Gamera, the Giant Monster
Gamera, the Giant Monster (大怪獣ガメラ, Daikaijū Gamera, lit. 'Giant Monster Gamera') is a 1965 Japanese kaiju film directed by Noriaki Yuasa, with special effects by Yonesaburo Tsukiji. Produced and distributed by Daiei Film, it is the first film in the Gamera franchise. The film stars Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, and Junichiro Yamashita. In the film, authorities deal with the attacks of Gamera, a prehistoric turtle monster unleashed in the Arctic by an atom bomb.
|Gamera, the Giant Monster|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Noriaki Yuasa|
|Produced by||Masaichi Nagata|
|Screenplay by||Niisan Takahashi|
|Music by||Tadashi Yamanouchi|
|Edited by||Tatsuji Nakashizu|
The success of The Birds and Toho's Godzilla films influenced studio head Masaichi Nagata to produce a similar film. In 1964, Nezura was developed and pushed into production, with Yuasa directing. However, the project faced issues when the crew was forced to use live wild rats infested with fleas and Nezura was shut down by the health department. To replace the film, Nagata conceived the idea for Gamera after envisioning a tortoise flying alongside his plane. Due to the film's low budget and tight schedule, Yuasa was forced to use outdated equipment, faulty props, and faced belittlement from colleagues. Yuasa was determined to complete the film with Daiei's resources, despite brief talks of hiring Tsuburaya Productions to finish the film.
Gamera, the Giant Monster was theatrically released in Japan on November 27, 1965. A heavily altered version with new footage was released the following year in the United States as Gammera the Invincible. This was the only film in the original series to be given a theatrical release in the United States. The film was followed by Gamera vs. Barugon, released on April 17, 1966.
In the Arctic, an unknown aircraft is shot down by an American jet fighter. The aircraft crashes and its cargo, an atomic bomb, explodes. The explosion awakens a giant prehistoric turtle monster with tusks. Japanese scientists on an expedition nearby, Dr. Hidaka, his assistant Kyoko and reporter Aoyagi, are given a stone tablet by an Eskimo chief, who explains that the creature is called Gamera. Gamera destroys the expedition ship and escapes. Sightings of flying saucers soon surface in Japan. In Sagami Bay, Toshio (a boy forced to release his pet turtle) and his family encounter Gamera, who attacks their lighthouse. However, Gamera saves Toshio from falling to his death. Toshio becomes attached to Gamera after finding his pet turtle gone, believing it turned into Gamera.
Upon returning to Japan, Dr. Hidaka, Kyoko, and Aoyagi accompany the military when Gamera approaches a thermonuclear plant. Despite attempts to prevent its approach, Gamera proceeds to attack the power plant and devours the flames around it. Dr. Hidaka consults with Dr. Murase and the military recommends using experimental freezing bombs. The bombs postpone Gamera's assault as the military rig the area with explosives and succeed in turning the monster on its back. Gamera pulls in its limbs, expels flames, and takes flights, spinning around like a flying saucer. Toshio and his sister Nobuyo visit Dr. Hidaka while staying in Tokyo with their uncle. Toshio explains to Dr. Hidaka that Gamera is lonely and not evil. Dr. Hidaka, meanwhile, has observed that Gamera consumes fossil fuels and may seek atomic bombs for their energy. Meanwhile, disasters and accidents start to occur: Koto Ward is struck by flash floods and ships collide in Tokyo Bay. Dr. Hidaka claims that may be Gamera the cause due to hiding in the bay.
An international scientific conference is called upon and decide to use "Z Plan", based at Oshima Island. Gamera lands at Haneda Airport and proceeds to wreak havoc in Tokyo. Toshio and his family evacuate, but Toshio runs away. The military keep Gamera at bay at an oil refinery by feeding it petroleum via trains, while Z Plan continues preparations. As Nobuyo searches for her brother, Toshio makes attempts to breach restricted areas to see Gamera until he is caught at Oshima. Dr. Murase later informs Nobuyo of Toshio's safety. The Z Plan is eventually completed and Gamera is lured to Oshima by lighting an oil slick path. However, a typhoon blows the fire out. Aoyagi starts a bonfire to lure back Gamera but it is also extinguished by the typhoon. A nearby volcano erupts, successfully luring Gamera back. The next day, the Z Plan is put into action: Gamera is lured into the nose cone of a giant rocket and launched to Mars. The world celebrates and Toshio tells Dr. Hidaka he will become a scientist so he can visit Gamera. Toshio bids the monster farewell.
- Eiji Funakoshi as Dr. Hidaka
- Michiko Sugata as Nobuyo Sakurai
- Harumi Kiritachi as Kyoko Yamamoto
- Junichiro Yamashita as Aoyagi
- Yoshiro Uchida as Toshio Sakurai
- Yoshiro Kitahara as Mr. Sakurai
- Jun Hamamura as Dr. Murase
- Yoshio Yoshida as Eskimo Chief
- George Hirose as the Japanese ambassador
- Albert Dekker as the Secretary of Defense
- Brian Donlevy as Gen. Terry Arnold
- Diane Findlay as Sgt. Susan Embers
- John Baragrey as Captain Lovell
- Dick O'Neill as Gen. O'Neill
- Mort Marshall as Jules Manning
- Alan Oppenheimer as Dr. Contrare
- Steffen Zacharias as Senator Billings
- Thomas Stubblefield as J.T. Standish
- Noriaki Yuasa – director
- Yonesaburo Tsukiji – special effects director
- Akira Inoue – production designer
- Sandy Howard – director (American footage)
- Ken Barnett – executive producer (American version)
- Julian Townsend – cinematographer (American footage)
- Ross–Gaffney – editor (American version)
- Murray Rosenblum – sound (American version)
- Hank Aldrich – art director (American version)
- Sid Cooperschmidt – assistant director (American version)
Due to the success of The Birds and Toho's Godzilla films, Masaichi Nagata, the then-President of Daiei Film, wanted to produce a similar film and developed Dai gunju Nezura (lit. 'The Great Rat Swarm'), a film that would have featured overgrown rats attacking Tokyo. The film project was assigned to Yonesaburo Tsukiji to direct the special effects and Noriaki Yuasa to direct the film, despite the studio thinking Yuasa was a "wash-out". Yuasa became attached to the film due to other directors refusing to accept the assignment, feeling that the film and its genre were beneath them and would have ended their careers. Stop motion, mechanical props, and suitmation were initially used to portray the creatures, with Ryosaku Takayama building several prototypes and a radio controlled prop, but these were unsuccessful and the crew were forced to use live rats crawling over miniature cities. However, the rats were wild, uncooperative, and infested with fleas. Due to this, the health department forced the production to shut down. The cancellation of Nezura left Tsukiji's privately-owned studio in debt. Nezura was originally billed as Daiei's "premiere monster movie" scheduled to be released for new years in 1964. Due to the resources that went into developing Nezura, Nagata was adamant in using those resources for a monster film.
Nagata conceived the idea for Gamera in 1965 upon flying back home from the United States. According to screenwriter Niisan Takahashi, Nagata claimed to have envisioned a tortoise flying alongside his airplane or saw an island shaped like a tortoise. During a monthly planning session, Nagata shared his tortoise vision with his staff and ordered them to create ideas for it. Producer Yonejiro Saito contacted Takahashi about potential ideas, to which Takahashi shared his first story treatment titled A Lowly Tortoise Flies Through the Sky. Takahashi then wrote a four-page treatment titled A Fire-Eating Turtle Attacks Japan. After reading it, Nagata requested a full screenplay. Gamera's name was originally conceived as "Kamera", due to "kame" being the Japanese word for "turtle". However, the name was changed to "Gamera" due to "Kamera" sounding too close to the Japanese pronunciation for "camera". Special effects technician Ryosaku Takayama designed the turtle suit used in the film.
Yuasa inherited the Gamera assignment due to Nezura and was constantly belittled by studio execs and colleagues who believed the film would fail and would never compete with Godzilla. Yuasa took courses in special effects filmmaking and directed some of the film's effects in cooperation with Tsukiji. The script was still incomplete when the order was given to create the Gamera suit. Tsukiji's concept artwork was handed over to art director Akira Inoue and independent consultant Masao Yagi for further sketch designs and clay models. Yagi was assinged to build the suit and enlisted the aide of his father and associates from Toho's art department. The final suit weighed over 60 kilograms and was produced with plaster reinforced by latex. Gamera was portrayed by various "tough" members of Daiei's prop department. The Gamera suit was made to walk on all fours to make filming easier and distinguish it from other upright monster characters.
Gamera, the Giant Monster was the only film in the series shot in black-and-white. This was due to the budget being cut by the studio due to low confidence and the cancellation of Nezura. Yuasa stated that the first Gamera film had a budget of about ¥40 million and that the film went "over budget a little bit". Due to the film's low budget and tight schedule, the crew experienced various production issues: outdated equipment, insufficient electrical power to light up a sound stage for special effects filming, and faulty props. The flying Gamera prop burned through several wires it was attached to, causing it to crash. For the Arctic sequences, ice was delivered en masse by three trucks, however, the ice quickly melted and forced filming to be delayed for three days while the flooded set was being dried out. Yuasa received criticism from his own staff and there was consideration of hiring Tsuburaya Productions to complete the film. However, Yuasa refused and was determined to finish the film using Daiei's resources.
The film was acquired and heavily altered by Harris Associates, Inc. and World Enterprises Corporation for its American release. Similar to the American release for Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, new footage was produced in New York City featuring American actors. This was done to replace footage from the Japanese version featuring poor performances by expats, poor English delivery by Japanese characters, and to further influence the plot from an American perspective. The American version restored shots deleted from the Japanese version and added an extra "M" to Gamera's name in order to prevent audiences from calling the monster "camera". The Japanese footage was dubbed into English by Titra Studios, which featured the voices of Peter Fernandez, Corrine Orr, Jack Curtis, and Bernard Grant. Tadashi Yamanouchi's score was left intact while additional music recycled from film libraries were added to supplement the new footage. The song Gammera was written and recorded for the film by Wes Farrell and Artie Butler as "The Moons". Months after its release, a bootlegged instrumental version of the song was released in the UK as "Shing-A-Ling At the Go-Go". To impress exhibitors, World Enterprises claimed to have spent a million dollars in advertising the film. The film was released in December 1966 as Gammera, the Invincible.
In 1985, the Japanese version and four other Gamera titles were acquired by Sandy Frank Film Syndication. While English dubs were recorded for the Japanese cuts of the other films by Hong Kong-based studios for international releases, the Japanese version of Gamera, the Giant Monster had no existing dub and a new English dub was commissioned and recorded at Anvil Studios in England, which featured the voices of Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross. This English version, as well as the others released by Sandy Frank, were featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Theatrical and televisionEdit
Gamera, the Giant Monster was released in Japan on November 27, 1965. The film was a bigger hit than the studio expected, which led to a higher budget for the second film, Gamera vs. Barugon. A heavily localized version of the film was theatrically released in the United States on December 15, 1966 as Gammera, the Invincible by Harris Associates, Inc. and World Enterprises Corporation. The American version runs at 86 minutes. At times, Gammera, the Invincible was double-billed with Knives of the Avenger or The Road to Fort Alamo. After acquiring World Enterprises and their catalogue, National Telefilm Associates released a 16mm Pan and scan version to television. Gammera, the Invincible usually aired alongside the English versions of the Gamera films released by American International Television. It was this 16mm pan and scan version of the American cut that became the source for many public domain VHS and DVD releases in the United States and Canada.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 20% based on 5 reviews, with an average rating of 3.70/10. From contemporary reviews, "Byro." of Variety stated that Plan Z in the film was an "appropriate idea for "Gammera" [sic], a film which can be rated as Grade Z" The review went on to note that the films script and acting was "thoroughly predictable and pedestrian level". From retrospective reviews, AllMovie gave the film a positive review complimenting the films direction, special effects, and cinematography stating, "All in all, Gammera the Invincible is a solidly-crafted, engaging monster mash - just make sure you see the original Japanese version". Keith Phipps from AV Club stated "Gamera finds the perfect intersection between silly and cool, looking both dangerous and ridiculous as he tromps around. He’s no Godzilla, but he’s got his own thing going on." Arnold T. Blumberg from IGN awarded the film 6 out of 10, stating, "Gamera retains a kitschy charm but it was an inauspicious debut for a beloved icon." James McCormick from Criterion Cast called the film "a wonderful slice of schlock that you can watch again and again and appreciate the workmanship and love put into every scene."
Tomio Sagisu's responseEdit
Artist and filmmaker Tomio Sagisu (co-creator of Spectreman) claimed that Nagata stole the idea of Gamera from him. Sagisu was soliciting ideas for a kaiju television program to various studios in 1962, and screened a demo reel entitled The Colossal Turtle, which featured a stop-motion animated turtle monster that pulled its limbs, expelled flames, and took flight. 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, effects director Yonesaburo Tsukiji dismissed Sagisu's allegations and claimed that Masaichi Nagata's son, Hidemasa, conceived the idea for Gamera.
Sandy Frank Film Syndication released the film on VHS as Gamera in 1987. This release featured an English dub for the Japanese version and replaced the original soundtrack with a new score. Neptune Media released the original, unaltered Japanese version and the altered U.S. version on VHS in 1999. Alpha Video released a cropped public domain version of the U.S. version on DVD in 2003, along with other public domain Gamera films. Vintage Home Entertainment released Gamera: The Ultimate Collection on May 17, 2005 which included a compilation of the entire film series. Shout! Factory released the original Japanese version of the film on DVD in May 2010. Mill Creek Entertainment released the original Japanese version of the film, combined with other Gamera films, on Blu-ray in April 2014. In 2020, the Japanese version, the American version, and the Anvil Studios English dub were included in the Gamera: Complete Collection Blu-ray box set released by Arrow Video, which included all 12 films in the franchise.
Gamera, the Giant Monster was one of the few films featured twice on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (both times as Gamera), the first time as part of the initial KTMA series (episode 5) and again in Season 3 (episode 2). Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro named the original Gamera film amongst his top five favorite kaiju films. A character named "Baby Gamera", who has an appearance and abilities similar to Daiei's Gamera, appears in the manga and anime of Dragon Ball. In later films, Gamera's characterization was turned into a protector of children. This was due to a positive response from a scene in the 1965 film when Gamera saved Toshio, Yuasa commented, "It led to a great response and we received many letters from children. And so, Gamera became a [sic] children's ally in the end." Yuasa and screenwriter Niisan Takahashi were secretly hoping for that affect and were pleased when their intentions succeeded.
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