Monster Mondays – Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

By Ben Dower

During a meteor shower, something lands in Hokkaido.  The JSDF head out to the impact site, but instead of finding a meteorite, they find a strange trackway, as if whatever struck the Earth was slowing down as it hit the ground.  

Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno), a Sapporo Science Centre employee, is called upon to help investigate a mysterious set of scientific phenomenon in the area, which seem to be moving in the direction of Sapporo.  Before long, a Sapporo subway train is attacked by human-sized insect-like creatures.  While the police are trying to extract survivors from the train, a gigantic flower bursts out of the ground.  It is soon learned that the monsters have a symbiotic relationship with the flower, and the flower will explode with the power of a nuclear detonation to launch a seed into space and spread the creatures to another planet.

Gamera emerges from the Pacific Ocean and flies to Sapporo.  It quickly destroys the flower before it can explode, but is then attacked by the creatures, which swarm over him.  As Gamera struggles with the smaller monsters, Colonel Waterase (Toshiyuki Nagashima) names the monsters Legion, after the demons described in the Biblical passage of Mark 5:9.  Gamera manages to get away, but after he leaves, the gigantic Queen Legion bursts out of the ground and flies away.

Soon a second flower is threatening to blow up Sendai.  Asagi Kusanagi (Ayako Fujitani) is among the evacuees at Kasuminome Airfield when Gamera arrives to try to stop the flower.  Gamera is confronted by the Queen Legion, who is desperate to stall long enough for the flower to launch its seed.  Eventually the Queen Legion ducks underground, and Gamera is free to make his way to the flower.  

Gamera arrives at the flower, but he is too late.  He throws himself on it just as it explodes, stopping the seed from launching, but is seemingly killed in the explosion.  With Gamera now out of action and Legion heading toward Tokyo, things are looking bleak for Japan.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995) was a hit with audiences and critics, so Daiei Film brought the crew back together to make a sequel.  Shusuke Kaneko, Kazunori Ito, Shinji Higuchi, and composer Kow Otani all return behind the scenes.  Actor Yukijiro Hotaru also returns, reprising his role as Tsutomu Osako, though this time he is a security guard at a Kirin beer factory, having left the Nagasaki police after his experience with the Gyaos.  Actress Ayako Fujitani also reprises her role from the first movie, once again playing Asagi Kusanagi, the girl linked to Gamera through the magatama amulet.

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion maintains the mature tone of the previous film.  The Soldier Legion?s attack on the subway train in Sapporo is suprisingly gory.  As with Gyaos in the last movie, Legion poses a real danger to mankind, and that danger builds as the film progresses.  The Legion?s flowers are essentially ticking time bombs, and thus our human characters and Gamera have only a short window in which to destroy them before they take out an entire city.  When Gamera fails to stop one from detonating in Sendai, not only is the city destroyed, but it helps to increase the stakes tremendously, especially with Legion moving in the direction of Tokyo.

The Queen Legion is a truly unique monster and a wonder of suitmation.  With Legion being an arthropod rather than a tetrapod, the special effects crew had to get very creative when it came to getting a human operator inside the suit, and they pull it off flawlessly.  Legion?s two front appendages are operated by the actor?s legs, but the back limbs, which are much more crab-like, function automatically as the actor walks, providing for very realistic looking arthropod locomotion.

Gamera gets a bit of a redesign, making him a little less cute than in the previous film.  It?s an improvement over his design in the last movie, with a more angular face.  Also, the crew made the wise decision to have his arms morph into flippers when he flies, giving him a much more plane-like appearance and helping to better sell the idea of a flying turtle.

Our two main cast members this time around are Miki Mizuno as Midori Honami, a Sapporo Science Centre employee, and Toshiyuki Nagashima as Colonel Waterase.  Both do a great job, with Nagashima in particular being very believable as a military leader facing a seemingly insurmountable crisis with dignity.

Kow Otani?s soundtrack is really good, with his main title piece helping set the unsettled tone early while also mixing in the Heisei Gamera theme.  The return of his Gamera theme helps link this film to its predecessor musically, and boosts the feeling of cohesion between the two.  Kow Otani would also return for Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999), and team up with Kaneko again for a film starring a bunch of other famous giant monsters: Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001).

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion is one of those rare sequels in that it is better than its predecessor, and considering how good Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was, that?s an incredible achievement.  The story is tight, with an increasing sense of urgency, and the enemy monster more interesting, with multiple forms and unique biology.  Shinji Higuchi has clearly learned a lot from his experience on Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, as his special effects work on Gamera 2: Attack of Legion shows clear improvement over that film.

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion is currently available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in the box-set titled Gamera: The Heisei Era.  It contains the Japanese version, American English dub, and the ?Lake Texarkana? comedy dub.

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