The Tortoise And The Bird – Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe

10 06 2013

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In 1954, a Japanese film studio released a film that would change cinema. It would inspire many around the world and today its name still resonates through the minds of people all around the world. The film was called Gojira, later Americanised to Godzilla. The huge successes of the film led the film studio to create an entire series of Monster Movies starring the film’s central character. In 1965 a challenger to Godzilla’s throne emerged in the form of a Giant Turtle named Gamera. While he too would become a hit in Japan, particularly with children, he was not able to upset Godzilla’s position in the slightest. 30 Years later though (15 years after the last film); Gamera re-emerged in a film of truly magnificent proportions.

“Gamera finally has a film to rival Godzilla” – Popcorn Pictures

The above statement rings true on practically all levels throughout the film. The special effects, the soundtrack, the acting, the direction and most importantly, the story. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko (who later directed The Best Film In The World), this film is not just any Monster Movie, It is one of the Best Monster Movies as well as the first film in an incredible Trilogy.

Gamera Heisei 2

The film opens up with a tanker and patrol boat out at sea, the tanker reports running aground. After a quick inspection it turns out that it has been run aground on an atoll, which is moving. An inspection into the incident begins lead by Naoya Kusanagi (Akira Onodera) along with marine officer Yoshinari Yonemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara who would later star in 13 Assassins). Meanwhile on an island in the Goto Archipelago, a fisherman and a cop are running from some unknown attacker, they try to get off the island but are both unlucky. Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is called to the island by a police Inspector Osako (Yukijiro Hotaru) after he received a call from someone from the island stating he was attacked by a Giant Bird. After a brief look at the damage, Nagamine believes the damage is of a man-made origin, this is however until a Giant Bird pellet is discovered and inside it contains an item belonging to a scientist friend of hers. After a brief search of the island the bird creature appears and looks more like a pterodactyl. It attacks and eats people on another island close by before being chased back to its own island by the air force, it is here that it is also revealed that there is more than one. A plan is put in motion to capture the creatures.

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After an in-depth search, the atoll is found and is investigated. On the surface, several strange beads are discovered as well as a giant slab with some markings on it. After a closer inspection, the slab collapses and the atoll breaks apart. Several of the investigators fall into the water, including Yonemori, who sees a huge eye and tusk while underwater. Back in Fukuoka the plan to capture the birds begins. The birds are guided to the Fukuoka dome where they will be trapped by the closing roof and tranquilized. The plan is initially successful, however Yonemori turns up and reports that a 60 meter long creature is approaching the city, but no-one takes much notice. The plan is initially successful with two of the birds getting captured, the other one escapes towards the harbour before being destroyed by a Giant Turtle. The new monster goes on the rampage (not the only time in 1995 that Fukuoka was attacked) in the direction of the dome, when it reaches it, the two bird creatures manage to escape before they can be destroyed. The new monster ignites its jet boosters and flies off into the sky in pursuit.

GGOTU3 (The film is not in Black and White, it's just that this is a Good Picture)

Back at his house, Kusanagi reveals to Yonemori and his daughter Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) that the inscription on the slab reveals the names of the two monsters, the bird like creatures are called Gyaos and the Giant Turtle is named Gamera. Yonemori then gives Asagi one of the beads discovered on the atoll as a gift, which begins to glow in her hands. Kusanagi, Nagamine and Yonemori are called to an area of Kiso Mountain where a small village is being attacked by one of the Gyaos. Nagamine tries to rescue a little boy but collapses on a bridge, Yonemori goes to rescue them both while a Gyaos bird targets them as its next meal. Gamera then arrives and destroys the Gyaos. Another Gyaos then shows up and attacks the bridge, but Gamera places his hand over the group and gets his hand injured protecting them, he then flies off in pursuit of Gyaos.

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Asagi learns that Gamera is in the Area of Mount Fuji and goes to find him while nursing a strange wound on her hand. The army approach Gamera in preparation to attack and the attack begins just as Asagi arrives to watch. Gamera is then attacked by Gyaos and receives a mortal wound on his arm, at the same time that Asagi receives one too. Gamera manages to fly away. At a hospital later that night Kusanagi arrives to see his daughter who immediately falls asleep.

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Nagamine and Yonemori discover that the Gyaos was created by an Atlantean civilization to wipe out pollution, but the creatures became too powerful and so the civilization created the Gamera’s to destroy them, however the civilization could not repair itself and so preserved the final Gamera for future generations as a defence should the Gyaos reawaken. It is also revealed that the Gyaos only has one pair of chromosomes and is an almost perfect creature and did not evolve. It is also discovered that the creature can have offspring by itself. The final remaining Gyaos has increased in size and attacks Tokyo. The government finally decide to attack Gyaos instead of Gamera and put a plan into action to kill Gyaos. Nagamine and Yonemori try to persuade Kusanagi that the bead necklace that Asagi is wearing connects her to Gamera, which he dismisses until after a long slumber she finally wakes up.

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The following day Gyaos is attacked by a now fully revived Gamera. Kusanagi, Nagamine, Yonemori and Asagi go in pursuit. After a long fought battle, Gamera fights Gyaos in space, before Gyaos cuts its own leg off to survive. Gamera seemingly dies in a huge explosion caused by a power plant beneath him, but revives and fires a huge fire-ball from his mouth destroying Gamera. Using some of his remaining strength, Gamera heals Asagi’s wounds with some unknown power before heading back out to sea in Victory.

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The films cast and characters offer a range of people from the strong to the unique. Many of the main cast like Kusanagi and Yonemori offer a good supporting character as well as a strong main character when one is needed. Many other characters offer a good performance including those of government characters and military personnel. But all these characters are sort of shadowed as it were by the two real lead female characters in Nagamine and Asagi. Nagamine is an understandable person with not much in the way of Ego. She makes her point clear and stands by it despite huge opposition. Her expertise in her field also offer huge insight and guidance in any situation. Asagi meanwhile to me is the real human star. With Great acting from Ayako Fujitani (the daughter of Steven Seagal), she offers a different perspective in situations as a complete outsider only drawn into the situation by those around her. With her connection to Gamera she also offers support to the big turtle as well by being his connection to the human world. For the reasons of this film as well as the two sequels to this film, Fujitani is one of my Favourite Actresses.

Shinobu Nakayama and Ayako Fujitani

But the real stars of this film are of course the Big Monsters in Gamera and Gyaos. Gyaos is a very well designed creature with a personality (like all Good Movie Monsters). The idea that the creature eats people as well is a nice touch which brings the creature down to a more human level, something that is not done all that much in Monster films. Several scenes in the film also help Gyaos’s character by making Gyaos look not only dangerous, but also, incredibly sinister. Gyaos’s design is more of that of a Pterodactyl than a bird but this help with the terror of the creature. The creature’s reveal also helps out this terror by not showing until its second scene but have hints towards how terrifying it is during an early scene.

Gyaos (1995)

Gamera is well presented; this is a character that has not had the best history when it came to Monster Movies. But many years later it turns its fortunes around in a fantastic way. The Atlantean origins give a good and understandable origin instead of the usual and gives Gamera more of a purpose than simply being a Giant turtle. The connection with Asagi is mysterious and reveals itself in time, and at the end of the film almost bonds like a friendship with Asagi by healing her wounds. Gamera does have a sort of super hero look and identity in this film but does not get silly with it and so therefore does not spoil the entertainment value of the film.

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The film’s special effects are fantastic. Many Japanese Monster movies, in particular Godzilla do involve a lot of work with miniatures and maybe some close ups for detail. Gamera on the other hand, it’s like the producers have really tried to stand up to Godzilla, to rival it and used mainly the real thing. There are several scenes in this film involving close-ups of army tanks moving across the landscapes, and they are real tanks too. How they did the shots is one question, but the effect works. When you use something real, it looks far better than trying to make something real with CGI. You can’t beat the real thing. Most of the vehicles used in this film for certain shots are the real thing, and it looks Fantastic. Scenes including the opening scene with the ships, the scene with the tanks amassing to attack Gamera, the Missile loading scene, scene involving helicopters with their lights on the Gyaos, It is very tempting to stick the film on just to watch those scenes again and when music is added, Its Fantastic. The only time that military equipment is not real is when missiles are fired and these scenes make great use of early but still magnificent CGI.

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The Monsters are magnificent. Compared to the effects used for the monsters when Gamera first appeared in the 1960’s, you could easily tell it was a suit and looked poor. The suits used in this film look real, as if a Giant Turtle was used to shoot those scenes. The Monster attack scenes on cities look terrific, and the fight scenes look intense and realistic. It is hard to really say how great the effects are without showing you. Not only did this film rival Godzilla in a story sense, but also a special effects sense, when you look at the Gamera scenes where he is either rampaging through a city or in a fight with Gyaos, it’s magnificent.  To me the effects beat those of several other monster films I can name including some Godzilla films. It’s not too much of an overstatement for me to say that the special effects used in this film, are some of the best I have seen in the whole of cinema, and some of the most realistic too.

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The film’s soundtrack (provided by Kow Otani)  is incredible; there is almost a piece of music for each scene. The opening scene has large parts where they help show the size of a scene, and possibly importance, while on the other hand there are great mystical sounds for the parts talking about the origins of the creatures depicted in the film. Some of my favourite pieces though are the military scenes as stated above. Scenes like when the tanks are amassing to attack Gamera or one scene where Gyaos is flying and the piece works well with the seriousness of the situation but adds tension. Gamera’s theme is good also as it depicts him not like a hero as such but as someone coming to save the day and so when he arrives or leaves the scene it sounds incredible. One thing of note to point out about the soundtrack is the sometimes apparent use of native Japanese instruments for some scenes, while the film does also use non-native equipment in its soundtrack; the use of them adds to the film culturally and also adds to the mystical properties of the films story too.

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On the whole, as you may be able to see, this film is incredible. Great Cast, Brilliant Story, Amazing Special Effects, Wonderful Music and Amazing Directing from Shusuke Kaneko to bring all this together and create one of the absolute Best Monster Movies to date. While I could go on some more, I don’t want to ruin it for everyone else. While this film may not be able to compete with some Godzilla films, I can think of some that this film easily beats. Whatever tastes in film you fancy there is something in this film for everyone, I guarantee it.  Godzilla finally had a rival, and what a rival he was.

GENEPOOL (To think that if this film did not happen or was not to achieve the success it gained, we wouldn’t have Gamera 3).

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2 07 2014
They Were Trying To Kill It – Godzilla (2014): Part 2 | Numb3r5s's Blog

[…] an icon himself (please refer to my What is Gamera post). In Guardian of the Universe (rephrased to GGOTU) an ancient species of bird comes to life and wreaks havoc in Japan (like all other monsters do) […]

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