Monster Movie Monday: Gamera: Revenge of Iris (1999)
Gamera vs Iris7
Matthew Turner | On 03, Jan 2022
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ai Maeda, Ayako Fujitani, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Toru Tezuka, Senri Yamasaki, Akira Ohashi, Hirofumi Fukuzawa
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Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris is the third and final film in the 1990s franchise reboot trilogy, serving as a direct sequel to 1997’s Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (also directed by Kaneko). It’s also the 11th movie in the giant turtle franchise, intended as a direct rival to Godzilla.
The film is set three years after the events of the previous film, when the world is once again being threatened by giant, vampiric Gyaos birds, Gamera’s foes in the first movie. The giant turtle once again comes to the planet’s rescue, but he’s lost his connection to humanity, so the ensuing destruction costs the lives of 200,000 people and leads to the Japanese government designating him a bigger threat than the Gyaos birds.
Meanwhile, a bigger problem is brewing. Angry young orphan Ayana Hirasaka (Ai Maeda) blames Gamera for the death of her parents in the 1995 Gyaos attack, so when she finds a mutated Gyaos bird – which she names Iris, after her dead cat – she forms a bond with it, hoping to use it to kill Gamera. Fortunately, Gamera experts Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) and Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) realise what’s happening, but will they be able to stop Hirasaka in time?
The creature design work on Iris is both original and impressive, incorporating many different elements such as glowing lights and swirling, energy-bolt-firing tentacles, not to mention the ability to actually absorb a human into a gelatinous sac. The special effects are a combination of puppetry (very cute when Iris is still a baby), traditional man-in-suit work (courtesy of Akira Ohashi, who played Gamera in the previous two movies) and digital effects, which are pretty good for 1999, but still a little too obvious.
As for Gamera (played by Hirofumi Fukuzawa), he doesn’t get any notable upgrades this time round and has relatively little screentime compared to his previous outings, but he does make up for it with a couple of killer fight moves towards the end. Similarly, the Gyaos birds are largely underused, considering their importance to the general story.
The previous two films in Ganeko’s Gamera trilogy showcased a real affinity for large-scale destruction and this finale goes all-in on sheer firepower, including some truly spectacular explosions. The film also continues the tradition of laying waste to a popular Japanese landmark – this time, it’s Kyoto Station that’s on the receiving end of a kaiju bashing.
The plot does at least attempt to reckon with the emotional impact of that destruction, clearly showing the damage that losing her parents has done to Hirasaka, although it still somehow manages to let Gamera off the hook, despite him frying 200,000 people while trying to save the Earth.
Revenge of Iris is also notable for introducing some horror movie aspects to the franchise, specifically jump scares and some disturbing imagery, most notably on Gyaos bird victims who have had their life-force drained and resemble bloodless husks.
The film also attempts to advance Gamera’s general mythology, although it’s not entirely successful in doing so. A revelation that the sea is full of dead Gameras goes nowhere, while a theory involving Mana (the supernatural force within all things) skirts perilously close to New Age territory. It’s also frustrating that the script completely ignores Gamera’s previously established fire-related abilities – he’s supposed to be able to absorb fire to make himself more powerful, yet he’s repeatedly shown standing in the midst of burning cities and doing nothing about it.
Those minor niggles aside, Revenge of Iris brings the 1990s Gamera trilogy to a satisfying end, with fun giant monster action, impressive creature effects and an original plot. The fact that the giant creature is named after a briefly-seen cat is just the icing on an already delicious cake.