The monster universe is vast and humungous. For every kaiju monster hero, there are several enemies. They fight, destroy cites, maybe even save a few lucky individuals, and are ultimately, very entertaining, no matter how ridiculous everything seems.
After the success of the Godzilla franchise, Gamera was set up as a rival, even appearing in a film together, but since those initial beginnings of rivalry, Gamera has become a cult icon in his own right. Spawning 12 films in the franchise, spanning from 1965 to 2006, Gamera is known for his affection for children, constantly saving those in peril, and even sharing a psychic bond with them in the later films.
The whole story begins not with the monster’s origin but instead with his emergence from the ice in Antarctica. In the first film, we are just getting to know Gamera so there is no evil monster to battle with. Poor Gamera is left to contend with gunfire, bombs, being frozen, even though he saved that one boy who fell off a cliff, he’s still seen as a nuisance. The mistake that Gamera is actually a friend, not an enemy is a reoccurring part of each film. What followed the success of Gamera, the Giant Monster was an annual release of a film featuring the monster every year until 1971 and then later in 1980, Gamera: Super Monster where he had to fight off all the evil monsters from previous films in the ‘vs’ part of the franchise. These years were named the ‘Shōwa period’ with the bulk of the films being directed by Noriaki Yuasa.
Moving into the 90s, Gamera is given a reboot, complete with upgraded look, modern visual effects and even, a better storyline, despite the use of an old foe, the bird like create Gyaos. The 90s reinvigorated the franchise, bringing Gamera into the Heisei period. The trilogy serves as a condensed version of the ‘vs’ films, managing to cover space creatures and of course, aliens with questionable motives, another reoccurring theme within the Gamera universe. Including all the delightful 90s action film tropes, the final film (so far) in the franchise, Gamera the Brave deals with abandonment with the main character looking back to when his father was killed right behind him and he himself was saved by Gamera. Of course, by 2006, gone are the amazing miniatures that were needed for explosions, gone are the actors dressed up as Gamera, gone are the nice homely touches of the handcrafted house and the kitsch feeling throughout. It’s fascinating to see the many changes over the years and literal evolution of the huge turtle in black and white to more modern Gamera. But change is good, in this case its progress. The stories are still the same, they have a routine and they follow it to the letter.
Arrow Video is celebrating this lesser known kaiju monster franchise with a limited-edition boxset including all of the films in the franchise along with a few extras that would satisfy any lifelong fan and entertain those newcomers. After watching all the films, especially back to back, you could convert just about anyone to become a fan.
A gigantic turtle that breathes fire and can turn in to a fly saucer sounds like no match for Godzilla, in a fight and in films but if you add in the myriad of foes he’s had to battle, on Earth, in space and on unknown planets plus his gymnastic skills, Gamera could definitely give the so called king of monsters a run for his money.
Gamera: The Complete Collection is out now from Arrow Video and is available to watch on the Arrow Video Channel.