Reviewing Every Gamera Film: Daikaiju Gamera 1965

Vintage Turtle Edited 1200x675
Vintage Turtle Edited 1200x675

I have decided to view and review every Gamera film, in order, beginning with 1965’s Daikaiju Gamera.

I love daikaiju. I love the idea of daikaiju, the mythology. I love the monster designs, the science fiction and fantasy elements, the bizarre situations and fantastical battles. I love the toys, and the art, and the fan art.

I’m not particularly fond of the movies themselves, however. They’re rarely very good.

That’s not to say they’re not fun, or entertaining, or interesting. They just tend not to be good. The human characters and plotlines are usually dull and unengaging. The plots rarely make sense. The effects and models are often very creative, but often aren’t high quality. While the various film series dip occasionally into serious drama and important themes, the films are generally silly and intended for indiscriminate children.

No one description or opinion could encompass every daikaiju film, whether Toho, Daiei, or their imitators. From the dour seriousness of Gojira (1954), through the weirdness of Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), riffs on the genre like Big Man Japan (2007) and Colossal (2016), the tone-deaf misfire of the first American Godzilla (1998), to the stone-faced epic batshit lunacy of Shin Godzilla (2016), these films range all over the map in style, tone, and quality.

But I’ve always had a special fondness, ever since I was a child, for Gamera. It was so obvious that Gamera was a rip-off of Godzilla, a cheap money grab, and to me that gave him an underdog quality. As is clear in this, the first film, he was never really meant to be taken as seriously as his more popular cousin. I mean, come on, he’s a turtle. No one is afraid of turtles.

Gamera screencap Gamera's face closeup.
Hi, boys and girls! It’s me, the Friend to All Children! I’m here to burn your parents alive!

Later, I watched my favorite all-time television program, Mystery Science Theater 3000, lampoon five of the Showa-period Gamera films. Over the past decade or so, my interest in daikaiju movies has intensified considerably; but my intake of the films has been scattershot.

I intend to fix that problem, and I’m starting with my favorite kaiju. I watched the original Japanese Daikaiju Gamera, uncut with subtitles. I also, just for fun, watched the MST3K episode of Gamera, which features the Sandy Frank dub that renames Toshio “Kenny” and has him voiced by a middle-aged woman. I did not watch Gammera the Invincible, the original American dub/reedit with Beau Geste star Brian Donlevy in the Raymond Burr role.

By the way, I watched the full movie first and wrote the following synopsis, and then watched MST3K. Two or three of my snarky remarks are similar to ones made by Joel and the Bots. I left them in.


Daiei Motion Picture Company – for when you couldn’t get a job at Toho.

“The Arctic.” Which is about as precise as saying “Africa.” Where in the Arctic? What continent? What hemisphere? Is it so hard to say “Wrangel Island, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea, astride the 180° meridian, 140 km from the mainland?” I mean, as an example.

Two Japanese people drive their Jeep to an “Eskimo” village. I mean sure, a minority of circumpolar indigenous people use the term “Eskimo” to describe themselves, but this film features “Eskimos” out of a racist Warner Bros. cartoon, with foam igloos and fur parkas, right off a 1950s refrigerator ad. I assume they were shooting Nanook of the North on the next soundstage. Then again, criticizing a 1965 film for racism is pretty facile. But I’m also going to slam this film for crappy effects, so everybody strap in!

Gamera screencap "Eskimo"
Has anyone seen Robert J. Flaherty?

Models of Soviet bombers fly overhead. The chief “Eskimo” calls them “devil birds,” because racism.

Kyoko, the film’s requisite Attractive Young Woman, and Aoyagi, it’s requisite Attractive Young Man, meet up with Dr. Hidaka, the film’s requisite Middle Aged Authority Figure. Who are these people? Why are they here? We have no idea.

Meanwhile, the Chidori Maru, a model boat, is sailing through the ice. Its crew sees the models of planes flying overhead, and reports them to the US military. Now I’ve seen a lot of bad old movies “starring” people who can’t act, but the random white people they hired to play the American soldiers in this film really take the cake. This is Coleman Francis-level performing. “It must be coated with anti-electric-wave paint, sir” has to be the worst line read since Paul Marco gave up acting.

The Doughy White General Reading His Lines Off a Piece of Paper orders the planes shot down, and American fighter plane models bank unrealistically to intercept. There’s a lengthy fighter chase straight out of Top Gun, assuming in Top Gun you could see the strings holding up the planes.

Gamera screencap nuclear explosion.

The Americans shoot down a Soviet plane (its origin is supposed to be mysterious, but please), which crashes near where the Japanese are visiting with their ice cream truck mascot buddies. Apparently, the tiny explosion we see when the plane crashes is supposed to be a nuclear blast, since Dr. Hidaka declares they are safe from the fallout. First of all, if you’re close enough to witness a nuclear explosion, you are NOT safe from the fallout. Not even if you’re in a refrigerator. Second, that’s not how nuclear weapons work, they don’t go off when you drop them.

Meanwhile, the nuclear blast has cracked the ice and released something slumbering within! What can it be? Certainly this is nothing like the origin story of a certain daikaiju introduced in a certain film released 11 years earlier!

I’ll say this for this movie, on the positive side – we’re only 00:05:28 in, and the title character appears! Cue title card!

Gamera screencap title card.
Title written in the Gojira Sans Extra Bold font.

Doughy General Doing a Tor Johnson Impersonation can’t contact his planes. Does Gamera block radio signals?

I guess everyone can see Gamera, because Dr. Hidaka asks “Eskimo” chief what he knows about giant turtles. Aoyagi bizarrely dismisses the appearance of the 60-meter-long flying radioactive turtle, since he thinks the Soviet-American conflict is more important. Like, literally let’s ignore the giant turtle monster and tune in to Huntley-Brinkley.

The Japanese decide to return to their boat, when suddenly the “Eskimo” chief produces a chunk of over-cooked top sirloin. No wait, it’s supposed to be an archaeological artifact. It depicts an ancient giant turtle from Atlantis (no, seriously), the “devil’s envoy” called Gamera. Does the chief keep this artifact in his fanny pack just in case Gamera ever shows up, and he has to show an engraving of Gamera to visiting Japanese people?

Gamera screencap archaeological artifact.
Would you like some Henderson’s Relish with that cut of meat?

And what is up with the chief? Does he get up every morning from the “devil’s bed,” eat the “devil’s eggs,” go off to the “devil’s office,” and come home each night to watch the “devil’s TV?”

Meanwhile, the Japanese on the model of a boat complain that the “nuclear tests”—wasn’t this a nuclear accident?—will change the Earth’s axial tilt and cause typhoons. Science! And seriously, shouldn’t they really be more concerned in this moment about the giant turtle? Are they so blasé about Godzilla attacks that a giant turtle attack is nothing to them?

Anyway, with a cry that sounds suspiciously Godzilla-esque, Gamera attacks the model boat and destroys it with his suspiciously Godzilla-ian flame breath.

Gamera screencap Gamera in arctic.
What is Gamera standing on? Is the Arctic Ocean 40 feet deep?

The Japanese characters keep speaking in English, but that dialogue isn’t subtitled, so I can barely understand it. Also, the white American characters keep speaking in English, but that dialogue isn’t subtitled, so I can barely understand it. Seriously, this Midwestern funnel-cake aficionado playing the general cannot get a line out.

A squad of Japanese fighter plane models passes overhead, but the model boat and the actor in a rubber Gamera costume are gone. And… scene.

Meanwhile, in New York City, at the “New York News Studio” (they only have one), a white “New Yorker” with a bizarre accent (is he Dutch?) interviews Dr. Hidaka and Kyoko on his New York news show. Hidaka explains that Gamera is from Atlantis, is aggressive, and will die of radiation exposure, all of this as if it were factual and not the ramblings of a drunk Inuit and ideas Hidaka he pulled out of his own ass.

Kyoko also does her job, sitting next to Hidaka silently and looking pretty.

Cut to an old Japanese man, who sees Gamera flying overhead at night, and thinks he’s a flying saucer. I mean, that is more likely than “giant avian turtle,” I have to admit.

Our three main Japanese characters are on a plane ride home. They discuss everything we’ve seen happen so far, you know, in case you just arrived in the theater, or have the memory of a goldfish. Their conversation adds nothing new to the plot, except that Aoyagi drew lots to go the “Eskimo” village, and so survived by chance. Why is that important? Who are these people? What are their jobs? Why were they visiting the “Eskimos?” Why were there eight photographers on one small boat? WHAT IS GOING ON???

The subject of Kyoko’s hotness comes up. It’s her only personal trait, so what else will they talk to her about?

Meanwhile, in Hokkaido, two new characters meet on the beach to discuss turtle drawings made by a young boy. The boy had to change schools because he was obsessed with turtles? Wow, Japanese schools are strict.

So I guess the boy, Toshio, is the son of a lighthouse keeper. Dad cruelly insists that Toshio get rid of his pet turtle. This had better pay off with Gamera crushing the lighthouse keeper for his anti-turtle speciesism, or I’m going to be really mad. I don’t know why I’m watching long conversations about pet reptiles instead of giant daikaiju knocking over buildings.

Gamera screencap murky picture of Gamera underwater.
Excuse me, can you direct me to Tokyo? I have a surf music club to destroy.

Toshio the Turtle Boy is lying on wet grass by the sea at night, as you do, when Gamera sneaks up behind him. This is something I’ve seen in a number of daikaiju movies, and it never makes any sense —someone surprised by the approach of a 90-foot-tall giant monster. I just don’t imagine daikaiju are that quiet. Or limber. Or odor-free.

Toshio points out the rampaging Gamera to his parents, who ostensibly would not have noticed otherwise. The boy then runs to the top of the lighthouse, while his parents look on disapprovingly but do nothing. Gee, Dad, don’t go after your kid who’s running towards the colossal radioactive testudine.

Gamera knocks the top of the lighthouse off, leaving poor Toshio hanging on for dear life. But the monster catches the boy in one outstretched claw, and in a confusingly-edited sequence, lowers him to the ground. Well, that makes up for murdering all the people on the boat.

Toshio asks, “what that the Gamera from the newspapers just now?” No, it was the other giant radioactive flying turtle, dumbass.

Meanwhile, at the airport—wait, the three main characters are still on their plane trip? Will we get to see the car ride back home too?—reporters tell Dr. Hidaka that Gamera has been sighted in Japan. Hidaka and Kyoko are summoned to Hokkaido—again, why? What do they do for a living? Do the people who are tracking Gamera need an “Eskimo” expert? They leave Aoyagi behind, which is a shame, he’s been so important to the plot so far. I hope we get to see their plane trip.

The radio informs Toshio’s family that search planes are looking for Gamera. There’s that trope again—a monster the size of a building, and no one knows where it is.

There’s a loooong sequence of Toshio at the beach looking for his pet, which is really moving as we’ve come to deeply care about this character and his relationship with the little turtle. I mean, did Gamera spare him because of his relationship with turtles? No, that would be a payoff, and this is not going to pay off.

Yes, we get to see Hidaka and Kyoko’s plane trip. Half this movie is boring people on planes doing nothing. And Aoyagi is there, because why bother following up on anything you’ve established?

The Three Stooges arrive in Hokkaido—what, no more plane ride?—and we find out that Hidaka is a zoologist. Oooohhh, that’s why he was interviewing “Eskimos.”

Gamera is attacking a geothermal power plant, and this for some reason necessitates a scene where an extra explains to the audience what a geothermal power plant is. If there’s one thing I want in my giant monster movies, it’s technical explanations of things everyone already understands.

Cut to military stock footage, which makes no sense—those aren’t models!

Hidaka and the kids are hanging out with the military, as apparently the guy who got a rock from an “Eskimo” is now the world’s leading authority on giant monster attacks. Everybody watches as Gamera finally arrives at the geothermal station; they’re going to try to use the power lines to stop him. This has no effect, so the military fires on Gamera using their advanced stock footage weapons technology. This also has no effect. Have these people never seen a Godzilla movie?

Gamera screencap Gamera destroyinh geothermal station.
Many power plants are built with giant chicken wire.

Also, the power plant’s cooling towers are made of plaster and chicken wire, and Gamera gets caught in the chicken wire, and it’s just embarrassing.

Gamera sucks all the flames and energy out of the power plant, increasing his power. This seems to be in every daikaiju movie—violent energy just feeds the creature. Hidaka instructs the military to stop attacking, because the military always takes its orders from the person with academic tenure.

Gamera screencap Gamera destroys the power station.
Dud duh duh duhduh duh duhduhduhduh, duhduhduh duhduh duh. Walk like an Egyptian.

Dr. Hidaka goes to the local university to confer with a paleontologist in a Colonel Sanders wig. Kyoko actually speaks in this scene; it comes as quite a surprise. I thought she was mute.

Gamera screencap Professor Murase (played by Jun Hamamura).
We can defeat the monster with my 11 herbs and spices.

The Japanese defense forces suddenly decide to ignore Dr. Hidaka, and fire American nukes at Gamera, because that went so well before. Also, suddenly, Toshio and his family are here, because why not? Japan is 10 miles long and has 40 people, right?

Dr. Hidaka and Colonel Sanders arrive, and learn that the nuclear strike is about to take place. Toshio runs up—sure, a little kid broke into a secure military area, okay—and insists that Gamera isn’t really bad. Tell it to all the dead people, kid.

Colonel Sanders tells the military leader that Gamera would be “elated” by a nuclear strike. The military commander, who has no idea who the paleontologist is, what is credentials are, or how he even got past the military cordon, just agrees to cancel the strike. Wow, that wig is really convincing!

Dr. Hidaka suggests that, as Gamera feeds off flames and heat, a cold attack may work. Since actual reptiles become lethargic in cold weather, one wonders why Mr. Zoologist didn’t suggest this a while back. Of course, Gamera has the equivalent of a jet engine in his torso, so really this should not work.

By sheer providential coincidence (not bad writing!), the Japanese military has been working on a cold bomb, and the helmeted military guy overhearing this conversation happens to be familiar with this top-secret project.

Gamera leaves the area, and the Scooby Gang follows him in a Jeep. The plan seems to be freezing Gamera, and then blowing him to pieces with dynamite. This makes perfect sense, since he SURVIVED A NUCLEAR EXPLOSION.

Models of planes fire freeze missiles at Gamera. You know, this would have been the perfect opportunity for a bomb with an Eskimo mascot on it. Just saying.

So Gamera is active, but stuck in one place. Soldiers run up to the cliff underneath him to plant the dynamite. Can someone explain why they can’t just fire missiles?

Gamera screencap Gamera covered in frost.
Maybe Gamera should have brought a light sweater.

The bombs explode, and Gamera falls onto his back. Colonel Sanders declares that Gamera cannot right himself, because he has completely forgotten that Gamera can fly. (Or, I guess, nobody figured out that the flying saucer from earlier was Gamera? Really?) Right on cue, Gamera retracts his head and limbs, lights up, starts spinning, and flies into the air.

Now you’re probably thinking the next scene would feature the military and scientists considering their options, or world leaders in debate, or families of victims mourning their lost loved ones.

Nope. It’s the old man who thought Gamera was a flying saucer. Remember him? Weren’t you just wondering what he was up to?

We also need to catch up with Toshio, who gets hit by a car. No, really. He’s been collecting rocks because he thinks his pet turtle turned into Gamera. If that’s confusing, welcome to the club. If you’re wondering by Toshio and his family are in the movie at all, welcome to the club. If you’re wondering why this family isn’t concerned about how they are going to eat now that their lighthouse is destroyed, welcome to the club.

At “Gamera Countermeasures HQ,” we learn that Gamera has been attacking tourist attractions around the globe. Why do daikaiju always attack tourist attractions? How do they know?

Toshio and his sister, who I’m sure has a name, visit the Gamera Countermeasures HQ, because Hidaka and team don’t have anything important to do. Toshio gives another speech about how good Gamera is, and everybody just sits there and listens to it. Then we do not cut to a scene of grieving families at the Chidari Maru funerals, because that would undermine Toshio’s narrative.

Now we get a scene where Toshio is living at his uncle’s fish shop, and his cousin throws away his stone collection. Boy, the filmmakers really know what we want to see. Finger on the audience’s pulse. Let’s just forget the giant monster, and spend the rest of the film on this petulant psychotic child.

We finally get back to the A-story, where Dr. Hidaka, who has so far failed to do anything constructive about the Gamera menace, is repeating to the audience everything we already know about Gamera. This is definitely a movie that stops every 20 minutes to recap the previous 40.

Hidaka determines out of nowhere that Gamera will seek out nuclear energy sources. Cough—Godzilla—cough.

The government decides to hide its uranium, and we learn that all the fish off the Pacific coast are dead. WHAT IS GOING ON???? All the fish dying is a far, far worse disaster than losing a boat and a power plant. Does Gamera work for BP?

There’s also “unusual tidal flooding”—cue the stock footage—and radio communication is down, because Gamera emits some kind of interference. You know, like all turtles.

Hidaka appears on TV again, and has no idea what he’s talking about, spewing spurious opinions outside his field of expertise. Who is this guy, Dr. Oz?

Gamera screencap Dr. Hidaka (played by Eiji Funakoshi) with Kyoko (Harumi Kiritachi) at a press conference.
Look at her face. I mean, just look at it.

I do want at this time to praise the performance of actress Harumi Kiritachi, who plays Kyoko. She absolutely captures the essence of a pretty young woman with nothing to do who sits next to a gabby man, stone-faced and bored. A department store mannequin would not convey “I have no reason to be here and nothing to do” as well as she does. Brava!

Japan convenes an international panel, which seems to comprise “let’s invite white people to help.” There is also, um, a Japanese man in blackface and a turban. This is as unfortunate as it sounds.

They decide to use the “Z Project,” a top-secret joint US-Soviet science experiment (what? What happened to the Cold War?) that Hidaka somehow knows about from his zoology studies.

But before anyone can tell the audience what the Z Project is, Gamera attacks an airport. I should mention at this point that any time Gamera flies in this movie, it’s not a model, but a janky hand-drawn cell animation.

Gamera screencap Gamera seen by three men looking through the window of an office building.
Help! Help! We’re being attacked by a drawing of Gamera!

Gamera kills everyone in the airport, which really backs up Toshio’s theory that Gamera as a Friend of All Children. Maybe he’s seen the later movies.

We cut back to our heroes—no, it’s a surf music club. Just what we were anticipating. Soldiers try to evacuate the club, but no one cares that Gamera is coming. “Nothing’s going to stop this shindig!” is the actual dialogue. I’m dying to know the Japanese word for “shindig.” Shindigu?

Gamera appears—is this Tokyo? I think so—and smashes the surf club, because even Gamera thinks Baby Boomers are terrible. Finally, Gamera is destroying Tokyo, and it only took 53 minutes. Jesus, this has only been 53 minutes? Feels like four hours.

Gamera screencap Gamera next to a Tokyo building.
Finally! Tokyo is just waiting to be smashed!

Gamera knocks models of buildings onto models of cars, and blasts them with fire breath, killing thousands of innocent people, and destroying the majestic, ancient city of Tokyo. If this were a porno, this would be the money shot. This is why we paid for our ticket. Not to see Toshio crying over his rock collection.

He knocks over Tokyo Tower, which happens in every daikaiju movie, the way monsters must attack the Statue of Liberty in American movies. But seriously, Tokyo needs a more attractive primary landmark than that stupid radio tower. The Eiffel Tower it isn’t. Tokyo Tower is lame. Like, London Eye lame. St. Louis Arch lame. LAX Gateway Pylon Project lame.

Take that, Fuji TV!

Some random people in a truck get into a car accident that Gamera has nothing to do with, and their truck explodes, because it was made of C4. You know, if that had been Hidaka and the gang, I’d be cheering right now. Okay, not really. I don’t want Kyoko to die. I like to imagine her angry silence has been in protest of this movie’s casual sexism.

Yikes! Here’s something you don’t see in later movies—crowds of people being roasted to death. I mean, you know it’s happening, but they don’t explicitly show it like this. Friend of All Children!

Gamera screencap crowd of screaming people being burned alive no really.
Holy crap. I mean, just… wow.

In the very next scene, Toshio says “Gamera, don’t do anything bad.” Sorry, kid. Cut to stock footage of disaster damage.

Toshio’s sister is trying to evacuate, but Toshio has run off, because he’s a psychotic little asshole.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hidaka and a bunch of white people who speak Japanese are finalizing “Z Plan,” which we still don’t know what it is. An oxygen destroyer? They refer to Hidaka as the world’s greatest expert on Gamera, and I’m still trying to figure out when that happened.

His brilliant plan at this moment is to feed Gamera petroleum, to keep him in one spot, until Z Plan is ready. You know, if Z Plan doesn’t turn out to be a gundam or a jaeger, I’m going to be very disappointed.

I’m going to be very disappointed.

So Toshio is wandering the streets, and Gamera is wading in the water at a petroleum plant. I must say that some of these model dioramas are very elaborate and well-made (but for the chicken wire), and the Gamera suit is pretty good too. The eyes are weird, illuminated and expressionless, but that just makes a silly bipedal turtle actually kind of menacing.

The military is throwing full train cars of gasoline at Gamera, not to hurt him, but to feed him. They’re going to have to do this for a full day. Meanwhile, Toshio shows up at the refinery, because sure. He climbs onto the train that Gamera is currently eating—why? Seriously, this kid needs to die, he is so stupid.

The train car blows up, and Toshio and a man trying to rescue him are hurt. The man gets Toshio back to safety, which would be heroic if it was any other kid.

Z Plan is ready. If this doesn’t involve turning Aoyagi (remember Aoyagi? No? Neither do I) into a super-sentai, I’m going to… aw, I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up.

Everyone heads to some island where Z Plan will take place. Aoyagi is kicked out of the group again, for no reason, but he still gets his last chance to come on to Kyoko. She’s not interested, in him or in what’s going on.

Gamera is standing in the water at the petroleum refinery, swaying with his arms out, like you do. Colonel Sanders looks on as something mysterious is shipped to the island—and who sneaks on board but that lovable scamp Toshio. That lighthouse keeper is definitely Parent of the Year.

Toshio’s sister tells Colonel Sanders her brother is missing, because obviously his job is helping her look after an idiot child, not saving lives by destroying the giant monster.

Gamera screencap Professor Murase (Jun Hamamura) with Nobuyo Sakurai (Michiko Sugata).
Who are you? Why are you here? Why are you harassing me? How did you get past the guards?

Toshio arrives at Z Plan HQ. Soldiers capture him, which is the first time in the entire movie any security have been able to stop Toshio or his family.

Gamera screencap sign reading "The Z Plan Ōshima Research."
Wait, the Z Plan has a sign? What happened to “top secret?”

Hidaka declares that Z Plan will commence. I wish I knew what it was, or what happened to Plans A through Y.

Model boats sail to the island. Then soldiers set the water around Gamera on fire, forming a line of fire that Gamera is supposed to follow to the island. This works, but only because there are 11 minutes left in the film and something has to happen.

It takes just a few minutes for Gamera to swim to the island, because sure. Toshio, Traitor to All Humanity, tries to warn Gamera away. A typhoon arrives, and Gamera starts to wade away.

Suddenly, a soldier sets one of the military buildings on fire. He’s captured, and turns out to be Aoyagi in disguise. He sneaked onto the island, because the Japanese military can’t secure anything, and set the building on fire to lure Gamera.

Everyone declares Aoyagi insane, and the military puts a bullet through his head for treason. Just kidding! Everyone thinks it’s a great idea, and they set fire to the Plan Z base.

Gamera turns around and comes to shore, while soldiers continue to throw burning objects at their own base. I hope no one left their diabetes medication in there.

But the rain from the typhoon is putting out the fires, and Gamera heads back to the beach. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the volcano on the island erupts. What an amazing coincidence!

We cut between the model of the volcano (a papier-mâché hill with sparklers at the top), real volcano stock footage, and Gamera.

Dr. Sanders and Toshio’s sister arrive by plane, because that’s what we want in the middle of our big climax. Wasn’t there a giant turtle just a minute ago?

Toshio is suddenly all for Plan Z, and isn’t trying to save Gamera anymore, because why should our characters be consistent?

So “Operation Z” fiiiiinally commences. They use flame to lure Gamera into a giant hole in the ground. Two new holes open next to the main hole. Those holes reveal a bisected dome, that closes over Gamera. This dome is on top of an enormous rocket, that shoots Gamera into space. The end.

Gamera screencap Gamera being enclosed in a dome.
Say, what is this strange contraption closing around me? I suppose I could just fly away. But no, I want to see where this goes.

No, seriously, that’s how it ends.


First, that ending. Can someone explain to me what the Japanese were building Z Plan for? What is the other scenario where this scheme might be useful? What else were they going to lure to that island and blast into space? Was it Khrushchev?

At least this ending doesn’t kill off Gamera, making it difficult to bring him back (cough—Godzilla—cough). And we avoided a troubling Gamera death scene. Have you seen Yongary (1967)? Yongary’s death scene makes John Hurt’s death in Alien look like Wilson’s death scene in Cast Away. I have idea what that means.

But honestly, despite my biting sarcasm above, the original Daikaiju Gamera is one of the better classic-era giant monster movies. This may be heresy, but I enjoyed it more than Gojira (1956). The blend of whimsy and seriousness in Gamera is pretty well-balanced, for a daikaiju film. The characters are likeable enough, and the Toshio’s family subplot, while absurd and distracting, doesn’t detract too badly from the film.

The plot is simple and straightforward: scientists and military try various ways to defeat the monster, and eventually succeed. Compare this to the direct sequel, Daikaiju Ketto: Gamera tai Barugon, where the giant monster business is shoehorned into a silly crime caper plot. Some things don’t work. Anything Aoyagi does plot wise is negated almost immediately, until his out-of-character arson contribution at the end. The other scientist and assistant characters like Hidaka and Kyoko are largely exposition machines. And whenever the Toshio subplot appears it brings the film to a grinding halt. Even the two dramatic scenes with Toshio, on the lighthouse and in the railway yard, arise entirely because Toshio is foolishly suicidal and his caretakers are inept. The only reason Toshio does not die is because he has plot armor. It’s aggravating and silly.

Speaking of silly, yes, Gamera is fairly silly. But that’s the direction these films were headed in, fantastical and child-oriented. You can blame Gamera for intensifying that trend if you like. I personally prefer my giant monster movies to be serious in plot and characterization, but with a sense of fun and wonder. That’s the balance Pacific Rim (2013) got right, and Godzilla (1998) got so wrong. Gamera clumsily achieves that balance.

Despite some glaring mistakes, the dioramas and models are pretty good. (They get even better in Gamera vs. Barugon.) The constant cutting between stock footage and models is jarring and clunky, however. Stick with the miniatures, boys. Leave the stock footage to Ed Wood.

That brings up the Kaiju Ratio of this film, which I’ll be measuring for each movie in the series. Daikaiju Gamera’s length is 1:18:32, and by my count Gamera is onscreen for 12:20. That’s 16% of screen time. For comparison, Godzilla (2014) had its star onscreen for eight minutes, or 7% of screen time. I’ll be comparing ratios for all the Gamera films.

As far as acting, none of the Japanese actors embarrass themselves, and all of the Caucasian ones do. I assume this was because the Japanese actors were trained film actors, and the white people were hired off the street. I don’t think many Americans move to Tokyo to act, or at least they did not in the ‘60s.

Daikaiju Gamera manages to be one of the more entertaining early daikaiju films, with some light drama and genuine excitement buried in a sea of nonsense—but you know, it’s a giant monster movie. It’s a worthy launching point for the Gamera franchise, and I’m looking forward to seeing (or seeing again) the films to come.

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