Easily a standout in the original Gamera series, this adult-oriented monster bash takes on a darker tone, higher budget, and an excellent line of human characters that push a solid story along. It's easily dispersed as Mystery Science Theater fare, which is a shame given the obvious effort in this, the second film in the franchise. While flawed and sloppily paced, Gamera vs. Barugon is a better intro to the series than the original Gamera-only destruction romp.
This direct sequel instantly hits the viewer with an attack on a dam by flying, fire-breathing turtle Gamera, an incredible miniature set that leads to a massive break in the dam. The ensuing destruction outclasses everything shot for the first film. Sadly, the movie hits a gap for nearly 40-minutes after this where not a single monster is spotted. Instead, the script follows a group attempting to find an opal left behind during a World War II battle in New Guinea.
While this lands the film into a generic "islanders warn of impending doom by outsiders" scenario, it also fantastically creates Koji Fujiyama's character Onodera. He begins a slow descent into insanity, killing off his partners for the promise of millions. Series staple (even into the recent trilogy in the 1990's) Kojiro Hongo survives to bear the burden when the opal turns out to be the egg housing Barugon.
Conflicts are numerous between human characters and certainly stretch what the genre is known for. Onodera brutally beats his wife during a fight after a slip of the tongue, slams a locker down on a cripple, and attempts numerous times to murder people for his own cause. The performance sells the human element.
Oddly, there's far more action on the side of people than on the monsters. This is a movie that features Gamera, but Barugon is the show stealer. Gamera barely ends up with ten minutes of screen time. The military struggles with the oddball Barugon for most of the film, fending off a freeze ray, elongated tongue, and what remains the strangest monster power out of the entire Japanese roster, a deadly heated rainbow.
There are some daring shots with special effects included here, particularly one from the POV of Gamera as he unleashes his fire breathing attack on his foe. Another shows the entire shoreline exploding as Barugon sets off numerous fires. Not everything goes as planned, including the Barugon suit itself. It's an ungainly creation, with a massively oversized head that needed extra support by a string (which tends to show through on film more often than it should).
Even with the extra budget put forth and an effort to draw in an adult audience, there is still some sloppy work. As a four-legged creature, few attempts are made at hiding the fact that the suit actor is kneeling the majority of the time. The final struggle between the beasts uses two completely immobile puppets that the filmmakers give more screen time than they should have, and some wirework is simply terrible.
At one point, Gamera tosses Barugon who then defies physics by bouncing off the surface of the water before taking the plunge. The Gamera suit, slightly modified to give the creature an angular, sharper, and fierce look, is still too immobile to work properly.
That's hardly worthy of complaining about though, especially given where the series would end up. This is definitely a high point for the early set of Gamera features, right up there with the follow up, Gamera vs. Gaos. These two films are the only argument a fan can make for enjoying this initial set of films. The rest ended up as meager, stock-footage-filled children's affairs. The extra cash, solid writing, and wild monsters make this entry thoroughly enjoyable for Japanese monster fans.
On this DVD, you'll find what is easily the greatest looking print of this film ever seen. It's hard to imagine the original theatrical release looking like this. There isn't a single speck, scratch, or spot to be found. The anamorphic transfer to DVD showcases vibrant and brilliant color, an incredible step up from the trashed and faded American prints that look nearly black & white. It's an entirely new movie when viewing it like this. The only flaw is an acceptable level of film grain.
While disappointingly not updated in the sound department, this 2.0 mono effort is fine. It has some distortion when the action picks up or the soundtrack hits a high note. It's hardly excessive, and well controlled.
Special effects director Noriaki Yuasa passed away in 2004, but these discs managed to grab a short interview with him before his death. It's sadly lacking in subtitles, which is odd because this is a rare region 2 DVD kaiju film with English subtitles included on the film itself.
It's notable that this film came out in 1966. This was a year after rival studio Toho released Frankenstein vs. Baragon. The names of the monsters could hardly be a coincidence.