Wednesday, July 11, 2012

“Gamera is a friend to all children.”

The biggest name in kaiju is easily Godzilla. The second biggest name is Gamera, the giant fire-breathing, flying turtle who is friend to all children. He’s been in a lot of movies (somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty or so), but it all started with Daikaijû Gamera in 1965 and translated into English with some American actors inserted as Gammera the Invincible in 1966.

Some scientists are up in the Arctic Circle when a plane carrying nuclear bombs crashes into the ice, awakening the giant turtle monster Gamera! Gamera, who feeds on heat and fire, goes on a globe trekking search for food. When he gets to Japan, he also happens by chance upon the... unstable Toshio (“Kenny” in the English dub) who is an antisocial little kid with an unhealthy obsession with turtles. Kenny survives his encounter (though his house does not) and thinks that it was because Gamera is good at heart. After this, Kenny ends up in all kinds of classified/secure military and government locations with no clearance and keeps stressing that Gamera is good, despite the incredible loss of life that the giant turtle causes. Long story short, the scientist sub-character, his daughter and her reporter stalker boyfriend are unable to blow up or deep freeze Gamera, so the United Nations enact Plan Z, which, I kid you not, entails capturing Gamera in a dome and launching him into space.

Well, like any good kaiju film, director Noriaki Yuasa provides a lot of models that get destroyed by a man in a rubber suit. The movie is at its best when Gamera’s on the screen, and thankfully, he’s on screen a lot here. Still, without a monstrous foil, Gamera's destructive rampage does get a little old.

The writing is…not so great, and since this was the dub/edit, I can’t really lay ALL the blame on writer Nisan Takahashi. (The scenes with the Americans are hilariously badly-acted with some dreadful line readings, for example.) The stuff with the scientist, his daughter and the reporter isn’t too bad, they’re just fairly boring people. The stuff with Kenny? Nigh-insufferable. He’s supposed to be a sympathetic point of view character, but he’s just an antisocial lunatic who’s continuous insistence on letting Gamera go wild is responsible for the deaths of countless residents of model buildings. So, really, the human segments of the movie: not so good. Gamera destroying toy boats and planes? Much better.

The original music by Tadashi Yamauchi is nothing of particular note. On the other hand, the sound effect for Gamera’s roar is equally as distinctive as Godzilla’s sounds.

Gammera the Invicible is essentially a Gojira knock off (giant monsters awakened by nuclear activity destroys Tokyo in black & white), but does differentiate itself early by throwing in a kid protagonist. Like Godzilla, later movies would be in color and more about monsters fighting each other than helpless buildings. The comparisons are impossible to avoid. Still, its not a particularly awful movie (though the American dub is) and Gamera is different enough in what he does to make him interesting in his own right. If you like rubber suit monsters and cheesy science fiction, take a look, otherwise, there’s not much here for you.

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