Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Gamera

Gamera (ガメラ?) is a giant, flying terrapin-like creature from a popular series of daikaiju eiga produced by Daiei Motion Picture Company in Japan. Created in 1965 to rival the success of Toho Studios' Godzilla during the "Kaiju Boom" of the mid-to-late 1960s, Gamera has gained fame and notoriety as a Japanese icon in his own right. Gamera has also gained popularity in the United States thanks to several of his movies being featured on the classic cult television program Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Appearance

Gamera's size rivals that of his other famous daikaiju counterpart, Godzilla. Unlike any other species of turtles, Gamera has the habit of walking bipedal rather than all fours, though he occasionally walks quarapedally in his first three films. His mouth is filled with teeth, unlike any living modern turtle (several types of extinct, prehistoric turtles did however), with a pair large tusks protruding upward from his lower jaw. Gamera is also usually seen with very large human-like eyes, adding intelligence to his overall appearance.

Origins

In the Shōwa era films, Gamera was an ancient species of gigantic tortoise who protected and befriended children (as children represent mankind's future). In the Heisei era films, Gamera was a guardian of the Earth created by Atlantis to combat Gyaos, which Atlantis had created as well.

Specs

  • In the Showa series, Gamera fed and fueled on fire and atomic energy. He could breathe intensely hot streams of flames from his mouth when caught in a more serious situation. The Heisei version, on the other hand, could blast off mighty plasma fireballs from his mouth, usually very quickly, and with varying accuracy. They were highly explosive. The Heisei version could also absorb a great deal of "mana", or the living essence and energy of life on earth, and release an extremely powerful stream of pure plasma and fire from an opened, organic "cannon" in his chest. In the final film of the Heisei series, Gamera demonstrated that he could temporarily gain a spectral plasma fist if he lost his hand and the stump was struck by fire.
  • Gamera pulls his head, limbs, and tail into his shell, and from inside, atomic jet propulsion fires from the holes where the limbs used to be, and he flies, spinning like a top. In addition to this method of flight, Gamera also has the ability to fly forward like a hypersonic jet fighter. In this 'mode', his head and arms remain out of his shell (although the arms expand to become wing like)and his rear legs retract, allowing for the atomic exhaust release. This acts as propulsion.

Film history

Shōwa era

Promotional shot from Gamera (1965)

Promotional shot from Gamera (1965)

Gamera made his first appearance in 1965's Gamera, which was also the only Gamera film to be in black-and-white. This film also was the last Giant monster movie to be in black and white. Subsequent films, usually directed by Noriaki Yuasa and written by Nisan Takahashi, quickly became a big hit with children. It also makes it a big hit by watching Gamera fight monsters Barugon, Gyaos, Viras, Guiron, Jiger, and Zigra. Gross mismanagement of Daiei, however, put the company in bankruptcy, and the Gamera films were forced to cease production after six sequels. After Daiei was purchased by Tokuma Shoten in 1974, the new management wanted to do a new Gamera film in 1980, so Gamera: Super Monster was produced. While the majority of the film used stock footage (with limited new scenes of Gamera flying), it was considered a nice "recap" of Gamera's history. However, Yuasa and Takahashi felt that they had done all they could with the monster, so they respectfully killed off Gamera at the end of the film.

Through the years, on both sides of the Pacific, fans of Gamera or Godzilla have debated which monster is better. The latter was considered better, in that Godzilla was considered to have "higher standards" than Gamera, who was just a monster for kids. The giant turtle thus often became the object of ridicule, especially on the American TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, which lampoons B-movies.

However, six years after the beginning of the Heisei era in Japan (1989), Gamera began to rise up to the standards set by Godzilla.

Heisei era

Screenshot from Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys (1999)

Screenshot from Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys (1999)

Following the second revival of the Godzilla series (1984–1995), Daiei Studios drew plans to resurrect its own star kaiju. In 1994 Daiei asked director Shusuke Kaneko, a lifelong kaiju fan, to direct a new Gamera movie. Although not a Gamera fan, (Kaneko preferred Godzilla, and had asked Toho for the chance to direct a Godzilla film in 1992, though he would not have this opportunity until 2001), Kaneko tried to stay true to the spirit of the classic films while taking a fresh, edgy approach to appeal to a more contemporary audience. The result was Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). While not the huge box-office success anticipated, the film was met with critical acclaim on both sides of the Pacific, outperforming the Godzilla films of the same period at a fraction of their budgets. Kaneko directed two sequels, culminating in a "Gamera Trilogy", with each film more successful than the previous. The trilogy transformed Gamera from the "friend to all children" of the Shōwa films to a vicious anti-hero on par with Godzilla, if not more so, as many Godzilla fans realized Gamera's potential. Although the original Showa Gamera writer Nisan Takahashi felt the Heisei Gamera was too dark toned, the second series received critical acclaim, including a "thumbs up" rating from American movie critic Roger Ebert.

Millennium era

Gamera the Brave returns Gamera to his Shōwa-era roots, but with a modern twist. In the film, Gamera is first seen defending Japan back in the 70's from the Gyaos, but sacrifices himself to destroy them by selfdestructing. In the modern day, the child of a man who witnessed that battle finds a turtle egg that hatchs into a baby Gamera he names Toto. When a lizard like monster named Zedus appears, Toto tries to fight the beast but ends up being gravely wounded and taken by the military for study. He ends up escaping and growing to a larger size to try and fight Zedus again, this time succeeding against the monster.

MST3K

Gamera was a perrenial whipping boy on Mystery Science Theater 3000, where the Shōwa era films were regularly mocked. The show's Jim Mallon, playing Michael Feinstein, once performed a song, the lyrics of which were:

Gamera--

Gamera--

tra la la la, tra la la la

Gamera is really neat.

Gamera is filled with meat.

We all love you, Gamera.

Shell,

Teeth,

Eyes,

Claws,

Scales,

Breath,

Fun.

Gamera's enchantment still grows.

He fills our hearts with love.

Gamera's the latest thing.

He fills our hearts with spring, spring, spring!

Anytime you want some moonbeams.

Gamera is the thing.

Gamera is really neat.

He is filled with turtle meat.

We all love you, Gamera!

(Via Wikipedia.)