Dai kaiju Gamera, aka Gamera the Invincible
Director Noriaki Yuasa
Cast Eiji Funankoshi, Junichiro Yamashita, Michiko Sugata, Harumi Kiritachi
Gamera, a giant flying jet-propelled turtle, sounds like an insane idea to base an entire movie series around. But it becomes almost pedestrian when you hear that the film Dai kaiju Gamera originally evolved from the ruins of a proposed swarm-of-giant-rats film, a project that was canceled when its real-life rodent stars—and indeed portions of Daiei’s studio—were besieged by a plague of fleas.
Stuck with an abundance of surplus miniature city, producer Masaichi Nagata (Rashomon) was struck by a vision of a flying turtle and decided to make a kaiju quickie with second-time director Noriaki Yuasa at the helm.
Whereas Godzilla took at least half an hour to get to his very first close-up, Gamera pops up, jack-in-the-box style, five minutes after the appearance of the opening Daiei logo. The grim shadow of the Cold War looms large at the beginning, but things wrap on an upbeat note as the world unites as one to combat Gamera.
Gamera also marks the introduction of what would soon emerge as a major theme of kaiju eiga: the alliance between children and monsters. The soul of the film is Toshio, a troubled, motherless kid obsessed with turtles. He is convinced that his AWOL terrapin pet has somehow become the giant, indestructible Gamera.
Even as the monster blows up power plants and burns Tokyo citizens to a crisp, Toshio is convinced that Gamera is a good guy and is merely misunderstood. Meanwhile, the adults just keep trying to find a way to get rid of the monster, which at one point kills thousands in Tokyo, all the while trying to break down Toshio’s imaginary world. But since Gamera functions more as psychological projection than as atom-age nightmare, simply shooting him into space won’t work for long. And it didn’t, as the successive increasingly childish Gamera films would prove.
At one point in the film, one of the adults asks, “When World War III breaks out, why bother with turtles?” Clearly, there’s a generation gap at work here. The grown-ups don’t know, but the little boys understand.