Known in the United States as War of the Monsters and later as Gamera vs. Barugon, Giant Monster Duel: Gamera vs. Barugon was originally released in Japan in 1966. As the first sequel to Giant Monster Gamera, Gamera vs. Barugon began to shift the focus of the franchise from emulating Godzilla to establishing its own unique niche in the genre. Although there is no annoying kid in this movie (thankfully), Gamera vs. Barugon does offer up one of the first of many distinct adversaries for the giant turtle.
The story takes up right after the ending of the first film, with Gamera trapped inside a spacecraft headed toward Mars. However, the spacecraft (a different design than that of the first film) collides with a meteorite, destroying it and setting Gamera free. Gamera makes her way back to the Earth, where is destroys Japan’s Kurobe Dam in an effort to recharge its fiery batteries.
In the meantime, three men (two of which behave like Yakuza) are sent to an island in the South Pacific to retrieve a huge opal. It seems that Kano, a veteran of World War II, had found the opal during the war. Kano hid it within a cave that the natives on the island avoid. Kano needs a cane to walk as a result of an injury sustained during the war, so he has asked these three men to retrieve the opal for him. The trio flies to the island, where they manage to antagonize the islanders, including a Japanese professor and his daughter, Karen. The trio manages to find the cave and the opal. One of the trio succumbs to a fatal scorpion bite, and with his death Onodera (Koji Fujiyama) attempts to kill of Keisuke (Kojiro Hongo) so that he can solely benefit from the opal.
Returning to Japan via ship, Onodera contacts a case of athlete’s foot, which a doctor treats with infrared light. By accident, Onodera exposes the opal to the light. It turns out that the opal is really an egg—the infrared light accelerates the birth of Barugon, a creature that begins to grow to enormous size very quickly. Barugon then destroys the ship and makes his way onto land in Osaka, where it wreaks havoc by using a freeze ray at the tip of its tongue—the creature’s tongue also serves as a battering ram, taking buildings down with ease. Barugon also has the ability to create a rainbow from its spiny back—this rainbow serves as a dampening/disruptive field that counters a planned missile strike. Gamera comes onto the scene and battles Barugon. Barugon quickly gains the upper hand by freezing Gamera.
Onodera continues his villainous ways, slaying Kano, who happens to be the brother of Keisuke. Keisuke, accompanied by Karen, come onto the scene, where they subdue and tie him up. The couple then travel to the Japanese Defense Ministry, where Karen offers the Japanese Self-Defense Force a diamond that may help subdue the creature she calls Barugon. It seems that Barugon is attracted to such bright objects—the villagers used such diamonds to trap Barugon underwater, where its freeze ray is of no use. The plan is successfully executed, but in the end it fails, thanks to Onodera, who steals the diamond. However, Onodera and the diamond are swallowed up by Barugon.
The Self-Defense Force then initiates Project Rear-View Mirror, where they use a huge mirror to reflect a rainbow generated by Barugon. The monster is wounded, and now that Gamera has successfully “thawed out,” the two monsters meet for a final battle, where Gamera manages to drag Barugon to the bottom of a lake.
Although a little too heavy with the human-driven plotline, Gamera vs. Barugon is one of the more successful Gamera films, principally because it avoids the “kiddy factor.” The movie explores some serious adult themes, namely greed and murder, and the overall tone of the film is serious. There is outright violence of the human kind, and even the “hero” of the film starts off as a collaborator thief. That said, the film also offers up some hilarious moments. A classic example consists of the labels for the military plans, such as Operation Rear-View Mirror and Diamond Plan. The expressive “overacting” of the Japanese performers is also worth a hoot, although later Gamera films went even further in this department.
What really makes this film fun is the monster action. Barugon is a unique creature, from its battering ram/freeze-ray tongue to its ability to cast disruptive rainbows from its spiny back. Although diminutive compared to Gamera, Barugon remains a worthy opponent, one who manages to win their first encounter. Gamera of course is a joy to watch, particularly when she is spin-flying across the air or when blasting out her fire breath (no fireballs yet).
As far as monster action, there is not enough for the hardcore kaiju fan, as the bulk of the film is weighed down by the human-driven plotline. The monster fights are good, although the budget shows—there are few buildings or other structures destroyed. The airplane and military action is as good as ever, particularly when the military battles Barugon.
The original Japanese version of Gamera vs. Barugon is available on the recently released Gamera Legacy Collection. This bare-bone collection offers 11 Gamera movies but no commentaries or extras. Gamera vs. Barugon in this collection is in its original Japanese with English subtitles.