Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)

DVD Cover (Shout! Factory)
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Connections: Gamera

A nuclear explosion in the far north unleashes Gamera, the legendary flying turtle, from his sleep under the ice. In his search for energy, Gamera wreaks havoc over the entire world, and it's up to the scientists, assisted by a young boy with a strange sympathetic link to the monster, to put a stop to Gamera's rampage. --IMDb
Review by Crispy
Added: November 07, 2007
With Toho bringing in the big bucks with their daikaiju flicks, rival company Daiei Films decided to get into the act themselves. In 1965, they released their own monster, Gamera. While he wouldn't achieve anywhere near Godzilla's fame, he would still go on to carve himself a comfortable niche in the genre.

Unlike most of Toho's monster films, Daiei wasted no time in getting started. Russian and U.S. fighters are engaged in a dog fight above the frozen wastelands of the Arctic. When the Russian jet goes down, the nuclear bomb on board explodes releasing the ancient creature, Gamera. Gamera is a huge, fire-breathing turtle that has been hibernating in the ice for centuries. The monster quickly destroys a nearby ship and swims off toward the Japanese mainland. This ship was the temporary home of Dr. Hikada (Eiji Funakoshi), a zoologist who is jumping at the chance to study this new species. However, he soon realizes that the giant turtle is a dangerous force that must be dealt with quickly. Meanwhile, back on the mainland a young boy named Toshio (renamed Kenny in the dubbed version) is having trouble with his studies. According to his teacher, this comes from his severe obsession with turtles. In an attempt to break this fixation, his parents force him to release his pet turtle. While he's doing this, his small village is attacked by Gamera. As Toshio is about to fall to his death, he is actually saved by the creature. The boy deduces that Gamera is a good turtle and is not dangerous, merely misunderstood and out of place in the world. He then takes it upon himself to save the giant turtle's life from the military.

Obviously, Daiei was trying to cash in off of Toho's success here, and you can pick up numerous allusions to their films. From the creature's first appearance, rising up over a hill la Gojira, or the world wide sightings taken from Rodan. The problem is in that in Daikaiju Gamera everything feels a bit watered down. For example, in Gojira, the main scientist is in a severe state of depression due to this realization that this once in a lifetime creature is about to be killed. Here, the character gets up on a podium and says "From a zoological aspect, it's a shame that we're losing this opportunity, but we can not afford the risk." Sure, it's a nice break from the narrow-minded-scientist role, but it really loses that emotional aspect that made Gojira work so well.

Also paralleling Gojira, this film was giving its own American bastardization called Gammera, The Invincible, which seemed to be the only one I could possibly find anywhere. Granted, it wasn't as drastic a redo as Godzilla: King of the Monsters was, I still was determined to review the source material. Unfortunately, I'm not even sure a subtitled version of the original even exists. Luckily for me, in the '80s producer Sandy Frank dubbed and released it, simply titling it Gamera. This is the version I was eventually able to procure, buying a beat up old VHS off of e-bay. Amazingly, the dub job isn't that bad. Granted, they're never really good, but it's obvious that Frank did a bit more than just slap the lines down to get the product out ASAP. Still, with this version being as hard to find as it is, I'm hoping Daiei will release a subtitled version soon, a notion that seems very likely with Toho currently churning out the Godzilla series. Daiei consistently makes it a habit to follow their rival very closely.

As far as special effects go, this one's kind of hit or miss. Again following Toho's example, Gamera is a guy in a suit destroying foam buildings. Despite having an obviously paper mache head, the suit looks all right. Granted, he's sort of flat and goofy looking; but when you think about it, it's really the only way to get that daikaiju effect. If he was proportioned like the Ninja Turtles, it wouldn't have looked as right. I'm also feeling very forgiving because they gave the creature one of the most entertaining methods of flight I've ever seen and did a great job with the fire-breathing scenes. Whereas Godzilla's radioactive breath was content to simply superimpose an animated cloud-like beam over the film, Gamera's breath was taken to the next level. The effects crew built a model of the creature's head around an actual flame thrower, and while this restricted the fire-breathing scenes to close-ups of its head, it looked wonderful.

Now, it's obvious director Noriaki Yuasa had no clue what tone he wanted to go for here. For example, he's got some seriously dark scenes here, including explicitly showing people being burned alive. Then it turns around and does that 'save the kid proving he's good at heart' route. And the ending is one of the cheesiest things I've ever heard, even by the standards of these films. While it doesn't ruin the film as much as it could have, it does hurt the cohesion of things.

Even with its little problems, Daikaiju Gamera proved to be an entertaining little flick. By far the worst part of the movie is Toshio, who proved to be one annoying little shit of a kid, and single handedly brings the overall enjoyment down a notch or two. Even so, while it's not nearly as good as some of the big turtle's later movies, it's definitely worth a shot by kaiju fans, especially if it ever becomes more readily available. 7/10
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