Our subject: the giant turtle Gamera, certainly one of the most controversial subjects of our time.
–TV host, Gamera.

We meant to have a more Halloweeny review for today, but Fiz got busy at work, and I had this prepared for some time in November, so….

Toho’s Godzilla and its various other giant monsters turned a fair profit back in the day, and other studios took notice. The U.K. gave us Gorgo, and Denmark faced Ridiculous Reptilicus. The most successful of the Gojira wannabees was Gamera, a Japanese offering which from the start pitched itself at Kaiju’s kiddie fans, and plays best as a parody of the genre.

Title: Gamera, Daikaijû Gamera, Gammera the Invincible, The Giant Monster Gamera, I was a Teenage Turtle with Big Teeth.

Yes, I’m kidding about that last one.

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Written by Nisan Takahashi

Eiji Funakoshi as Dr. Hidaka
Harumi Kiritachi as Kyoke
Junichirô Yamashiko as Aoyagi
Kenji Oyama as General
Yoshiro Uchida as Toschio
Yoshiro Kitahara as Sakurai
Jun Hamamura as Dr. Murase
A Bunch of Dinner Theater Rejects as Various Characters in the American Inserts

Available here.

Premise:

A gigantic, fire-breathing, betusked flying turtle goes on a city-destroying rampage. The armies of the world attempt to stop the beast, despite the protests of a child who really likes turtles. The heart-warming love story is frequently interrupted (in the most widely-available version) by utterly pointless U.S. footage that showcases a bunch of bargain basement actors.

High Points:

The fact that someone recognized that, by the mid-1960s, the Kaiju films were becoming increasingly silly and increasingly suited only for children, and tried to make one specifically for this audience. It’s a pity that his first outing was so poorly handled.

Despite Gamera’s height (between 150 and 200 feet) the monster turtle regularly sneaks up on people. This is at least somewhat amusing.

Low Point:

I wonder how the Japanese feel about the phrase “Made in Japan” being used (as it was in 1960s North America) in the American sections to mean “of inferior quality?” It’s especially insulting given that the U.S. inserts are by far the worst thing about this movie. They add nothing useful to the film, and the acting rarely rises above the level of an elementary school pageant.

And, speaking of elementary school, Toschio’s turtle fixation (tolerant guy though I am) comes across as creepy.

The Scores:

“We understand you love your pet turtle. We want to talk to you about it.”

Originality: 1/6. They get one point for making the monster a gigantic, fire-breathing, betusked flying turtle. Otherwise, this film features a giant, radioactive prehistoric monster reawakened in a remote area by a nuclear device. The creature, already feared by an isolated culture, goes on the rampage, ultimately invading Japan. Conventional weapons fail, but at last a novel solution presents itself. The monster later returns for a multitude of sequels in which he becomes a hero, rather than the more villainous creature we see in his debut, which stands apart from the rest of the series because it (1) has a more serious tone, (2) is filmed in black and white, and (3) features new scenes filmed in the United States.

Sound familiar?

Effects: 3/6 This movie features a hodge-podge of effects, including inconsistent (but frequently bad) model work, a fairly typical-quality Kaiju costume, and ludicrous “flying Gamera” animation. The film demonstrates Gamera’s “fire-eating” by running its “fire-breathing” footage in reverse.

Story: 3/6. The movie meanders in many directions, leaving us with no real point of view, and little time to get to know any of the characters. The most bizarre plotline involves Toschio, the Little Boy who Loves Turtles, and harbinger of the kids who will star in future Gamera epics.

Acting: 2/6. The Japanese actors seem passable, though the film gives their characters little development. The American inserts have already been addressed under “Low Points.”

Production: 3/6. This is Kaiju on a budget, and the film’s production quality varies wildly. The original movie, its stock footage scenes, and the American additions play at times like the result of some psych patient’s experimental “film editing therapy.”

Emotional Response: 3/6. This film has some appeal for those of us who saw Gamera films when we were kids. I haven’t seen the more recent revival of the series; I’m told the quality has improved significantly.

Overall: 3/6. “Captain Foster insists that after he was separated from his group he saw a giant turtle walking away…. He circled the area to take another look but it was gone, as if it had flown away.”

Gamera receives a total score of 18/42