Saturday, April 05, 2014

Seen It: Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

A few weeks ago at Target I came across a discounted ($10!) triple feature Blue Ray featuring a lesser known (in America) kaiju star, Gamera. The two dsic Blue-Ray set includes all three films that are part of Gamera's Heisei cycle: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996), and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999). Despite long having the inferior-in-quality 6 film DVD collection Gamera War of the Monsters Collection on my movie shelf, it was this more recent iteration of the character I had been hoping to watch, due primarily to my own previous engagement with the character in the 1996 Dark Horse Comics miniseries Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). The comic book series was something of a direct sequel the first of this more recent movie series.

Originally created in 1965 by the Daiei Motion Picture Company and now owned by Kadokawa Pictures, Gamera was released to rival the success of Toho Studios' Godzilla during the "monster boom" of the 1960s. Gamera is in effect a giant prehistoric turtle with tusks, fire breath and the ability to fly in a at least two different ways: one wherein his feet are replaced by thrusters, and a second during which he transforms into a whirling disc. A fan of Godzilla as a child, the only visual recognition I have of the character are from the occasional stills in Famous Monsters magazine or library books about movie monsters. Most peers who would claim fandom of Gamera when I was a teen had little actual experience with the character , and were seeking only to be contrarian of my appreciation of the King of All Monsters. Gamera's very diverse skills set (and the practical and CGI effects which bring them to life in theses newer movies) make him a suitable kaiju on par with the original Big G.

After spending a satisfying afternoon viewing the first two movies in the trilogy, the stronger of the films, Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996), seems a better place to lay out some of the unique aspects of the Gamera mythos. While both movies are recommendation worthy, especially for kaiju fans, it is the sequel that really has a higher level of rewatchability. Some of the common giant monster tropes are present (pre-teen with psychic/mystic ability to communicate with hero-monster--check), though it is the small differences that make Attack of Legion so unique:
  • Despite the movie's title, Gamera is neither mentioned nor seen until nearly 40 minutes into the movie. This results in a much more character driven exposition, and when he does arrive, narrative shifts focus from quickly, his absence being noted by a soldier who comments upon seeing Gamera, "Now where the hell's he been?"
  • The use of the word "hell" is interesting. This may be the only Japanese giant monster movie to have an adversary for its star whose name is drawn from Scripture. One of the characters actually quotes Mark 9:8 in endowing the villain with the moniker Legion.
  • While Legion is comprised of a swarm of smaller bug-like creatures, there is one larger monster who serves as Gamera's primary physical adversary. Interestingly, this monster's name seems to be "The Big One." The phrasing is originally employed as a means of differentiating it from the others due to size, but it seems as though the cast settles on that as his name as the larger creature is repeatedly referred to by the moniker.
  • One of the many WTF moments involves the detonation of a nuclear device in an effort to stop the Big One. Think about it: The detonation of a nuclear device in Japan. WTF?
  • Gamera bleeds green blood. Lots of green blood. Referred to as uber-powerful upon introduction, the fact that Gamera takes a visceral and bloody beating at the hands of both Legion and the Big One raises the stakes and make his eventual victory all that more satisfying. All three films in the trilogy are considerably more brutal than your run-of-the-mill kaiju, punctuated by Gamera's self-amputation of an arm (fin?) in 1999's finale Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.
Gamera (left) takes on the Big One (right) in the movies final battle.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gamera 2 shares some superficial similarities with the Godzilla film I recently reviewed, Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and viewing them individually in so approximate a time period does allow for some compare and contrast. Perhaps because I am less familiar with his exploits, Gamera's film seems to provide less overt characterization. Little backstory of our protagonist is offered in Gamera 2, and oddly this mystery (as well as a very appealing design and skill set) do not necessarily detract from the movie. Gamera is viewed by those humans who populate his universe as mysterious and the de facto "Guardian of the Universe," and in this context, that is somehow enough.

If you're in the mood for good-old fashioned giant monster hi-jinks with new fancy effects, I strongly recommend picking up this inexpensive, but well transferred and highly entertaining Blu Ray.

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