Gamera The Giant Monster (1965) – By Duane L. Martin

If you grew up in the 70’s like I did, you probably remember seeing a lot of kaiju movies on television, especially on the weekends.  I used to be glued to the television when they’d show Godzilla movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Sometimes it was Godzilla, sometimes it was Mothra, or Rodan, or whoever, and they always had some really cool enemies to fight, like Gigan, Mecha Godzilla, King Ghidorah, The Sea Monster, The Smog Monster and man others.  This was Gamera’s first appearance in film, and while in the later films where Godzilla was the good guy, Gamera was often portrayed as Godzilla’s friend, in this film, Gamera is hoofing it solo and causing mass destruction all over Tokyo that would make even the great Godzilla proud.

In this film, Gamera is released from his hibernation in the Arctic when an unidentified aircraft containing a nuclear bomb is shot down and the bomb it’s carrying explodes.  The ice cracks open, and the giant turtle Gamera crawls out of the ice.  Unfortunately for a near by icebreaker that was there on a scientific investigation to look into the Gamera legend, they were the first thing Gamera spotted, and he promptly destroyed the ship, killing everyone aboard except for Dr. EiJi Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi), his assistant Kyoko Yamamoto (Harumi Kiritachi) and a press photographer that was accompanying them, Aoyagi (Junishiro Yamashita).  These three had previously left the ship to meet with the chief of an Eskimo village to talk about the Gamera legend, and thus were spared the fate of the rest of the crew and passengers.  Now that Gamera’s free, it’s up to these three, along with help from noted scientists from around the world, including Professor Murase (Jun Hamamura) to come up with a way to destroy Gamera before he destroys Tokyo and kills millions of helpless people on his rampage of destruction.  To that end, after trying numerous ways of stopping the giant turtle, they finally resort to using Plan Z, which, as it turns out, is a rocket developed on an island with cooperation from numerous countries that has the capability to shoot Gamera into space.  That is, if they can just trap him in it.

Gamera is one of the monsters who I feel never really got the respect he deserved.  While there were a lot of Gamera films, monsters like Godzilla and King Ghidorah seem to have stolen the spotlight to some degree.  Gamera though, has still managed to make a strong impact with fans, and why not?  He eats fire, he can breathe fire, he can fly, he gets energy from elictricity and atomic radiation and he’s damn near indestructable!  What’s not to like?

Noriyaki Yuasa directed all eight of the original Gamera series of films in the 60’s and 70’s.  He had a passion for these films, and because he helmed all of the originals personally, there was a consistency and and energy to them that would have been distorted or lost to some degree had they been helmed by different directors.  Sadly, he passed away from a stroke in 2004, but the legacy he left to the world is indelible.  Despite living in the shadow of Godzilla, Gamera has become an icon in his own right, and rightly so.  This is a brilliant and very fun film that epitomizes all of what makes these films great.  The monster is awesome, there’s tons of destruction, the visuals are really well done, and it’s just a great ride from start to finish.  While some of the later films may have gotten a bit cheesy, these early films were far more serious and intense.  Much like the original Godzilla film was, although I think this film is actually more fun than the original Godzilla.

Shout Factory has done an excellent job in bringing this original Japanese release of the film to DVD.  The film looks great and it’s the original cut in the original Japanese with English subtitles.  The DVD also includes a retrospective look at the Gamera series, audio commentary and a publicity gallery.  It also has a very nice booklet with an essay from the director, info about the actors and some other great stuff, including a diagram of Gamera detailing his specs and physiology.  The cover of the booklet is the artwork from the original Japanese poster for the film as well.  All in all, this release is a real treat for kaiju fans, and Gamera fans in particular, and it’s definitely one you’ll want to add to your collection.

This DVD will be released on May 18, 2010 and will be available from Amazon and other DVD outlets.