opal smuggling sequence is great, it’s fun and exciting, and combines elements of gangster cinema and jungle adventure films, which is an odd mix, but which pays off in spades. Our two most important humans in the picture are, Onodera, who is a ridiculously over the top douche bag and also our villain, and Keisuke, who is our protagonist. This whole “Retrieve a giant opal” thing is clearly a shady, under the table type of operation, and actually I’m not sure why that is. It seems like you should be legally allowed to be a treasure hunter and bring a rad ass opal back from the jungle if you want to, but we get the message that this was evidently a very illegal thing that they are doing, and that actually works to the films advantage in a very clear and tangible way. Keisuke inherits a sort of ambiguous morality through his association with these shady dealings, and that makes him a more interesting character than we’re used to seeing in this films. It also gives us Onodera, who again, he’s a fucker. Let’s talk about him.

Onodera has a rap sheet longer than Barugon’s retractable lizard tongue. It’s freaking crazy how much of a dick head this guy is. Firstly, he allows one of his gem heist conspirators to suffer a fatal scorpion sting, so as to ensure that Onodera receives a bigger cut of the take. Then, when his Keisuke fails to die from natural Jungle related risks, Onodera grenades the cave shut in an attempt to rub him out, too. The final conspirator is Keisuke’s disabled brother, who hid the opal in that scorpion infested cave during the war in the first place. Onodera pays a visit to this disabled war veteran and kicks the hell out of him and his wife, before leaving them both trapped in a house directly in the path of Barugon’s incoming stomp fest. They both die. The real coup de gras comes later, though, at the end of Act II. At that point, every single attempt to lay the smack down upon Barugon had been an abject failure, and things look grim. A new plan is formulated, which, at this point, looks to be literally the only chance mankind has at defeating Barugon and saving Japan. This last ditch plan involves the use of a giant, fantastically valuable diamond, which must be loaded into a cool light projector thing, and used to lure Barugon into the water, which he is allergic to, if I didn’t mention that before. “Diamond, you say?!” Says Onodera, who immediately jumps into action, zooms up alongside the vessel carrying a small number of brave men literally in the process of attempting to save the world, only to open fire on them and steal this diamond, which, one final time I want to stress this; is, as far as anyone knows, the only thing that can save the entire human race. Where does he think he’s going to spend the money when the entire planet is destroyed?! Also I want to remind you that Barugon only exists because Onodera is a douche bag in the first place. It takes an extreme, flamboyant kind of shit head to rob people who are actively working to save the world from a cataclysm that was your own doing to begin with, but Onodera is that flamboyant shit head, and they really don’t get any shittier. It’s impressive.

If we’re talking about what’s wrong with Gamera Vs Barugon, again I would call out it’s shocking lack of Gamera to be it’s most damaging fault. For most of the picture, he’s frozen, face down, in Osaka. If he’s not frozen, he’s either on screen fighting Barugon (this happens twice, the first time leading up to his freezing, and the second time resulting in Barugon’s demise,) or he’s off attacking Hydroelectric dams and other such installations so that he can gobble up all the delicious energy they produce in order to satiate his gluttonous Turtle hunger, and that’s almost all off camera. Anyway you slice it, Gam-Gams needs more screen time, and Daei should have known that.

But that is the worst thing about this movie. It certainly looks lower budget than Toho’s pictures, but that’s pretty much not a problem. As I’ve said in my review of Gamera’s first movie, his frumpy inadequacies are more endearing than anything else, since the very act of watching a Gamera movie is tantamount to rooting for the underdog anyhow. In no small way I would say that Gamera Vs Barugon is a classic of 1960’s Kaiju that doesn’t need to feel all that inferior to what Godzilla was up to at that time.



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King Kong Escapes – 1967, Ishiro Honda – Japan


Don’t bother trying to type cast King Kong- this dynamic star of the silver screen will not be limited by the restrictive boundaries of your feeble imagination. No, he’s not all about swatting at biplanes, screaming woman in hand, whilst perched atop the Empire State Building. On the contrary, he does it all! On occasion, he might wrestle a dinosaur, or engage in a deadly battle with an android replication of himself while clinging to an enormous radio tower, screaming woman in hand. I’ve even seen King Kong swim! He’s like a giant, furry chameleon who can be anything you need him to be, and outside of the RKO original, there is no one movie that displays why Kong is so special more than this film, King Kong Escapes, Toho’s giant ape/kaiju romp follow up to it’s cash cow crossover King Kong VS Godzilla. This time they’ve really pulled out all the stops, and the result is one of my favorite kaiju films ever.

THE PLOT~ Deep beneath the icy surface of the North Pole there is a great abundance of a valuable and highly radioactive substance called Element X. Dr. Who (?!?!?), international super-villain of James Bond proportions, wants to mine these resources and sell them to the highest bidder- and he happens to already have an interested party footing the bill for his efforts. Now, retrieving this resource is difficult- humans can’t do it, because of the radiation. Obviously, if we were to try and think of the best method for retrieving radioactive minerals from beneath the icy strata of the North Pole, the very first, and best option would be to make a giant ape do it for you. Everyone knows that nobody digs stuff up out of ice better than giant apes do, that goes without saying, but apparently the giant ape store was sold out, so Dr. Who instead designs a robot which is shaped like a giant ape, because that would definitely be the second option you’d pursue in that situation. Long story short- this ape’s circuits fries from exposure to Element X, and it’s time to formulate Plan C.

Meanwhile, a U.N. Submarine, carrying our three protagonists (Commander Carl Nelson, Lieutenant Susan Watson, and Commander Jiro Nomura), docks in an inlet off the coast of Mondo Island for repairs, a coincidence which leads to the rediscovery of big ol’ King Kong, who lives on Mondo and spends his days clobbering the hell out of a variety of awesome, dinosaur type monsters.


He does this all day every day.

Kong, upon seeing Lieutenant Watson, immediately falls in love with her the way only a giant, three hundred foot tall ape can. He certainly has a type, and that type is impossibly small women. For real, he’s friggin’ giant, and she’s tiny even by human standards.


Look how little she is! She’s like a hobbit.

The three sail their sub right on back to civilization to spill the beans about Kong, and the news rocks the scientific community, which, I imagine, is made up of at least 80% mad scientists. One of these deranged, and learned men just so happens to be our very own would be Element X distributor, the vile and diabolical Dr. Who, who views the discovery of Kong as a fantastic opportunity to do some more shady shit, because he’s a man with vision and priorities.


Who has no trouble kidnapping Kong and transporting him to his Top Secret Ice Station Hideout, and he similarly manages to kidnap Nelson, Watson and Nomura without much fuss, thinking that he may be able to use them to control Kong, since everybody knows that big monkey is sweet on Watson. We quickly learn, however, that while Dr. Who must have gotten an A+ in Kidnapping 101, he’s actually really shitty at executing pretty much any other aspect of his evil schemes, and once again everything falls apart on him really bad. How hard is it to force a giant ape to dig up radioactive minerals?! Really hard, I guess. In the end, we wind up back in Japan with Kong and Mecha Kong slugging it out on a giant metal tower of some kind, which is at least nineteen different varieties of awesome simultaneously and I love it so much.


There are a few special things that really work in King Kong Escapes, and I want to go over them each individually, list style, as is my preference. Here we go:

1. Dr. WHO- Oh, hell yes. This ain’t your daddy’s Dr. Who. This guy is your proto-typical comic book super villain, which is just so great. At one point, Who busts a cap in the ass of a Javanese Island Priest just because guns are awesome and this guy was there, so of course it was going to be murder time. Hours later, as this mortally wounded priest lay clutching his chest, moments from death, he describes his killer to Commander Nelson as “An oriental skeleton, a devil, with the eyes of a gutter rat.” Upon hearing this, Nelson knows exactly who we’re talking about. “It must be my old friend, that international Judas; DR. WHO!” That’s an actual line from the movie, dude.

Well, I don’t know about the eyes of a gutter rat, but I kind of get the skeleton bit, Who’s physique is decidedly tall and gaunt, but the first things about him that catch my eye are his eyebrows- which are flamboyantly evil in nature, and his teeth, all of which appear to be at war with one another. Honestly, his mouth is like The Thunderdome- twenty eight teeth enter- one tooth leaves. Note to Dr. Who; instead of focusing on conquering the world or building giant robotic apes, maybe brush your fucking teeth now and again, because your smile looks like a damn orphanage fire.

dr-who-toho Your teeth are gross, dude.

  1. Mecha Kong- Initially, I assumed that Mecha-Kong was just a lame Mecha-Godzilla rip off, after all; Toho ain’t afraid to reuse ideas, we know this. But here’s the catch: Mecha Kong came first! Total mind blow! Mecha Godzilla is the rip off, and NOT the other way around! Behold, the true original giant robot doppelgänger! Mecha-Kong is super cool, too, and I really wish he’d been in the movie more. His battle against Kong at the end of the picture is awesome, but you can never have too much Kong on Kong violence, that’s what I always say.

King_Kong_Escapes_Art_featuring_King_Kong_Mechani-Kong_and_GorosaurusAlso, this scene never actually happens in the movie, and that is inexcusable.

  1. King Kong- This is the best job Toho has done with King Kong by far- Which, sadly, isn’t saying much. Their take on the big hairy galoot back in King Kong Versus Godzilla basically sucked out loud, looked like a sack of shit, and had little to no charm or personality to him at all. This Kong still looks super frumpy, but there’s something so much more endearing about it this time around, and probably that’s a reflection of how much fun the movie is overall, coupled with how refreshing it is to again have a monster with such a soft side for petite, human women. I can relate to that. Toho really establishes Kong as being a “good guy” monster with this movie, and this is long before Godzilla had quite turned the corner into the heroic antics he’d be known for in his later movies, so in a lot of ways, King Kong Escapes is actually leading the trend ahead of Big G, even though the casual observer would likely assume the exact opposite. For me, that gives this movie even more street cred.

968full-king-kong-escapes-screenshot If I were to point out any downsides to King Long Escapes, I guess I could say that perhaps the biggest problem with the film is it’s portrayal of Lieutenant Susan Watson, a whimpering, simple-minded female and potential future bride to a towering Javanese ape monster, who is herself essentially helpless. Toho, on average, was actually markedly less sexist than most studios back in this golden age of monster cinema, but with King Kong Escapes, they certainly muddy their track record. It’s weird, all the Godzilla films are all littered with strong, intelligent female characters, both as protagonists and antagonists, but this movie is a major departure from that progressive attitude. This therefore begs the question; is this 180 specifically meant to be a slam on American women? Watson is, I believe, our first white, American woman to have a major role in one of these films, is her race or nationality the reason she’s been painted in such an unflattering light? Or could it be a result of Toho’s effort to replicate the feel of RKO’s original King Kong film from 1933? We may never know, but either way, Watson is completely helpless, and basically a fool, which is definitely a shame. We’re used to seeing better from Toho.

…But I would call that the one flaw here. King Kong Escapes is otherwise a home run, and probably Toho at it’s wackiest, with the exception of the certifiably insane Frankenstein Conquers the World. There’s a lot to love here, without question. Dr. Who is, for sure, the single greatest human villain in the expanded Godzilla cinematic universe, and he leaves the aliens Godzilla keeps clashing with in the dust. It’s a shame he doesn’t pop up again, or that Toho didn’t lean on this idea more often in it’s giant monster films. Even better, probably because of Toho’s attempts to retrerofit Western ideas from the American Kong franchise into it’s own universe, King Kong Escapes comes across feeling different and distinct from other films under the Toho banner, but not so much that it feels like it doesn’t belong. On my list of Toho favorites, this one lands pretty near to the top.


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War of the Garganutas – 1966, Ishiro Honda – Japan


War of the Gargantuas is a half-hearted sequel to Toho’s wacky ass Giant Frankenstein movie Frankenstein Conquers the World. We pick up where we left off for War of the Garganutas, but we also go ahead and rewrite the past more than a little, because, as you should know by now, sometimes Toho likes to turn it’s baseball cap around, light up a cigarette, and flash a big ol’ “F You” middle finger to continuity. This is one of those times.

THE PLOT ~ When a large, scaly, blue-greenish, humanoid sea monkey with a flat top who is not at all similar to Frankenstein in any way apart from the aforementioned Flat top begins to terrorize Japan, the press is quick to lay blame on Frankenstein, the famous European monster which had been imported, and then enlarged to traditional Japanese monster scale some years back. However, the scientists responsible for the creation of this recent Frankenstein balk at this suggestion, on the grounds that A) Franky don’t live under water and B) Franky don’t live at all, he is dead, dead as hell. At this point I’ll go ahead and point out that despite what you may have seen in the previous film, from within the confines of War Of The Gargantuas, this “Frankenstein” was born a strange, ape like creature, for absolutely no reason, and his creation now seems to have been achieved through genetic experimentation, rather than through the much more simple act of a child eating a radioactive monster heart. So, now you’re up to speed.

Soon, this alleged “Frankenstein” from under the sea begins to attack more frequently, and even wades up onto shore to gobble down some screaming humans, which, obviously, can’t be allowed to happen very often. It is confirmed through science that this is, in fact, a damn Frankenstein, despite his newfound love for livin’ la vida agua, as well as his now much more aggressive and violent temperament. “How can this be,” our scientists wonder, “he used to be such a nice monkey franken-creature.” Well, turns out, this is a new, different Frankenstein monster altogether. In fact, the creature that our scientists created is also still alive, and he remains a largely a docile and good natured monster, which has been living in the inaccessible reaches of a Japanese Mountain Range far from human eyes. He’s brown and shaggy, rather than blue and scaly, like his deep sea sibling, but he also is in absolutely no way a “Frankenstein” monster. He’s a giant troll type creature, basically. BUT ANYWAY.


From here things play out like you always knew they would; it’s scientists versus military, one side wants to spare the lives of these two massive monsters, the other side knows in it’s heart that the only good Gargantua is a dead Gargantua. Eventually the two behemoth monkey monsters wind up battling one another, despite Brown Mountain Franky’s hesitancy to use violence against his Blue Brother, and the two wind up dead via the power of Japanese Nonsense; in this case; a volcano spontaneously sprouts out of the ocean right next to them mid-fray and fries them both. That can totally happen, right? No, Toho, it can’t, dammit, go read a science book.

The movie’s principle theme is compassion versus fear. This is played out in the conflict between the scientists, who want to spare these creatures both for study, and out of pity, and Japan’s military brass, themselves focused only on the preservation of human life; no matter the cost. We see the theme again illustrated with the Gargantuas themselves; Brownie doesn’t want to hurt anyone, not even his Malicious Mer-Monkey twin, but Greenie is all too eager to mash and smash, and in the end, tragically, compassion doesn’t have it’s day. This same idea is a common one in these Kaiju films, we can see it especially pronounced in Rodan, among other Ishiro Honda films, but War of the Gargantuas is not a slave to it’s super-motif, this movie has it’s priorities aligned with the presentation of big, hairy monsters being shot at, and clobbering one another, first and foremost. For this reason, it feels like a pretty solid, but also desperately typical kaiju outing from Toho. It’s has just enough heart and just enough muscle to make it memorable and fun, but beyond some pretty top notch photography I would suggest that there isn’t really anything in War of the Gargantuas that is excellent. It feels pretty middle of the road, to me. Not too many highs, but also, not too many lows. I think the decision to shed some of the craziness of Frankenstein Conquers the World was a poor one; that film absolutely stands out because of it’s generous helping of “WTF.” Without all that crazy, War of the Gargantuas crosses the finish line as a reliable, but not altogether remarkable, monster flick.


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Frankenstein Conquers The World!

Frankenstein Conquers the World ~ 1966, Ishiro Honda, Japan


Awesome. This is maybe my favorite kaiju film ever, but knowing that it exists is actually a lot more fun that watching it, and takes less time. Anyway… It’s a simple story- Nazis find the still beating heart of Frankenstein’s monster, Nazis give heart to the Japanese for safe-keeping, Japanese take heart to Japan, Americans drop atomic bomb on Frankenstein’s heart, small Japanese boy eats the now atomic Frankenstein heart (because who wouldn’t?), boy grows into a gigantic Frankenstein’s monster, gigantic Frankenstein’s monster wrestles floppy eared turtle dragon, everyone lives happily ever after. So, it’s fairly boiler plate, all things considered.

Frankenstein Conquers The World (In which Frankenstein most certainly does not conquer the world) is  a treasure from a bygone era where if it wasn’t several stories tall, the Japanese just flat out didn’t wanna hear about it. “Frankenstein’s monster? Sounds good, tell me more. Wait- he’s NOT several stories tall!? Well, that’s you’re problem. Fix that and we’ll talk.” Around this same time, however, the Germans were renaming Godzilla (And various other Toho film monsters) “Frankenstein” and re-dubbing the movies for German release to contain explanations that Dr. Frankenstein was actually responsible for the appearance of the film’s giant monsters, so it appears that those two nations have a mutual need to project onto each others monster related film output. Understandable.

Frankenstein is not alone in Frankenstein Conquers the World, however. Baragon, an old Toho standby, turns up, eager to get Franken-Stomped ruthlessly for about 90 minutes.

baragonBehold- terror incarnate!

This same monster would also later turn up in other films to get slapped around by both Godzilla, and at one point, Ultraman, which kinda makes him the Homie-Hopper of the Kaiju world. I like to think of him more as the puppy dog of Godzilla’s extended family, however, because for a rampaging behemoth gone berserk, this thing is damn adorable, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll love watching his rhino horn, spiky back, and giant floppy, puppy dog ears wiggle about as he is relentlessly clobbered by a skyscraper sized Frankenstein over and over. This is probably a good time to remind readers that this is an actual movie, that was actually made. Presumably by adults.


If we’re being serious, though, Frankenstein Conquers The World has it’s problems. Like many of the old Toho and related Kaiju films, the film is a little slow, and considering the ideal viewing audience for a movie like this is an unfocused gaggle of five year old boys, it would benefit from less talking and more furious monster combat. Today’s monster fans lack the attention span for lengthy exposition scenes shot in outdated 1960’s laboratories, regardless of their age. This isn’t enough to ruin the movie, though, and I recommend it highly for it’s sheer audacity, as well as for it’s no-holds-barred kaiju fisticuffs.


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