GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE
Directed By: Shusuke Kaneko
Written By: Kazunori Itō
Production Companies: Hakuhodo, Daiei Film, & Nippon Television
Distributed By: ADV Films
Admittedly, I had thought to include one of the many Godzilla films out there in my personal top ten list of favorite films until I realized that, frankly speaking, it was too difficult a choice to make and all deserve a ranking of their own at a later date. However, there is one other giant monster film (or two) that I do greatly enjoy and this film in particular just happens to be one of them for a very distinctive reason.
Though Godzilla has a long series of films, aside from the Heisei Era, which consists of films from 1985 to 1995, there is no true timeline of events. True, the Showa Era does have some films that are direct sequels of each other but are, overall, unconnected insomuch that one need not see the prior film to understand any sort of subtext going on in the sequel. The Gamera Trilogy has plenty of this and it is to my own shame that I failed to realize it myself until it was pointed out to me by another fan and recognized artist for both Transformers and Godzilla franchises, one Matt Frank.
I chose the first film of the trilogy because it follows many of the formulas of other trilogy films. This formula goes that the first film is the “stand-alone” film in that should no other sequels be made due to a monetary flop, it can still stand tall on its own story. The second film is what I call the Villainous Victory in that something majorly bad happens to the good guy(s) that won’t be resolved or rectified in the third film, which wraps everything up in a major storm of epic.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the two sets of Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Dark Knight trilogies and tell me that I’m wrong.
To borrow the summary from Wikipedia, the film follows Doctor Kusanagi and his fellow scientific colleagues Yoshinari Yonemori and Mayumi Nagamine, as environmental pollution reawakens ancient creatures known simply as the Gyaos and who, in turn, awaken the “Last Hope” known as Gamera to combat them. Unbeknownst to Doctor Kusanagi, one of the jewels that he found has created a spiritual bond between Gamera and his teenaged daughter Asagi who not only strengthens Gamera’s tie to humanity and his resolve to preserve it no matter the cost, but also shares in his pain and wounds.
I would speak of Gamera and his unique origins here but as he is my favorite character of the trilogy, I’ll save that for when I review him true and proper so I’ll speak briefly of the Gyaos. Though mistaken at first as a rare and endangered species of bird, the Gyaos are more like bats than actual birds but are not actually natural creatures. They, like Gamera himself, were artificially created but turned upon their makers who sought salvation in the form of Gamera but his creation came too late and the ancient civilization perished and vanished into myth.
That civilization is, surprisingly, not Atlantis. At least, it’s never outright stated as such. For you see dear readers, just as we in the West have the lost continent of Atlantis, so too does the East in the kingdom of Mu. Taking a surprisingly mature turn for a film based heavily in Japan, the scientists involved speculate that Gamera, the Gyaos, and the pendants found upon Gamera’s back whilst he slept and drifted through the ocean waves, which were hastily collected before he awoke, were made by some advanced civilization that predates our own.
The pendants are the most obvious hint of this as they are confirmed to be made of orichalcum; a metal which is “bronze that is like gold in beauty.” In popular myth/culture, orichalcum is oftentimes considered second only to gold and is genuinely used to craft powerful items, particularly weapons. In the case of this film, the pendants themselves allow for a single human with a powerful heart and an unwavering spirit to be spiritually bound to Gamera and—
Whoa! Sorry, got away from the Gyaos again didn’t I?
As I was saying, like Gamera and his pendants, the Gyaos were creations of the ancient civilation and were, more than likely, a form of bio-engineered weaponry considering their dietary habits. See, the Gyaos eat meat, which in itself wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the fact that Gyaos will always go for humans prior to most other creatures. True, they were lured by hunks of bovine meat and one of them was even seen catching and eating a dog but given that the Gyaos will purposefully flock near human civilizations, that’s a rather small note.
Heck, it was even shown that should elders of a clutch not bother to bring back food for the still hatching youngsters, they will start to cannibalize each other and wipe out the whole nest in the process. To make matters worse, the more meat a Gyaos consumes the larger and stronger it grows until it reaches a point where sunlight no longer bothers it and it can start to reproduce asexually. Thankfully, unlike a certain other monster that shall remain nameless, a Gyaos can only lay a small clutch of eggs at a time.
Being made in the mid 90’s, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is akin to many other kaiju films in that while special effects were used to enhance the monsters’ performance, they are still done via excellent costumes and miniaturized cityscapes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoy watching films with CGI involved, particularly nowadays where its getting more and more difficult to tell where the line between realism and animation is drawn… It’s just that there’s just something to be had in watching something that you know is real if even as an amazingly well done costume.
Being a live action film, I’m sorry to say that the English dub is… meh… Some of the voice actors are great but a lot of the lines don’t match the expressions on the Japanese actors’ faces. There is also the age-old lips moving “out of sync” with the dialogue that can be kind of distracting for first time viewers of foreign films. Acting wise, I give major credit to Mayumi Nagamine’s actress one Shinobu Nakayama who I was surprised to learn was actually a J-Pop artist prior to becoming an actress for this and the third Gamera film.
Mayumi’s character, whilst not strictly the main character, is the one we follow the most after Doctor Kusanagi and his daughter, as she is the one who discovers the Gyaos and their habits. She is, essentially, the straight woman in the crowd of political idiocy and stupidity. I say this because, unsurprisingly, everyone in the government side of things sees Gamera as the bigger threat though it is for a justifiable, if not moronic, reason.
Prior to the Gyaos increasing in size and devouring more than a few hundred people, everyone thought that the Gyaos were natural creatures and that they were more endangered than certain species of crane and need to be protected. True, in their hunger they ate a few people but compared to Gamera causing millions in property damage with little to no loss of human life, it’s obvious who the bigger threat here is right?
The sound of one hand clapping is the sound of one’s palm meeting one’s face here people…
Endangered or not, the Gyaos eat people by choice not by instinct. Mayumi even says as much herself and the politician who made the comparison actually sneered at her for it! If ever there was a time I wanted to reach into the screen and smack somebody upside the head that was it and then some! This is why there’s that whole joke about military intelligence in monster movies, it’s because of idiots in the government who think they know better than the scientists they hire to figure out what the bloody creatures are in the first place!
With all that being said, is Gamera: Guardian of the Universe the best there is when it comes to kaiju films? Not necessarily so on its own but whence combined with its two sequels, you better believe it’s something worth watching! Not only is each film a self-contained story in its own right, but when they’re combined together, the subtext and evolution of Gamera, both physical and otherwise, are a work of brilliance!