Review: ‘Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe’

Everybody's favorite jet-propelled Superturtle is back for a ninth fly-by on its 30th birthday in "Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe," an enjoyably cheesy and action-packed monster mash that zestily revives the Japanese megabeast tradition. With special effects that are a lot closer to the original "Godzilla" than to "Jurassic Park," new outing may prove more satisfying as a nostalgia piece for fans of Gamera's late-'60s heyday than to modern tykes, at least in the West, where dubbing and Japanese cast pose marketing problems. Pic has grossed more than $ 12 million in its native land and could find a certain niche domestically with clever marketing and placement.

Everybody’s favorite jet-propelled Superturtle is back for a ninth fly-by on its 30th birthday in “Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe,” an enjoyably cheesy and action-packed monster mash that zestily revives the Japanese megabeast tradition. With special effects that are a lot closer to the original “Godzilla” than to “Jurassic Park,” new outing may prove more satisfying as a nostalgia piece for fans of Gamera’s late-’60s heyday than to modern tykes, at least in the West, where dubbing and Japanese cast pose marketing problems. Pic has grossed more than $ 12 million in its native land and could find a certain niche domestically with clever marketing and placement.

A heavily armored, fire-breathing, supersonic reptile roused from the ocean floor by an A-bomb in the original 1965 entry, Gamera battled an array of fearsome beasts in six follow-ups through 1971, but has since been seen only in a 1981 anthology, “Supermonster Gamera,” which featured action highlights of the previous installments.

Although just as terrifying and destructive as the other post-nuclear Japanese monsters, Gamera always stood apart from the others by virtue of its moral righteousness. Capable of establishing a bond with youngsters, Gamera intuitively assumed the role of good guy in epic fights with other behemoths, saving Japan from further destruction in the process.

Opponent for the resurrected Gamera is Gyaos, a flying creature with the wingspan of a 747, revived from the third (1967) outing. In the wake of some mysterious incidents involving a grounded plutonium transport, a drifting atoll, a missing professor and disappearing villagers, three giant birds announce their existence with unearthly screeches. Cleverly, the authorities realize that the only place big enough to contain them is the Fukuoka Dome baseball stadium, the movable top to which can shut the beastly trio in.

This somehow attracts the attention of long-dormant Gamera, who lumbers toward the stadium and tears the place apart as two of the birds escape. From here on, thumb-twiddling sequences involving humans serve as filler between monstrous encounters, the last of which features the surviving Gyaos, having decimated much of downtown Tokyo, nesting in the remains of the Tokyo Tower to await its fateful showdown with Gamera.

Despite its horrific countenance and plated shell, Gamera remains one of the most likable of all movie monsters, with agood soul somehow shining through all the armor. Plot inventions pertinent to the human-only sections seem needlessly involved and convoluted, given the elemental oppositions at the story’s heart, and old-school use of models for many sequences is amusingly obvious. But Gamera’s good nature, along with its diverse fighting skills, carry the day.

Capably directed by Shusuke Kaneko, this could not be more different from helmer’s first effort, the exquisitely poetic “Summer Vacation: 1999,” which scored at fests six years ago.

Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe

(JAPANESE)

Production

A Daiei Co. Ltd. production. (International sales: Daiei, Tokyo.) Produced by Tsutomu Tsuchikawa. Executive producers, Hiroyuki Kato, Yasuharu Urushido, Shigeru Ohno. General producer, Yasuyoshi Tokuma. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko. Screenplay, Kazunori Itoh.

Crew

Camera (color), Junichi Tozawa, Kenji Takama; music, Koh Ohtani; art direction, Hajime Oikawa; director of special effects, Shinji Higuchi; special effects camera, Hiroshi Kidokoro; visual effects, Hajime Matsumoto; Dolby sound; second director, Shozo Katashima; line producer, Miyuki Nannri. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 26, 1995. (Also in Fantasy Film Festival, Berlin; Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Yoshinari Yonemori ... Tsuyosi Ihara Naoya Kusanagi ... Akira Onodera Asagi Kusanagi ... Ayako Fujitani Matumi Nagamine ... Shinobu Nakayama
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