The Fire-Breathing Turtle Destroys Tokyo

I remember watching all kinds of giant monster movies when I was a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s. Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, Rodan. I saw all the giant monsters when I was a kid and my favorite was Gamera.

There is going to be a new monster movie at the theaters in a couple of weeks: a new Godzilla movie. I’m actually a little excited to see what the film makers do to modernize the Mother of All Monsters. So, to get in the monster mood, I decided to see what the Internet Archive had in the way of monsters. Lo, and behold, up popped my favorite monster: Gamera.

Let me give a little basic background information for movie fans, like me, who grew up never having any idea that Gamera and monsters like him were ever classified as anything other than “monsters”. “Kaiju” is a Japanese word that literally means “strange creature”. “Kaiju” is used to refer to live-action films or TV shows that feature a monster/monsters of any form usually attacking a major city/cities or fighting another monster/monsters. “Daikaiju” is a Japanese word that means “giant monster” and refers specifically to the huge monsters like Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, Rodan, etc.

The daikaiju Gamera (giant monster Gamera) is a kaiju that was created by the Daiei Motion Picture Company. Daiei wanted a kaiju that could compete with the super successful daikaiju Godzilla (giant monster Godzilla), owned by Toho Studios. The Gamera movies were popular and Gamera succeeded in gaining fame in his own right.

Essentially, there are three series of Gamera movies:

Showa series
In the Showa series movies, Gamera is a huge prehistoric creature that was frozen in ice. He eats petroleum based material, breathes fire, flies, and his only weakness is cold.

  • #1. 1965 – Gamera (aka Gammera the Invincible)
  • #2. 1966 – Gamera vs. Barugon (aka War of the Monsters)
  • #3. 1967 – Gamera vs. Gyaos (aka Return of the Giant Monsters)
  • #4. 1968 – Gamera vs. Viras (aka Destroy All Planets)
  • #5. 1969 – Gamera vs. Guiron (aka Attack of the Monsters)
  • #6. 1970 – Gamera vs. Jiger (aka Gamera vs. Monster X)
  • #7. 1971 – Gamera vs. Zigra
  • #8. 1980 – Gamera: Super Monster

Heisei series
Gamera has an origin tweak and is now bio-engineered by Atlantis to be a “Guardian of the Universe”. Gamera also now has sharp spikes on its elbows.

  • #9. 1995 – Gamera: Guardian of the Universe
  • #10. 1996 – Gamera 2: Attack of Legion
  • #11. 1999 – Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

Millennium series
Gamera gets another origin tweak: Gamera sacrificed himself in 1973 but a new Gamera hatches from an egg.
#12. 2006 – Gamera the Brave

Fortunately for movie fans, the Internet Archive has four Gamera movies available FREE in the Public Domain:

  • Movie #1 – Gamera (aka Gammera the Invincible)
  • Movie #2 – Gamera vs. Barugon (aka War of the Monsters)
  • Movie #4 – Gamera vs. Viras (aka Destroy All Planets)
  • Movie #5 – Gamera vs. Guiron (aka Attack of the Monsters)

The movie I am reviewing today is the first ever Gamera movie: Daikaiju Gamera (aka Gamera aka Giant Monster Gamera aka Gammera the Invincible).

Gamera is a 1965 Science Fiction kaiju film directed by Noriaki Yuasa. Gamera is the only movie in the Gamera series that was filmed in black and white (and the last kaiju movie, period, to be filmed in B&W). Gamera is the only film in the series to receive a theatrical release in the USA. All other Gamera movies were released direct to TV. Gamera was heavily edited for the USA audience. New footage starring American actors Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, and John Baragrey was added and some original Japanese footage was cut. In some USA versions, a few of the Japanese names were “Americanized” (Toshio became Kenny, Kyoko became Katherine, Aoyagi became Alex, etc.).

The Internet Archive has the original widescreen Japanese version of Gamera as well as three “Americanized” versions, two of which are widescreen (none of which have the “Americanized” names). By the way, the American version was changed from Gamera to Gammera (with two “m”s) reportedly to make it easier for Americans to figure out how to pronounce.

In our movie, Gamera, a Japanese expedition is in the far north when they see strange planes flying overhead. American planes give chase and one of the strange planes is shot down and a hydrogen bomb on board explodes. The nuclear explosion cracks the polar ice and awakens a prehistoric monster. A native chieftain gives Dr. Hidaka of the expedition an ancient tribal stone and tells him of a legend of a creature named “Gamera.” Soon the monster Gamera is rampaging around the world and Dr. Hidaka and his colleagues must find a way to stop the monster.

The movie is filmed in black and white and is sometimes very dark and somewhat difficult to see but overall, the film quality and the audio quality is excellent. I was a little worried that this movie, which I last saw when I was around ten years old, would be silly and hokey with ridiculously fake monsters but I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the special effects are very simplistic compared to today’s CGI marvels but they actually hold up rather well. Close ups of Gamera’s face are done with a stiff model and the eyes are not at all realistic but most of the scenes of Gamera walking are shot at a distance, which makes it easier to camouflage the fact that Gamera is really a guy in a big rubber suit. Most of the models of soon-to-be-destroyed buildings are very well done and I actually had a great time watching Gamera smash his way through some buildings.

The Japanese cast is generally good looking and very earnest but some of the added American footage is very grating. The “Americanized” scenes of soldiers working in a base just before the first reports of Gamera show up are very offensive. A couple of the male soldiers are doing a very bad job of sexually harassing a female employee (I think they thought they were flirting – ugh!). Really, I thought the Japanese version of these scenes were much better and should never have been deleted or re-made in the first place.

Apparently some fans have issues with the young actor playing the boy Toshio, who repeatedly puts himself and others in danger because he thinks Gamera is his friend: “Yoshiro Uchida stands out for playing one of the most annoying and insane kiddie characters in monster movie history.” I did not think the kid was that bad. Yes, he thoughtlessly and repeatedly ran into trouble but it was established right from the beginning that Toshio loves all things turtle. With a giant turtle, Toshio is in turtle heaven.

I thought the movie just zipped right along, no lagging parts at all. Some of my favorite moments from the movie include:

  • Two experts have an argument on TV. “Genial science editor” Jules Manning proclaims “So you and the eminent Dr. Hidaka conclude that this Gammera creature has been hibernating underground for two hundred million years until now when he decides to take a stroll. (Laughs) Oh, Dr. Contraire, you do have a sense of humor.” Dr. Contraire replies, “I’m simply advancing the theory that the, ah, great grand daddy of all turtles could have reappeared, released from its tomb of ice by the explosion of the bomb.”
  • The soldiers and scientists celebrate when they think they have successfully frozen Gamera. When Gamera starts to pull his head in, one exclaims “He knows he’s licked! That what you call turning turtle!” But it turns out Gamera has a flying trick up its armhole and one scientist drolly remarks “Look! What an amazing adaptation!”
  • A teenager at a rock and roll party boasts “Don’t blow your cool. We’re not going anywhere.” Then Gamera brings the roof down on the party.
  • Toshio is saddened that Gamera is gone but perks up at the thought that he can one day ride a rocket and go visit his big buddy. Toshio happily yells “Sayonara, Gamera!”

So, overall, I really enjoyed Gamera (aka Gammera the Invincible). The movie is fast paced, most of the special effects hold up reasonably well, and the cast are all likeable and earnest. It is sometimes hard to see exactly what is going on but most of the time the action is pretty clear. I was really happily surprised that my old favorite monster still looks so good. But I do have to admit that that loud rock and roll music was extremely dated.

Neither the party people nor Gamera know how to dance

Of course, the best thing about Gamera (aka Gammera the Invincible) is that it is FREE in the Public Domain.

Please click this link to go to the Internet Archive and watch / download the “Americanized” version of Gamera (aka Gammera the Invincible).

There are two widescreen “Americanized” versions as well. Please click here  and here.

To watch the original widescreen Japanese version of Gamera, please click this link.

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