Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Turtle power!
Being a child of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle generation, it’s no wonder I’ve always had a soft spot for Gamera, the giant monster turtle with a heart of gold.
Created in 1965 by Yonejiro Saito, Gamera has gone on to star in 12 films — not too shabby for a kaiju created solely to rival the success of Godzilla.
Now, thanks to the mad geniuses over at Shout! Factory, the original Japanese version of Gamera is available to own on DVD.
Gamera: The Giant Monster, as the Noriaki Yuasa directed film has been retitled for its new DVD release, begins when an atomic bomb is accidentally detonated over the frozen tundra of Alaska. The explosion, caused by a downed Soviet bomber that made the mistake of loosing a pissing contest during an aerial battle with American fighter jets, awakens Gamera, a giant turtle who has long laid dormant, frozen in a block of ice.
Gamera, awake and just a little pissed off, sets off in search of some sweet revenge, and maybe just a little food too.
One of Gamera’s first casualties is a Japanese research ship — the destruction of which leaves only three survivors: Dr. Hidaka, the head of the zoology department at Tokyo University; Kyoko Yamamoto, Hidaka’s lovely assistant; and Aoyagi, the borderline creepy photographer who is seemingly as obsessed with Kyoko as he is with putting himself in danger.
Together, the three survivors set out to track down and stop Gamera before his rampage causes even more destruction and death.
Meanwhile, in Japan, Toshio Sakurai is a motherless young boy whose obsession for turtles makes the I Love Turtles kid’s eccentricities seem downright homely.
Of course, turtle-obsessed Toshio is put on a one-way collision course with Gamera, who has been traveling around the world.
Besides being of giant proportions, Gamera is different from most turtles in that he has the ability to fly around Earth’s atmosphere by transforming his shell into a rocket-propelled flying saucer. Spinning around in a circle and using inner jets as propulsion, Gamera gets around pretty well for being a giant version of a turtle, nature’s slowest animals behind fat kids.
So while Toshio bonds with his new monstrous best friend, the trio of Gamera survivors continue their quest to make turtle soup out of the film’s titular behemoth — enlisting the aid of Professor Murase, the head of the Biological Sciences and Paleontology Department at Hokkaido University and president of the Japanese chapter of the Colonel Sanders impersonator contest.
After several plans — including freeze bombs, electricity buffets and good ol’ fashioned fire — fail, it all comes down to Plan Z, the Japanese’s ultimate strategy in ridding the world of Gamera once and for all.
Plan Z, like all plans to rid the earth of giant monsters should be, is ungodly complex yet ingenious in its scope. It’s like a giant-version of Mouse Trap, but instead of catching plastic rodents, the Japanese attempt to spring a trap on a monstrous, tusked-tooth reptile.
Gamera may lot have been as famous as Godzilla or have had the “privilege” of having a remake produced by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, but there is something truly joyful about watching a giant turtle wreck havoc on Japan.
From the flame-thrower installed in Gamera’s costume to the way the man in the suit drops to all fours to scramble up a mountainside, watching Gamera made me smile in ways few movies from my childhood still are able to do.
Shout! Factory has done an amazing job restoring the film — it looks fantastic. Besides the new HD transfer and brand-new English subtitles, the DVD comes with an audio commentary from Gamera expert August Ragone and a retrospective look at the Gamera franchise.
Whether you are like me and have fond memories of giant turtles kicking the shit out of Japan’s countryside or you have never experienced the joy of a Saturday morning Gamera marathon, you owe it to yourself to check out Gamera: The Giant Monster.
Don’t worry, Godzilla won’t get jealous.
Robert Saucedo would say Gamera is a hero in a half shell if he wasn’t afraid of being sued by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.
Tags: Bad Movies Done Right, Gamera, Godzilla, Roland Emmerich, Shout! Factory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles