When you get past the recognisable scaley visages of the Kaiju rogues gallery of Toho and Daiei and continue onwards into the realms of the lesser known monsters of Japanese cinema, you start to head into very strange waters indeed. Joining the ranks of the city stomping also-rans like the stoic, noble Diamajin and the humbly named Varan The Unbelievable in 1967 were the Gappa, a family of triphibian creatures that earned their subtitle by being both aquatic, airborne and the ability to lurch around on land as nimbly as their big rubber feet would allow.
Attempting to cash into the Kaiju craze by essentially copying everything that had come before but with giant bird, lizards wrecking the familiar kind of havoc audiences were used to.
An expedition funded by Mr. Funazu, the editor of Playmate Magazine, has been sent to Obelisk Island in order to catch as many unknown animals as they can to populate his new holiday resort that he’s regrettably planning to name Playmate Land and will undoubtedly mean that lots of single men are going to be severely disappointed after booking their tickets. Essentially planned to be a holiday resort for people who don’t like to travel, Funazu has a vision for this place to be a sort of paradise/super zoo which will enable patrons to sample the delights of the Pacific without ever leaving Japan.
When the group reaches the island, they find that it’s being rocked by the shocks from the island’s grumbling volcano and are informed by the native inhabitants that the tremors are being caused by the anger of a mysterious being they refer to as “Gappa” – but being the usual kind of explorers that considers nature to be their prison bitch, two members, the romantically involved Hiroshi and Itoko, forge ahead and discover a strange cave.
Inside the cave they discover an egg large enough to house Vern Troyer and stare in awe as it hatches to disgorge a slimy baby creature that they immediately sling in a cage and cart back to Japan despite the protests of native boy Saki; not to mention basic common sense and the plot of every film ever made that involves a strange creature being kaiju-napped from it’s natural environment.
Sure enough, the baby’s parents arrive and are seriously peeved that their hideously neglected egg isn’t where they last abandoned it and take to both the air, sea and land to rip apart as many cities as they can in order to claim their astonishingly ugly infant back which has the constant, haunted, thousand yard stare of a child of who’s just walked in to find his mommy banging the milkman permanently fixed to it’s beaked face.
Can Hiroshi and Itoko put their self absorbed musings on their relationship on the back burner and convince Mr Funazi to release the baby bird-monster before it’s pissed off parents square off against the military? As Madonna never sung: Gappa Don’t Preach.
If Gappa: The Triphibian Monsters has problem, it’s the fact that, even for a film made as early as 1967, it’s possibly the most derivative Kaiju movie ever made. Stealing virtually every aspect of it’s plot from other, better movies, instead of wowing you with it’s scenes of monstrous mayhem, it instead has you reeling from a near Matrix-sized blast of
deja-vu. Shamelessly mashing such elements together from such films as King Kong (don’t fuck with nature), Mothra (greedy businessman refusing to listen to reason) and even shonky British Kaiju attempt, Gorgo (literally the entire sodding plot), the result is an admittedly solid movie that nevertheless reeks of a studio trying to claim their own piece of the Kaiju pie.
As each of the main human players are bland, stilted lumps of meat sack without a single, original character trait among them, we won’t give them much space here except for the fact that the two romantic leads have a noticeable strange relationship that seems to thrive on subtle gas lighting and passive aggressive put downs. Itoko constantly is putting herself down by suggesting she should give up her job and become a housewife even though she blatantly likes her employment while Hiroshi simply refuses to accept that maybe imprisoning a baby monster was a bad thing to do – even one with the searing eyeballs of that meme of Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan… you know the one. Eventually even the movie itself grows to seem utterly ambivalent to their relationship, leaving them in a bizarre, non-committal state as the credits roll as if the script itself is shrugging it’s shoulders in a “meh” gesture. I know that the humans are often the least entertaining thing about monster movies but that doesn’t mean you don’t at least try. Also, Gappa is one of those Japanese fantasy movies from the 60’s that thought it was a good idea to have primitive native folk be portrayed by Japanese actors in something closely approximating black face (if you wanna debate that then answer me why is Sake also wearing black curly wig?) and while it can simply be brushed off as simply being a sign of the times, it’s still somewhat awkward considering Sake has such a prominent role.
Anyway, on to the monsters and while the script may be bereft of new ideas, at least the creatures are cool enough in that retro, rubbery way, to hold our attention as they fly, swim and have the ability to shoot familiar blue flames from their beaks that would no doubt have Godzilla scrabbling to get his Kaiju lawyers on his giant phone. Looking like someone’s dunked Sesame Street’s Big Bird in a bucket of toxic waste, the Gappa may have all the aerial skills of a wet sponge and the swollen, red eyeballs of a career meth addict, but it’s somewhat nice to see the usual city trashing antics portrayed by a less iconic monster every now and then. Oh, and by the way, if the sight of the Pappa Gappa roaring and stomping through the landscape look weirdly familiar even though you swear that you’ve never seen this movie before – clips from this movie showed up in an episode of Red Dwarf.
As a long time Kaiju fan, Gappa: The Triphibian Monsters nails the basics rather well, actually mixing it’s human and monster stuff to a good balance, but despite good production values and a legitimately swinging theme tune, the film simply isn’t that original to stand out from the towering crowd.
I guess Gappa hasn’t got a brand new bag…