Spoiler alert: this article discusses the film in its entirety. If you don’t want to know how it ends, look away!
I’m a big Godzilla fan, so it might seem weird – traitorous, even – that this the inaugural Kaiju Review is devoted not to the Big G, nor to another of owner Toho’s monster creations, but to a rival studio’s attempt to cash in. I know, boo all you want, but 1965’s Gamera (watched here in Japanese with English subtitles) is a classic, and its 4.2 rating on IMDB is a major aberration, make no mistake.
The film begins with a Japanese research team, led by Dr. Hidaka, arriving by boat in the Arctic to find proof that giant turtles once lived on the Atlantis continent. Also on board are a bunch of photographers, because, well, who knows? Their arrival at a Native American encampment is interrupted by the sighting of some unidentified silent aeroplanes. It’s the Cold War, you see, so shenanigans like this are bound to happen. So far this film is ten thousand percent believable.
The Americans are informed of these craft from an “unnamed country” and decide to send their jets to intercept. The unidentified planes decline to respond to the US request to identify themselves, and in the resulting chase one of them gets shot down. This, obviously, is a bad thing, as the craft is carrying a nuclear weapon which explodes when it hits the ice:
Aoyagi, the only photographer to accompany Dr. Hidaka onto the ice, is delighted by this turn of events because he’ll be able to get the scoop on what might turn into World War III. Back at the ship, while the crew watch the mushroom cloud dissipate, Gamera makes an appearance and sinks the vessel along with most of its crew (and the rest of the photographers):
Back to the Americans, and some wonderful dialogue:
Commander: “Huge turtle. 60 metres. What’s going on around here?”
Underling: “I don’t know, sir. Looks like a huge turtle made its appearance.”
Dr. Hidaka and his assistant Kyoko travel to the New York News Studio to explain to the world that giant turtles used to live on the great continent of Atlantis and were trapped in glaciers, only to be released by the unnamed country’s A-bomb. After their TV appearance they fly back to Japan, and here Aoyagi reveals that he drew straws with his friends on the boat to see who would accompany Dr. Hidaka and Kyoko on the Arctic expedition. Aoyagi explains that he considers Kyoko to be his Goddess of Good Luck and he’ll stalk her all over the world.
Cut to a lighthouse in Hokkaido where little Toshio lives with his father and sister. Toshio’s teacher turns up to express his concerns that Toshio is unhealthily interested in turtles, bringing them into school and refusing to play with the other children. Over dinner Toshio’s sister and father explain that he has to get rid of his pet turtle (Pee-wee) because it would be terrible if he grew up to hate human beings. Toshio, reluctantly, agrees.
Seconds after releasing Pee-wee on the beach Toshio is shocked to see Gamera pop up. Toshio runs to the top of the lighthouse to get a better view, but Gamera attacks the lighthouse, leaving Toshio hanging on for dear life. Toshio, inevitably, slips, but Gamera catches him and returns him safely to the ground before disappearing out to sea.
Upon arriving back in Japan, Hidaka and Kyoko are informed of the news and decide to travel to Hokkaido. Aoyagi isn’t invited, so goes to his newspaper to get a press pass. Anything to stalk the lovely Kyoko. On the flight to Hokkaido he pops up behind their seats and reasserts his ambition to follow Kyoko wherever she goes. She looks suitably annoyed at this.
Gamera is spotted heading for a geothermal power plant, and in an attempt to avoid using the military Dr. Hidaka suggests using the plant’s entire output capacity of 350,000 kilowatts per hour to electrocute Gamera. The power just seems to make it stronger, however, and it proceeds to smash the power plant to bits.
The army unleash some seriously heavy firepower, but amidst all the explosions they witness Gamera standing there happily eating all the fire. Yes, Gamera eats fire and explosions and electricity and lava and rice & beans (okay, maybe I made up that last bit). At this point the US are called to nuke Gamera, but when it emerges that special freeze bombs have been secretly developed the nuclear strike is called off and “Operation Deep Freeze” is launched instead.
Gamera handily climbs to the summit of Hell’s Rock, the site of a hot springs resort. The freeze bombs are successfully utilised and then dynamite is detonated to flip Gamera onto its back. Surely this is victory, right:
Everybody starts to cheer at the thought that Gamera will starve to death, and when it retracts its head and limbs into its shell some soldiers laugh, thinking it can’t handle the shame of defeat. But, oh no, Gamera is not defeated. It has an internal jet propulsion system and simply takes off and begins to fly around the world:
Toshio and his family go to stay with relatives in Tokyo while their lighthouse is rebuilt. Things aren’t exactly cordial there, though. “For a freeloader, he’s a real jerk,” is cousin Ichiro’s opinion of Toshio. I’m sure that’s not a literal translation.
An enclave of top scientists (including Americans and Soviets working together nicely) gather to investigate. It may be the Cold War, but they’re happy to co-operate when it comes to dealing with giant turtles. And luckily they have a solution: the “Z Plan”:
Practically infallible! Its purpose: human progress through scientific advancement. Wow. It must be awesome, right? I can’t wait to see it!
Cut to a groovy nightclub where the band is whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The police arrive and demand that everyone evacuates, but the crowd think this is a very square thing to do:
Gamera disagrees with that statement and destroys the club, before rampaging all over Tokyo and incinerating its citizens. Not so groovy now, teenagers. Toshio, preparing to evacuate, looks longingly out of the window. “Please, Gamera, don’t do anything bad,” he says. I’d hate to know what Toshio’s definition of bad is, because in my opinion Gamera is behaving pretty badly indeed right now.
Eventually Z Plan is ready, but it’s located on Oshima Island and a trail of flaming oil is needed to lure Gamera over. Toshio makes his way to the island too, out of concern for Gamera’s well-being, as does Aoyagi after volunteering as a labourer. All is going well as Gamera swims towards the island, eating all the fire as it goes:
Sadly a typhoon strikes and extinguishes the flames, and Gamera turns away in disgust. Game over, right? Well, they gave it their best shot…
…but suddenly the island’s buildings are being set on fire! Who on earth? It’s Aoyagi, employing a little arson to get Gamera back on course for its destiny with Z Plan! Nothing can possibly go wrong now…
…but, well, yes it can. It begins to rain, and once again the fires are extinguished. Definitely game over now, right? No! A volcano explodes just in the nick of time and Gamera finally makes its way to the island:
At last we’re ready for Z Plan. Look at how impressive it is:
But there are only three minutes left of the film. They’ll have to get a move on… Fire, that’s a good start…
Gamera’s in position, good…
Encase Gamera in a giant orb. I like where this is going. Remember, “human progress through scientific advancement”. It has to be awesome…
They’re all excited – just look at their faces:
Yes, Z Plan is an interplanetary rocket. So much for progress. It’s the age old human solution: we don’t know what to do with it, so let’s just bung it somewhere out of sight. In Gamera’s case, the barren plains of Mars. Isn’t it nice, though, that all the nations could work together!
But what about Toshio? Does he hate the human race for what they’ve done to his turtle buddy? No:
26 November 1965.
Daiei Film Co., Ltd.