KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

In 1965 Daiei Studios decided to capitalize on Toho’s successful Godzilla film series with their own fire-breathing radioactive star, Gamera the flying turtle. At that time, Gamera was “the friend to children” and his films from that era are largely considered to be inferior to the Toho series of Kaiju Eiga (giant monster films), although they are entertaining and fun.

In 1995, after a 15-year retirement, Daiei brought back the shelled one and gave him a new lease on life. The man given the responsibility of transforming Gamera from a low-budget children’s monster into a serious modern-day contender fell to director Shusuke Kaneko whose earlier work consists of several successful horror films and comedies. He did a great job.

This time out, the origins of Gamera are Atlantis. The ancient people created him in response to the appearance of flocks of man-eating prehistoric birds called Gyaos – a favorite foe from the 1960’s films. Gamera’s intentions to save modern-day Japan from the birds is misinterpreted by the Self Defense Force and they attempt to

kill him. Director Kaneko largely removes the element of young children and instead, opts to endow Gamera with a magical jewel that enables him to bond with a teenage girl on the brink of womanhood named Asagi (played by Steven Segal’s daughter Ayako Fujitani.) Through Asagi, Gamera harnesses the added strength required to defeat the Gyaos in a grand battle that takes place all in broad daylight. Quite an ambitious undertaking for special effects director Shinji Higuchi whose shots blend seamlessly with Kankeo’s.

Aside from the bigger budget re-tooling, the film also succeeds

on a level far above that of the original series in the drama department. Kaneko treats the characters and plot with respect. More than any other director in the Kaiju Eiga genre, Shusuke Kaneko succeeds at melding humor and horror.

For those not into movies with guys in suits, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe also succeeds on the same level as the “Rocky” films. Gamera gets beat up pretty bad early on but comes back with fire-balls a-blazin’ to kick some serious Gyaos tail feather. Screw all the fancy CGI effects. This is one entertaining monster flick with as much ambition as you’re ever going to see in a movie of this kind. The sequels are even better, with the third in the trilogy Gamera vs. Iris (1999) considered by many to be the best Kaiju film ever made. The Japanese language versions with English subtitles are definitely the way to go for all three of these films. The 2020 release of the entire collection is amazing.

 

 

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