...aka: Gamera, the Giant Monster
...aka: Giant Monster Gamera, The
Thanks to the international success of Toho's GODZILLA series and all of its offshoots (MOTHRA, RODAN, etc.), several rival companies decided to give chase in the giant monster sweepstakes. GAMERA, from Daiei Studios, is one of those, and probably the most popular of all the non-Toho Japanese monster flicks from the era, spawning six sequels in its original run as well as a new rebooted series beginning in 1995. GAMERA not only holds the distinction of being the only movie in its series to be filmed in black-and-white, it's also the last kaijû eiga to be filmed in black-and-white. The film is also noteworthy for being the only one in its series where the titular monster doesn't face off against another giant monster. So how's the actual movie? Somewhat fun, I guess. How can a giant upright-walking nuclear turtle not be a little fun?
The world's at war again (there's even mention of us being on the verge of WWIII) when a Russian airplane being pursued by some American fighter pilots decides to drop an A bomb out in the middle of the Arctic. The ice cracks open, steam rolls out and a gigantic prehistoric turtle (gah!) is awakened after a two-thousand year frozen slumber. It goes on to sink a ship, destroy a lighthouse, derail a train, demolish a geothermal plant and eventually turn Tokyo into a big pile of rubble. Amusing stuff? Yeah, pretty much, especially when a dance club full of bopping teens is smashed. The turtle ramage scenes deliver as is expected of them and the special effects are pretty fun. The rest of the movie is basically a snooze. Your typical group of scientists, militarymen, reporters, etc. try to bait the beast and discover it actually thrives on all manner of fire, nuclear energy, missles and bombs. There's also an orphaned boy who has a special connection to turtles of all sizes, thinks Gamera is just lonely and needs a friend and manages to get in the middle of everything. How our heroes rid the earth of the terrifying tortoise (for the time being, at least) is pretty amusing.
Sequels: GAMERA VS. BARUGON (1966; aka GAMERA STRIKES AGAIN), GAMERA VS. GAOS (1967; aka RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS), GAMERA VS. VIRAS (1968; aka DESTROY ALL PLANETS), GAMERA VS. GUILLON (1969; aka ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS), GAMERA VS. MONSTER X (1970) and GAMERA VS. ZIGRA (1971). The series saw a resurgance years later with the release of GAMERA: THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995).
Eiji Funakoshi (BLIND BEAST), Yoshiro Kitahara (who also appeared - playing different roles - in the first three Gamera sequels) and Jun Hamamura (KWAIDAN, JIGOKU) star. In America, producer Sandy Frank scrapped some of the original footage and added brand new scenes featuring Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, Dick O'Neill and Alan Oppenheimer, among others. That version was released as GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE in 1966 and is also available on DVD. I will likely review it separately on here eventually.