Gamera The Giant Monster (Japan 1965)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/26/11

The original Gamera movie is the most adult and serious-minded movie of the series, and attempts to go head-to-head with Toho's Godzilla franchise. Cold War tensions continue to mount between the US and Russia, which leads to a nuclear missile being detonated in the arctic. This awakens Gamera, a giant flying turtle from Atlantis that has been buried under the ice for thousands of years. A living power plant and hungry for energy, he makes his way to Tokyo Bay where his radioactive body destroys the local fishing industry. Then he gobbles up a geothermal power plant along with an oil refinery. In an effort to rid the planet of this nigh invincible menace, the world's top scientists convene to create a rocket ship that will send him to Mars. If only they can lure him into it...

Filmed in black and white, the movie has a much darker and potent look and feel than the films that would follow. Gamera is an unstoppable force of death and destruction, and has no problems smashing up buildings and burning people alive. The film features one giant failure after another as the scientific community and the ineffective Japanese military try in vain to destroy the rampaging monster. The film definitely makes some strong social commentary that reflects the times, including the Cold War, the constant threat of nuclear weapons, and environmental pollution concerns. But for me, the most interesting statement the film makes relates to the disenchanted youth. When Gamera attacks Tokyo, everyone is ordered evacuate, including a nightclub where a bunch of teens are dancing to live rock and roll music. The police say that everyone has to leave because Gamera is attacking, and the kids just ignore them saying "who's Gamera? Nothing's going to stop this party!" And then they get crushed by falling debris. I thought this was a brilliant statement on how self-absorbed and uninformed teens are when it comes to current events.

However, there's another kid in the movie that just spoils everything. He's a stupid and socially maladjusted boy named Toshio who is obsessed with turtles and thinks that Gamera is his pet turtle all grown up. He follows the monster's trail of destruction wherever he goes, causing his family and everyone he runs into no end of grief. Ironically, this annoying character set the stage for every subsequent film, as Gamera's only act of sentience and conscience results in him rescuing Toshio from a falling lighthouse. For some reason, this really resonated with Japanese audiences, and Gamera soon became known as "the friend of the children," dooming the series to increasingly juvenile silliness. Despite the absurdity of an internal combustion flying turtle, "Gamera" is a respectable monster movie and the visual effects are quite good. Only at the very end when the Z-Plan is put into action do the miniature effects look overly hokey. For the most part, the acting is good, the characters are likable, and the writing is intelligent and well thought out. However, the film does feature some of the worst American actors I've ever seen, which is downright embarrassing to watch. Much like Godzilla's first outing, this is Gamera's only solo appearance, as subsequent films would feature multiple monsters duking it out with each other. Definitely a good time for classic monster movie buffs.