Gamera (AKA Daikaijû Gamera, Gammera the Invincible) -1965, Noriaki Yuasa
Gamera is the monster for people who like ugly Christmas trees.
Seriously, look at him. He’s freaking ridiculous.
Conceived at a time when giant monsters were all the rage, Gamera was Japanese film studio Daiei’s cunning imitation of that other popular, giant, Japanese reptile you may have heard of, and while he was never really able to escape the stigma of being an off-brand imitation of the true monster king, he did enjoy a long career in cinema, and earn many fans in his own right. Today we see Gamera not as a heated rival to Godzilla, but more as a lovable, frumpy underdog, humble, and charmingly inferior.
I’m sure you can see what I mean.
His undeniable shittiness is, unquestionably, part of Gamera’s lasting appeal. I’ve been a Gamera fan since childhood, and there’s just something so gloriously “underground,” or “alternative” about him. While his movies share many qualities with Toho’s monster films, there’s something else at play here here, and you can feel that there’s a different hand behind the design of the Daiei universe, which gives it this exciting “other” feel. This bizarre, equally fun world is absolutely ripe for exploration for anyone who loves the Toho Godzilla movies, and Gamera, eternal hardworking underdog of the giant monster lexicon, is charming, in part because of his numerous flaws. Honestly, it’s true, Gamera looks like garbage in the most endearing way possible, he’s like a big, loveable piece of trash. His torso is two thousand feet wide and six inches deep, and his belly is crosshatched in perfect squares giving him the appearance of a bunch of garbage smooshing out from between two giant, green Eggo waffles. That’s his look; the “Garbage sandwich on Green Eggo Bread.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Gamera, also called Gammera The Invincible, is the 1965 debut of this fire eating, shell-clad super beast, and while it’s a far cry from the legitimate artistic slam dunk that was Gojira in 1954, it’s a pretty enjoyable monster movie all the same.
THE PLOT- When a long-range bomber carrying nuclear warheads is shot down over the Arctic, the ensuing explosion frees Gamera, a giant, prehistoric turtle monster, from his ancient state of hibernation beneath the ice.
There is some confusion over exactly how malicious Gamera is. He’s certainly destructive, but is this because he is genuinley an asshole, or is it just really hard not to smash buildings when you’re two hundred feet tall? I’m under six feet, and I totally break stuff sometimes, accidents do happen, friends. In this film, Gamera doesn’t even really seem to want to attack people, so much as their structures, which he might not even understand aren’t meant for smashing. His main interest seems to be food, which is nothing new from the animal kingdom, but Gamera eats energy, be it in the form of electricity, radiation, or even just plain old fire. This has him attacking various power plants in this movie, but can we really fault him for that? That’s like the damn Food Court for Gamera, and anyway, he’s been frozen for like, a million years, that’s a real long time to be hungry. If you hadn’t eaten in millions of years you’d probably act like a serious dick too. I get grumpy around eleven and stay that way till after lunch, so I’m not about to judge Gams.
Early in the movie we meet a young boy named Toshio, a reclusive, antisocial little kid who doesn’t hang out with other children because he’s too interested in chilling with his pet turtle, Peewee. Fearing that Toshio may wind up with underdeveloped social skills, his father does what any loving parent would do, and that is to demand that Toshio discard the one and only thing in the entire world that he truly loves, and that he do it immediately, without taking the time to mentally prepare for the emotional trauma that this might cause. Toshio is given no choice in the matter, and so he reluctantly trudges out into the darkness to set Peewee free, but it is here, against the backdrop of the night sky, that he encounters friggin’ Gamera, who is just chillin’ along the shore. The townsfolk panic and things get a little rocky for a minute or two, but in all the commotion Toshio is actually saved from what would have been a fatal fall by the jagged claw of this mighty creature, much to his delight. Given that Toshio already had an unhealthy fixation with turtles before this happened, this was about the last experience in the world you would ever want him to have, because following this incident he loses his mind completely, and becomes convinced that Peewee has actually transformed into Gamera. This is the genesis of what would later on in the series become a Hallmark of Gamera’s legacy; his suspicious connection to children.
So, Toshio is henceforth convinced that Gamera is just a big ol’ scaley sweetheart, but his vouching for the big guy’s character doesn’t seem to do much in the way of preventing all world governments from collaborating with one another on numerous strategies to kill or otherwise dispose of this towering Tortuga. These plans include, nuclear weapons (aborted, thank goodness), frying him with a high voltage wires, freezing him, and finally launching him into space. Damn. This is actually one of the more optimistic messages in Gamera, he sort of steps in and gives humanity something to unite against, so in a way, in the Daiei universe, Gamera helps to heal the divide caused by the cold war. Too bad Earth wasn’t menaced by a giant turtle in real life, because this shit drug out for another few decades in our tragically Gamera-less reality.
Gamera is head and sholders above the average 1960’s Science Fiction B-movie, but that’s more of a critique of how terrible the average 1960’s B-movie really was than anything else. It’s still miles behind the pack when compared to Toho’s Godzilla output, particularly in the mid sixties when Toho had already had over a decade to refine their techniques. Gamera wouldn’t really hit his stride and start putting out real classics until a litte later, and this is certainly not his best adventure. Even so, it’s a humble beginning for a creature generally loved for having humble beginnings, so the shabbiness doesn’t much hurt the film, and by and large, Kaiju fans will like it one way or the other. Those who aren’t quite sold on the genre yet should hold off on this one, however.