Gappa: The Triphibian Monster (or as it is better known to American audiences, The Monster from a Prehistoric Planet) is a 1967 kaiju film from director Haruyasu Noguchi. Noguchi is also credited as the director of a series of films called Cat Girls Gamblers, about female yakuza. I do not pretend to know anything about these films, or any of Noguchi’s other work, but that fact is really quite irrelevant to today’s review. That said, those Cat Girls Gamblers films do sound interesting.
I also do not pretend to be the world’s largest kaiju fan. Being frequently “babysat” by Godzilla, Gamera, and War of the Gargantuas at a very early age not only created a deep fondness for the genre that I carry to this very day, but (as I’ve stated on multiple occasions prior) also played a fundamental role in establishing my fondness for horror, particularly monster movies. While I frequently seek out new and classic kaiju films that I have not seen before, I do not claim to be well-versed on the history of the subject, nor on the genre’s encyclopedia of giant monsters, both well-known and obscure.
I first discovered this film under its Americanized title back in 2008 or 2009, although there is some chance that I watched it as a child and just forgot about it. I found the film as part of a double feature with 1967’s Yongary, Monster from the Deep (review link) on a questionable looking DVD that was sitting in a rack on the counter of a small gas station in the middle of a forest. The DVD had been marked down from $7 to $2, so I knew it had to be a “winner”. As expected, I was not let down, even if the transfers on the DVD looked like they had been recorded directly off a slightly detuned UHF station.
In Gappa, Tokyo publishing mogul Mr. Funazu is planning to build a new resort themed after the tropical islands of Southeast Asia. The resort, called Playmate Park (after Funazu’s magazine, Playmate Magazine) is to be decorated and populated with artifacts, plantlife, and wildlife observed on and obtained from one such island, called Obelisk Island. An expedition team is sent to the island, which is home to an active volcano, as well as a lost civilization. I’m not sure just how “lost” these people are if the expedition team knew of their existence in advance. They’re probably just anti-social.
While on the island, two members of the team – reporter Hiroshi and Itoko, the team’s lone woman, whose sole purpose for being on the trip seems to be so that her male colleagues can try to woo her – are escorted by a young boy from the tribe, Saki, to investigate an ancient stone idol. Volcanic rumblings destroy the large statue, revealing a long hidden cave entrance. After Hiroshi shames the apprehensive Itoko into joining him by telling her that she should just go home and become a housewife if she’s scared, the duo enter the cavern.
Inside, they find a large egg, which quickly hatches, releasing a child-sized, bird/lizard creature. Clearly frightened and in weakened conditioned, the creature is taken back to the village… where it is promptly tossed into a makeshift cage. You know, for its “safety”. The natives are vocally upset, believing that a curse will be brought upon them all simply for even being near the creature, which they call a “gappa”.
The members of the expedition team decide to take the creature back to Japan, although their reasons for doing so differ. Professor Tonooka, a scientist, believes that the creature’s existence should be kept a secret while he is able to perform research on it. Meanwhile, reporter Hiroshi feels that the whole world should know about such a discovery. However, Funazu chooses to make the baby gappa the premiere attraction at the opening of Playmate Park, after allowing Tonooka some time to experiment on the creature.
That “curse” does indeed manifest in the form of the creature’s parents, both much larger than the child gappa and much more pissed off. The adult gappa wreck Obelisk Island, obliterating the village and killing all the inhabitants except Saki, who is saved by a naval fleet. The gappa soon turn their sights to Tokyo. Maybe if the gappa actually flapped their wings when flying they’d move faster, and they really should! Their child is being treated just horribly in Japan, trapped in a holding cell while Funazu angrily pokes at it with electrified prods.
FUN FACT: In case, you haven’t noticed by now, humanity is not the “good guy” in this film.
Upon reaching Japan, the gappa do what one normally expect giant rubber monsters to do in films such as this: they stomp shit! Numerous models are smashed underfoot (and under tail), countless toy tanks and planes are deployed, and lots of things blow up! There’s not much here that you haven’t seen before, and have probably seen better executed. However, Gappa: The Triphibian Monster still checks all the boxes that fans of “men in rubber suits” films, particularly fans of older films in the genre, have come to expect. Even with age, it’s still a lot of fun!
Like many other kaiju films of the era, Gappa does feature the moral lesson of man’s tampering with nature, but also includes the theme of the separation of families. This was much “closer to home” (pun intended) for many than the threat of the atom, especially young viewers who could easily relate to the fear of being taken from their own parents. Add in one lovable goofball character and a couple child characters to act as the film’s “voices of reason” and the film successfully speaks to its target audience.
As for the Gappa themselves, the suit design does appear somewhat clumpy in spots, and the limited movement in the faces occasionally leaves the creatures with really goofy, almost excited-looking expressions. That said, it’s never much of a distraction, and after a few chuckles/giggles can easily be overlooked/forgiven considering the film’s age. Personally, growing up with kaiju films of the 60s and 70s, I have always preferred the shoddier looking costumes of that era as opposed to the sleeker, more “realistic” monsters of newer kaiju films. I guess it just reminds me of my younger days, which makes sense, as a lot of these films were made for kids (or kids at heart).
What is a little hard to overlook is just how poorly some of the film’s other effects have aged, specifically the rear-projection effects. The upgrade to HD, as evidenced on Media Blasters’ impressive 2020 blu-ray release of the film, only worsens the appearance of these effects. Again, this is not something that ruins the film in any real way, but damn, it’s glaring!
Gappa: The Triphibian Monster was released to Japanese theaters in 1967, but never received a theatrical release in the United States. The film reached the US a year later when American International Pictures picked up the film and sold it to television stations (as a package of 15 science fiction films) under the new title of Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (which, given the movie’s setting, would be Earth). Even back then, some savvy monster kids may have noticed that the film’s plot is quite similar to the 1961 British “monster movie”, Gorgo. Personally, I prefer Gappa if only because the film is more light-hearted and doesn’t take itself so damned seriously, as I feel Gorgo tends to do. That, and Gorgo is just kinda stupid looking. Just sayin’!
Gappa: The Triphibian Monster is free to watch on Tubi. LINK
Even though I’m a pretty big Godzilla fan, my viewing experience outside of Toho is spotty. Saw Gappa for the first time about a year ago, and I heartily agree that it’s one of the better “off-brand” kaijus, with its underlying themes of science vs. crass commercialism, respect for all forms of life, etc.
I grew up watching Godzilla and co. and ’50s & ’60s sci-fi on Friday nights, and the Universal monsters on Saturday (then a bit later, the Hammer horrors). As a result, I have pretty far-ranging tastes, with the common denominator being some element of fantasy or the bizarre. It seems younger fans commit themselves to much narrower subgenres — e.g., slashers — and don’t like to try anything outside of that particular interest area. Or is that unfair?
Sorry for the delayed response! Not sure I’d say that’s an unfair assessment to make (then again, I’m over 40, so what do I know?). If it is/was true, I have to wonder if the shift to streaming over physical media is helping to change that. In the later days of Blockbuster, that very well may have been the case due to the per item/rentals costs. However, with the relatively cheap price of streaming services, I do believe, or at least hope, that more viewers of all ages are “branching out” and trying films that they may have previously passed on. Then again, the viewer is also then at the mercy of choosing from whatever these providers choose to make available.
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