To those who know me, it’s no secret (at all) but to those who don’t, let this be a lesson: I am a huge daikaiju fan. My fandom dates back to before I knew that term or what it meant (dai being essentially an “adjective” to mean “large”–in this case giant–and “kaiju” being a term for “monster,” usually applied to Godzilla and comparable monsters), prior to my interest in film, prior to most things I can name. I had one of those terrible bright-green rubber Godzillas with the red “lipstick” look for as long as I can remember, have seen the dubbed versions of the Showa series (so named because it was filmed under the Shouwa period, when Hirohito was emperor) many, many times, desperately seeking out the random marathons, waking up at absurd hours of night to catch ones I had not yet seen, pursuing the magazine G-Fan, attempting to frequent (at an age before I could actually choose to frequent) a shop known as “Big Lizard” for movie rentals, and trying with all my might to track down any of the Heisei series (the “VS” series in other parlance) that I had briefly read about in my first purchased issue of Fangoria (yes, I did just date myself). When I first started browsing the internet, I remember looking at hundreds of pictures from the VS series, printing off images of Biollante and Destroyah (why on earth people do not maintain the usual translation and refer to this kaiju as Destroyer is behind me).
But, unlike many, I was not specific in my loves, and had no shortness of affection for certain flying turtles, a strange mixed origin for my love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 arising from the fact that it was a place to catch these films which were otherwise so rarely shown, not yet paying attention to the fact that those funny jokes were intended to mock the films. I pretended, young as I was, that these were considered–even by Joel and the bots–“exceptions” to the “cheesy movies” line in the theme song. I don’t know that I really believed this, but it gave me peace of mind enough not to worry about it. In retrospect, yes, the Gamera films are terribly, terribly silly, and I have no real interest in pursuing the lot of them, though I have no shame about how much I loved them before.
When I heard, though, some years ago, that Gamera had been remade, and somehow got wind of the fact that it was updated in all ways to resemble the quality of these near-mythical Godzilla films (I did have a taped copy of Godzilla 1985, which is one of the movies I watched more times than I should reasonably try to count) that had so recently been released–boy was I excited. If my comics weren’t in longboxes buried under other books, I would definitely paw through them, as I could swear I in fact have a comic adaptation of part of this particular film. I know for certain that I found out it was being shown (albeit dubbed, but I still didn’t worry about this difference, as it had never bothered me in all my watching) on television at one point, and made sure to record it on the family VCR as we were going out that night. To my great disappointment (nay, heartbreak–I was still a pretty emotional person in all respects then) I found that half the movie was missing from the tape when we returned. As such, this was the first time I was able to see the whole story in one go (though not one sitting, I’ve been exhausted and so had to return to it repeatedly).
Much was made of this series, and it even led director Shusuke Kaneko to be given directorial responsibility on the–to that point–more renowned and respected Godzilla series with Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. I’ve always craved a way to justify my love of these films so that I can share them with others, often failing miserably, being stuck, instead, with the derisive, disrespectful laughter of the people around me. Let it be known, then, that I watch these movies as movies–I have always taken the plots seriously (no matter how ridiculous) and been interested in the characters and their drama behind the destructive action, and have always viewed them like I would almost any other movie. If your interest in kaiju films is in laughing at the “bad effects”–this review is not for you. I am not of your mindset and in fact find you the most repugnant movie-viewer to share any film with. Keep that away from me and all is fine, but get near me with it and raise my ire.
Gamera was always thought of as the “poor man’s Godzilla,” in a sense, being made by Daiei studios to compete with Toho’s, er, monster success, and also as a lesser film series in general thanks to both its association with–and its obvious intention to market itself toward–children. Certainly, the giant turtle was much quicker to turn amusing, loveable friend to children and mankind than Godzilla, and in fact in what is a comparatively landslide majority of appearances remains a defender of life, rather than a destructive force. This film is no real exception, and it hurts no one to tell you that. Yes, you can love that big, tusked, turtle that spins like a UFO. He’s on our side. But he’s not nearly so anthropomorphic this time, having been given a stronger, more specific history and background, one that makes him into a spiritual force, a sort of defender of the world, the environment and all life, sort of like–if you’ll pardon a truly bizarre analogy–the elemental form of Swamp Thing. He does not cuddle with anyone and is not afraid to destroy manmade constructions in his fight to save the world, he does not interact, except with Asagi Kusanagi (Ayao Fujitani, who reminds me in a strange way of the naïve form of Alyson Hannigan as Willow–and who is the daughter of Steven Seagal!), who maintains a very vague, sympathetic link with our hero through a piece of metal harvested from the millenia of detritus which has accumulated on his dormant shell. She doesn’t literally speak to him, nor he to her, but instead she is his guide, and he is a pleasant presence for her. Around her we see her father Naoya (Akira Onodera), Doctor Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) an ornithologist interested in Gamera’s foe Gyaos, and the somewhat goofy young naval officer Yoshinari Yonemori, who makes up for this goofiness with a lot of enthusiasm.
The real question of course, is just how entertaining is this movie? It’s pretty damn entertaining, and definitely brings to Gamera something that was previously missing–respectability. It’s not perfectly serious, but hte humour is intentional, the effects are good enough that a decent human being won’t take issue with them, and the performances are at least at par, if not above, for films of this type. The script is pretty creative with the origins of the two beasts in the film, with a background story of humans that isn’t a sidestory parallel to the destruction but relevant, a government that believably justifies screw ups which are the only reason Gamera has so much trouble with Gyaos, and a quiet, small element of environmentalism that updates the original kaiju message of abuse of nuclear power for the modern age.
If you like daikaiju films as much as I do, this is required viewing.