Gappa: The Triphibian Monster (1967)
Hi all, Nate here. In celebration of the re-re-reinvented Godzilla currently tearing its way through the box offices in a rampage of merchandise tie-ins and studio hype, I thought that MMT needed to check out another Kaiju movie from Ye Olden Days of this venerable genre. Gappa: The Triphibian Monster it is, because none of those words make a lick of sense.
The first act of our movie concerns a gaggle of too-young scientists and way-too-young college kids out on an expedition to the South Pacific to collect new and interesting animals. Why are they looking for unique animals? For the greater good of science? To advance the knowledge of diverse biospheres and ecologies to better understand our own fragile place in this interconnected world? Psshh, whatever, they’re here looking for freaky bugs and monkeys and shit to stock an amusement park being built by some crazy Japanese rich guy back home. How crazy is this guy, a publishing house magnate? Totes crazy, with a boisterous laugh and a nightmare-fuel smile to match his googly eyes and comic bowtie (that‘s crazy). Why is he building a tropical-themed fun park in Japanese coastal waters? To keep local tourist yen at home, of course, giving people a chance to visit a South Seas locale just a ferry ride from home and be back before supper. That’s…well, actually that’s a pretty darned good business idea, especially if you can get all the permits needed to open up hotels and restaurants, and doubly especially if you can tap into the bustling foreign tourist market and all those sweet, sweet American dollars. As with many b-movies (which is this) the nutjob evil corporate stooge’s master plan is actually sound, if a bit dodgy.
Publisher (wow, he looks familiar).
Anyway, on a containership in the warm waters of the South Pacific, our heroes chat and mingle, giving us a wee bit of time to get to know them. Actually, don’t bother, only a couple have anything even remotely interesting to say or do in the entire film, the rest are just space fillers and paycheck cashers. Keep an eye on male lead Hiroshi, some sort of science expert, and his future female attachment Itoko, who is a photog for the rich publisher. No one else matters. So they arrive at a rocky island in the middle of nowhere, its landscape dominated by a massive volcano that is currently in the process of violently exploding in fountains of lava and ash. There’s not a rational human being on this planet who would consider dropping anchor in the bay and sending an away team ashore under these circumstances, but lucky for our plot the people in charge of the expedition are quite irrational (and fucking stupid). So a half dozen college kids and scientists (I can’t tell which is which, they dress alike) take a powerboat to shore to check it out.
I don’t know who any of you people are.
I still don’t know.
In the shadow of the erupting volcano the team finds a local fishing village, equal parts pen-and-ink matte paintings and stock footage from 1930’s documentaries. There’s also a bunch of totem poles parked around the place that look more like replicas of Washington State Native America poles and not the Easter Island knockoffs they try and tell us they are. The village, despite not having anything in the way of agriculture or industry on any scale to support a population, does in fact boast a large number of natives. And these are “natives” only if you consider regular Japanese actors and actresses slathered in brown face paint and wearing dimestore grass skirts to be authentically native and not just broadly painted insultingly racist stereotypes.
The interlopers are welcomed for some reason and treated to a primitive dance show. The natives speak broken Japanese, of course, and there’s some talk of taking a few natives back to Japan to escape the volcano (the rest of the natives are presumably doomed to be charcoal briquettes). The “native dance” is a festival of shaking butts and pointing spears and they really need to put down some more dirt on the wooden set floor because the whole thing screams “Tokyo dance troupe on a studio backlot“. The movie’s highlight for me comes in this scene as we see our female lead Itoko’s shirt dripping wet with armpit sweat stains and her hair is matted and frizzy. This is fantastic as in 99.999% of movies of all genres and eras, The Girl remains pristine and pretty despite the environmental conditions, hair perfect, skin porcelain, and clothes crisp and clean while The Guy is artfully grungy and dirty as men should be.
They brought a DJ?
The Japanese are intrigued by a near mythical flying creature named “Gappa” that’s associated with a stone statue on the island. They are led to a hidden cavern by an annoying little snotnosed native kid (OMG Kenny!). An earth tremor topples the stone statue (lifesize painted foam, but still impressively big) and they enter the cave, wading through the dry ice fog to discover a bubbling underground lake. Hiroshi has a flashlight, but it’s not needed as the cave is helpfully lit “Hollywood style” with off-camera spotlights and blue filters. Of course they find a dinosaur egg just laying there in the open. Another tremor cracks the shell and out pops a stuntman crawling in a rubber lizard suit! The baby creature is about the size of a 12-year old kid at this point and easily captured. It’s clearly a new species, say the smarty scientists in the group, and there’s some discussion about if it’s been in that egg for millions of years and only hatched when the temperature changed when the cave was opened by the earthquake (whatevs, none of that matters). The locals are understandably angry when they return to the village with the beast, sooooo pissed that these foreign devils with their pith helmets and khaki shorts angered their Gods by messing with the baby monster. And back in the underground lake the baby’s parents emerge and are also mad as hornets. We don‘t see much of them here, or really for a while, but they are clearly giant bird/reptile/Pteradon thingies like Rodan with stubby legs and floppy wings.
Kenny is short.
Lizardthing in that cage, refusing to be screen-capped.
We’ve got to move this along so they take it back to Japan on the ship now. Head scientist guy wants to use it for “reptile evolution research“, which I assume means “kill it, dissect it, and write a doctoral thesis on it”. Unfortunately for him, the lizard technically belongs to the publishing boss who funded the trip and he’s going to use it for display on his theme island. Itoko, being in the employ of the publisher, is all for using it as a tourist attraction, though stalwart Hiroshi is on the fence. The opinions of the rest of the cast are irrelevant.
Never trust a skinny tie.
Meanwhile, back on the island, the monster parents are busy stomping the natives and kicking huts over because they’re angry the humans took their kid away (misplaced aggression, but understandable). We still don’t see much of the Kaiju suits here, but they’re not looking very good and I’m suddenly worried about this movie.
Oh, that’s not good.
Does all this sound familiar yet? Kind of like the basic plot of every single Kaiju movie ever made from 1954 to 1967? Is this not so far just a boring retread of the usual highlights from the Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, Rodan, OthersICan’tRemember series? Helmeted scientists, cute photographers, island locales, racist natives, an egg, a monster, a bigger monster, is any of this breaking any new ground at all? If not, then why was this movie even made in the first place? You can just imagine the meeting of the Executive Veeps for Nikkatsu Studios when they were discussing the making of this movie...
Company CEO: Ok, people, our company has been known almost exclusively for teenybopper movies, which have been very good to our bottom line. I see, however, that our competitors over at Toho and Daiei have been killing it with this Kaiju thing, is this something we can do?
Toady Yes-Man VP: Of course, we have the cash, we have the studio back lots, we can do it! We even have a great script with a unique twist.
CEO: Unique? That sounds risky. Let’s just copy everything in the other Kaiju movies beat-for-beat, just change the names and stuff. No sense taking a chance at doing anything different when real shareholder money is at stake.
VP: What about the monster? We have some ideas for a multi-tentacled exto-plasmitic orb, realized by cutting edge optical effects…
CEO: No, no, no, that’s too expensive. Just put a guy in a rubber suit and have him stomp around some cardboard sets. Hell, make that two monsters, yeah! Make it a bird/ape/Kentucky type thingie, I don’t care, just make it come in under budget by Christmas.
VP: Yes sir! Banzai!!!
If Gappa was made in 2014, obviously piggybacking on the success of the big-budget Godzilla, it would be panned as a greedy, cynical cash-grab with no artistic merit or reason for existing. That’s the kind of thing that The Asylum does so well and we know how terrible their movies are, but you never really hear that sort of trashtalk about Gappa. Why do we let it off because of time and history?
Let me bring in my Partner in Snark Pam. Pam, what is your opinion on Kaiju rip-offs from different studios that were made contemporary to Toho’s Showa Godzilla series? Can not the same negative things be said about Gamera and Diagoro and Varan and all the other Non-Godzilla monsters?
They certainly can, Nate. But those other movies all had a certain amount of originality, whereas Gappa has almost none. Not only that, but it looks cheap. The model work isn’t nearly as good as it is in Godzilla movies. If I could stand to even glimpse Gamera vs. Jiger again, I’d compare the model work between the two movies to see which was worse. I do have one small bit of praise for Gappa, though. Its Kenny, a native boy named Saki, gets very little screen time and doesn’t get to order any adults around, although his constant shouts of “Gappa” get annoying.
Shut up, kid.
But we have to get back to this wonderful movie. Can you guess what’s going to happen next? Yes, you’re right! Let the spectral visage of Momma Gappa guide you through the bullet points…
The Gappa parents show up and stomp a bunch of stuff. Many missiles are fired at Mr. and Mrs. Gappa.
Mr. and Mrs. Gappa reveal they can shoot fire out of their mouths and knock down jet fighters. Yes, just like Godzilla! Could they be related? They look a lot alike, after all.
Mr. and Mrs. Gappa prove impervious to missiles, just like Godzilla. Oddly enough, their surrounding seem equally impervious. You’d expect quite a bit of damage to the buildings around them, and to the ground itself, from all the ricocheting missiles and the crashing jets, but there’s only some dust raised.
The scientists and the nutjob publisher refuse to give Gappa back to his parents, who have retired, no doubt in a bad mood, to the bottom of a nearby lake. (You do remember that it’s Gappa, the Triphibian Monster, don’t you? Now you see why.)
Saki reappears, and we now also have an auxiliary Kenny in the form of the publisher’s young daughter. They beg for baby Gappa’s release, but as I said, they don’t get much screen time and don’t stick around long enough to be really annoying.
The scientists and the publisher don’t listen, the idiots. Why do they have the final say, anyway? Who wants a couple of giant indestructible dangerous monsters hanging around? Wouldn’t the local inhabitants, and for that matter the Japanese government, have quite a bit to say about giving the Gappas what they want so they’ll go away?
The scientists try broadcasting a sound they think will drive the Gappa parents away. It doesn’t. It does bring them out of the lake, where the military is firing bigger missiles at them, but these don’t do anything to the Gappas, either. I have no idea why anybody thought they would. (By the way, the tanks and missiles we see in this sequence are all-too-obviously toys.)
Boy, those are a lot of missiles! I guess the noise or the splashing finally makes the Gappa parents decide to move elsewhere. Their exit from the lake displaces enough water to produce an enormous wave that destroys most of a nearby town.
Mr. and Mrs. Gappa land and stomp more stuff. They’re heading to Tokyo, where else? The crazy publisher refuses to give back Gappa, fearing he’ll be held responsible for the destruction (which is probably correct, but how will keeping Gappa help him?), but the scientists finally cave.
Baby Gappa is put in a net and carried by helicopters to intercept his roaming parents. We were told that Baby Gappa’s brain transmits some kind of signal his parents home in on, but it must not be too precise. That, or his parents want to have some fun before they take up the burdens of parenthood.
Much stomping later, parents and child are reunited at Haneda airport. A touching moment, illuminated by flames from a thoroughly-stomped Tokyo. Well, yes, it is, actually, and I won’t even snark at the fact that Gappas hug their offspring just like humans do.
The Gappa family flies off. The Gappa form of flight is actually more like levitation than flying, since they rise straight up and barely move their wings. Yes, and you knew I was going to say this, almost as if they’re being hoisted on a cable. Hey, where are they going? Wasn’t their island incinerated by the volcano? And finally,
Hiroshi and Itoko go off together.
Did you foresee what was going to happen? Good for you! Go apply for a job as a screenwriter for Nikkatsu, I’ll write you a letter of recommendation.
Gappas on the prowl.
You know, Nate and I have been calling this movie a ripoff, but according to its Wikipedia entry, this movie was actually intended to be a satire of kaiju movies. If you squint, you can kind of see this might be true. There’s the incredible amount of destruction, the unbelievable invulnerability of the monsters, the glaringly phony models, the torrent of missiles, and, something I forgot to mention, the American scientist who turns up to help but doesn’t do much. There’s even an Army officer wearing white gloves. Supposedly the dubbing was botched and the satire was lost in the version released in the United States. This may be the case, but unfortunately the dubbed version does in fact come off as a cheap, unimaginative, cliched ripoff of the Godzilla movies. I’m not ruling out the possibility that somebody at Nikkatsu said, “Come on, you guys, can’t you see it’s a satire? We didn’t really make a bad movie!” once they became aware of the general reaction to this movie. Anyway, whatever the filmmakers’ actual intention may have been, for all practical purposes, we have a bad movie here. Not funny bad, just boring bad. I don’t recommend watching it.
There is a musical interlude, that’s nice.
And what did you think of this movie, Nate?
Well, Pam, I agree that it was pretty much a waste of everyone’s time and effort. The filmmakers blew a lot of money and months of work on a movie so forgettable that I can’t even remember the title now. And all of us who took the time to watch it would surely love to have that 90 minutes back. Avoid the trouble, watch a Godzilla flick instead.
“Is it over yet?”
Written in June 2014 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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