After seeing the success of King Kong vs Godzilla, Daiei wanted to compete with Toho by making their own monster movie. The original idea was to make a movie called Giant Horde Beast Nezura, which they planned using live sewer rats. Due to the conditions of the rats such as lice and fleas, the rats escaped and infested the studio and other businesses. The movie was scrapped and went on to the next project being Gamera: The Giant Monster.
Gamera's role as the guardian of children came from director Noriaki Yuasa's own traumatic experiences growing up as a child during WWII. He mentioned that all of the adults and teachers he knew would constantly implant to him the importance of nationalism and Imperial Japan's ambitions, only to abandon it all after Japan's defeat. Yuasa had also been a child actor and the behavior he witnessed from them lead him to develop a disapproval of actors in general. These sentiments were carried into the making of Gamera, which Yuasa conceived as the only entity children could have faith in.
Gamera: The Giant Monster is the last monster movie to be filmed in black & white and is the only Gamera movie filmed in black & white.
Yuasa was unsure when offered to direct the movie. He asked some directors for advice with some saying it would ruin his career while others mocked him saying he should play the monster and wouldn't need a costume. He even contacted Toho Co. asking to borrow one of their prints of a Godzilla movie since he never watched a single Godzilla movie and needed an idea of what he is getting himself into. The conversation ended with Toho refusing to let Yuasa borrow any of their prints.
According to rumor, artist and filmmaker Tomio Sagisu (co-creator of Spectreman) claimed that studio head of Daiei Masaichi Nagata stole his idea of Gamera from him. Sagisu alleges he screened a demo reel for a kaiju tv reel called The Colossal Turtle, which featured a giant, fire-breathing turtle that can fly. Sagisu commented, "I screened my demo reel at Daiei and no matter what anybody may think, I'm sure they used this reference for Gamera." Years later, special effects director Yonesaburo Tsukiji dismissed Sagisu's allegations and claimed Nagata's son, Hidemasa, conceived the idea for Gamera. To this day, there are no demo reels released anywhere proving Sagisu's allegation.
At the height of the Cold War, an ancient monster called Gamera wakes up from hibernation after two aircrafts from an unnamed country carrying A-bombs were shot down in the Arctic by the United States Air Force. With its resilience to extreme heat, ability to fly and breathe fire, and insatiable hunger for oil and uranium, will anything be able to stop this creature or is Japan doomed?
Ever since Gojira was released in 1954, Godzilla had become a name that grew in popularity. The motion picture company Daiei saw these movies were becoming popular and went on to invest in creating their own monster that could rival Godzilla. However, they didn't grasp just how big of a task Daiei had ordered until Gamera: The Giant Monster went into production in 1963. This is especially so when director Noriaki Yuasa never watched a Godzilla movie. Yuasa even tried asking the Godzilla parent studio, Toho Co., to borrow one of their prints for one of the Godzilla movies so he could have an idea of what he got himself into only for Toho to flat out refuse. So Yuasa went into making Gamera: The Giant Monster with very little to no knowledge and it really shows with the movie's story.
First off, there are two stories going on at the same time. The first story is about senior researcher, Dr. Hidaka, his assistant Kyoko Yamamoto, and news photographer Mr. Aoyagi that first went to the Arctic to conduct studies on the existence of Atlantis and a story was shared by the Eskimos about a giant monster called Gamera. After learning shortly of the story, they find Gamera had woke up from hibernation after an unknown fighter jet carrying an atomic bomb was shot down by the American Air Force. The Japanese Self Defense Force along with the United States and Soviet Union are looking for ways to kill the monster while learning from Hidaka, Kyoko, and Aoyagi about a stone tablet that suggests Gamera originated from Atlantis. The second story has to do with this kid whose name is Toshio. He has an emotional attachment to his pet turtle, but his older sister and father disapproves of Toshio owning a turtle and tried to convince him to release it back into the river. He tries to hide the turtle by a lighthouse and after losing the turtle he encounters Gamera. Gamera saves Toshio from falling over the lighthouse, which causes Toshio to think his pet turtle turned into Gamera and goes out in harms way to rescue the monster from the traps laid out by the military.
In one way of looking at the movie's story, Yuasa tried to be creative in making Gamera: The Giant Monster not just a monster movie that is ripping off Godzilla. It tries to be a serious movie, but not to the point of being dark like Gojira. It's hard not to compare it with Godzilla, but at the end of the day the movie is aiming to be like Godzilla. That is what makes the movie fall apart for me. All this movie ever was, in the end, was a cash grab to bank on the growing popularity of Godzilla and it clearly shows it with a very boring story that made me take a lot of short pauses. The only part I really liked about the movie was how the monster was defeated, which is very laughable. I won't spoil it if you choose to watch the movie, but it is worth noting that the ending does show Gamera is still alive and is only trapped so he can be forgotten about. The reason I note this has to do with the next movie Gamera vs Barugon, which continues where this movie ended.
For the most part, it really looked like there were conflicting ideas between what Daiei wanted and what Yuasa wanted to portray Gamera. In one scene, Gamera saves Toshio from falling over a lighthouse suggesting Gamera is a gentle monster. Then in other scenes, he is attacking power plants, oil refineries, and destroying Tokyo. He even went as far as deliberately kill people with his fire breath during his attack on Tokyo. Yet, the movie tries to make me believe that Gamera is misunderstood because a little boy said so. At least with Godzilla and King Kong, we can perceive them to be tragic and misunderstood monsters. King Kong's tragedy was falling in love with a girl only to find himself cornered on the Empire State building. Godzilla was scarred and mutated by the hydrogen bomb making him just as much a victim as the people affected by the atom bombs. Gamera is misunderstood because one boy just had an off chance experience with Gamera saving him and that was it. After saving the boy, Gamera goes on a rampage like Godzilla. So I couldn't totally buy into the idea that Gamera is a misunderstood monster at all.
There are a lot of scenes that take place at night and it shows up way too dark to see what is going on. Even the initial scenes when Gamera saves Toshio from falling and when Gamera attacks Tokyo is way too dark making it only barely noticeable to see. It is as if during the entire production, the crew forgot to turn lights on and didn't want to go through the trouble of reshooting the scenes. The only time there is even light in a scene is if the scene is inside a building or when Gamera uses his fire breath.
What I do like, however, is how they utilize animation to show Gamera flying in the air. The movie has this brief period where people around the world thought they were seeing a UFO or a shooting star. Then, people realize it was Gamera after a failed attempt by the JSDF in stopping the monster by flipping it over on its shell. We have seen Gojira use stop-motion and puppets in certain scenes that makes the monster look more alive and seeing animation used to show movement in Gamera: The Giant Monster is a really neat effect.
Gamera: The Giant Monster is one of the more tolerable entries in the showa era Gamera films. There are eight showa era Gamera films in total and each of them are...unique. The only constant criticism from here up to film number eight, Gamera: Super Monster, are the kid characters being really annoying. This is due to Gamera becoming the superhero monster that is nicknamed "the friend of all children" as the movies are about him saving children and the audience these movies were really aiming to are children. And maybe that is one thing the showa era films were able to do. They won kids over seeing it was a bigger hit than what Daiei had originally expected when released in Japanese theaters on November 25th, 1965. Because of the movie's success, Daiei would go on to make the sequel Gamera vs Barugon. On top of that, Toho has even tried to cater to kids in later movies such as Godzilla's Revenge, Godzilla vs Gigan, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, and Terror of MechaGodzilla and met with not so great results. So Daiei really made an impact with Gamera in terms of children.
Gammera: The Invincible:
Much like how Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the Americanized version of Gojira, Gammera: The Invincible is the Americanized version of Gamera: The Giant Monster. The movie was released theatrically in the United States on December 15, 1966.
Just like many monster movies in the past, there are a lot of changes made to the movie since relations between America and Japan were still kind of strained after World War II. The movie is even heavily re-edited to add scenes with American actors including Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, Diane J. Findlay, John Baragrey, and Dick O'Neill. Much like Raymond Burr's role in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the role of the American actors was to give context on what is happening in the movie by making it seem as though they were there when the monster attacked. Unlike Godzilla: King of the Monsters, most of the scenes with the American actors take place in a board room arguing with each other and are not seen anywhere interacting with the actual main characters. So their addition to the movie doesn't feel warranted or needed as opposed to Raymond Burr's role.
Another difference is the suggestive struggle between America and Russia. In Gamera: The Giant Monster, the movie allowed the audience to assume that the unidentified aircrafts flying over the Arctic were Russian, but they don't explicitly say it was Russia. The movie just says the aircrafts came from an unnamed country. In this version, however, the movie explicitly says the aircrafts were Russian. At this time, the rising conflict between America and Russia had been a very unnerving time for the rest of the world. Japan even felt they were smacked dab in the middle of the conflict fearing the Cold War will turn into a hot war with both countries ready to launch nuclear weapons at each other. So even if the change of detail is minor, it is a huge deal to name a country as a threat by name.
The third change is Gamera's Atlantean origin sponged out of the movie. The tablet that is supposed to suggest Gamera's origin is still present, but the movie doesn't mention it is evidence of Atlantis's existence. Instead, the movie is changed it to make Gamera a legend passed down by the Eskimos.
The last change made is Toshio's role in the movie being extremely toned down, but still manages to be annoying and unlikeable. Toshio's reason for being attached to turtles stemmed after the death of his mother. So the pet turtle was his emotional support pet before he was asked to release the turtle back into the river where he found it. He tried to hide the turtle, but he loses the turtle and comes face to face with Gamera. When Toshio first encountered Gamera, he assumed his pet turtle turned into Gamera thus his actions in trying to save Gamera. In this version, his love for turtles was twisted into being an obsession more than for emotional support. In other words, his whole role of him trying to save Gamera is just because he likes turtles in this version.
Gamera: The Giant Monster is one of the more tolerable movies in the showa era, but it doesn't mean it's good. The film clearly shows there was no clear direction on what to do with Gamera other than to copy Godzilla. The story is a mess and I could not care for the characters. However, the movie has proven to be a big enough success showing Gamera can rival Godzilla as Daiei had intended. So it may not be great for adults, but it may be entertaining enough for children. As for Gammera: The Invincible, this version can be skipped and really not worth the watch.
Next up for "Gamerathon" is Gamera vs Barugon. Leave a comment of your thoughts on this movie letting me know if you have seen Gamera: The Giant Monster and if you liked this particular movie or not. Make sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Minds, MeWe, Gab, and TRUTH Social to stay up to date for more news, reviews, and discussions.