Posts Tagged ‘Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe’

An excerpt from the Hootoo Archive. Originally published 22nd November 2001:

…which leads us neatly into Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera: The Guardian Of The Universe, the first of the new-look Gamera movies. The story opens with Yanemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a young naval officer, escorting a freighter full of plutonium across the Pacific. The convoy runs into an uncharted floating atoll, which drifts off towards Japan. Meanwhile ornithologist and babe Muyami Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is called in when a mysterious new species of giant lizard-bird devours the entire population of a small island. The government lures the bird-things (which we later learn are called Gyaos) to a sports arena on the mainland, hoping to trap them under the retractable roof (a useful fringe benefit of this feature which the architects of the new Wembley stadium might want to consider).

As the plan goes into action the atoll, now monitored by Yanemori and investigator Kusanage (Akira Onodera), enters the nearby harbour and turns out to be, startlingly, a 60-metre tall turtle (yes, this is Gamera, a rather good costume albeit with slightly boggly eyes). Gamera stomps his way to the arena and goes after the captive Gyaos. But what is the relationship between the two types of monster?

Well, thanks in part to Kusanage’s daughter Asagi (Ayako Fujitani, better known as Steven Seagal’s daughter) forming a psychic link with Gamera, the truth is revealed. It all turns out to be perfectly simple: 12,000 years ago the Gyaos, a genetically-engineered Atlantean life-form, ran out of control and destroyed their own creators. But not, however, before the Atlanteans were able to create Gamera to defend humanity from the winged menace. Now environmental damage has caused a clutch of ancient Gyaos eggs to hatch, and Gamera’s expertise is clearly required. (I said it was simple, not that it actually made sense.)

The movie zooms along at a manic pace, with vast amounts of property damage and some nifty special effects. Well, perhaps I should qualify that by saying that you’ll hardly ever be in doubt as to how any of the effects are achieved (the Gyaos are obviously glove puppets, Gamera is obviously a guy in a rubber suit), but they tell the story brilliantly. This was one of the first kaiju eiga to use CGI – for Gamera’s and the Gyaos’ breath weapons and some rockets the army use on them – and it adds enormously to the look of the picture.

I saw the dubbed UK Special Edition of this movie and inevitably this adds to the comedy value of the dialogue – it’s weirdly-accented, bizarrely-cadenced, and at some points it seems deliberately designed to raise a laugh – ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see,’ a rather-too-mellow traffic cop entreats the crowd at one point, while behind him an enraged giant turtle demolishes a national landmark.

The other interesting thing about the UK version is the music. Rather charmingly the UK producers thought that today’s sophisticated young audience would all rush to see an old-fashioned foreign monster movie as long as it had bangin’ techno tunes on the soundtrack. And so virtually the entire movie takes place to a pulsating backbeat. The first time I watched it this drove me up the wall in annoyance, but on subsequent viewings it really grew on me: it adds an odd kind of urgency to the story and is a refreshing change from the stilted march music that comprises the average Godzilla soundtrack.

I am, of course, aware that a lot of people would choose to donate a kidney rather than sit through a dubbed, foreign, not-exactly-big-budget monster movie. And while I respect this, I still think it’s a shame, because – if you’re in the right mood – this is at least as entertaining as your average Hollywood blockbuster. Of all the kaiju eiga I’ve seen – which is probably more than is healthy – the only one I’d even consider recommending over this would be the 1992 version of Godzilla Vs Mothra. Monstrously entertaining, and you should really give it a chance…

Read Full Post »