By 2005, kaiju fans already had eleven films in the Gamera series. The first eight are part of what is known as the Showa era (1965-1980). It was through these original films that fans were introduced to “the friend of all children” as Gamera soon took his place alongside Godzilla as one of the greatest defenders of Earth of all time. Sure, Gamera was never quite the “king of the monsters” that Godzilla was but he was never intended to be.
Gamera was originally a lot more aggressive, as depicted in Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965). But the fire-breathing and flying giant turtle soon became a lot more loveable. By the 1970s, Gamera films became a regular feature on Saturday afternoon matinees, despite low-budgets and film plots that were often much more simplistic than the more adult Godzilla series. However, the films had a fantastic charm that endeared Gamera to a generation of classic sci-fi and giant monster movie fans around the world.
In 1995, Gamera returned after a fifteen-year absence with a bigger budget and a much more serious tone in a trilogy of films that many believe to be the best of the Gamera series. After it wrapped up in 1999, another six years would pass before Gamera returned once again. However, Gamera the Brave was a very different film and that was a bit jarring for long-time fans who loved the more adult nature of the previous trilogy.
In Gamera the Brave, we’re given what is essentially a reboot. The film starts out in 1973 as we witness an older Gamera sacrifice himself to save the people of a nearby city from three Gyaos monsters. His death is seen by a young boy, Kousuke. We then flash forward 33 years to 2006 as Kousuke (Kanji Tsuda) is now a father to his son Toru (Ryo Tomioka) and a widower. Kousuke is doing his best to move forward while Toru has visions of his mother calling him “Toto” while working in the family diner. Toru soon discovers a red egg where the original Gamera died and a baby turtle soon hatches from it. His names it Toto and, along with his friends Katsuya and Ishimaru, is amazed at how quickly he grows and the powers he begins to display, such as flying and breathing fire. Yes, little Toto is soon to become the new Gamera and will face a seemingly impossible task of defending the people from a new, larger and more powerful creature called Zedus.
The film succeeds on many levels but the first step for any viewer to enjoy Gamera the Brave is to accept that it is a family film. It channels the simpler days when Gamera films targeted a younger audience. The battles between Gamera and Zedus are not the best kaiju confrontations you’ll ever see. In fact, it’s almost a little tough to see how outmatched Gamera is through much of the film. But, the story is really about the children’s relationships with each other and, specifically, Toru’s love for Gamera. After such a devastating loss, he has healed enough to open his heart once again and he’ll stop at nothing to help his new friend. As we watch the story unfold, the film is beautifully shot and it’s easy to become attached to the main characters.
The film does suffer in a few ways, such as the supporting character of Mai (Kaho). She clearly cares for Toru and his father but I feel like her character is never really fleshed out enough and it seems as if her character disappears in the final scenes. It also gets a little cheesy when all of the children gather in the final act to save Gamera as the city is being evacuated. Just where were their parents? The score by Yoko Ueno is also a bit of a roller coaster ride. Sometimes it works but other times it seems like it’s more suited for a dramatic made-for TV film. And yes, Gamera has a new and softened look that takes a little getting used to. He comes across as much cuter but remember, he is younger than the Gamera of old. However, these are all minor low points and not worth totally dismissing the film as many have.
Gamera the Brave is a great film for more seasoned giant monster fans to use to introduce younger kids to the wonderful world of kaiju. The story is simple enough for all ages to enjoy but it never gets too dark or scary. It certainly deserves a lot more love that it tends to get and I recommend it for any true Gamera or kaiju fan. It’s something a little different and that’s never a bad thing.
If you want to read more about the original Gamera film series, you’ll want to check Jeff Owens and his ongoing GaMAYra event over at his Classic Horrors Club site! And be sure to tell him Monster Movie Kid sent ya!