Wednesday, May 14, 2014

MR GAMERA (1965)

To celebrate the release of an all-new GODZILLA film on the big screen, after such a long time, let's dig into a classic Kaiju film today with... The one and only "Guardian of the Universe", GAMERA!!

Want more Kaiju-related reviews? Check these out!

Movie: Gamera originally titled as Daikaijū Gamera aka Giant Monster Gamera originally known as Gammera the Invincible in the US, and finally nowadays retitled Gamera: The Giant Monster 
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa 
Release date 1965
Genre Science-fiction/horror Kaiju film
Country Japan

Following the success of King Kong in 1933 and the success of the original Godzilla in 1954, an entire new cinematographic genre was launched in the wake of the 1950s which helped revive an interest in creature features in both Japan and the USA.

Kaiju films, aka "daikaiju" feature films, which was an offshoot genre of the Japanese tokusatsu genre focused on giant monsters - Japan's own B-movie trend to blend sci-fi/fantasy and horror (originally). The monsters were often ancient creatures awaken by mankind's mistakes. Reclaiming the world from us, humans. Unstoppable forces.

Following Godzilla's success a lot of these were imported worldwide, in small theaters and through TV including the following Gamera film series or TV serials such as Kamen Rider and Ultraman.

The original "Daikaijū Gamera" - Giant Monster Gamera - or as it would be known at first "Gammera the Invincible" was studio Daiei Films attempt at crafting their own take on the big G, Godzilla himself.

As such it's almost a basic point by point retelling of the original Godzilla. With a slight different little spin!

Directed by a newcomer at the time, Noriaki Yuasa would go on to direct most of the entries in the Gamera series. The film was written by Nisan Takahashi who would also go on to write for all first 8 Gamera films.

For all its worth, Gamera's really nothing more than a very simple straightforward Godzilla clone, a bit simpler, dumber and not having much for a "plot".

The story follows an ancient creature that is waken up after American planes are forced shot down a Soviet bomber that was actually transporting a nuclear bomb while flying over the Artic.

Our only real "human protagonists" are in the form of a reporter (Junichiro Yamashiko) who gets to tag along two scientists studying the presence of turtles in the North Pole. Also it turns out that from old stories regarding that North American region, Atlantis remains might have possibly been over that part of the world, in the North Pole.

The bomber accidentally shakes the Earth, and suddenly a mythological prehistoric giant turtle tears the ground apart and escapes into the world!!

They dub him "Gamera", taken from the old Eskimo legend.

Gamera disappears into the sea. Whenever he comes back, he destroys more places. The Earthh military tries to join forces to stop him, but nothing seems to work!

Meanwhile people are having sights of strange UFOs all over the world...

Turns out those UFOs are actually really Gamera who can also absorb fire and spit flamin' blazes from both his month and his turtle shell (allowing him to fly spinning around!!)!

They attempt getting him stuck on his back, bombing the giant terrapin and even blowing him to pieces with a ton of explosives and tanks. Nothing works!!  

Oh, and there's also a sidestory with a little kid who loves turtles, tries to be friend with Gamera only for the later to almost crush him down as Gamera destroys a lighthouse, and finally convinces people to stop shooting at Gamera "the Invincible" because turtles are nice (but Gamera's really "Invincible" so there was no point to that..) .

The film doesn't try anything really different or complicated, but it works nicely.

While the original Godzilla was full-on allegory of post-World War II era and using its imagery to denounce the millennium of the atomic age, Gamera tries to go for a much more real (at the time) Cold War threat. And. It kinda works for the most part.

In fact some of the best parts are probably the ones to feature a Cold War tension - which even awakens Gamera at the beginning of the film.

Problem is, Daiei films are much simpler and cheaper. So nothing really goes anywhere and it's only on the immediate surface. It's not a really deep film.

But it's still very much entertaining on its own, and this first outing while not any different from any past Kaiju at the time tries its best to mimic the overall tone of its ancestor. Heck, they even produced the film in black & white while most films were going for a color picture at time. 

Our Kaiju turtle goes on a fantastic rampage through Tokyo where his method of mayhem consists in destroying down buildings and then he proceeds to burn people alive... Such violence...

It's a pretty simple straightforward story.

Perhaps lacking a certain focus regarding the way the scientists would come up with a mean to kill the Kaiju.

While Godzilla featured this whole oxygen destroyer plot, here with Gamera they take more of a trial and error approach, they attempt several ways to defeat our monster with no success until the end when they finally come up with such a radical nonsensical way to get rid of a Kaiju by... sending him off into space!!!

The film starred some pretty funky poor English-speaking actors (probably the only local Westerners they could find during the filming, I'm guessing some French and Italian tourists). Daiei was no doubt thinking how they would sell the film overseas, which proven greatly effective with Godzilla films.

Finally the film also features a pretty decent albeit almost too distanced score composed by Tadashi Yamauchi. While nothing as iconic as Godzilla's original soundtrack, it was nice and decent for this genre.

Overall, Gamera 1965 is a fun production and they were able to come out with something at least kind of original, as much you can get in the wake of Godzilla's success.

The monster would go on to become more than a simple rip-off the King of the monsters. Now part of pop culture.

Our giant prehistoric turtle's always been more of a B-movie take on the Godzilla formula. Never really taken much seriously outside his first feature film (until the much later modern films).

Like Godzilla, Gamera would be released in America through an heavily edited translated cut titled "Gammera the Invincible".

The American producers would do several edits and insert actors Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy into all-new sequences. It was heavily edited for the US by American film director Sandy Howard  who added new footage with more Caucasian actors and extras, and the original Japanese story was cut down to pieces, barely recognizable. It's... okay, but nothing on the same level as the original. An entirely different production company would finally buy the rights to the franchise in 1985 and re-release all of them unedited besides new opening credits (and couple of names change).  

Daiei would start taking the series into a new direction in the sequels, forcing a more campy tone in typical silly late 60s/70s children tone as they would near bankruptcy over the coming years.

The whole subplot following the little Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida) in this film was a sign of things to come, as the series turned Gamera into the friend of all children during its course through the 70s until they ditched all of this for the later gritty reinterpretation in the 1990s...  before finally coming back as that would be used as the main basis for the plot of the 2000s Gamera reboot!

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Gojiras!

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