Gamera, Guardian of the Universe

Giant Turtle to the Rescue!

With 1998’s Godzilla getting so much attention, surely there’ll be wise guys in the crowd shouting out, “Hey! What about Gamera?!” Ah, yes. Gamera, the giant prehistoric jet-propelled fire-breathing flying turtle – friend to all children and butt of a thousand jokes on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Back in the ’60s, when Toho Studios Godzilla series was raking in millions, rival studio Daiei decided to cash in by creating their own monster. Though the Gamera movies boasted some truly interesting and original ideas, their main distinction is that they’re some of the silliest monster movies ever made – too silly even for their intended audience of small children. Each one was even goofier and cheaper than the one before, and by the time of the ninth entry in the series – 1980’s abominable Gamera, Supermonster – they mostly consisted of stock footage from earlier films. Gamera was last seen sacrificing his life out in space to save mankind (and to save us all from further sequels.

Well, prepare yourself for a shock. Not only is Gamera back in a new series of films (inspired by the resurgence of Godzillamania in the ’90s), but they’re actually very good! Made at a lower budget than the Godzilla films, they more than make up for it with talent, imagination, and attitude. This first film (the sequels Gamera 2: Attack of Legion and Gamera 3: The Revenge of Irys have been picked up stateside by ADV Films) sets a serious tone, detailing the discovery of dangerous prehistoric flying monsters called Gyaos and the subsequent reappearance of Gamera. Though mankind seeks the destruction of all, it’s soon learned that the Gyaos were created by a lost advanced civilization as a shortsighted bio-engineering experiment gone wrong and Gamera was created to battle the man-eating beasts – and whatever others should threaten mankind.

Okay, so the plot still may sound a little ridiculous, but it’s all handled in such a straightforward manner, and the action moves along so swiftly, that it’s easy to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. Little touches help a great deal, such as the when it’s explained that the Japanese Defense Force is legally unable to attack Gamera unless the monster clearly attacks them first (until the government gives them official clearance), and that the appearance of giant beasts sends the stock exchange into a panic. Great promise is shown in the performance of young actress Ayako Fujitani (daughter of US action star Steven Seagal) in her first big starring role.

Gamera has been making its way around the country in roadshow fashion, so it may be hard to catch in your area – but even if you have to wait for its video appearance, this is definitely a picture that knows how to deliver an old fashioned monster show in a whole new way.

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