This is part of an ongoing series called Godzilla & Friends: Reviews from the Godzillaverse and Beyond!. Feel free to look around.
Gamera isn’t in the Godzillaverse. He wasn’t made by Toho Pictures and he’s not nearly as well known as Godzilla. Still, there was something about him that made me want to include him in my Godzilla and Friends reviews.
The idea of Gamera was thought up by the producer of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Masaichi Nagata, now the president of Daiei Motion Picture Company . He was flying home to Japan and imagined a turtle flying through the sky (really, who hasn’t?). Screenwriter Nisan Takahashi wrote a treatment for the idea called “Fire-Breathing Turtle Attacks Tokyo” and that became Gamera.
However, the plan to make Gamera worried Daiei, so the budget was slashed and it was placed at B-movie status. Masaichi Nagata’s son, Hidemasa was set to produce (it was Hidemasa’s first film) and young Noriaki Yuasa was to direct (it was his second). With a low budget and rookies at the helm, Gamera seemed sure to fail. But instead it spawned a total of eleven sequels and my love for a giant, fire-breathing turtle that can fly and is the friend to all children.
It was 1965, Toho had released Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster the year before and Frankenstein vs. Baragon in August. They were about to unleash Invasion of Astro-Monster when Gamera the Invincible, Godzilla’s first real big screen competition, opened on November 27, 1965.
And now, the plot…
Gamera starts, presumably, in Alaska. Dr. Hidaka, his assistant Kyoke and reporter Aoyagi are researching mythical turtles in the forgotten legends of the Eskimos. The Eskimo chief tells the doctor of a tribal legend about a turtle and hands him a stone carving depicting that legend.
Meanwhile, US planes down a foreign aircraft carrying an atomic bomb that explodes upon impact. Its mushroom cloud can be seen by the Eskimos and the doctor’s crew. At the impact zone, huge cracks appear in the ice. A giant turtle appears and attacks a Japanese boat… It is Gamera!
However, in Hokkaido, Japan, a young boy, Toshio, who lives by a lighthouse and is obsessed with turtles is forced to get rid of his pet turtle, Chibi, by his sister and father. Toshi sets him free by the water’s edge.
Soon after, the giant monster turtle, Gamera, appears before them! While the father, sister and towns people cower in fear, Toshio runs up the lighthouse to get a better look. Gamera knocks down the lighthouse, but seeing that Toshio is in trouble, saves him, delivering him to the feet of his family.
Toshio is now convinced that Gamera is really Chibi all grown up.
Toshio reminds the doctor and the military, “all turtles are good!” Let’s hope he’s right.
Gamera is then seen on a cliff overlooking the ocean near Hokkaido and the military hits him with the freeze bombs and then the ground unit blows up the cliff, sending Gamera tumbling to the shore, landing on his back.
Turtles cannot right themselves and surely Gamera will die. But just then Gamera pulls his legs and head inside his shell and jet fire shoots from his leg holes! Gamera begins spinning and takes off like a flying saucer! He leaves Japan and flies all over the world, but he never attacks.
Now in Tokyo, Toshio again reminds Dr. Hidaka that Gamera is just lonely and that all he wants are friends.
Though Gamera has not been seen for some time, strange things are happening in Tokyo Bay. Dr. Hidaka believes Gamera is to blame and calls a meeting withscientists from all over the world. The UN suggests “Z Plan.” Both the United States and the USSR are working together on this. It is being built on the island of Izu Oshima “to advance human progress.”
Gamera has attacked Tokyo and is now surviving on the fires, feeding off the energy. Z Plan will be ready in 24 hours. There is only enough fire to keep Gamera busy for another eight hours, so something must be done.
Tokyo is evacuated, but Toshio is missing.
Gamera is near a rail yard with many petroleum-filled tanker cars. He breaks them open, catching the fuel on fire and sucking it in. Toshio tries to rush to his side, but is stopped and told to go home.
Z Plan is now complete and Gamera must be lured to Izu Oshima. They leave a trail of fire, stringing Gamera right where they want him. Toshio stows away on a boat headed to Oshima so that he can see Gamera again, but is discovered by Dr. Hidaka.
With Gamera in place and scientists from all over the world working together, Z Plan is ready! Everybody, including Toshio and his sister are inexplicably allowed into the super secret Z Plan base to watch Z Plan in action. The countdown has begun… Will the Earth be free from Gamera? Will love that knows no racial boundaries make Z Plan succeed? Find out on Gamera, the Invinsible!
No, but really…
I loved this movie. I’ve read reviews from fans of Japanese monster movies and it’s often panned. But I loved it. Yeah, it was Daiei’s answer to Godzilla, but the plot was fairly different. Even the storytelling was different. In Godzilla movies, the audience is always kept in the know, there’s no mystery as to what the plan is. But in Gamera, they keep us guessing! We don’t know much of anything until it happens!
Sure some things are never clear (like were the Soviets really about to nuke America till Gamera came along and distracted them?). Some thing weren’t very well done (like the half-ass love interest between Kyoke the assistant and Aoyagi the reporter). And what actually happened to the little turtle pet, Chibi?
But mostly, this kids movie is just plain fun. If I want a serious monster movie, I’ll watch the original Gojira.
Unlike most Godzilla movies I’ve seen so far, the monster appears almost right away and all throughout the film. The plot is there, but, aside from that half-ass love interest sub-sub-plot, everything is centered around Gamera. Even Toshio’s love for the giant turtle is put on the back burner when needed.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a message, of course. What the kids were to take away from the movie was spoken in the odd little narrated line at the end: “Love that knowns no racial boundaries made it succeed.”
That and don’t dishonor your parents. There was a scene of a Rock & Roll party right when Gamera was attacking Tokyo. A policeman entered and told everyone to leave, Gamera was coming. One wild teen shouted, “No way! Nothing can stop us! Let’s DANCE!” They were, of course, all shortly killed, but not before being told by the policeman that their parents would be disgraced. This is 1965, kid. You can love your turtles all you want, but stay away from that rock and roll!
Like Gojira, Gamera was released to US theaters in a heavily re-edited cut (as Gammera the Invincible). It replaced most of the Japanese dramatic scenes with newly-made American scenes starring Westerners. There was also a much-less edited version released in 1985 by Sandy Frank. Frank would go on to atrociously re-dub four other Gamera movies (all tackled by MST3K). Thankfully, I’ve got the MST3K versions and will be viewing them shortly, I’ll let you know what I think.
I’m ridiculously excited to finally be viewing the Gamera series. I’m even more excited that I get to do it in the context of the Godzilla series and along with the MST3K episodes. Stay tuned!
Producer: Hidemasa Nagata | Director: Noriaki Yuasa | Screenplay: Nissan Takahashi
Special Effects: Kazufumi Fujii | Score: Tadashi Yarnauchi
Released: November 27, 1965 | 80 mins | B&W | 2.35: 1 Aspect Ratio