Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In short: Gamera (1965)

Original title: Daikaiju Gamera

A pretty hot moment in the Cold War somewhere in the Arctic ends in a plane carrying an H-bomb exploding. The explosion sets free the ancient devil of the Inuit tribes, the giant fire-breathing turtle Gamera. After eating a Japanese research ship, only leaving alive zoologist Dr. Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi), his assistant Kyoke (Harumi Kiritachi) and journalist Aoyagi (Junichiro Yamshiko), Gamera disappears to parts unknown.

Some time later, the turtle lands on Hokkaido and smashes up a lighthouse. Because he's a suicidal, dumb little twat, a turtle-loving boy named Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida) is climbing the lighthouse while Gamera is already smashing it. Then Gamera makes a grave mistake. Instead of letting the little bastard fall to his well-deserved death, Gamera rescues him, leaving Toshio free to spend the rest of the movie whining, moping, shouting for Gamera and wandering into danger. Thank you so much, Gamera.

When the film doesn't show us the non-adventures of the most stupid boy in Japan, it does from time to time allow us to watch Gamera's further adventures and the attempts of scientists and military to somehow get rid of the fire-breathing menace.

The plan that succeeds in the end is very special indeed.

The first film in Daiei's Gamera series (the studio's attempt to create a monster as successful as Toho's Godzilla/Gojira) is actually two films. The first one is a pretty fine kaiju eiga about one silly yet wonderfully imaginative monster, with some fine suitmation - clearly the best in a Gamera movie before Shusuke Kaneko got his hands on the character -, pleasant city-smashing and what might just be my most favourite way of getting rid of a monster in all of kaiju-dom. In other words, that film isn't as good as the best Toho productions - it's lacking a bit in emotional resonance and depth for it - but it is a smashingly good time. Director Noriaki Yuasa even manages to let Gamera quite often look like the threatening force of nature a giant monster should be. That Yuasa does this with a rocket-propelled, fire-breathing turtle deserves all respect.

It's just too bad that Yuasa loses that respect again with the second film you can find inside of Gamera. This Gamera is about a whining little brat named Toshio who neither possesses a sense of self-preservation nor empathy with the suffering of others nor a brain and is always at hand to distract from the stuff that's fun and important in a kaiju eiga, that is, a monster smashing things and earnest people in white coats talking SCIENCE(!). I know, I know, Toshio's supposed to be the audience identification figure for the children Daiei was mainly aiming the Gamera movies at, but you can't tell me that anyone - child or not - could watch him going on whining and moping and not come out of the experience hating him with great passion. What makes Toshio even more infuriating is the fact that you could cut all of his scenes out of the film, and nothing at all about the plot would change, making Toshio not only annoying, but also completely useless.

How much you'll be able to enjoy the parts of Gamera that don't contain Toshio will really depend on how hardened your are against annoying child characters in movies. I found myself suffering so much from the child's scenes that I began to wish for odious comic relief instead.



Doug Bolden said...

But...but...Gamera is friend to all the children!

[By the way, have you seen the mid-90s Gamera reboots? They were quite fun, some of my favorite kaiju films.]

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

If only his definition of "children" weren't so damn inclusive.

I love Kaneko's Gamera movies. The second one is my second favourite kaiju movie, behind the original Gojira.