Gamera: Guardian of the TWOniverse (Part 2 of 2)

gamera-guardian-of-the-universe2Welcome to Part Deux of my reveux of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe! If you haven’t read part 1, click here to massage your brain with all the appropriate words, pictures, and hyperlinks. Or don’t! It’s a free fuckin’ country, baby.

How about a little mood music to get you back in the swang of thangs?

Aw yeah, now we’re talkin’! In Part 1 I left us on a cliffhanger! Gyaos was on the verge of eating two of our leads (PLUS LITERALLY A RANDOM BABY), Gamera showed us his altruistic streak, and Asagi showed us the heavy toll she’d have to pay for that altruism! All that plus Roger Ebert’s weird-ass review and my stupid dick jokes await! What a time to be alive!

To recap in a little more detail, we left off when Gamera took Gyaos’ laser with his hand, saving Mayumi, Yoshi, and the baby.  His selflessness comes with a fucked up price though: Asagi gives him strength, but also has to share his pain!

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This is followed up with a montage that shows us emergency broadcasts, transportation closures, monsters on the move, and unprecedented military action.  In the wake of World War II, Japan’s military can only exist as a self-defense force, so any active deployment is a big fuckin’ deal.  It’s a noteworthy wrinkle here, but it’s a huge plot point in Shin Godzilla and even pops up again in this movie’s sequel.

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Though it’s surprisingly “OOO-RAH LET’S KICK ASS” in Gamera 2: Advent of Legion.

The montage effectively relies on footage of real-life military vehicles (shying away from the miniatures so commonly used in the past), and shows Japan’s military gearing up to go bananas on Gamera, despite our heroes’ vouching for him.  Knowing missile banks are tracking Gamera makes his chase with Gyaos through the clouds even more intense!

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There is no universe where Murderdactyl vs. Rocketurtle isn’t the raddest shit imaginable.

Sweet babby Gamera gets creamed with a CGI missile and plummets to Mt. Fuji! The downside to mid-90s CG is obvious: it looks like a clunky gray cartoon.  The upside is pretty obvious too though: it looks way more like accurately aimed ballistics and way less like haphazardly shot fireworks.

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When those are the only two options, one seems just as good as the other.

We get some legit beautiful shots following this.  First, we see Asagi hear the news and enter a strange new militarized Japan:

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Still featuring that ultra 90s yellow-brown filter from the Kiso Mountains scene. Somehow it feels less arbitrary here.

Then we see the military advancing on Gamera at Mt. Fuji:

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Simple color gradient sky! Striking Mt. Fuji silhouette! Gamera seems tiny for the first time! It’s like a fucking painting.  A kick-ass painting.

Asagi’s not about to just let her beastly BFF get punked out by army guys, so she hails a cab and uses her intensity face to talk the cabbie into taking her through the barricades to see Gammy.

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Public transportation workers always fall for the ol’ mysterious gravitas.

Scenes like this make me think of Yuri, the protagonist from GMK. Director Kaneko definitely has a knack for plucky, likable young heroines.  Asagi’s eerie determination instantly garners the cabbie’s respect. When he plows through the blockaded toll both and screams “Oh man I always wanted to do that!” it feels genuine and is a crowd-pleasing “FUCK YEAH!” fist-pump moment.

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Basically this.

Asagi and cabbie arrive on the scene just in time to see Gamera get the shit bombed out of him and fall over on his back.  That’s enough of a bummer, but then Asagi doubles over in agony clutching her tummer.  Then Gyaos pops back in.

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“OH SORRY IS THIS A BAD TIME OR SOMETHING HAHAH JUST KIDDING FUCK YOU”

Gyaos divebombs the Gamster, so Asagi digs deep and gives Gamera the wherewithal to get the fuck outta Dodge through their psychic link.  Gyaos lasers the shit out of Gamera’s (and therefore Asagi’s) arm, but holy balls it was almost way worse.  In classic Gamera fashion, our turtle titan goes to the bottom of the ocean to sleep it off, and Asagi is whisked away to the human equivalent: the hospital.

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I’m not saying Gamera movies are the reason I always take long hot baths whenever I get sick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kinda connection.

Back in government-land, Saito is still being a total dick-slapper, taking the position that Gyaos could be a valuable ally against Gamera.

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Who wouldn’t trust a face like that?

Saito is a slimy schlong to say the least, but he raises a valid point (that also doubles as another overt Jurassic Park reference): Gyaos is deadly, but still an incredibly important scientific discovery. If we found a live T-rex, we wouldn’t just kill it on sight, would we?

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And what would we do if we found T-rex from Orgazmo?

Saito’s also not insane: he agrees to using spotlights to non-lethally ward off Gyaos.  For yet another big Jurassic Park nod, we turn to a nerdy geneticist who shares his findings with Mayumi and Yoshi.  Turns out Gyaos is rocking a single chromosome pair, and is plenty capable of reproducing all on her lonesome.

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Fellas

Mayumi and Yoshi use this revelation to connect the dots: the Atlanteans genetically constructed the Gyaeese, lost control of them, built Gamera to wipe them out, and were too late. Lately we’ve been shitting up our environment with pollution, recreating the Atlantean atmosphere that allowed Gyaeese to run amok back in the day.

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The quick stock footage pollution montage skews a little preachy/Metal Gear Solid cut-sceney, but “CAN WE STOP POISONING OURSELVES” is a solid thing to get a lil’ preachy about.

It’s some bitchin’ backstory that ties everything together perfectly, and bonus, it puts some unique pathos on Gamera. Dude-man failed apocalytpically back in the day, so we’re actively watching his second chance, his one shot at redemption.  It’s powerful stuff, and it’s a character arc I don’t think Godzilla could ever really pull off. At least for now, Gyaos is MIA, so Gamera has a chance to rest up before–

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Fuck.

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FUCK FUCK FUCK FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK. 

Gyaos, like the boys of legend, is back in town.  And it sucks.  While Gammy’s sleeping off his injuries, Gyaos has been gobbling fools up left and right and getting huge.  We actually see her grow on-screen, and it’s a simple, seamless visual effect that raises the stakes nicely.  When she has her big night on the town, we see Gyaos eat a fucking trainful of people, and suddenly Saito and his little governmental butt-buddies are no longer gung-ho about taking Gyaos alive.

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He can’t even shrug like a human.

With an official go-ahead to light Gyaos up like the man-eating, blood-soaked Christmas tree she is, the JSDF launch a volley of heatseeking missiles at her.

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We also meet my favorite tertiary character: Hella Tough JSDF Commander Who Maybe Needs to Wash His Face.

The missiles connect but don’t kill, so another volley is launched.

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Official statement from Gyaos here.

Then to rub it in, Gyaos builds her nest in the wreckage of Tokyo Tower.

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Gyaos’ unrelenting assholery doesn’t just push the narrative forward spectacularly, it also conjures up some of the best, most potent imagery in giant monster filmdom.  It’s not nearly as famous as King Kong atop the Empire State Building or Godzilla gnawing on train cars, but it’s absolutely as powerful.  Visuals like this are why this genre exists, and perfectly encapsulate the surreal, unbridled fantasy only this genre can produce.

Gyaos has effectively established herself as the absolute baddest bitch ever.  With no sign of Gamera, our heroes lose hope hard:

Just one Gyaos has brought this city to its knees.

If Tokyo evacuates, Gyaos will just move on to another city.

In classic kaiju movie fashion, the JSDF refuses to let something as trivial as impossible odds stop them from pressing on, and they plan for a huge assault first thing the next day.

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We get a breather from the mayhem with a quick human moment.  Asagi is back home, sleeping off her injuries (JUST LIKE GAMERA). Naoya (Asagi’s dad) walks into her room, silently contemplating the incredible role his own kid has played in the Earth-shattering events that have happened so far.   There’s even a big Japanese Mary Poppins poster on her door to really drive home that she’s just a nice kid that got caught up in the monster-mashing insanity.  Then the bead starts glowing again.  Maybe it’s purely coincidence, or maybe Naoya’s fatherly love helped bring Asagi back around, which in turn brings Gamera back around.  I hope the latter is the case, because it’s a sweet idea that gets mirrored fantastically toward the end of GMK.

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Sick of me yammering about GMK? Tell me all about it by emailing me here: TuffTitty@GMKRewlz4ever.gov

So Gamera is stirring and Asagi and Naoya meet up with Mayumi and Yoshi at the JSDF’s Tokyo HQ… it can only mean one thing!  WE’RE ABOUT TO ENTER A KAIJU MOVIE GRAND FINALE.

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YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!! 

Gamera pulls from the Mothra vs. Godzilla playbook and makes his big city debut by bursting out of the ground, complete with an awesome, pre-entrance earthquake.  GOTU’s miniature builders are insanely on-point, filling each scene with tons of individual details and foreground elements.  Bicycles, parked cars, mailboxes, garbage cans, all kinds of teeny items go a long way to selling the illusion of a full-sized city. Your brain might not always have time to process them, but they make balls-to-the-wall high-speed airborne chases look plausible:

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ROCK ‘N ROLLLLLLLLL 

This final battle is bitchin’ on a few different levels.  Without anyone saying a word, it fleshes out Gamera as a character a little bit more: he knows he has to destroys Gyaos’ nest and each one of her eggs before he can really deal with her.

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The eggs crashing to the ground and spraying purple goo everywhere is exactly as disgusting as you want it to be.  Also, check out the white car in the foreground! Scale!

Whether it’s intelligence or instinct, it lets you know that Gamera is serious about saving our asses from Gyaeese.  With the Gyaomelettes made, Gammy turns his attention to Gyaos for their climactic battle.  This final fight is super satisfying, and manages to pack in pretty much everything you’d ever want from an airborne kaiju slugfest:

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It’s exhilarating action with real and immediate consequences.  Asagi’s still linked to Gamera after all!  Their midtown melee is a ton of fun to watch, but shit gets crazy when Gamera leads Gyaos out of the city and into low orbit:

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While it (sadly) doesn’t lead to a fight on the Moon, it does lead to the single most insane (attempted) body-slam of all time:

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It’s a move so batshit even Mick Foley would refuse to attempt it.

Gyaos, reasonably, is none-to-pleased to be a participant in Gamera’s suicidal suplex, so she lasers her own leg off to break free:

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Haha, holy shit this movie rules.

All the while Asagi is squirming in agony (because she’s experiencing some version of the re-entry burns and laser blasts that Gamera is), prompting a really intense exchange between Naoya and Asagi: “Why must you share Gamera’s suffering?!” “Gamera needs my strength to keep fighting for all of us!” Which makes you wonder how Asagi will hold up when Gamera takes a faceful of oil refinery:

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It’s not rated R, so you don’t have to worry about seeing Naoya and the gang sprayed with charbroiled Asagoo.

Gyaos re-proves what a prick she is by gleefully lasering into the flames, adding injury to injury.  The helicopter our heroes were cruising around in lands across the bay from the exploding monsters, maintaining minimum safe distance.

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In my monster fighting-induced excitement, I forgot to mention that our human heroes boarded a chopper to try and keep an eye on Gamera and keep Asagi in “telepathic pep talk” range. It’s hard for me to stay focused when mutant dinosaurs are uppercutting each other through buildings.

Sort of proving my “familial bonds give Gamera a boost” theory from earlier, Naoya holds Asagi’s hand, giving her the strength to power up Gammy one last time.  Guess what looks fucking radical?

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Did you guess “Gamera absorbing the explosion that almost killed him and using it to revive himself”?

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If not, I hope you guessed “Gamera BLOWING GYAOS’ FUCKING HEAD OFF.”

YAAAAAAAA!! FUCK YEAH! WHOOOOOOO!  That did it! Nighty-night, asshole!

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Complete with Gamera vs. Gyaos-style flickering laser death throe!

It’s great, it’s super satisfying.  That gif of Gamera spewing the last fireball is dope, but it cuts out one very important element. There’s a zoom-in on Asagi’s eye right before the zoom-out on Gamera’s eye:  Asagi and Gamera smoked Gyaos TOGETHER.

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“Awww, how cute and stupid, they think they can stop us!”

But GOTU doesn’t end with Gamera and Asagi overthrowing world governments as the coolest, weirdest, and deadliest tag-team of all time.  Rather, that last push of psychic bad-assery severs their connection.  The bead goes dark, and Asagi can no longer feel their link.  It’s bittersweet: they don’t have each other’s strength to draw on any more, but they’re both free now too.  The adults acknowledge more monsters might be out there, but Asagi knows Gamera will always come back to help when we need it.

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FUCK YEAH!

So that’s our movie! It rules.  I think it’s my favorite entry in the Kaneko trilogy.  The sequels have more spectacular visuals and wilder action, but GOTU has the tightest story and my favorite human characters.  That said, all three are fantastic, and I’m excited to eventually close out the trilogy with a review of Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.  You know who else liked GOTU?

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Jay Sherman Roger Ebert!

Did he enjoy how it put a fresh spin on classic creature feature tropes? Did he appreciate the practical effects and technical artistry? Was it just a refreshing piece of popcorn fantasy?

Nope. He has a fan theory that Gamera runs on farts, and he is very pleased with his fan theory.

His praise is mostly backhanded, largely dipping into the old “it’s a bad movie but it’s a fun movie” sentiment.   He makes an interesting point by comparing GOTU to Air Force One: both are over-the-top action films, but one has uniqueness, fun, and charm on its side, and it’s not Air Force One.

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Ebert might be a little too harsh on AF1.  It’s not the best flick ever, but  it inspired a couple missions in Perfect Dark, has a classic one-liner and stars Harrison Ford while he still gave a shit!

A pretty standard mainstream review so far, right?  Don’t worry, here’s the next paragraph:

Now, then. Considering that Gamera never needs to refuel, we must assume he is organic and not mechanical. Therefore, the jet blasts come not from burning petrol, but from the byproducts of organic material. This is not a matter of shame for the Japanese, who are more frank about bodily processes, and even have a best-selling children’s book named The Gas We Pass. Yes, Gamera is powered by farts.

His weird logic leaps and made-up plot points don’t end there though.  He spends the rest of the review trying to remember what happened in the movie he just watched and whether or not bats lay eggs.  It’s an incredibly strange (and short, if you’re curious) read and oftentimes it’s the same old dismissive shit every monster fan has heard a million times before.  That said, the end result is an undeniable net positive: the most famous, prolific film critic of all time gave GOTU his seal of approval! That’s nothing to sneeze (or fart) at.

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If I had unlimited time and resources I’d release “The Ebert Cut” of GOTU that just adds in fart noises every time Gammy lifts off.

I appreciate the importance of GOTU getting the Ebert bump, but my praise will remain earnest and fart-free.  Kaneko and co. have crafted a kaiju classic by way of an ideal franchise reboot.  GOTU stays true to Gamera’s best, most iconic qualities, effectively updates them for modern audiences, and tells its own new story all at the same time.  The monster action is top notch, the human story is gripping, they intertwine with each other terrifically, and every frame is clearly crafted by folks that love the character and the genre.  Vive la Gamera!

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9 thoughts on “Gamera: Guardian of the TWOniverse (Part 2 of 2)

  1. I had no idea that Ebert was such an earthy guy… Looking forward to Revenge of Iris. I like the third Gamera movie, although I’ve always wondered if we lose part of the plot in the translation.

  2. As usual, great review! I know I say this all the time, but I adore your style. Gamera deserves to have this sort of enthusiasm from a lot more people. Cause Gamera rules.

    To add to the movie’s badassery, I’m gonna share some track names from the score–
    Ominous Bird Appears/ Pursuit
    Looming Fear
    Slaughtered Nest
    Gyaos’ City of Death
    “He’s Here… !”

    Do you know why it is they shoot random fireworks and don’t actually aim at the monsters? Because there are people inside those costumes! I forget which film it was but Haruo Nakajima asked Eiji Tsuburaya about how powerful the fireworks they kept shooting at him. Tsuburaya responded with something to the effect of “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” They shot a firework at a 2×4. Firework went THROUGH the 2×4.

    “GOTU doesn’t end with Gamera and Asagi overthrowing world governments as the coolest, weirdest, and deadliest tag-team of all time.”

    Um… screw that CGI-fest Kadokawa is/was trying to get off the ground. I want to see THIS movie. Make that shit happen, Kadokawa!

    I remember back when I first saw “The Making of Gamera: Giant Monster Mid-Air Battle” back in… ’94? early 95? I forget which. It was before I saw the movie, though. The show opened by showing clips from the 8 previous Gamera movies. And it showed Gamera run into Zanon and the resultant explosion… then it faded to new footage of Gamera laying on the bottom of the sea with this giant gash in him. I went “Holy shit! They’re really going to take up from ‘Super Monster’! Gamera’s not dead! He isn’t!”

    Then I actually see “Giant Monster Mid-Air Battle”…
    Me (tearfully): Fuck… (or nearest 14 year old equivalent)

    Were you also aware that Kaneko and company based “Gamera” on “War of the Gargantuas”? At least, that’s what they claim.

    And to answer Brian’s question above, yes, a lot of “Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys” literally hinges upon you being Japanese to understand it, especially the hopeful ending (you heard me).

    • Thanks Ted! Us Gam-fans gotta stick together!

      I always just assumed fireworks were just too unpredictable to aim accurately, hence their haphazard firing. Knowing that the shots missing was intentional for the suit-actors’ safety is a pretty huge game changer. Nakajima’s such a professional bad-ass I don’t think he would have flinched if he got domed with a firework anyway. Dude’s crotch was on fire in Varan and he still waited for them to call cut!

      I would LOVE a Gamera sequel that’s in-universe with all the Showa flicks. Maybe a comic? …Seems to be working for Adam West-era Batman! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_'66)

      “Were you also aware that Kaneko and company based “Gamera” on “War of the Gargantuas”? At least, that’s what they claim.”

      I definitely don’t see any direct connections, maybe they mean in spirit/tone? I’d buy that.

      Glad to know Brian and I aren’t the only ones to get tripped up by G3!

      • Oh man, I highly recommend tracking this one down and giving it a watch, especially if you’ve seen 2 and 3!

        I would be excited about the new Gamera movie if I knew it was actively in production. I haven’t heard anything about it since the New York Comic Con concept trailer, which makes me think it didn’t get picked up. I DEFINITELY want to be wrong about that though!

    • It’s a terrific line and another clear nod to Jurassic Park (it mirrors JP’s Disneyland/Pirates of the Carrbbean don’t eat people! conversation). Ultimately they’re VERY different movies, but GOTU owes a lot to JP. Where lesser movies would fall into rip-off territory, GOTU makes it work as satisfying homage. It’s a familiar foundation to build crazy fantasy off of.

      And it’s corny, but I like when Yoshi says he wants to show Mayumi around a monster-free Tokyo. It’s the good kind of corny!

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