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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Destroy All Monsters!!!

Destroy All Monsters~ 1968, Ishiro Honda – Japan


In 1968 Toho released their THIRD Ishiro Honda directed Godzilla film wherein a race of extra-terrestrials take control of Earth’s monsters in an attempt to force a surrender and usher in alien occupation of the planet. Each of these films feature Ghidorah as the ultimate monster challenge posed to Godzilla and co., and in each film, mankind discovers a way to release their monsters from the alien’s control at the eleventh hour and saves the day. To rephrase that, between 1964 and 1968, Toho released five Godzilla films, and three of them had essentially the same story. I’m not saying I dislike this run of films, but how can anyone argue that things were getting alarmingly “been there done that” by this point? This is the Super Street Fighter II of Godzilla films (Making Final Wars the Super Street Fighter II Turbo of the franchise.)


THE PLOT- Mankind is really kicking ass these days. We’ve managed to put together a pretty sweet international space program, complete with moon bases, and Earth’s monsters are all contained for observation on a tricked out island somewhere in the Pacific. Advanced science has been developed to prevent each of the monsters from ever escaping, and simultaneously we’ve designed a self sufficient Eco-system which can feed the creatures indefinitely while we study them from ultra safe bunkers deep beneath the surface of the island. Yes sir, nothing can go wrong now. Oh, wouldn’t you know it, aliens show up and want to conquer our sweet planet, and they have somehow managed to take control of all of our monsters. Really, really sucks how often this happens.

Long story short, there is some space warfare stuff that goes down, and in the end we manage to free our monsters from alien control and defeat the interloping space people once again. Sound familiar? This also won’t be the last time Toho does this in a movie.

It’s not so bad, though. It’s still a pretty good effort, and the alien/outer space stuff is actually done pretty well, much better than in Invasion Of Astro Monster. The daring human assault on the alien moon bases is an especially exciting and well done sequence for it’s lack of giant monsters, and the film does a good job upping the ante and making this movie feel more global and epic in scope. It does really feel like the very survival of mankind is on the line, and really, that’s the mark of a successful alien invasion film, so kudos on that, Ishiro.

There are also lots, and lots of monsters, and they look good. The big battle at the end where Godzilla leads a monster army against Ghidorah and the alien invaders is pretty cool, and it’s satisfying to see Ghidorah get his ass beat so, so hard by Papa G’s Kaiju Posse.


Overall, Destroy All Monsters does it right, but the problem is that we’ve just tread this ground so many times already. Had it not been diluted by the foul backwash of repetition, this movie would really shine. As it is, it’s still pretty good.


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Varan The Unbelievable – 1962, Ishiro Honda – Japan


Poor Varan. Turns out Big Papa Toho did not create all his Kaiju equal. Like Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, Varan, yet another giant, spikey lizard (but with flying squirrel flaps!), was introduced to the world in his very own standalone movie; and like his three, more fortunate comrades, he got the royal treatment. His name was the title of the movie, he didn’t share the stage with any other monsters, and in his film, he was depicted as being a near invincible force of prehistoric fury which threatened all of Japan, if not the world. This is pretty boiler plate kaiju contract stuff. However; whereas Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan went on to enjoy decade spanning careers full of glorious mayhem, Varan fast faded into relative obscurity. In fact, the only time I remember seeing him again was in Destroy all Monsters, and even then, he was basically downgraded to the Kaiju equivalent of an extra. he didn’t even fight anybody. Fucking Gorosaurus got more love than Varan! What went wrong?!

THE PLOT~ when two scientists are mysteriously killed in a remote area of Japan while on an expedition to capture butterflies (really!) the brilliant decision to dispatch three additional scientists to the exact same area is made without haste. Lo and behold, our new team of scientists discover that the superstitious locals believe these killings to have been done by their god, who is, no surprise, an angry monster. This primitive belief is instantly belittled and dismissed by our scientists, who go on to immediately awaken, and subsequently irritate the shit out of that very monster, who then destroys the village real hard. Our dickhead scientists then go back to their big, monster-free city and tell everybody about this creature, who they have named Varan, and Japan says “What’s that you say? A living dinosaur? The most miraculous living creature on Earth? We better go kill that.” So, a bunch of Army dudes descend on the rubble that was once a peaceful Japanese village out in the middle of nowhere and try their damndest to kill what is quite possibly the rarest creature on the planet. While they fail to kill Varan at this time, they are succesful in pissing him off- wildly succesful, in fact. Varan, no longer enjoying his living situation now that the lake he slept in is poisoned and cannon shells seem to be impacting against his head constantly, gets the hell out of there and travels to Tokyo for absolutely no reason. The Japanese, refusing to take “Please don’t kill me” for an answer, assemble their top scientists for Plan B- the focus of which is still killing the hell out of Varan because he is very large and not shaped like a person- a crime they cannot pardon. A new plan is formulated and put into effect, and Varan suffers. Victory!

So, just why exactly did Gojira, Mothra, and Rodan go off with such a glorious bang, while Varan goes off with a muted, humiliated frump? Well…

Varan feels cheap, for one thing- low budget, and crummy. firstly, there were apparently more than one Varan costumes used, and they are of inconsistent quality. That’s a problem, but it’s far from the only area where the producers seemed a little penny-conscious; the underwater sequences are especially flimsy and look devastatingly swimming-pool-like. I don’t think this is what killed the film, however. Budgetary shortcomings can be overlooked, and monsters can be embraced even if they begin their lives as poorhouse kaiju. For Varan, his movie suffers greatly from its simplicity more than anything. It feels underdeveloped and rushed, right off the bat, it’s evident that this is a much more linear, Point A to Point B style monster movie than Gojira, Mothra, or Rodan were. This is 100% the truth, and it sucks.

It’s just so one dimensional! It never really takes the time to breathe or invest in its characters. Every time Varan goes on a rampage the tension is actually actively removed by frequent visits over to the sidelines, where numerous onlookers, mostly scientists, reporters, and military personnel, just hang out and watch the chaos, apparently not at risk of getting Varraned. To be frank, this is a bone-headed mistake, it makes this monster mayhem feel alarmingly safe, and in the end the black and white photography does more to make Varan feel gloomy than the actual on-screen smashing.

Varan’s simplicity is, however, most devastating in it’s tendency to dole out the what, while totally skipping over the why. That’s the greatest folly of Varan; gone entirely from it’s composition is the element of introspection which we had come to take for granted in Toho’s monster films. This thing could have carried the alternative title “SCIENTISTS ARE DICKS: THE MOVIE.” That’s the real moral, and it’s a moral that appears to be lost on Varan’s narrative altogether. This movie totally glosses over the undeniable guilt of the film’s scientists, who are responsible for everything bad that happens in this film, start to finish. It’s not ever even suggested that they could be guilty of anything whatsoever, and damn, they’re super, super guilty, in a big way. I wanna take you through a scene:

When the second group arrives at the remote village near Varan’s den, the same village that is soon after destroyed by Varan, there is a conflict of sorts between the town’s religious leader and Kenji, the lead scientist who has come to investigate what has happened to his colleagues. Essentially; it plays out like this:

Kenji: ‘Sup? Heard you guys think there’s a monster. That’s so stupid- there isn’t!

Priest: …Well, we’re pretty sure there is-

Kenji: That’s stupid!

Priest:…Well, okay, just listen, please, don’t go over there into that area you guys, okay? It’s kind of a big deal for us-


<Barges in, instantly piss off monster>

Kenji: Oh, looks like he is real.

<monster completely destroys village and everything inside it>

Kenji: Well, we’re going back to Tokyo where we have electricity and McDonalds, have fun dying in the wilderness without food or shelter, you fucking assholes.


For real, that’s the bare bones of how that plays out. These people show up, immediately disrespect the locals, blatantly defy their rules, they heed no warnings because they think they know better, and then when they wake up Varan, they just bounce, and the only people left to bare the weight of the consequences are the poor villagers, who are first treated like idiots and then go on to lose absolutely everything, insult AND injury. The fate of these people is never again addressed or considered, and no amount of shame is directed at the scientists who actually provoked the attack in the first place. They appear to forget about these human lives that they’ve destroyed immediately, and move onto the task killing this creature for no reason at all. It’s this attack that drives Varan out of his ultra-remote home and into highly a populated metropolitan area, as well, so it’s actually so, so obvious that this is another hubris story, but I honestly think the film fails to recognize this. It’s never explored or stated, they really just follow it along in a startlingly two dimensional fashion, and I think this is the biggest reason Varan failed to gain traction, and ultimately, could not help establish Varan himself as a monster with a future in the film industry. This is the Toho picture that rushed out a statement before it even knew what that statement was; and it’s not even a new statement. In fact, it’s so overt, that the argument could be made that this isn’t even hubris, so much as a simple lesson in morality. “Don’t be a dick” is another moral very present in Varan, but it too is not acknowledged or expressed in a conscious way by the movie itself. It’s kinda nuts.

This is a real minimalist, cut and dry monster movie that fails to give us a reason to feel anything about what we experience within it’s narrative. Frankly, it’s bellow average. Varan suffers from terminal simplicity, and because of this, his future is a bleak, bleak thing. It’s too bad, he seems like an okay guy.


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