[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 16 – Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)

Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Cast: Eiji Funakoshi, Michiko Sugata, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
Screenplay: Nilsan Takahashi
81 mins. Not Rated.

Every year I end up picking a few movies for 31 Days of Horror that make some viewers cry out, “But Kyle, this isn’t horror!” Two answers to that:

1) This is my site, deal with it.
2) Horror is an all-encompassing theme of horrific ideas in film. To me, a giant kaiju destroying major cities is a horrifying concept. Whether the ultimate product is horrific or not, I’m lenient toward monster movies especially.

Today, we take the OTHER major kaiju franchise (sorry Godzilla, maybe next time), Gamera!

A nuclear explosion in the arctic has unleashed an all-new terror upon Tokyo in the form of a giant fire-breathing, flying turtle. As he searches for sustenance, destroying all in his path, it comes down to a group of scientists and a special boy with a love for all turtles to put a stop to him before it’s too late, but how can they stop a creature like Gamera?

A common complaint of the Gamera franchise is that it chooses the path of the more easily consumable, kid-friendly realm of the kaiju film. It’s also been considered a lesser monster film compared to Godzilla because it doesn’t have as heavy a theme (even though it deals in nuclear damage in this first film at least), but that doesn’t have to be a complaint. Movies can just be popcorn and butter and candy and joy, and Gamera: The Giant Monster is definitely a film of fun and excitement. Whereas Godzilla’s franchise began with dread, Gamera takes on a bit more camp and with that comes an added accessibility. I readily ate up the cheese and had a lot of fun with the problem-solving scientists trying to work around such a unique creature.

And on the subject of the unique creature, Gamera is just an interesting kaiju because it is essentially the antagonist of this first film (much like Godzilla), but it’s one that, as an audience member, I was less aware of, so I was shocked when Gamera started breathing fire and flying. The character is just a bit sillier and wackier than Godzilla. I would compare the light and fluffy tone of this city-smashing character moreso to Mothra from the Godzilla universe in that it has more of a human component than Godzilla, and the silliness works to the film’s betterment.

Much like the Toho films, this one struggles a bit in building characters. I recognized and understood the stock characters, but I had no fear for them when in danger, outside of maybe the young boy Toshiro and his fascination with Gamera as a mystery instead of a villain. I liked the story of the scientists, watching them fail and guess-and-test, but I didn’t really know who they were at all outside of their appearances. They just didn’t breathe the way I’d hoped.

The action of the film is more in line with classic kaiju, but I liked that we get some more aftermath every time Gamera touches down, and I appreciate that the film moves at a fresh pace with a strong visual flair. This feels like a worldwide danger that is without understanding. While the action is really nothing new, the movie allows to breath long enough to learn alongside our leads.

Gamera: The Giant Monster is certainly not as strong as its Toho counterpart, but the film is pure fun and excitement, and it introduces a monster that should be more iconic around the world, one that has a unique set of powers and background. I liked it, and if you get the chance to be acquainted with this magic turtle, I definitely recommend the journey.

-Kyle A. Goethe

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