THE BASEMENT BLU-RAY REVIEW: Gappa the Triphibian Monster (1967)

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In the 1960’s Japanese monster movies were being made at a rapid pace. The two largest producers of these films were Toho and Daei, who were releasing the extremely popular Godzilla and Gamera films respectively. On occasion, other smaller companies would try their hand at these films, hoping to cash in on these successes. Korea’s Toei company tried it in 1967 with Yongary, Monster of the Deep and that same year, Japanese company Nikkatsu released Gappa, the Triphibian Monster, also known as Monster from a Prehistoric Planet.

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An expedition from Tokyo heads to Obelisk Island to look for wildlife and sounds to be used in a resort headed the greedy Mr. Funazu, president of Playmate Magazine. The natives of Obelisk welcome the expedition, but two members, Hiroshi and Itoko, venture into a forbidden area, despite the pleas of a native boy named Saki. They enter a cavern blocked by a fallen statue and find a giant egg, out of which hatches a baby monster, a “burnt-lizard”, referred to as “Gappa”. The natives plead with the skeptical scientists not to take the baby away, lest it angers the baby’s parents. Sure enough, they take the baby away, and soon, inside the caverns, its two parents rise from the underground waters beneath the volcano, destroying everything in their path. Saki, the only survivor, is rescued by an American Navy fleet and brought back to Japan.

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Meanwhile, back in Japan, the baby “burnt-lizard” is making world headlines, not to mention being experimented on by scientists. To the shock of the expedition members, there is news of two giant flying creatures appearing over Sagami Bay. The Gappas ravage cities looking for their offspring and are impervious to all military weapons. Hiroshi, Itoko and Professor Tonooka (a scientist from the expedition) realize that the “Gappas” are not a legend after all. They, and Saki, try to convince the headstrong Mr. Funazu to let the baby go and return it to its parents. Eventually the family is reunited and head back home.

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The plot of this movie is very similar to the 1961 film, Gorgo, except that in this movie there are both parents looking for their offspring. Also, both movies featured a child trying to talk sense into the adults to leave the baby monster where it is. Growing up in the 1970’s, I fondly remember that you could watch these types of movies almost every weekend. Though Godzilla is my monster series of choice, I always enjoyed GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER. Over the years this film, which has been in the public domain, has been released many times with varying degrees of quality. Often the movie was too dark to see, making enjoyment of the viewing almost impossible. Thankfully that has now changed with this Media Blasters Tokyo Shock release.

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As soon as the movie started I knew I was in for a treat just on the clarity of the print. In the past, the opening scene of the erupting volcano was always so dark that I thought it was actually a day for night scene, where something is filmed during the day and then darkened to make it look like it was night time. Here it is crystal clear and is actually a daytime scene. This is, by far, the best version of this movie that I have ever seen.

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The clarity though can be good and bad, especially in the case of the special effects. I will say that 90% of the miniature work is first rate. The city scape is very detailed and expansive. You really get the feel that this is a real city. In other cases, like with the cargo boat at the beginning, or later with the submarine, it is obvious that these are miniatures and they are not filmed very well. One of the hardest thing is accurately portraying water in miniature and these scenes would’ve greatly benefited from larger models and filming at a higher rate of speed.

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The use of black face was very common in Japanese movies to make their actors look like jungle natives.

The Obelisk island set for the natives is also a lot of fun to see. It too is large and the background paintings are flawless. You really have to look and analyze them to make sure they are just paintings. Though the stone statues in the village are less than believable, everything else has an air of realism.

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One of the best effects is when the stone statue that is blocking the cave that the Gappa are in collapses because of a volcanic earthquake. The entire set is nicely constructed and when the statue collapses it does so very realistically. This particular scene was filmed at the right speed and the statue looks large with a lot of mass.

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One of the biggest flaws in this movie was the inconsistency with filming the monster scenes sped up so that when played back, everything is moving slower giving it the impression of great mass. Explosions, either with the volcano or from the attacks by the monsters or at the monsters, all look cheesy because everything moves so fast. Exploding tanks and planes would’ve looked so much more realistic if they had been filmed properly. The tanks melting from the monsters’ atomic breath actually looks good, until the turret falls down. It happens so fast that it destroys the illusion.

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The monster designs are also a mixed bag. From a distant they don’t look too bad but in close up you can start to see the flaws, especially with the clarity of this print. Other than the eyes moving back and forth and the mouth opening and closing, much like a muppet would, there is little facial expression. These are flying monsters but their wings are so small it would by scientifically impossible for them to give lift to such a massive body. Once in the air, the wings do not even flap, destroying the illusion even more. I do like the fact though that they actually created three different monsters instead of using the same design three times and modifying them. The adults look completely different from each other and the baby does in fact look like an infant version of the adults.

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GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER is one of those underrated rubber monster films that should be in everyone’s library, not only for nostalgia reasons but because it is actually a pretty good film. If I was going to do a Japanese monster movie marathon I would include this film as the positives of this film greatly outweigh the negatives.

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Though there are no extras on this blu-ray, both the Japanese and English versions of the film are available. For the sake of this review I watched the Japanese version with English subtitles. I personally prefer watching these films this way and to be honest, wasn’t in the mood to listen to Saki constantly say “Gappa angry!” You know what I am talking about if you’ve seen this film.

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Media Blasters is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to these kind of movies and part of me wishes they were able to handle all of the Godzilla and Gamera films. For this blu-ray to look better than the Criterion releases of the Showa Godzilla films is really saying something! At the time of this writing, this release was listed as “Currently unavailable” through Amazon but you can keep track of if this changes by going HERE!

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~David Albaugh

 

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