Welcome 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!
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.
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!
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.
We get some legit beautiful shots following this. First, we see Asagi hear the news and enter a strange new militarized Japan:
Then we see the military advancing on Gamera at Mt. Fuji:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in government-land, Saito is still being a total dick-slapper, taking the position that Gyaos could be a valuable ally against Gamera.
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?
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.
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.
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–
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.
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.
The missiles connect but don’t kill, so another volley is launched.
Then to rub it in, Gyaos builds her nest in the wreckage of Tokyo Tower.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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?
YAAAAAAAA!! FUCK YEAH! WHOOOOOOO! That did it! Nighty-night, asshole!
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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!