Saturday, January 12, 2013

Seen It: Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)

Released, over the past 40+(!) years with a variety of titles ranging from simply Gamera to the slightly more cumbersome (and obvious) Gamera: The Giant Monster, the original film directed by Noriaki Yuasa was Daiei Motion Picture Company's response to the success of Toho Studio's Godzilla. Not nearly as familiar as Toho's "kaiju" (strange beast), or more specifically, "daikaiju" (larger strange beasts) films, Gamera has been a longtime success in Japan. Begetting ten or so sequels, as well as a short lived mid-Nineties Dark Horse comic book series, as well as multiple other media appearances, Gamera has come nowhere near the status of Godzilla among mainstream American moviegoers. For those appreciative of pre-CGI monster movies, and non-geek film fans, too, though Gamera is likely a creature you have yet to have met, despite prior Mystery Science Theater 3000 roasting, this original film is well-worth checking out.
As a child in the late Seventies, when WUHF Channel 31 went on air in upstate New York, I recall seeing this "monster movie" and automatically assuming it was from the same film world as Godzilla. They were both giant monsters with Japanese adversaries, so they must be giant creature friends after all, right? At that age, the idea of competing monster-verses had little bearing on the fact that there was yet another big monster out there to follow. Though a member of my neighborhood Godzilla fan-club, Gamera always had an air of mystery as he was much less well covered in monster magazines. That, of course, made him an intriguing, if inaccessible, movie monster. (My brother, ever the contraraian, claimed Gamera as his favorite giant monster at the time.)

Thankfully, Gamera: The Giant Monster is available on DVD from Netflix (no web streaming, yet), and the edition sent, a re-release from 2010 on DVD through Shout! Factory in a beautiful transfer of "the original Japanese version of Gamera with new English subtitles and anamorphic wide screen from an all-new HD master created from vault elements." ( Surprisingly well-shot, with some fascinating camera work, the movie does suffer from some extremely wooden American performances. As the first Daikaiju I have seen in Japanese with subtitles, it was a curious and interesting viewing experience. And, yes, while Gamera is indeed a man-n-suit, the performance is solid. Unlike Godzilla, Gamera is actually the star of his own movie, appearing throughout rather than simply in set pieces filling out an otherwise human-centric story--though one or two of those is present as well. The DVD also includes several neat-o extras. In addition to the perfunctory "Trailer" (the same as seen above), there is also an informative short making-of featurette which includes archival interviews with the director, writer and creature designers. The story of how the creature was inspired by a producers vision of a flying tortoise is and especially interesting anecdote shared therein.

Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) is summarized thusly on Netflix:
Set free from an icy sleep by a nuclear explosion in the Arctic, a massive flying turtle named Gamera travels to Tokyo and begins a destructive rampage in this first installment of the sci-fi action series starring the fire-breathing reptile. Initial efforts to stop the creature fail, but after Gamera rescues a young boy, the two form a sympathetic bond -- which may aid authorities in their quest to subdue the beast using their "Plan Z."
Whether through purchase or Netflix rental, Gamera offers an entertaining view at Cold War movie making with a rampaging giant monster--what better way to spend a winter's day?

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