Today I watched Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
Gamera was created as a shameless knock off of Godzilla but as both series continued they began to diverge, with Gamera becoming an unquestionably heroic and campy friend of the children. While Godzilla also had a stint as a family friendly Kaiju, his history as an analog of nuclear weapons hamstrung these attempts, Gamera on the other hand had a very easy transition to the role of hero and is much more well known as such. The original run of Gamera films of the Sixties and Seventies was incredibly campy and silly, not garnering much acclaim until this loving reboot breathed fresh life into the lovable turtle. The story follows two sets of events, at first seemingly unrelated, but soon revealed to be caused by two monsters on a collision course with one another. On a small island a village has been destroyed and rumours persist of some kind of giant bird, meanwhile ships at sea report a strange moving atoll. The giant bird turns out to be no such thing at all, but a giant flying dinosaur like creature named Gaos, meanwhile the atoll is found to contain a large stone monument with runes carved upon it that tells of the destruction that Gaos can cause, and that the last hope is Gamera, which the atoll soon breaks open to reveal. From here the drama comes in two forms, conflict among the human characters as to whether or not Gamera is actually an ally or not, and of course the ensuing monster action when Gaos and Gamera go at it.
Gamera is a really bizarre monster, a giant, saber toothed turtle that walks on it’s hind legs like a person and can retract his limbs to replace them with jet streams, allowing him to fly about and spin like a flying saucer. He can also shoot fireballs from his mouth, but in comparison to his odd aerial locomotion, this seems rather normal. This guy has always been on the far end of campy when comparing him to many of his other Kaiju kin and this film embraces that with gusto, but also doesn’t use it as an excuse to to build proper human drama. The filmmakers really seem to have a fondness for the source material despite how goofy it was and they really capture the family friendly atmosphere of those flicks, in fact the higher quality of effects and greater attention payed to the actual drama makes this a much better, more well rounded watch than those older works, which are admittedly pretty silly.
This film has an incredibly brisk pace, though not so fast that things feel brushed over. There are quite a few human characters that get just enough development for the actors to work with, even with the rapidity of the plot they still fit in some nice human moments between them. But really the characters anyone watching this movie care about are the monsters. Having a Daikaiju as a protagonist is always an interesting choice and this movie plays fully with the implications. Gamera is huge and human cities are not, thus no matter what, he is going to cause sever collateral damage. Initially the government think that Gamera is a much greater threat than Gaos because he is just so giant and destructive with his very movements, I guess you could say it presents a nice moral: not to judge the strange an monsterous, even if it brings you harm, it could all be a misunderstanding and there may come a day when the difference of these others becomes useful and important. maybe i am overthinking a feel good monster mash, but it is a nice sentiment at least.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is a fun loving throwback to the silly and fun style of Kaiju. A perfect family film despite being something of a disaster movie, this is light and breezy entertainment, though not without a little depth if you want to over analyse it. The special effects are incredible, displaying some top level suitmation and miniature destruction. The film is a straight faced piece of campy fun with modern flare and effects, it is far to loving of the source material to devolve into mocking humour. This is a very fun flick and totally worth recomending to anyone who wants to see two giant monsters throw down without some of the more heavy handed drama that can be found in the Godzilla series. 5/5