Gamera Has the Power!
Terrible He-Man reference aside, I was in the mood for a monster movie, but instead of wetting my palate for destruction with a Godzilla movie, I figured why not look at one of Japan’s other giant monsters. Case in point, Gamera. Gamera has been seen as a rival to Godzilla in terms of franchise wars, but when it came down to it, Godzilla beat the flying rocket turtle at almost every hurdle. In 1980, Gamera retired from the big screen, seemingly in abject disgrace after the stock footage festival that was Gamera: Super Monster, but in 1995, we got Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, a reboot for the franchise that ushered in what many call the Heisei Trilogy. Over the years these movies have garnered a lot of love from kaiju lovers and I decided to give it a shot. Up to this point, Gamera felt like the sloppy seconds to Godzilla, his movies were pretty bad. But this movie single-handedly put Gamera back on his pedestal for me, not above Godzilla but just enough to stand on his own.
One thing I liked about this movie was how the story built up to the reveal of not only Gamera, but also the movies villain Gyaos. From the beginning we see Gyaos is causing carnage and at the same time a mysterious atoll is floating around concealing Gamera. The imagery of Gyaos’s destruction and ravage hunger for flesh really got me hooked and when Gamera showed u, I felt a massive pay off that worked really well. But what about the plot? Well it follows a group of characters as they try to fend off and defeat the epidemic of Gyaos. When Gamera shows up, Japan becomes the battleground for these two monsters, with Gamera acting mainly as an enforcer of justice as he’s here to eradicate the Gyaos. The lore built around Gamera and Gyaos is sparse but the information we do get does add to the movie a lot and adds just enough ambiguity to make it interesting. One issue I have with the movie is that it does have a lot of MacGuffin moments, one of the characters comes into possession of an item by accident that becomes integral to beating Super Gyaos. Not to mention I do think the final fight could have been a little bit longer and better choreographed. The formula does follow a lot of pathways previous kaiju movies have taken, with a predictable series of acts, but I do think it is paced really well. Like I said the monster build up is good and the human plot is quite enjoyable and well paced. In terms of overall plotline and story, I think this is one of the better kaiju films I’ve based on story alone.
I think the cast in this movie are very good and are engaging a lot of the time. There are quite a number of characters to keep a track of so I’ll make a small list of the most important ones;
- Yoshinari: As one of the male leads of the movie, Yoshinari is alright. He isn’t really that interesting or unique, but he does have some nice on-screen chemistry with other characters and he does contribute to the plot in important ways that don’t feel forced. His interactions with many of the characters are both funny, and at times quite earnest.
- Shinobu: The female lead of the movie, Shinobu is definitely the strongest personality out of her and Yoshinari
- Asagi: Asagi is in the movie simply because her father is too, and this is how she gets tied into the meat of things. I do like her but her involvement in the movie is a bit forced and she develops a connection to Gamera that feels really unnecessary and in some ways takes the monster factor away from Gamera. But she is likeable and her relationships with other characters is still fun to watch.
- Naoya: Serving as the ‘old guy’ of the movie, Naoya is another character I really like. He does add to the plot of the movie and I really enjoy seeing him talk with both Yoshinari and his daughter Asagi. But my one issue with his character is that towards the end we hear him talking about ‘not being a better father’, which is a fine angle to add to his character but it kinda came from nowhere. Still, he’s a top-notch character
- Inspecter Osako: My favourite character in the movie. He’s hilarious but is gone too soon, and I mean way too soon. He’s both a charming and quirky character but a complete pushover and he does really make me laugh. Despite his limited screen time, Osako was an affective comic relief and a charming character.
- The Other Characters: Many additional characters suffer from the same issues. They either have little to no focus in the story or just show up out of nowhere for one scene and then leave for the rest of the film.
For an early 90s monster movie, the presentation for the most part looks pretty good. I’ll really give them credit for making the Gyaos look really creepy through a combination of grotesque close up shots and just generally scary puppetry. Gamera also looks sick in this movie. The design looks incredible and it’s a nice modern update while still keeping the core design (take notes Godzilla 1998). The cinematography was also good in this movie, but it wasn’t anything too new. It followed the same old wide-angle shots and low angles to display the size of Gamera, and Gyaos when it grows in size. Not to mention the music in this movie was also pretty good, the main theme is mighty catchy and is at the very least better than Gamera’s old theme. I also like the special effects on the monster powers, they do look really cool, especially Gyaos’s sound laser attack. But one major problem for me is some of the green-screen in this film. Now I do understand that this was the 90s so the effects will not be what they are today, but just to get an idea of what I mean… This movie came out in 1995, but the green-screen looks like it came from Superman 4 in 1987, yes it’s that jarring. Sometimes it looks fine, like on close-ups of the monster when they’re flying, but wide shots just look bad. However, to end on a high note, the action was great, a lot of cool moments from the monsters and an absolutely awesome final kill for Gamera, think of it kinda like the “YOU FOOL!” scene from Dragon Ball Z.
I love the monster designs in this movie. Granted, the previous monster designs in the original series looked…lets call it interesting, but these ones look downright awesome;
- Gamera: Here he is, the star of the show, and what a comeback he made. This movies Gamera has a great look to it and its size really does create an imposing image. For me, the eyes could be a lot smaller and sunken in, these eyes look a little bit too cheap for me. But that is a mere nitpick and Gamera has some fabulous moments in this movie. When he flies for the first time, it’s satisfying to watch and he commands a great deal of power and might that really comes across well. I also really like Gamera’s origins, having a much more mystical backstory and is rooted in many mythologies. His personality is also really neat, serving more like an antihero than a protector, disregarding humans for the sake of protecting earth specifically. Despite his past sins, Gamera arrives from the depths of Super Monster and truly sets himself up for being another one of the great kaiju of our time, good on you my flying turtle friend.
- Gyaos: Before this movie, Gyaos was perhaps the worst of Gamera’s foes, mainly because it had one of the worst designs of any of the monsters. But in this movie, Gyaos has an updated look, and oh boy is it a good update. They look more fleshy and artificial, giving off this really dreadful air of menace. The scene where they are all feasting on some bait laid by the humans of grotesquely unsettling, horribly crunching and sloppy sounds paired up with close-ups on their tight features, it’s just fierce looking. I’m not a fan of how the final boss is just a really big Gyaos, but the biology behind its size is really clever, the idea being these things are ever evolving and ever-growing. The scene of Gyaos’s destruction are rife with terror, including a scene where it consumes a train carriage of people, good grief is that dark. So in conclusion, Gyaos has crawled out of the hole of its past and has flown to new heights as a kaiju villain.
- Story: 4/5 – For a reboot it’s pretty good. It has fabulous set up, maintains the old formula of Gamera while adding to it and having some decent pacing.
- Characters: 4/5 – These characters are for the most part really fun and likeable. Their actions influence the film and they all come together nicely.
- Presentation: 3/5 – I’ll praise them for the angle shots and puppet and ‘suitmation’ on the monsters, but some of the effects in this movie, like the green-screen, really do stick out like Gamera’s tusks.
- Genre Representation: 4/5 – It’s a great monster film, great atmosphere and buildup, some creepy monster designs and some great destruction.
- (Unique Grade) Gamera…ness: 4/5 – This movie put Gamera back on top, he’s a great monster and his presence in this movie is one that is both powerful and commanding.
- Final Grade: 4/5 – For a movie that tries to bring Gamera back into the mainstream, it definitely succeeds. The action is great, the characters are great, the presentations fine and as from what I’ve heard about the next to movies, they’re better than this one which means I’m super hyped for Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.
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