Monday, April 11, 2016

MR:Quickies Gamera Showa series

Let's finally have a look at a classic Kaiju film series!

The one, the only, the iconic giant burning turtle, the Defender of the Universe himself, GAMERA!!

Want more Kaiju-related reviews? Check these out!

Here he is, flying to our rescue, Gamera, the Defender of the Universe!

Why did they even call a giant turtle that can walk on two legs, fly and breath fire a "defender" of the universe? Well, I suppose Gamera was designed as a direct answer to Godzilla from the get-go. If Godzilla was to be the "King of All Monsters", then Gamera would be its opposite.

And exactly like the Godzilla series, Gamera films would get increasingly sillier through the late 60s to the mid-80s, slowly turning into entertainment for children.

Gamera first appeared in the Daiei Film production by the same name in 1965. The objective was to rival the success of Toho with Godzilla. But surprisingly enough this giant monster or "Kaiju" would become a pop culture icon on his own right.

Since the Gamera series was the B-movie equivalent of the mainstream success of Godzilla, the sequels only got weirder and more psychedelic, with crazier designs for the villains and even more cheesy. But I suppose that's a good enough path since it produced some great original, creative and unique-looking monsters.

Let's recap the classic Gamera films from the original series, the Shōwa era series (term coined by Kaiju fans, to coincide with the Japanese Shōwa period, from 1926 to 1989).

Movie title: Gamera (1965), simply 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

[Previously reviewed here]

Overall: n/a

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Gamera vs. Barugon, known in Japanese as Giant Monster Duel: Gamera Versus Barugon, or in its original US release as War of the Monsters
Directed by Shigeo Tanaka
Release date 1966
Genre Science-fiction/monster/Kaiju film 

Taking place after the events of the original, the sequel begins with a meteror that crosses path with our prehistoric turtle which set his sights back on Earth...

Gamera is back in Japan, attacking cities were he left last time.

A team of 3 mercenaries for hire are sent on an island in the South Pacific to bring back an egg. The eggs hatches and a lizard escapes it. The creature - called Barugon! - quickly grows in size. Now this second monster stars wreaking havoc in Osaka! This Barugon finally encounters Gamera, and both fight! But Barugon appears to have a freeze breath of some sort, and leaves Gamera frozen behind.

People try luring Barugon to a lake, but this plan fails. 

The only merc left alive kills a few people to cover his tracks. He's attacked by the monster!

Gamera saves the day by drowning Barugon in a lake before flying away!

Overall: Gamera vs. Barugon is definitively one of the better sequels.

It's a pretty decent film. If anything, it's the most adult sequel in the original Gamera series.

The main monster villain is just okay, but the film contains a pretty interesting dark human villain. Something rare in the Gamera series.

The film is a bit on the short side though.

Enjoy this sequel, because after this one all Gamera films would feature kids as main human protagonists in one way or another. After the black-and-white original and thanks to the success of the American adaptation known as "Gammera the Invincible" Daiei would produce several more Gamera films one after the other, slowly turning the series into children films because of the success of Gamera with the younger crowd.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Gamera vs. Gyaos, known in Japan as Giant Monster Midair Battle: Gamera Versus Gyaos and in the US as Return of the Giant Monsters
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Release date 1967
Genre Science-fiction Kaiju film 

Our story begins with several volcanoes erupting all over Japan.

Gamera comes back for the occasion, attracted by a volcano the fiery giant turtle climbs up into it. A kid in a nearby village watches Gamera's return. 

There's also a whole story about the local villagers being bullied by constructors trying to build a road nearby. The workers are attacked by some sonic beam emitted by a cave nearby. It's not Gamera? The whole camp is left destroyed. Some mysterious glow is emitted from the mountain. The workmen get trapped in a cave with this new creature. The new monster is identified as "Gyaos", because of the sound it makes. 

Gamera shows up and fights the flying monster. Gyaos' sonic beam is too strong for Gamera and it injures the flamey turtle. Gamera is able to save the kid, and a bond is created between the two.  

You see, Gyaos was awakened by the volcanic eruptions lately. The two monsters fight above in the skies.

They discover Gyaos can be weakened by the sun. The Japanese Defense Forces decide to help Gamera in his fight. They come up with a plan to help Gamera. The two Kaijus fight atop the Mont Fuji!

Overall: Gamera vs. Gyaos is okay. Just, okay...

The original director Noriaki Yuasa returned for this sequel and for the first appearance of the Kaiju Gyaos. Gyaos would become a long-recurring foe in the franchise and it would get to appear in several more Gamera films through the decades. It's easily one of Daiei's most iconic creatures.

Return of the Giant Monsters is one of the better sequels, it's just a real fun film. Pretty dumb, but fun. Some of the effects are pretty sloppy as you would expect from these type of old low-budget Japanese monster films, but there's some actually decent work here as well. 

The whole plot with the villagers vs. the construction work barely ties into the fight between these huge monsters though.. That's one of Daiei's problems in most of their Kaiju films, compared to Toho's Godzilla series.

Honestly after this one you could skip all these vintage Gamera films and jump right in the more recent ones, it would be doing yourself a favor.. If you like cheesy monster films, then please go ahead.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Gamera vs. Viras, also known as Gamera Vs. Space Monster Viras or Destroy All Planets in the US
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Release date 1968
Genre Science-fiction Kaiju film 

The fourth Gamera film is about evil alien arriving on Earth! That's right, it's that kind of sequel! 

G "accidentally" destroys one of their ships, so they declare Gamera their enemy number one!

A bunch of boy scouts are visiting an aquarium/lab. To amuse these two kids, the scientists let them race Gamera in a small submarine... when suddenly more aliens pop up and capture them both!

Gamera tries to help the kids escape. The aliens discover his major weakness - wanting to protect and defend children! Gamera escapes, but threatening to kill the kids they're able to get him back and put a mind-control device on Gamera's neck to control the kaiju. 

Gamera is sent to attack a few cities. It is revealed the alien's human appearance was just a disguise all along.  

The alien leader is revealed to be this giant squid, Viras! Gamera has a throwdown with this Viras. He throws Viras into space and back in the ocean...

Overall: Gamera vs. Viras is a pretty cheap film.

Where the movie is a huge deception to me is that it recycles a ton of footage of the previous films! They even splice some black and white scenes from the original Gamera film in there for absolutely no reason!!

This one was really dumb. And bad. Not worth it...

I give this one a: 1 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Gamera vs. Guiron also known as Gamera vs. Giant Evil Beast Guiron and in its original US release as Attack of the Monsters
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Release date 1969
Genre Science-fiction Kaiju film 

The story revolves around - surprise - two kids. They witness the landing of a spaceship nearby. They try to locate it the next day. But once they enter it, the spacecraft suddenly takes off!

Gamera follows them through to space, to save the kids. They land in some alien world... when suddenly an alien version of a Gyaos attacks them!! But it's interrupted when another even weirder creature arrive, with a head shaped like a giant knife! This mysterious new kaiju completely defeats the Space Gyaos by throwing its own roar back at it. The kids learn more this alien world, simply called "Terra", which orbits on the complete opposite side of the Earth.

The kaiju Guiron is apparently their own protector that defends them from the Space Gyaos! 

Things quickly go from bad to worse when they find out Terran women are actually cannibals. They try to eat the kids' brains. Gamera comes looking for them and fights Guiron. Turns out Guiron was actually being mind-controlled by the Terrans all along. He goes on a typical kaiju rampage! 

There's one final showdown between the two giant monsters as the kids try to escape this mad world!

Overall: Gamera vs. Guiron can only by summed up as "Gamera vs. the ginsu knife-monster!". It's a very dumb but fun film. 

These Gamera films are always made on the cheap, but here at least they came up with something radically different and an outlandish now-strangely iconic monster. 

This one's pretty weird if you're not familiar with previous Gamera films. It is one of the weirder ones between the violent kaiju fights, a kaiju shaped like a knife shooting ninja stars, Gamera swinging around on parallel bars and even dancing a little. Things get pretty bizarre in this episode.

Strangely enough, this episode was censored in America at the time due to Guiron's unusual attacks which consist of him cutting other creatures in half, mostly the scenes of his fight with the Space Gyaos.

Speaking of, the presence of Gyaos was completely improvised due to the low budget and time restrains they simply recolored a Gyaos from the previous film and recycled it here.

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Gamera Gamera vs. Jiger, also known as Gamera versus Giant Demon Beast Jiger and Gamera vs. Monster X in the US
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Release date 1970
Genre Science-fiction Kaiju film 

This episode begins with the 1970's World's Fair in Osaka. 

Some scientists have dug up a mysterious dormant statue in an island. Gamea tries to stop them from moving it from its original tribal island, with no success. People around the stone get sick for some reason. Finally a new monster rises, Jiger

The two kaijus fights pretty quickly. Jiger cheats by shooting quills at Gamera, stopping him from flying away. Gamera ends up on his back and just like real turtle he actually can't move once stuck on his shell. Jiger pursues the statue. Jiger splits off in two halves to locate it. As times goes by, Jiger shows even more outlandish new means of attack. 

Gamera finds himself with a parasite growing inside him (!!). They have to remove this cancer to save the giant flying turtle. After a bunch of children go inside Gamera's own mouth to kill the Jiger spawn, they discover Jiger's weakness. Scientists come up with a giant rig to replicate it on a larger scale to buy time for Gamera to save the day!

Overall: Gamera vs. Jiger is short but actually quite action-packed. 

Jiger was a really weird one. He's not only kind of boring with a strange design but the powers he (she?) seems to show off as time goes on gets weirder by the minute.

Also the whole "Fantastic Voyage" part of the film feels randomly inserted in the film just because!

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Gamera vs. Zigra also known as Gamera versus Deep Sea Monster Zigra
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Release date 1971
Genre Science-fiction Kaiju film 

You loved the plot revolving around aliens from the previous film? Well, great. This one starts with aliens attacking the Japanese base on the moon. That's right there's a secret Japanese moon base.

A family sees a spaceship landing and hiding under the sea. They go try looking for it, but they get captured by the aliens aboard the ship. Turns out it's the alien race of the Zigra. They immediately start causing earthquakes all over Japan. We learn how Zigran science caused the destruction of their own home planet and they're now looking for a replacement world. Oh, and their leader is a shark-thing creature.

Gamera finally enters the story to put a stop to these aliens' plans. He saves the family. The UN Defense Forces send jets to attack the spaceship. 

The Zigran woman goes looking for the two children to take her revenge. Gamera tries to destroy the Zigran spaceship under the ocean, but suddenly the spacecraft morphs with the alien leader to transforms into this huge giant shark kaiju!! They kick Gamera's ass for this first round - as usual.

The aliens call for all the oceans on Earth. Gamera is revived by thunder for one final clash at a Sea World bay! And it's an aquatic fight for the control of the Earth! Who will win, the underwater kaiju Zigra or the flying turtle Gamera!?

Overall: Gamera vs. Zigra is pretty campy and kind of bad. This one's as low budget as these Gamera films can get. And it features one of the cheesiest fights in the entire series.

The whole alien Zigra plot is pretty cheesy, but the actual Zigra kaiju itself is kind of fun since it actually an intelligent monster that can talk for once.

Also the film contains one of the greatest scenes, easily, in which Gamera gets to play his own theme song on Zigra's back fins like a xylophone!

I give this one a: 1 / 3 Score! 

Movie title: Space Monster Gamera, also known as Gamera: Super Monster
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Release date 1980
Genre Science-fiction Kaiju film 

Believe it or not, this really bad use of stock footage actually contains a plot!

A new race of aliens known as the Zanon (of course..) comes to take over the world.

So Earth's own defenders come to save the day... space women! They try to stop the aliens, with no success. Thankfully this little kid who has a connection with Gamera, "The Friend of All Children", is able to call for Earth's true defender to come save the day!

After that, Gamera has to fight all of his previous foes: first the flying dinosaur Gyaos, then the alien shark Zigra, the alien squid Viras, the mystical Jiger, the alien Guiron and finally the dinosaur Barugon!!! 

At the end of the film Gamera decides to sacrifice himself to end the Zanon once and for all... or that was the only way he could think of to get out of this awful movie, you decide!

Overall: Coming a full decade after the last film in the series, Gamera Super Monster always felt like the one Gamera film odd too many. Specially considering at the time Toho's rival franchise Godzilla was about tp launch a much darker era of more adult and mature Heisei kaiju films.

This film was the last entry in the original Gamera series.

Where the film's really bad, in my eyes, it's that it's basically an entire clipshow episode-worth of film used to merely cash in on the franchise. No money was actually spent on this film. They simply used stock footage from the previous films here.

After the 7th film Daiei Film went bankrupt. The studio was then brought off by the Tokuma Shoten publishing company in 1974. They quickly improvised a new Gamera film which had to be put in film by 1980, which is the only reason this film exist and why it looks like it is.

It was supposed to be a sort of recap of the Gamera franchise, but the original creator had the production change the whole thing to end the film finally killing off Gamera at the end so he would never come back... 

I only like how the name of the creatures pop up on screen here. An actual new (hideous) Gamera was suit it was only used in the full 2 new minutes of Gamera footage they made for this film!!

The only fun thing in the entire film is how there's a Godzilla poster that gets destroyed here. 

The idea for the plot of the film could have actually made for a really fun and decent "Destroy All Monsters" type of scenario...

I always blame this film for ending the series. Gamera would only be revived another 15 years later in the brilliant 1995 revival reboot..

I give this one a: 0.5 / 3 Score! 

And that is it for the original Gamera Show series of films.

As the series went along it only get a lot more cheesy. But that didn't stop the giant flying turtle from becoming a staple of our pop culture, showing up in various cameos and parodies over the decades, from mangas (like in most of Akira Toriyama's work) to comics, going through cartoons and even games.

Gamera would spawn all sort of products from comics to games and what have you. In the US his popularity also spread through small TV stations airing these monster features in the 80s and later thanks to being featured on the spoof television comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 90s.

After the disaster that was the last film the series would be put on hold until it was resurrected and brought back in what is now known as the Heisei series in a 1995 reboot. Now tweaked for a much darker story, a sort of answer to the gritty Heisei Godzilla films. Also taking a note from the American adaptation of Godzilla in 1998. The cheesy acting and bland special effects ditched for modern tools and a much bigger scale - which honestly rank as my all-time favorite modern Kaiju films.

But that will have to wait for another time...

That's all for this time's Quickies!

No comments:

Post a Comment