Monday, 24 January 2022

Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe

Gyaos & Dolls

Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe
aka Gamera Giant Mid-Air Showdown
aka Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen
Japan 1995
Directed by Shûsuke Kaneko  
Daiei/Toho Arrow Films
Blu Ray Zone B

It had been 15 years since the last Gamera movie and a full three decades since his cinematic birth. Toho was releasing the final of the new Heisei era Godzilla films at the end of this year but now it was time for everyone’s favourite, jet propelled giant turtle to make a return, in a trilogy of Heisei era pictures beginning with Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe. It’s been hailed as a masterpiece by critics (it won a lot of awards) and, more importantly, it was a champ at the box office and its reputation is huge with most audience members... apart from the director and creator of the original Gamera films, who felt it lost a lot when it stopped focusing on young children as the target audience.

The film is a total reboot this time around. The Showa films never happened in this universe and nobody has even heard of Gamera, nor of Gyaos (also returning here) in this movie until an inscription embedded in a mysterious floating atoll, which houses Gamera within, is translated.

The plot of the film is that a whole bunch of 15 foot wing spanned Gyaos (so, initially much smaller than the original Gyaos from Gamera VS Gyaos, reviewed here) have awakened (or hatched) on a small island and eaten the 17 people who were there. Mayumi, played by Shinobu Nakayama, is an ornithologist and, since the Gyaos’ are initially believed to be giant birds, she is brought in by the government to research and then help capture or kill them. 

 Meanwhile, Yoshinaro (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara who you may remember from the remake of 13 Assassins, reviewed here, some years ago) is trying to find out why the drifting atoll was threatening his plutonium transport ship. He gives a comma shaped bead, one of many found on the atoll, to the teenage daughter of his employee, Asagi (played by Ayako Fujitani, the daughter of Steven Seagal, who plays this character in all the films in this trilogy). Gamera awakens and fulfills the prophecy from the monolith on the atoll as he goes to rid the world of Gyaos, mistaken at first as a destructive enemy force (because, you know, he accidentally knocks about a few buildings here and there) and therefore finding himself pursued by the army. However, the comma shaped bead has chosen Asagi, who is now spiritually bonded to Gamera and, when he receives a battle injury, she starts bleeding and getting beaten up too... although she can connect with him in her head and can use the spiritual closeness of her father Naoya (played by Akira Onodera) to help Gamera too.

Because Gamera is somewhat distracted by the army firing gazillions of missiles at him after he’s destroyed most of the Gyaos creatures, one Gyaos manages to eat enough to transform into a proper, much larger giant monster, more like the size of the original Gyaos in the Showa era films. So, after destroying as many of the Gyaos eggs as he can, Gamera has to face off against Gyaos one last time.

And, yeah, it’s pretty good. The acting all seems much more naturalistic compared to the wonderful Showa era movies and monsters have been updated for the times but, it’s all pretty much business as usual... it’s just had a lot more money thrown at it this time around. Well, I say the monsters are updated but they are still unmistakably Gamera and Gyaos. Gyaos is not licking everybody’s blood this time around though, as there is no reference to his legacy origin as being a ‘giant Dracula creature’ in the spirit of the ‘giant Frankenstein’ kaiju movies, alas. He does still retain his sonic beam and the initial ‘ramping up’ of the beam which creates a visual distortion field looks fantastic. Gamera looks as cute as ever and I’m happy to say the film makers have kept his distinctive, high pitched roar. Yes, he still sounds like Johnny Weismuller exhaling loudly on Helium gas, I’m glad to report.

And, yeah, it’s a fun romp with a lot of gravitas to the acting and some good model work. Although, I noticed a lot of the things which would have been done with easily perceptible models in the original movies, such as tanks and battleships, have been replaced by the real thing in this production (darn, I miss the silly models). It’s also quite spectacular and there are explosions galore with the only real weak effects appearing as matte lines in certain scenes at the end, where Gamera and Gyaos are locked together in combat and heading in and out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The music is very different too, with composer Kow Otani giving this a much more darker and westernised sounding score (on a par perhaps with the kind of scoring found in the 1984 film The Return Of Godzilla). It works quite well but, I have to admit, I really missed the corny old Gamera song which was in a few of the 1960s and 70s productions. Still, we can’t have everything I suppose. At least Gamera got to keep his look and his roar and, you know, there isn’t a single ricochet sound on the entire foley, from what I could hear.

Yeah,  Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe is very enjoyable but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily any better than the best of the Showa era films... it’s just a slightly modernised approach which happens to work really well and is hugely entertaining. I look forward to looking at the next two.

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