Sod ‘Em And Gamera
Gamera The Brave
Chiisaki yûsha-tachi: Gamera
Directed by Ryuta Tasaki
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
Well, the final film in the Arrow Blu Ray boxed set, Gamera The Complete Collection, certainly didn’t disappoint. Gamera The Brave is really something. A bang up to date continuation (rather than reboot) of the original Gamera movies (kinda) which returns to have a focus on children and reaffirming their connection to everyone’s favourite giant flying turtle, affectionately named Toto by the young male lead of the movie, while managing to make a monster movie which straddles a line between pleasing fans of the original, Showa era movies and keeping modern cinema audiences happy. It also tugs heavily on the heart strings along the way. I only had one major problem with this movie... and I’ll get to that a bit later.
The film starts off with an opening credits sequence that right away signals to the audience that it is ignoring the three Gamera films of the 1990s as well as passing on the 1980 Gamera Super Monster movie. Instead, this takes us back in time to 1973 where a city is burning as, two years after the last of the Showa era films, Gamera is in a pitched battle with Gyaos (who he first fought in 1967 and who was brought back in large numbers for the 1990s trilogy). And then, as a young boy watches in the turmoil and confusion, his hero Gamera self destructs himself in order to save humanity and rid the world of Gyaos. Cut to 2006, when the boy is now older (played by Kanji Tsuda) and, with his young son Toru (played by Ryô Tomioka).... who is the main human protagonist of the film... they go to put flowers on Toru’s mother’s grave and say a prayer, having lost her the year before to a car accident.
On the way home, Toru sees something ‘glinting’ on a nearby island. We then get a load of character building as we find out how Toru and his dad live together and how their relationship is, his camaraderie with the girl next door (who is about to have life threatening heart surgery)... and his various other friends. Then, at some point, he goes to investigate the glinting thing on the island and finds a special jewel with an egg on it. The egg hatches and a little baby turtle comes out and he takes him back home, hiding him in his room from his father. And so, of course, the little turtle called Toto turns out to be a baby Gamera. And we get all the usual comedy shenanigans and cute moments various aliens or ‘monsters living’ with young kids movies, like ET - The Extra Terrestrial, go through and, I have to say, this one is my favourite of those kinds of movies, as the teeny, tiny, baby turtle suddenly levitates at the most inappropriate times or reacts to a fallen knife with a burst of fire from its mouth.
Meanwhile, after the Giant Monster Council (active since 1973) is disbanded by the government, a fishing boat incident (very much reminding us of the real life fishing boat mishap which inspired Gamera’s main box office rival, Godzilla), sees a new monster surface, called Zedus. Meanwhile, little ‘Toto’ is growing at an alarming rate and initially sees Zedus off. However, when the government capture Toto and take him to a place where they are trying to make him bigger to see off future attacks, Zedus returns and attacks the city and complex where Gamera is being held captive. Meanwhile, the neighbour girl in hospital has possession of the red jewel (as a good luck charm) which Gamera needs to use, to grow again and defeat Zedus.
And it’s a real humdinger of a movie and certainly, as they say in many reviews about too many things but I’ll use the cliché anyway... an emotional rollercoaster ride. Everything about this one just works and I’m amazed this was the last Gamera movie to date. And with the protective father figure remembering his upset at the demise of the original Gamera in 1973 (as proposed by this movie), it feels almost like a passing the torch movie from one generation of kaiju watchers to the next, with the older character deciding to trust his son and not misplace his loyalties.
There’s an absolutely wonderful sequence near the end of the film where the city is in chaos, Gamera is losing against Zedus and everything looks like it’s going to pot. Toru has figured out that the jewel he found Gamera’s egg on, which is currently with his recovering neighbour somewhere in the city, in what looks like a shopping plaza where the hospital has been evacuated to, is what Gamera needs to survive and turn the tide of the battle. But his hope is gone... how does he find it. Well, the recovering gal is aware of this too and she trusts the jewel in the care of a very young girl to get it to ‘Toto’. The girl starts running before a policeman turns her back but the jewel is passed from one young kid to another, as various pre-teen strangers take it in turns, running it like an Olympic torch relay against the tide of fleeing humans, to try to get it to its destination, in a beautifully moving scene (I must be getting really old because I’m tearing up just writing about it).
Eventually the jewel gets back into Toru’s hands, who manages to make his way up a partially demolished skyscraper where Gamera is half lodged in the building, many storey’s up. He throws the jewel into Gamera’s mouth as Zedus is pulling at our favourite and, in this movie, very cute looking turtle and Gamera regains his strength and his earlier flying powers, finally demonstrating the jets and spinning shell which was a big part of his DNA in all the original films.
My one disappointment is that, as cute looking as he is, Gamera’s distinctive sounding, high pitched roar has been replaced in this by something much more bearish and monster-like, which is a shame. Although, I have to say, there’s a quick cut to a ‘running crowds’ scene near the end of the movie and if you listen to the sound design closely, the sound of the people screaming has definitely been reshaped to closely resemble the original Gamera vocal signature, in that one sequence. Too bad they never kept it for the title character himself.
And that’s me done on the Gamera films... until some bright spark decides it’s time to make another one (part of me is secretly hoping, if the US Monsterverse movies continue in the wake of Godzilla VS Kong (reviewed here), that Gamera will be allowed to cross over into that series somehow... if the rights holders could pull it off. This has got to be one of my favourite, most loved boxed editions from Arrow. It’s sad that it’s already out of print but it has been reissued as two separate sets, which you can get for a very good deal on their website when they have a sale. For some bizarre reason, August Ragone, who provides a newly filmed introduction for all the other Gamera movies in this set, doesn’t have an intro for this last movie... I’m not sure why because I would have loved to hear his thoughts on it. Either way though, this is a great set and Gamera The Brave is easily one of the crown jewels of the selection. A fitting swan song for a great kaiju character.