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  Gamera A Word In Your Shell-Like
Year: 1965
Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Stars: Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichirô Yamashiko, Yoshiro Uchida, Michiko Sugata, Yoshiro Kitahara, Jun Hamamura, Kenji Oyama, Munehiko Takada, Yoshio Yoshida, Jun Osanai
Genre: Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Dr Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi) is heading a small exploration team for the Arctic region, meeting with the Eskimos there, but during one encounter they notice warplanes flying overhead which they cannot identify. The U.S military are suspicious as well, and scramble two jets to investigate which leads to a mid-air skirmish and one of the mystery jets crashing into a large stretch of ice. As Hidaka and company watch aghast, the surface cracks open and something clambers out, awakened from its deep frozen slumber...

Gamera, for it was he, was Japanese studio Daiei's answer to Godzilla, and already you could see the similarities which were fairly close, but while Big G had become a favourite among children, in this case the film seemed torn between imitating the first Godzilla movie and making this as child-friendly as possible. The idea behind Gamera, as legend had it, occured when the head of Daiei was flying across the Pacific and looked out of the aeroplane window to see the vision of a giant turtle below, and presumably had nothing to do with the huge box office receipts their rivals at Toho were enjoying.

But Toho didn't have the monopoly on enormous monsters, though much of this was preoccupied with atomic power, and by extension atomic warfare, in the mould of the opening Godzilla movie. What made this distinctive was Gamera himself, a massive turtle who was not only the source of atomic energy, but breathed fire and transformed into what to all intents and purposes was a flying saucer thanks to a selection of jets arranged around his shell, enabling him to fly at supersonic speed, just to rope in the U.F.O. enthusiasts who may have been wavering over whether to catch this or not.

The turtle feeds on a variety of things, from fire to fossil fuels, which means he wreaks havoc on the world's resources and nothing can stop his rampage - pretty much a villainous figure, then, you would have thought. Well, you would have done if you were not Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida), a precocious brat who determines to inveigle his way into Gamera's affections, not that he spends the entire movie even with so much as a passing recognition that Toshio exists. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the child believes Gamera is a force for good, and any scene where the tyke appears is a test on the audience's patience.

Unless you're very young, and can accept Toshio as our co-hero who truly loves giant monsters as much as you do, in which case you might well be envious that he could get so close to the destructive monstrosity. In America, this film aptly suffered the same fate Godzilla had in the previous decade, recut with new scenes to make it look as if the Americans and not the Japanese had won the day, but stick with the original and you'd find a less gung ho and more, dare I say it, thoughtful approach to the decimation depicted. That pretty much amounted to musings over the dangers of nuclear power, as our turtle "friend" was the epitome of all that was hazardous about it, and in this case looked less like a genuine concern and more like it was included because it had been done before and was largely expected from the genre. Later entries in the series would get wackier, and Toshio made this difficult to warm to, but even giant turtles have to start somewhere. Music by Tadashi Yamauchi.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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