Daikaijû Gamera (Gamera: The Giant Monster) (1965)

I suppose you could say it is a tradition.

Although it isn’t too hard to spot the moment when it actually began.  When Toho’s first major monster epic, Godzilla, first came to the United State, the U.S. producer added a lot of new footage with Raymond Burr as a reporter (with the funniest moment coming in an intense scene in the hospital between the male and female leads which ends up with Burr crammed uncomfortably into a love scene.

Godzilla became such a big star in his own right that they never felt the need to foist Raymond Burr on him again until they tried to reboot the series after nearly a decade’s absence with Godzilla 1985.

But this strategy did later become a staple with all those Super Sentai “Power Rangers” shows, and with the Korean Tokusatsu comedy, Power King.

So it seems almost fitting that The Big G’s biggest competitor, Gamera, also came to the U.S. with a lot of new, inserted footage.

In this case, they replaced all the scenes with the main characters and made Brian Donlevy the star.

But the good news is that Sandy Frank (who Americanized a lot of Japanese Toksatsu shows) put out an uncut dubbed version of the original in the Eighties.

And, even better, for those of us adventurous enough to watch a film with subtitles, you can now find the original Japanese version.

I’ll be honest.  I never though much of the Gamera films.   But seeing Daikaiju Gamera the way the director, Noriaki Yuasa, intended is a bit of a revelation.  It has a surprisingly strong plot (for a kaiju movie), where a lot of separate threads come together, where there are unresolved mysteries (like the origin of those jet bombers), and which offers us a lot of hints about Gamera’s origin without feeling the need to spell it all out for us (including the first reference to Atlantis, which will become far more important in later films).

Okay, okay, the cute little kid who’s convinced that Gamera is his buddy and pal, his pet turtle grown big is annoying.  But the kid who idolizes the monster is always annoying in these things, and he isn’t as epically annoying as that kid in Godzilla Versus Hedorah.  He is absurdly willing to do really stupid and potentially lethal things, but I think that goes with the job description.

But the film also finds a few fairly clever ideas, like a monster who eats flames (something which later appears in Reign of Fire), or their organized plan to keep Gamera well fed until their secret plan is ready to go, or the truly wacky solution all the world’s most brilliant scientists arrive at.

What did come as a major surprise, however, were the impressive miniatures and monster effects.  They aren’t quite up to the Toho standard, but they suprised me with how good they proved to be.  I can’t remember any of the other Gamera films which looked this good.

Of course, that might just be prejudice on my part, because I knew the early films in the series were all aimed at children.  I may need to go back and reassess the rest of the series one of these days.

Although I’ll confess that I have more enthusiasm for the Hesei era revival that followed Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.

Now that trilogy of films I’m definitely going to revisit one of these days…

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2 thoughts on “Daikaijû Gamera (Gamera: The Giant Monster) (1965)

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