Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Class: User
Author: Tim85
Score: (4.5/5)
February 18, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Like a lot of die-hard Godzilla fans, I ignored almost all things Gamera; passing the monster off as nothing more than a cheap Godzilla rip off. The only viewing of the Showa series was in clip form and what I saw further distanced me from the monster. When Gamera: Guardian of the Universe came out, I passed on it and the rest of the trilogy, deeming it not worth my time. However, after seeing Shusuke Kaneko's phenomenal job on Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), the best Godzilla film of the Millennium series; I began to wonder: "If he did this grand of a job on Godzilla, what did he do for Gamera?" Soon my interest peeked, and I quickly acquired the Gamera trilogy box set and was astonished at what I saw in this movie.

In the Bering Sea, a freighter carrying plutonium runs aground on a strange atoll. The navigator, Yoshinari Yonemori, offers to help in the investigation of the atoll, feeling responsible for their running aground. They soon discover that the atoll is moving! Meanwhile strange bird-like creatures are attacking villagers on a small Japanese island. After the disappearance of a renowned ornithologist, Professor Hirata, Mayumi Nagamine, a colleague of his, goes to investigate along with Inspector Osako. They find the island ravaged and discover a large mound of droppings, signaling that the bird responsible is quite large. In the droppings, she finds items that belonged to the ornithologist, which shows that he was a victim to the large creature. When she goes looking for it, Osako is none too thrilled with the idea. Suddenly, one flies overhead, and they give chase in a helicopter. When Mayumi takes photos of the creature, the flash causes the animal to go crazy, showing that it is sensitive to bright light. They soon discover that there are three creatures altogether. When they report their findings, the Cabinet gives the order to capture the monsters, pressured by the Chairman of the EPA.

The investigation team, led by Dr. Kusanagi and accompanied by Yoshinari, locates the atoll. During their search, they find several beads that resemble a comma and a large tablet with writing on it. They take pictures of their finds. As they try to unearth the tablet, Yoshinari touches the artifact and it shatters. The atoll begins to quake and Yoshinari falls into the water. While underwater, he sees a giant creature swim out of the landmass.

While trying to figure out how to capture the flying creatures, Osako suggests to Mayumi that they use the baseball stadium dome in Fukuoka. That night, the JSDF uses lights and tranquilizer-laced meat to lure the three into the stadium. The creatures take the bait. Yoshinari arrives with news that the creature he saw is headed this way, but the dome closes too slowly. The Defense Force opens fire on the creatures with tranquilizers. One escapes while the others are subdued and placed into cages. A JSDF helicopter chases the escapee and when it nears the bay, a giant turtle-like creature springs out the water and smacks the bird, killing it. The monster makes it way to the stadium where the other two are held. The stadium is evacuated and the birds awaken. They fire a beam like projection from their mouths that slices the bars of the cages and they escape from the stadium and the presence of this new monster. The giant turtle withdraws into its shell, sprouts jets from the openings, spins like a flying saucer and takes off after the birds.

The next evening, Yoshinari visits Dr. Kusanagi's house and discusses the recent events. The writing on the tablet is translated from pictures that were taken before it shattered, and the text reveals the origins of the creatures. The giant turtle is called Gamera; the bird-like creatures are named Gyaos. An ancient Atlantis-like civilization called the Mu Empire created the Gyaos to eliminate pollution. The creatures instead began to feast on the people. They created Gamera to destroy them, but unfortunately, the empire was destroyed and the Gyaos were put to rest along with the other monster. Yonemori gives Asagi, Dr. Kusanagi's daughter, one of the beads as a surprise. While she's holding it, the bead glows, and a psychic link forms between Asagi and Gamera.

Mayumi discovers the nest of the Gyaos and finds that the other nestling creatures were victims of cannibalism. The JSDF decides to turn their focus on attacking Gamera, because of the creature's large stature and the possibility of increasing property damage. The flying creatures are found at Mt. Fuji, snacking on the locals. Gamera arrives and saves Yoshinari, Mayumi, and a young boy twice (once by killing one of them with a plasma fireball and from a laser beam fired by the second Gyaos). This convinces Yoshinari that Gamera is truly an ally. The other creature takes off with Gamera close behind. Dr. Kusanagi and Mayumi try to explain that the remaining Gyaos is bigger and harder to capture, but the EPA chairman ignores them. Then, some not-so-good news is found. Gyaos have one chromosome of which they can alter the structure, which in turn can alter their gender, which in turn can mean rapid reproduction. Just as Gamera catches up with the Gyaos, the JSDF shoots him down. When on the ground, they open fire on the creature. Gyaos appears and attacks Gamera as well. Asagi, violating an order to stay away from the area, witnesses this event close up. Feeling the pain that Gamera experiences, thanks to the psychic link, she cries for him to fly away. Gamera gains enough energy from her cry to escape.

The remaining Gyaos grows bigger, becoming Super Gyaos, and attacks Tokyo, chowing down on the populace. The JSDF realizes after the massacre that it's Gyaos, not Gamera, who is their enemy. An attack on the creature is unsuccessful and topples Tokyo Tower. That night, Gyaos builds a nest on the fallen structure. The next morning Gamera shows up and destroys the nest along with two eggs. The two engage in combat, taking it all the way into the stratosphere. Gamera, after ripping the right leg of Gyaos, crashes into an oil refinery. Gyaos lights the area on fire with its beam. Gamera converts the fire into power and unleashes a plasma fireball large enough to destroy the Gyaos. Gamera heals the wounds that Asagi received during the recent confrontations and swims away.

Characterization is something that's sometimes non-existent in kaiju eiga, and this film bucks the trend. Kaneko creates 3-dimentional characters, as opposed to the too-often-seen 2-dimensional mold. Yoshinari Yonemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara) is a guilt-ridden ship navigator who becomes entangled with the whole ordeal between Gamera and Gyaos, and shows an interest in ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama). Mayumi is a determined woman who'll stop at nothing to find the reason for Professor Hirata's disappearance and pushes the measure to attack the Gyaos instead of Gamera. Inspector Osako (Yukijiro Hotaru) seeks to find who's responsible for Prof. Hirata disappearing (and becomes the equivalent of Shaggy from Scooby Doo when Mayumi wishes to find the creature). Dr. Naoyo Kusanagi (Akira Onodera) is an expert who's sought to investigate the moving atoll, discovers the origins of Gamera and Gyaos, pushes to attack Gyaos with Mayumi, but despite his successes, he is a father who knows little about his daughter, Asagi (Ayako Fujitani). Asagi herself becomes the all-important human link between the title monster and the humans he protects.

Another element Kaneko brings to Gamera: GOTU is something that hasn't been touched on since the first two Heisei Godzilla films: realism. The monsters' origins are well fleshed out. They don't seem to just show up out of nowhere and for no reason. The comment that the attack on Gamera will be the first military action for the JSDF is nice touch. It reinforces the idea that Japan hasn't been attacked before; since moviegoers know Japan as the monster capital of the world. Something else of interest is the specifics of the evacuation aspect. This is something that is rarely, if ever, touched on in a lot of kaiju movies; and his showing the stock market dropping is a logical impact that hasn't been mentioned since The Return of Godzilla (1984). Another note of realism is politicians and their ignorance to bigger problems. This is shown when the minister of defense continues to focus on Gamera, not Gyaos, and the EPA chairman continues to push for the capture of the Gyaos. When confronted with the argument that the Gyaos pose a threat to people, the Chairman argues that a T-Rex would also be a threat and rhetorically inquired whether or not it too should be captured for study as well. What about Gamera? Why not try to study him? Sure the Gyaos are eating people, but Gamera is causing property damage. Destroy it! This does not make sense. While this may sound like a negative aspect of the film, in reality it further supports what Kaneko is try to say about politicians and their double standards.

When it comes to special effects, this film blows majority of the Heisei Godzilla series out of the water. The monsters were so life like; it's almost like they were real. The blending of the CGI with the standard methods of kaiju performances was wonderful. The CGI blended well with the scenes; it never looked out of place. The animations for Gamera's plasma fireballs and Gyaos' laser beams were beautiful. The scenes with both monsters and humans were spectacularly realistic, especially the scene where Gamera blocks the Gyaos' laser beam from hitting the three humans with his hand. The scenes of the Gyaos eating the humans were well done and the sound it made was really creepy. In flight, Gamera's jets and flying saucer takeoff were absolutely wonderful. The Gyaos' flying was realistic in the fact that they flapped their wings in flight, the opposite of which is a condition that has plagued the genre. The effects weren't perfect, however. In some scenes of the Gyaos flying, the movement of the creatures was choppy, but these kinds of scenes can be found sometimes in even today's movies and do not distract from the viewing experience for the casual viewer. If anyone else can find a flaw in other special effects scenes beside these, they're looking too hard.

The music was mesmerizing. Every track fit the mode of the scene. It was rarely too loud or too soft for the respective scenes; it was just right when it needed to be. Another mention of music is the lack thereof in the end of the final battle between Gamera and Super Gyaos. The silence in the scene really built up the suspense of the final turnout to the battle.

Now of course, it's time for the kaiju. First the star of the film, Gamera. He was absolutely wonderful. His look was great: a fierce, yet caring appearance. He looked ferocious in battle, but when he showed concern (like when he saved the humans and in the end, when he looked at Asagi and thanked her by healing her wounds) it came through. His plasma fireballs are better in many ways then his old flamethrower breath (Showa series). His flight was more believable and he does not get dizzy when he flies like a flying saucer; it's merely a faster way to fly than his jets. The reason he defends people is because it is his reason for being. It's not because he cares deeply for children (à la the Showa Series); instead, he cares for all of humanity. The other monster of the picture is Gyaos, a former Rodan rip; now a respectable kaiju, like Gamera. The creatures look hideous. These things are the stuff of nightmares. They look like a cross between a reptile and a bat that has a flattened head (that looks like it crashed into something). When the Super Gyaos flies next to the train with its blood red eyes, it's down right chilling. The battle between the two creatures was wonderful, both the ground and aerial sides. Super Gyaos, a flying creature, performing a well-executed ground battle is something that hasn't been seen before.

While this film is more lighthearted than Godzilla (1954) or Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999), or even the often-overlooked Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996) for that matter, it is still way more mature then the kiddy orientated Showa series. This movie has accomplished something that few kaiju films have; it has been praised by American critics. This is a rare honor indeed. Kaneko gave Gamera something that many people thought was impossible: an honorable reputation as a movie monster. If you are a kaiju eiga fan, I not only recommend seeing this film, I recommend buying it and the rest of the trilogy. The series only gets better. This movie is not to be missed.