Gamera (1965)

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Image filmposter.net

“It is the Devil’s Envoy…Gamera!”

The massive popularity of Godzilla in the 1960’s inspired a series of imitators.  Probably the best known of these was Gamera, the flying, fire-breathing turtle.  While he is more often remembered as Mystery Science Theater bait, at one time Gamera was nearly as popular as Godzilla himself, spawning a series of movies as well as a darker reboot trilogy in the late 1990’s.

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Image desukomoviespot.blogspot.com

The movie begins as several unidentified aircraft, later identified as Russian, fly silently over an Eskimo encampment in North America.  The United States responds by sending aircraft to intercept.  One of the silent planes is shot down, and detonates in a small atomic explosion.  The explosion breaks apart the ice and releases an ancient turtle monster.  The Eskimos identify the monster as Gamera, a creature from ancient Atlantis.  Gamera quickly attacks the ice cutting ship and then disappears.  A Japanese scientist named Dr. Hidaka survives the attack, as do his a few of his colleagues.  As the scientists discuss the significance of the giant turtle, a flying saucer is spotted over parts of Japan, diverting the attention of the public.

Just as the public seems to have forgotten Gamera, the giant turtle reappears off the coast of Japan near a lighthouse.  While Gamera knocks over a lighthouse, he saves a young turtle-loving boy named Toshio from falling off the lighthouse before he leaves.  This incident revives interest in the beast, and the military devises ways to battle the monster.  Electric wires and artillery are attempted, each to no avail.  Gamera responds to the attack by destroying a nearby power plant and eating the fire that is produced.  The scientists deduce that Gamera can absorb heat energy and use it to power himself, so atomic weapons and missiles will only serve to make him stronger.  The government proposes an experimental freeze-bomb, which would freeze Gamera solid for ten minutes.  While he is frozen, bombs are placed around Gamera that detonate and flip him onto his back.  The celebration is short-lived, however, as Gamera tucks all of his limbs into his body and shoots fire from his arm and leg holes.  This causes him to spin and fly into the air, revealing that Gamera is the flying saucer from before.

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Image guiacinefila.com

Gamera flies around the world in his flying form for a time, then disappears again.  The sudden death of all the fish in Tokyo Bay, along with disrupted radio waves in the area, lead the military to conclude that Gamera is hiding there.  Unable to destroy the monster with conventional weapons, it is decided to enact the “Z Plan”, which would involve trapping Gamera in a space capsule and firing him into space.  As preparations are made, Gamera reappears in Tokyo and lays waste to the city.  As it turns out, Gamera is looking for fire and energy sources to sustain himself.  A trail of fire is created to lure Gamera to the “Z Plan” capsule.  The plan is successful and Gamera is trapped in the capsule and launched into space toward Mars (little did they suspect that a wayward asteroid would break Gamera out at the beginning of the next movie, “Gamera vs. Barugon”).

Gamera was very successful in his first appearance.  Unlike most giant monsters, he was not portrayed as naturally violent, and most of the damage he caused could be attributed to his search for energy, which he uses as food.  He would go on to appear in six more movies during the 60’s and 70’s.  As the series moved on, it became more and more aimed at children, by the third movie Gamera even had a theme song that would accompany his appearance.  Production values fell, and Gamera disappeared after Daiei Studios went bankrupt in 1971.  A new movie, “Super Monster Gamera”, was created in 1980, but most of the footage was stock footage (and the new scenes featured a ship that looked not unlike a Star Destroyer…)  He did not make a reappearance until “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” in 1995, a movie that re-imagined the creature as an ancient protector of mankind.  This new version featured higher-end effects and a much more serious storyline.  Two sequels followed, and the new “Gamera Trilogy” is often held as the standard to which modern kaiju movies must be measured.  Not bad for a flying, fire-breathing turtle!

While nowhere near as serious as the original Godzilla, the original Gamera is much more serious than what followed.  Fans only familiar with the modern Gamera movies should check this one out, as it helped to lay the groundwork for the following Gamera movies without being plagued with the cheap production values and grating child stars that came with them.

Trivia

This was the only Gamera movie, as well as the last Japanese kaiju film, to be filmed in black and white.

New scenes were filmed for the English version of the film, mostly to replace similar English-language scenes in the original.  They do not significantly affect the plot, and the main focus remains on the Japanese actors.

Toshio was named “Kenny” in the English version.  This has led genre fans to refer to young boys that have starring roles in kaiju and space fantasy films as “Kennys”.

Gamera, through stock footage, appeared in a cameo in an episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”.

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Image wired.com

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~ by Chris on April 10, 2014.

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