Get out of your Gamera the Cave, it’s time for Gamera the Brave!

gamera-the-brave1The on-going experiment of reviewing the entire original Ultraman series has been an awesome ride, but it also has the weird side effect of pushing everything else back.  I didn’t even review a Godzilla movie until we were halfway through the year! When Godzilla gets pushed back, of course Gamera also gets pushed back.

But no more!  This month I’m checkin’ in with everybody’s favorite turtle titan by reviewing 2006’s overlooked Gamera the Brave.  It’s an incredibly heartfelt little monster movie that sidesteps the continuity of Shusuke Kaneko’s prior, terrific Gamera trilogy (I’ve reviewed parts 1 and 2!)… while still kind of paying homage to it!  It’s a fresh take on the character… that also feels like a spiritual successor to old school Gamera too!

We’ll dig into all that, plus GMK Godzilla’s secret presence in the film, Optimus Prime’s audio-only sorta-cameo, how it inadvertently spawned some obnoxious clickbait, and a whole bunch of other shit!  I hope you’re feeling (the) Brave friend, because it’s gonna be A BANG UP WORK (62)!

First, some teaser-trailers! Gamera the Brave didn’t have a major English language release, so these are all in Japanese only:

The first teaser is pretty genius: it starts by hinting at the big, bad-ass, monstrous Gamera we know and love right before cutting to the tiny, adorable critter we get for the first half of the movie.  The second trailer is better at capturing the whole spirit of the movie in a nutshell: it’s a magical coming-of-age story that segues into an exciting, big-hearted (but still mostly family-friendly) kaiju thriller… with a toy commercial tacked onto the end.

The last two teasers heavily feature the movie’s airy pop ballad “Eternal Love,” which is a lovely piece of gentle fluff, but it sounds a little weird when it’s accompanied by the kid protagonist screaming his fucking guts out for Gamera to fight for his life.

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“GAMERA I WON’T LET YOU KILL YOURSELF!” “🎶Kashi no nihongo-yaku/I’ll be by your side♫”

Speaking of movie music, the film’s score is by Yoko Ueno who’s best known for her work in Japanese bands like Oranges & Lemons, Vita-Nova, and Marsh-Mallow.  I uh… don’t fully know what that means, but she put together a pretty bad-ass soundscape for GTB.  The big early stand-out is “1973, Gamera Dies.”

It’s a goosebump-raising blend of ancient Japanese instrumentation, eerie reverberating vocals, and dramatic synths. I’ll get more into how perfectly it scores that scene a little later, because as much as I love that piece, I also want to throw some love at “Please Send it to Toto!”

Overall it’s my favorite chunk of the soundtrack, perfectly capturing the childhood bravery that forms the satisfying emotional core of the film. “I’m going to stay and stand up for what’s right even though it’s scary and grown-ups say it’s too dangerous,” somehow this short piece is able to communicate that insanely specific and complex feeling. The additional instrumentation (from “1973, Gamera Dies”) that comes in at about 1:05 connects the kids’ down-to-Earth determination to Gamera’s mysterious power and fighting spirit. I really love this theme.

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The other major creative roles were all new names for me too. Ryuta Tasaki directed, and he’s mostly known for directing a shit-ton of Super Sentai (the show that gets turned into Power Rangers) and Kamen Rider stuff.  Yukari Tatsui penned the script, and Isao Kaneko directed special effects.  Tatsui’s resume is mostly drama/romance stuff that’s way outside of my knowledge base, but Kaneko was an assistant special effects director on Godzilla vs. Biollante.  Franchise experience or lack thereof doesn’t seem to be a big issue though: these folks made a hell of a Gamera movie:

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Look at that punim!

So yeah, let’s dive into said movie! We start with a prologue in 1973! The sleepy fishing hamlet of Shima is ablaze as grumpy old man Gamera does battle with a scad of blood-thirsty winged terrors, Gammy’s perennial nemeses, Gyaos(es)!  Townspeople are running for their lives as their home burns to the ground, all in gorgeous slow-mo, all accompanied by the eerie opening strains of  “1973, Gamera Dies.”

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It’s EXACTLY the kind of terrifying, face-trampling chaos that you expect when giant monsters do battle… or when Nintendo releases new hardware.

It’s an immediate and enthralling intro to the world of this film, and it reminded me of the apocalyptic mysticism of the Kaneko trilogy and even the gritty, human-level horror of the 2015 proof of concept trailer.  It, like most of the film, is beautifully shot and it’s all played for maximum wonder and drama. The camera follows one kid through the chaos, and when he looks up at the Gyaoses swarming the local lighthouse I couldn’t help but jot down “Steven Spielberg’s Gamera.”  Like the comparisons to the Kaneko movies and the 2015 trailer I mean this as complimentary as possible.

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Yes, this movie is kaiju E.T..  That is super a good thing in my book.

Gamera and the Gyaoses all look totally fucking rad, by the way.  The Gyaoses look like they’re straight out of the Kaneko movies (so perfectly gross and evil and well-animated), but geriatric Gamera is a whole new design… that I also love.  Check out Grampera!

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Early in the battle he tries to make the Gyaoses go away by giving them Werther’s Originals.

I…. want a whole movie with this grouchy old fucker.  One of his tusks is busted and he just has this great old man body language and pissy demeanor. Sadly we don’t get a lot of time with him but every second of it is pretty sick.  Gam blasts a Gyaos out of the sky, they down Gammy and start drinking his blood like the fucking soulless ghouls they are, and Gamera gets back to his feet with one last trick up his turtley sleeve.

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“IF I CAN’T MAKE IT TO CRACKER BARREL IN TIME FOR THE EARLY BIRD SPECIAL NOBODY CAN, DADGUM IT!”

Gamera sacrifices himself to save humanity from the scourge of the Gyaoses, and everybody cheers!  …Except one kid.

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His somber reaction is the basis for an awesome time-jump crosscut.

It’s now 2006 and the guy standing there is Kousuke Aizawa (Kanji Tsuda), the father of Toru Aizawa (Ryo Tomioka). They’re there to visit the grave of Toru’s recently deceased mother, but it takes the elder Aizawa a moment to collect himself. Things don’t go much better from here: Kousuke wants Toru to talk to his mom and Toru’s like “Nah I’m good.” Toru’s internal monologue is even bleaker: he knows that no matter what lovely things Dad says about Mom watching them from heaven, she’s really just a pile of bones in this little tomb. It’s worth noting that Toru isn’t a 14 year-old wearing tons of eyeliner and a Morrisey t-shirt, but a decidedly non-goth 10 year-old:

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Though this shot is leaning dangerously close to album-cover territory.

This is their first summer without her and after this awkward exchange they head back into town.  I always love kaiju stories that can include a grounded slice of life and Gamera the Brave brings it.  We get a glimpse of their quaint town and it gives off a really charming Ponyo-ish vibe.

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Studio Ghibli (the animation studio that made Ponyo and the similarly wonderful Spirited AwayMy Neighbor Totoro, and more) is actually a good reference point for the film as a whole too: the themes and story beats of Gamera the Brave don’t feel that far removed from Ghibli’s trademark child-centered adventure whimsy and magical realism.  Again, that’s a really good thing in my book.  And in the old story-telling tradition of kids embarking on secret quests, Toru spots something mysterious glinting on the island near where Gamera died.

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Also you can super tell this was made in 2006 because they went nuts with that yellow filter everybody was using.

Toru’s dad runs a rustic little seaside diner because Gamera the Brave is trying to make me OD on slice-of-life everyday charm.  Little does GTB know that I am Frank the Tank when it comes to relatable quaintness in genre films:

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Me after downing an entire keg of quirky small towns, eccentric but good-hearted locals, and goofy village traditions. I chug a flaskful of the town from Gremlins every day for breakfast.

This first scene at the diner gives us a glimpse into Toru and Kousuke’s everyday life AND they squeeze in some sneaky world building.  We hear the evening news playing on one of the TVs in the background and they go into a story about how the Japanese government is shutting down the Unusual Organism Task Force due to budget cuts. The scene also shows us how happy all the local yokels are that the diner is open again, before the evening news ominously reports a string of shipwrecks over the last few weeks that are getting closer and closer to Japan. We got like four story beats out of some schmucks naturally shooting the shit in a little diner… I dig that efficiency, even though newsbreaks are kind of a story-telling cheat.

Except in the case of Robocop where newsbreaks are elevated to satire/world building perfection.

Gamera the Brave takes its time and lets shit breathe, which I really appreciate.  It introduces characters and themes in a deliberate, meaningfully paced way–this makes them feel fuller and matter later.  We get brief scenes with Toru that show us how he is with other kids and how he’s handling life without Mom on his own.  Friends at the beach accidentally joke about his mom but he brushes it off and they quickly go back to playfully trying to take each other’s shorts off.

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Though based on what I’ve read about Japanese children that’s actually pretty tame.

Toru also flashes back to his Mom calling him “Toto”, and we meet the girl next door, Mai Nishio (played by Kaho.  Just Kaho.  Like Madonna!). Their relationship is pretty complex considering it’s within a kid’s monster movie.  Mai’s a little older so she kind of treats Toru like a little brother, but they’re also really close friends, maybe even budding romance close(?).  She’s also well aware of Toru’s mom’s death, so she wants to be there for him while he’s grieving, but also in a surrogate mother kind of way.

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Plus she’s going in for heart surgery soon.  She has a lot going on.

Toru goes off on his own the next day and swims to the island that kept glittering at him. He finds the source of the seductive sparkle: an egg sitting on top of a weird red stone thing that hatches immediately.

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Toru better understand how lucky he is: in any other movie “fast hatching mystery egg” means certain gruesome death.

An adorable, more or less normal-looking (it has the same belly markings as Grampera!) turtle pops out. Toru is instantly enamored, so we jump back to his dad and Mai’s dad hanging out in the jewelry shop he runs for some exposition.

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“Some real nice looking exposition you got there!” “Oh thanks! It’s been flying off the shelves.”

Mai’s dad, Osamu Nishio (played by Susumu Terajima, who’s made over 100 film appearances[!!!] including Ichi the Killer) explains that he’s turning his last scarlet pearl into a necklace for Mai.  Turns out that scarlet pearls only appeared in the bay the year that Gamera blew himself up: they made their little town famous and provided the cash flow needed to rebuild the village and make Osamu’s business a successful one. The necklace is a good luck charm for Mai because holy shit she’s getting invasive heart surgery at 13.

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Plot twist, Mai is a lifelong Chicago Bears fan.

Since this movie gives its characters and story beats time to marinate we see Mai pensively go for walks and watch sunsets while Toru bonds with the baby Gamera that he’s dubbed “Toto.” It fleshes out the characters and their moods and captures that totally unique vibe of quiet downtime during childhood summer vacation.  Those “endless,” “boring,” lazy days that we took for granted and won’t ever get back.

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I swear I didn’t mean for that last sentence to read like such a fucking bummer. Whoops!

Toru wakes up to find Toto has gotten bigger over night and we get some really fun physical comedy bits when Kousuke barges in to clean Toru’s room. Since they live above the restaurant, Toru’s not allowed to have a pet at all, let alone a loose turtle that keeps getting bigger and probably just poops wherever the fuck he wants. So Toru’s gotta lightning fast come up with some kind of way to hide Toto!

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Quick Toru, dad’s grabbing the bedspread!

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AW FUCK!

Oh no! Now dad’s shaking the bejeezus out of the bedspread! If only your constant rancid night-farts didn’t necessitate this vigorous airing out, Toru!

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Hahaha hooray!  Toto can putter around on a whimsical little fart-cloud! Roger Ebert would be so happy!    He makes a funny faint little “wahhhhhh” sound when he floats through the air and–

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Getting scared shitless by air-turtles probably isn’t great for the ol’ ticker, Mai!

We get three solid, sweet little goofball slapstick moments in a row and they also serve the story functions of showing Toto’s slow growth into Gamera and his reveal to Toru’s closest friends.

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AND it also reveals Toru’s amazing “A BANG UP WORK 62” shirt. I want that shirt.

Toru realizes that the whole “secret flying pet turtle” thing probably isn’t going to work out, so he takes Toto down to the beach to set him “free.” We know how that’s going to go though:

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Turtle suicide by truck, natch.

Toto is a stubborn shit that loves Toru, so he (slowly) follows him home from the beach, and luckily Toru’s there to save his slow ass from the truck.  If anything, this aborted attempt at cutting Toto loose just makes them even tighter bros.

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Yep, a real BANG UP WORK, idiots.

The next day Toru goes to hang out with his friends at the skate park and Toto gets into wacky mischief!

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Goddamn if I don’t love some wacky mischief!

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A billion bonus points if said wacky mischief can be cross-cut with similar happenings elsewhere!

Smart choices in music and match-cutting to the kids skateboarding (and occasionally eating shit) keep the “turtle in trouble” scenes light and funny instead of scary and sad.  These choices save this sequence because when a realistic-looking little turtle gets accidentally stomped on by an adult man, my natural reaction is “OH MY GOD THAT TURTLE IS FUCKING DEAD” instead of “gee whiz how fun and goofy!” One gag is so good they used (a shortened version of) it in the trailer:

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This eerily familiar-looking knife falls right in front of Toto and spooks his shit bad.

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Toto’s like “Yeah no dude.”

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FIYAAAAAAAAAA

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“….?”

It’s worth noting that Toto makes a bunch of different adorable squeaks, growls, and purrs.  Sure, it wouldn’t make any sense for a normal turtle, but Toto is some kind of magic super-turtle! Speaking of how awesome Toto is, Toru finally decides to reveal him to his two buddies Ishimaru and Katsuya.  Mai is not in love with this idea but Toru goes ahead and does it anyway. Hey I know, let’s check in with our villain kaiju!!

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It’s a classic, tragic tale.  A man in dire need of a rum ham

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…becomes someone else’s rum ham

That’s right, those mysterious shipwrecks aren’t so mysterious now!  The government is investigating these (surprisingly gruesome for kid’s movie) disappearances, but in a rather Jaws-mayor-like fashion they are not interested in any kaiju-based “speculation.”

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Can you blame them for following in the footsteps of the Jaws mayor though?  That suit is fucking gangster.

Back in Shima, Mai confronts Toru with her concerns.  She’s pretty sure Toto’s going to grow up to be a Gamera and she has the computer print-out of Wikipedia to prove it:

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Bonus, we get a clear-ish shot of Grampera!

Toru and Mai talk it out, and Toru assures Mai that Toto isn’t a Gamera, and everything’s going to be A-OK.  “Nothing strange will happen, I promise!” he says, inspiring confidence and faith!  He immediately follows this sentiment with “Uh oh!”

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Toto has grown almost as huge as the dumps I take after eating Red Robin!

Toru and his buddies have a midnight rendezvous and quickly come up with a delightfully kid-centric way to discreetly get Toto to their clubhouse:

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Skateboard and blanket, baby!

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Once Toto’s secured in the clubhouse, Mai confronts Toru again about the whole “you’re harboring a baby Gamera and pretty soon that’s gonna be a fuckin’ problem bro” thing. Toru gets upset and we finally start to understand why Toru’s in Gamera denial (seriously I would be so fucking jazzed to hang out with baby Gamera).  Toru keeps insisting that Toto’s not a Gamera because Gamera’s a monster and monsters famously (even in-universe) fight to the death. Toru can’t deal with the thought of losing someone he loves again, so he’s trying to convince himself that his flying, fire-breathing, magic turtle is definitely a normal turtle that is not Gamera.  

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Their argument ends on a bitter note and the movie does a quietly gorgeous job of visually illustrating the rift between them.

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But Toru finds out about Mai’s surgery the next morning! Toru gives Mai the big red stone Toto’s egg was resting on for good luck.  Mai puts on a brave face and says what she’s “really” worried about is her “two Totos” while she’s away.

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Then Toto goes missing!  What a shitty week for Toru!  Toto had been acting weird when they were hanging out at the beach (almost as if Toto was somehow aware of and focused on the sea monster that’s been eating people 😉 😉 ;)), and now he’s gone without a trace!

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Obviously the solution is passing leash laws for magical super-turtles.

Toru, Ishimaru and Katsuya search for Toto in the pouring rain, Toru has a nightmare about baby Toto flying off over the horizon, and it’s a pretty huge bummer for everybody.  Eventually the kids regroup in their depressingly turtle-free clubhouse and their week gets even shittier when they hear the ominous warning sirens howling in the distance.

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“What’s up dildos? You know it wouldn’t be a heartwarming childrens’ adventure fantasy without a bloodthirsty murder monster!”

ZEDUS IS HERE TO EAT US! </rhyme>. Everybody’s scrambling to get the fuck out of Dodge. Toru and his buddies manage to meet up with Kousuke and get out of harm’s way before they get chowed on like person-shaped peanut butter M&Ms.

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ZEDUS CHRIST!

It’s pretty goddamn gruesome, especially considering that up til now this has mostly been a really sweet “a boy and his ______” story.  Zedus graphically chews up and swallows townspeople: it’s a startling visual that’s almost entirely achieved through Zedus suit actor Mizuho Yoshida’s terrific body language. OH BY THE WAY ZEDUS IS PLAYED BY THE SAME FUCKING DUDE WHO PLAYED GODZILLA IN GMK

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I am known to calmly and rationally enjoy GMK and its rendition of Godzilla in a very reserved way.

I say “almost entirely” achieved by Yoshida’s suit acting because we get an additional, ghastly visual cue:

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BLOODY. TEEFERS.

Fuckin’ yikers man!  I’ve watched a lot of giant monster movies, including ones that star people-eaters, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before! Bravo! This is potent, serious shit, doubly so considering the light-hearted fun that came before it! Ultimately I have kind of mixed feelings on this.  I love when kids’ movies have real stakes, real drama and solid (but safe-ish) scares.  Good kids’ movies do not talk down to their audience: it’s why all the best kids’ films “just happen” to also be great family/general audience movies instead of something only children can enjoy (ex: like 90% of Pixar’s filmography). BeetleJuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure are two of my all-time favorite films and my love for them at least partially stems from the fact that they were two of the first flicks I ever saw that (included sequences that) scared the complete piss out of me as a kiddo.

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No joke Large Marge used to make me literally run out of the fucking roomUntil I was like 11.

I think the big difference for me is that the scares in movies like Pee-Wee or BeetleJuice revolve around ethereal things like ghosts and nightmares rather than the super visceral and immediate terror of watching your neighbors being torn apart and gulped down by a rampaging monster. Ghosts and nightmares slot more easily into the genre of “safe” scares.

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Even though his neck is a hacked-apart, bloody mess, my kid-brain clocked it as “ghost stuff” so I was able to control my natural instinct to sprint out of the room like a cowardly Usain Bolt.

Of course, we don’t see severed limbs and organs flop out of Zedus’ mouth and splatter on the sidewalk, it’s all implied.  It’s just implied really well.  It’s a choice I respect the hell out of, but I’d say “tonal whiplash” is a pretty valid criticism.  Overkill (heh) or not, it sure as shit establishes Zedus as a fucking gnarly customer.

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Though the guy on the left might be inexplicably throwing an “A-OK” hand gesture. You are way off buddy. 👌

Katsuya (Toru’s littlest, most vulnerable friend) has been trapped on the wrong side of the rubble for this whole people-buffet and amazingly is small enough to avoid the initial chompacolypse!

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He is the human version of bag fries.

Kousuke scrambles over the concrete to try and grab the kid, and just when it looks like they’re both going to get wolfed down faster than office birthday cake…

Toto heroically cock blocks Zedus! Kousuke instantly addresses Toto as “Gamera” in quiet awe.  FOLKS, WELCOME TO GAMERA VS. ZEDUS, ROUND 1. Just like the recent Mayweather/McGregor fight, we are hyped up to see an ancient, undefeated champion take on an exciting new nobody!

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Also, exactly like the Mayweather/McGregor fight, one is an adorable flying turtle and the other is a scraggly, man-eating dinosaur.

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Also, tons of leg-biting in that regulation professional boxing match.

This first fight shows off the excellent suits and terrific miniature sets.  The suits are expressive, highly mobile, and convincingly hefty, while the mini-sets are peppered with crazy-realistic greenery and tons of teeny, scene-setting details like newspaper boxes and bicycles and shit.

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Con: Zedus launched Gamera face-first through somebody’s house. Pro: Some lucky family gets to show off their cookware to Gamera.

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love an articulated kaiju face as much as I love well-placed, scale-indicating foreground elements! (This picture contains both if you missed what I was going for there!)

After their downtown beat-down, Zedus bullies Gamera onto a nearby bridge, and that’s where the visual effects take a hit. They went for some pretty ambitious shot compositions and ideas, but they’re not pulled off as well as the more traditional stuff we saw in Shima.

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It’s not achieved as seamlessly as what we saw earlier, but it’s still super dynamic and stealthily feeding you important story info: look at what a sad little speck Gammy is compared to Zedus!

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It’s a striking image, but not 100% in a positive way.

For every clunky shot like the two above we get some rock-solid winners too:

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When the movie focuses on suits and sets it shines.

But even more important than beautiful monster staging and cinematography is the fight itself! With Gamera “safe” under the bridge’s big metal supports Zedus has to get creative and start busting out the tricks he has up his sleeve!

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Or in his mouth, I guess.  Shades of Barugon?!

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Hahaha holy shit!

Trapped and totally out-monstered by big bully Zedus, shit looks grim for sweet babby Gamera (and by extension humankind)!  When all seems lost, Gamera digs deep and fights back with one of his most powerful and least-talked-about skills:

His ability to ride tongue if you know what I mean huehuehuehue ;P His bitchin’ improv skills! Where Godzilla tends to prevail through indomitable force of will and infinite brute strength, Gamera is more prone to busting out some seriously wacky tactics on his unsuspecting foes.

Which fucking rules.

The bridge-tongue ride ‘n blast is absolutely one of my favorite Gamera gags, and it feels right at home with classics like Jiger’s brain-stab and Zigra’s xylo-bones.  Zedus falls off the bridge like the fucking piece of garbage he is and the cops and the army crash the party as Gamera crashes from exhaustion.

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It’s a dramatic moment.  After everything that’s happened Toru and Toto are briefly reunited just to get separated again.  It’s even more powerful when Toru tries to keep up with the flatbed truck that’s carting Gammy way the hell off to Nagoya.

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Toru shouts words of engouragment to Toto, Toto seems to maybe hear it, and it’s a really tender scene. Also, depending on what websites you were reading 4 or 5 years ago, this whole sequence might seem weirdly familiar.  I think I spotted this either on Cracked or AV Club, but take a look at this clickbait and see if you recognize anybody:

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Hmmm well, not to spoil the movie magic but I think the big prop turtle built for this movie is not a real living animal.  S M D H 

Dumbshit clickbait notwithstanding, how you feel about the government hauling Gamera off to some nondescript lab will hinge almost entirely on how familiar you are with the plot of E.T. and how creepy you find the joint they take him to:

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I’m plenty familiar with the plot of E.T. (guys in hazmat suits still creep my ass out!) and this lab looks sinister as fuck. It doesn’t help that the operation is being spearheaded by the government dude who was not on board with talking about kaiju at all earlier in the film. But despite their ominous looking set-up and aggressive tactics, they’re actually helping Gamera! They know the scarlet pearls are the source of his power, so they’ve liquified their stock of them and are pumping the power-up goo into Gammy intravenously.

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You’ve led me astray again you son of a bitch!

Meanwhile Toru and co. are chilling at the evacuation center.  Kousuke gets a call from Mai’s family: the surgery went A-OK! Mai’s in recovery for a few days, and is… more or less fine.  She keeps muttering in her sleep that “Toto needs the red stone,”  and as the great prophet Willard Carroll Smith Jr. once gravely foretold, parents could never truly grasp these ramifications.  Toru knows what’s up though! It’s still a kids’ adventure movie damn it! It’s time for some heartwarming, coming-of-age, Stand By Me-ish, totally gonna get in trouble for it sneaking off!

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These three Goonies are no Losers’ Club! They’re a rag-tag Monster Squad ready to face whatever “Stranger Things” are out there waiting for them!

Toru has some time to reflect on the train ride to the hospital Mai is staying at.  We hear his internal monologue wondering if his Mom worried (maybe even worries, present-tense?) for him the way he worries for Toto.  Maybe his Mom really is watching over him?  I’m glad they returned to this idea and gave Toru a little bit of character development.  With all the big crazy things going on (especially at this point in the story), that human touch could have easily gotten buried.

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BURIED BY ZEDUS WHO IS HERE TO KICK SOME GAMERASS!

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Zedus tail-whipping through the wall of the lab looks incredible.  Again, when it’s suits and sets this movie is insane looking. With Zedus shaking shit up in Nagoya our boys have to not only figure out how to get to Mai’s hospital, but they have to do it while fighting their way through thousands of people evacuating in the opposite direction.

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The Shaun of the Dead shot is always creepily claustrophobic.

Gamera stops Zedus from eating some of these poor schmucks, and Zedus gets so pissed about it he starts dilophosaurusing:

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Nobody’s at their best when they’re hangry.

Naturally Gamera and Zedus resolve their differences by calmly explaining their needs and their points of view start beating the crap out of each other and our boys even accidentally stumble onto their brawl!

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Like a way more intense version of the kitchen/skateboarding sequence from Act 1, we cut back and forth between the kids fighting their way to Mai and Gamera and Zedus (non-sexually) going to to town on each other. The kids making their way through the abandoned city is 28 Days Later-style eerie and Gamera’s battle is dramatic, tense, and beautifully achieved.

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Lucky for the kids these aren’t match-cuts like earlier or else they woulda got stigmata’d as fuck.

Gamera’s rolling with the punches (tongue… punches?) but he’s still just a kid! He winces and cries out when his hand gets lanced and it’s SUPER SAD.  Keep at it little (huge) buddy! Also sad and intense: when Kousuke finds Toru and slaps the shit out of him.

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I would accuse myself of overreacting, but an adult slapping a kid’s teef out was enough to spawn a full-length novel and two TV shows.

Even after seeing people getting munched on and poor ol’ Gammy getting his neck sliced and his hand impaled, this slap-a-roonie is shocking.  Plus, I totally get it! Kousuke was scared shitless for his son’s life and just doesn’t understand Toru’s love for “Toto.”  “It’s not Toto, it’s Gamera!” he desperately tries to tell Toru.  It’s a plea that falls on deaf ears, and Toru runs straight towards Gamera and Zedus duking it out.

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I mean, I would too, but that’s not the point!

Meanwhile, Mai and her family have been evacuated to the outskirts of the city. Now that Mai’s come around, she’s trying to get out of bed and carry the red stone to Toto.  Her parents stop her of course, but a quiet, cool, mysterious little kid nearby hears her and instinctively knows what’s up. It’s like how cats and dogs can sense ghosts!(I don’t actually believe that, but I like it as a trope.)

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The tiny, determined little girl sprinting into the chaos is fucking powerful.  This movie isn’t perfect, but it makes me feel feelings, man.  Speaking of feeling feelings, we cut back to Toru and his Dad arguing with each other in the rubble.  Toru: “Toto’s not running away, I won’t run away either!” Kousuke: “Do you think he’d be happy if you died?!” Aaaaaand cue precious Gamera getting curb-stomped into a high rise:Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 2.00.40 AMScreen Shot 2017-08-23 at 2.00.53 AM

We cut back to the tiny girl running headlong into danger, but eventually she gets stuck between a massive crowd and a guardrail.  I was really digging this already, but they find a way to crank it up to a whole new level: another kid spots the little girl, instinctively understands what she’s trying to do, and the race to get the stone to Gamera becomes a heartstring-tugging relay of brave kids dashing through disaster to help their big scaly friend save the world.

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It’s so good and so moving, and scoring it with “Please Send It to Toto!”  makes it a total emotional slam dunk.  All the while, Gamera and Zedus’ battle rages on! Gamera chomps Zedus’ tail, but he reverses it with some awesome straight-up WWE shit:

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And here’s where a few disparate story threads come together.  Toru’s buddies Ishimaru and Katsuya have been kind of wandering the city, trying to get to safety, and they run into the little girl carrying Gamera’s stone.  Then they find Toru, who explains to his dad how the stone will help Gamera, and how he believes deep down that Gamera won’t use this power to self-destruct (which would kill them just as much as Zedus).  Oh yeah, and Gamera’s still stuck in that skyscraper with Zedus climbing up after him:

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After everything that’s happened Kousuke finally can wrap his head around Toru’s love for and understanding of Gamera.  Stone in hand, father and son exhaustedly schlep up a zillion flights of stairs to save the day…

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I don’t think I can complete a review without mentioning Ghostbusters.  I just really really really really like Ghostbusters.

Unlike in Ghostbusters, Toru and Kousuke get to a point that’s blocked by rubble.  Only little Toru can wiggle his way through the wreckage and make it to Gamera.  It’s one thing for Kousuke to accompany his son on this crazy quest, it’s a whole other thing to have the conviction, faith, and guts to say “Okay son, you go ahead.  Be brave and save the day.” And Kousuke does it.

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This movie has shitloads of heart.

Toru finds Gamera still stuck halfway into the building and he has to give him a pep talk before handing over the stone.  “It’s not so you can blow up.  Not so that you’ll sacrifice yourself.  I won’t let you die… I love you too much. I don’t want that to ever happen again.”

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Gamera the Brave has been steadily doling out touching moments and this is no–AH FUCK YOU ZEDUS YOU RATCHET-ASS BITCH

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Toto’s tumble to the ground has an odd, dreamlike quality to it that reminds me of something you’d see in a storybook or a fairy tale.  Specifically, when my man Pooh Bear falls out of a tree:

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Coincidence? SUPER DUPER PROBABLY.  Gamera’s fall likely looks weird because that’s just how the suit or prop looked when they dropped it. But considering the classic kid’s story trappings they’ve sprinkled throughout the movie I can’t help but wonder if maybe this was a choice.  Like with PB, you’re sad to see Gamera falling to his apparent doom, but the visual strangeness of it is a potential hint that dude-man is going to be okay in the end.  Winnie the Pooh makes it, and you know what?!

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GAMMY GONNA MAKE IT TOO, BITCH

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OH I’M SORRY ZEDUS WERE YOU NOT PREPARED FOR THIS

That’s right! As Gamera was sliding out of the building Toru tossed the red stone down his gullet! That last hunk of scarlet gave our herpetological hero the boost he needed to make a triumphant, airborne victory lap around the city.   Toru and his friends, Mai and her family, the relay kids, really everyone looks on in awe as Gamera shreds some sky like a fucking bawss.

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Of course, Gamera’s flying saucer fuckery isn’t just for hot dogging:

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WHAT’S WRONG ZEDUS, DIDN’T ANYBODY GIVE YOU THE ABILITY TO FLY THROUGH THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP? OH THAT’S RIGHT YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS

Zedus might be a friendless dick, but he’s a tough friendless dick, so he’s still got some fight in him after he eats shit.

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Specifically, he lands one last brutal uhhh… tongue-blasting. Ladies.

Notice I said “one last” tongue-blasting! Gamera makes sure that shit never happens again, and it is fucking rad:

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P U R P L E   R A I N   G O O 

Hahaha, splortch!  Fuck you Zedus! It’s a great follow-up to the bridge tongue-ride gag earlier. With Zedus tongue-neutered and just looking raggedy as hell:

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Gammy gears up to end this fight once and for all!

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ROCK ‘N ROLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!

HAHAHA BA-BLAM!  YA DONE! It’s such a good, satisfying explosion.  Even Gamera seems adorably surprised by the earth-shattering ass-whopping he’s unleashed.  After all this though, poor lil’ Gammy collapses.  It’s like when you take a puppy to the park: he’s had a big day and just conks out immediately. The military races to “secure” the creature, but Toru’s got other plans:

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It’s sweet, it’s moving… and it super reminds me of the (unexpectedly touching) ending of 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars:

I love it in Final Wars, but I’d say it’s a better tonal fit with Gamera the Brave.  Toru’s friends, the relay kids, and what appear to be just random free-range kids join in and really make it a powerful statement.

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With the government officials thoroughly cock-blocked Toru gets one last moment with Toto.

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Toto’s too big for Toru to ever hold or pet again, but you know deep down he felt that.  With the world saved and Gamera free Toru and Mai get one last look as Gamera flies off into the distance.

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It wasn’t until the very end of the movie that I realized that Mai is a lot like the dad in Godzilla vs. Hedorah. There’s something weirdly comical to me about a main character who spends a huge chunk of the film’s running time being carted around prone.

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The movie ends with Toru finally addressing the creature as Gamera instead of Toto.  It’s another really sweet, smart touch in a movie full of sweet, smart touches. It reminds me of how Susan doesn’t address him as King Kong until the very end of King Kong Escapes.

In my excitement to talk about the whole entire movie all at once, I forgot to drop the fun info nuggs I have about Gamera/Toto himself! He’s played by Toshinori Sasaki, who has previously played the Legion Queen in Gamera 2: Advent of Legion and assisted primary suit actress Rie Ota in performing Baragon’s stunts in GMK.  Oh yeah, and he’s voiced by Optimus Prime… sort of:

Those gnarly noises are the work of prolific voice actor Peter Cullen for the 1976 King Kong.  Cullen’s the guy for Optimus Prime’s dulcet tones, but he’s also the pipes behind Eeyore, Predator, Monterey Jack, and a whole shit ton of cartoon characters from the 80s and 90s.  Apparently the five hour session where he recorded Kong’s roars were so strenuous it made him cough up blood.  Hopefully he takes some pride (and god willing some paychecks???) in knowing that his Kong vocalizations have become widely used stock sound effects.  For instance, they were used for Gamera in this movie!

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Awww yeah baby!

They’re good creature sounds to be sure (which explains why they get used so much, I hear them in video games on the reg) but it’s a bummer that we hear them instead of Gamera’s classic voice. He’s had a distinct set of sounds for his entire career, I wonder why they got axed for GTB.

The DVD I have of Gamera the Brave also features a 38 minute featurette called “How to make a Gamera movie.”  I’ve only watched a few minutes of it, but it’s exactly as charmingly corny as you would hope.  It’s a lecture hosted by director Ryuta Tasaki geared at explaining how movies are made in broad, easy-to-digest terms.

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He’s got a whiteboard with a fancy flowchart and everything!

So that’s Gamera the Brave! It’s good!  There are some wonky effects shots and some debatable tone whiplash (…and it would’ve been nice to see Toru and Mai reunite at the end), but those are ultimately pretty minor problems in the grand scheme of things.  GTB is a fun, funny, exciting, and big-hearted take on a classic creature with a fresh spin that makes his roots more personal and more intimate than they ever have been before.  It’s an excellently crafted flick that profoundly captures the unique moods of childhood while never forgetting to bring the blood and thunder of kick-ass monster mashing drama and action.

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With all that in mind, it’s a bummer that Gamera’s future is so uncertain right now.  11 years after Gamera the Brave the titanic tusked turtle has yet to score a sequel or even a reboot.  I guess GTB didn’t stick with mass audiences like it did for me?  I get it if people weren’t in love with the kid-centric storyline, but even last year’s horror-oriented proof of concept trailer hasn’t led to anything serious.  If the sky was the limit, I’d love to see Legendary buy the rights so Gammy can go play “nice” with Hollywood Godzilla and King Kong, but Toho’s spicy feelings about Gamera and Godzilla sharing screentime probably means that won’t happen.  For now Gamera the Brave is the titular kaiju’s final picture, and while I’d love to see him again soon, I also think it’s a damn fine note to end on.

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8 thoughts on “Get out of your Gamera the Cave, it’s time for Gamera the Brave!

  1. This was the first Gamera movie my son and I watched! It was shortly after we watched the original Godzilla. He was only 8 or 9, so the tone and kid focused parts were perfect.

    As always, love reading your blog!

  2. The Giant Legion was played mainly by… Mizuho Yoshida. Toshinori Sasaki was in there too, but he mostly just moved legs around and such. But it’s very interesting that both those actors were brought back for this movie. Well, maybe not… Zedus is a huge dick. And after Zeiram, Death Ghidorah, Dagarah, Legion, and GMK Godzilla, anytime you need a huge dick monster, you need Mizuho Yoshida.

    Peter Cullen didn’t do the main Kong ’76 voice. That has existed since the 50s. It was certainly used for the Tyrannosaurus in “The Land Unknown.” What Cullen recorded were extra growls and grunts Kong made throughout the film. You can hear one of his most laughably bad ones when Kong’s going apeshit in the Petrox oil tanker and walks right up to the camera and goes “RAWR!” (no seriously, “rawr!”) before punching the side of a wall.

    Is anyone ever going to explain to us what the hell “A Bang Up Work 62” means??!? Maybe Toru’s a big Zatoichi fan (I think the first Zatoichi came out in ’62)?

    To this day, I still wish that Mai were the main character of this movie. Kaho gives an amazing performance, especially for her age.

    • On the one hand I’d worry that Yoshida spends his off-time drop kicking puppies, but I bet playing such vicious asshole monsters gets all that evil out of his system.

      I think the Zatoichi connection’s as good as any answer when it comes to “A Bang Up Work 62.” Google just links to a bunch of articles with “bang up job” in the title… I’m gonna put something together for the next G-Fest trip: https://imgur.com/YZNBxXs

      Mai has a really strong story and totally would have worked as a sole protagonist. She’s a great co-star for Toru, but she gets pushed out of the movie in the second half which is a bummer. At the same time I wouldn’t want to totally remove Toru’s story, it’s neat to have a kid’s adventure movie deal with grief at such point-blank range. It just would have been cool if Gamera could have been there for Mai in a more direct way like he was for Toru.

      • That shirt is awesome! I worry though if anyone will get it. I would hope they would…

        Oh and I completely forgot about this until I popped this in last night– are we not talking about how it totally sounds like “Titanic” at the end of the movie?

        I’m also surprised you didn’t mention Toto’s big damned hero moment when he pops out of the Nagoya base rubble after it was destroyed by Zedus, no worse for wear and bigger than before.

        When this movie was in production, I could have sworn Zedus was supposed to be mocking the Millennium Godzilla by Jirass-ifying him. In fact, the monster’s Japanese name is “Jidasu”. I was absolutely shocked when “Zedus” became his English name instead of Jidas(s).

  3. There were a few nugs I didn’t quite get to in the review, the Titanic-ness wooshed right by me though! I’ll keep an ear out for it next time. That’s a beautiful/insane photoshop waiting to happen!

    Zedus definitely feels like a good-natured swipe at Godzilla (and Godzilla-ish monsters in general) and I love it. The fact that his Japanese name is practically Jirass is icing on the cake. Extra cute and turtle-ish Toto overcoming a bloodthirsty Godzillalike is a hell of an underdog adventure! Great stuff as always Ted!

  4. “Toto has grown almost as huge as the dumps I take after eating Red Robin!”
    This is the quality content I strive for.

    Also, what the hell was up with Toto pulling a KSI on Zedus at the end? Someone file a copyright takedown on Legendary, stat!

    • No way, Kong’s gut-rip was an homage and legally distinct escalation of gore! Legendary Gamera (pleasepleaseplease) will just take it up yet ANOTHER notch by yanking out somebody’s entire skeleton or some shit*. By the time we get to Godzilla vs. Kong I’m hoping the MonsterVerse has gone full Itchy and Scratchy/Evil Dead II!

      *Imagine, Gamera grabs a baddie by the tongue or eyeballs or wiener or whaterver. Then, he tucks his free appendages into his shell. Then, he starts rocket spinning, maintaining his grip on the baddie. Then, the baddie gets ripped apart by super-centripetal force, pieces flying everywhere, and Gamera lands holding a bloody monster skeleton. Then, I cackle in the theater and spill my Swedish Fish everywhere. Artist’s conception: https://filmfork-cdn.s3.amazonaws.com/content/grem.png

      Responses like this are why nobody will let me run their multi-billion dollar cinematic universe.

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