Kaijū Menagerie

NAME: Gappa
The Gappa Family (ガッパ)

Gappa: The Triphibian Monster, 1967

– beaks and wings galore
– classic Shōwa era dead eyes
– lizardy skin
– an uncanny resemblance to Ultra-foe Hydra

– destroying cities in fits of rage
– shooting mouth-beams
– wobbly flight
– a good sense of family values


I watched Gappa for the first time this week. From its terrible reputation, I expected kaijū turdery. From its title, Gappa: The Triphibian Monster, I expected a single giant monster. Instead, I got a family of Gappa monsters starring in a perfectly passable monster film. Perhaps I dug it because I watched a nice quality Japanese language version of film rather than the shoddy public domain dubbed print that most would be used to. Or maybe I’m just an idiot.

The Gappas live in relative harmony with a bunch of island villagers (ie: Japanese actors in blackface) until their existence is rudely interrupted by idiotic scientists on the hunt for rare animals. The idiotic scientists working for a billionaire with an absurd pipe dream of a manmade tropical island tourist destination filled with exotic animals. They come across a Baby Gappa and take it back to Japan.

Mama Gappa and Papa Gappa waste no time. They head to Japan and tear the place apart searching for Baby Gappa. Buildings are smashed to smithereens. Terrified citizens run in terror. Old (and most likely heritage listed) sites are ravaged. The Gappas don’t give a fuck about the human race. They just want their dang kid back!

The answer to the Gappa problem is so simple. Give Baby Gappa back to his destructive parents. Yet somehow, it takes the characters a full feature length film to work this out. Instead, they try infuriating the Gappas by blasting high-pitched frequencies into their ear holes and pummelling them with missiles and bullets. Finally, it becomes apparent that the cost of repairing the damage brought by the Gappas probably won’t be covered by the billionaire’s stupid island resort and Baby Gappa is returned.

The Gappas look like a hodgepodge of Rodan and Hydra filtered through a Daiei lens. They have a cartoonish aura, and I imagine they turned out less threatening than Nikkatsu probably would have liked. But they score big points for their unreadable expressions. I could have sworn the Gappas were going to kill everyone after they got their child back just from the blank soulless looks on their faces.

It’s a shame Nikkatsu only made this single kaijū film. Gappa, while no masterpiece, has a lot more energy and passion than some of the Godzilla and Gamera efforts that appeared towards the end of the Shōwa era. 1967 was an awkward time for it to be released as it was going up against Gamera vs. Gyaos — a very good Gamera effort featuring a gigantic foe who shares some uncomfortable similarities with the Gappa monsters.

Supposedly Gappa was intended as a satirical take on the kaijū. This may be true, but even watching it subtitled, that meaning (if it exists) is mostly certainly lost. Regardless of its intentions, it’s entertaining nonetheless.

I suppose it’s kind of nice in a narrative sense that the Gappa family never appeared again on the big screen. They managed to live happily ever after without the interruption of sequels. That said, I would welcome the chance to see them return to destroy another round of miniature sets.