I had made sure to finish watching my ‘Gamera’ box set once again before watching this latest Gamera film, ‘Gamera the Brave’ to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but it really wasn’t necessary. Though director Ryutu Tazaki’s film was released seven years after Shusuke Kaneko’s ‘Revenge of Iris’, a movie argued in the fan circles as the best Kaiju monster movie ever, Tazaki’s film really doesn’t exist in the same universe as those three previous Gamera movies and instead returns to the kid friendly Gamera we knew in the 1960’s and early seventies. Though I was initially disappointed in this, in watching the film it is a good thing in that the director probably wished to make his own Gamera film and not just an extension of the excellent Kaneko films, and while ‘Gamera the Brave’ doesn’t carry the visceral impact of the final Kaneko film, it is still a fine Gamera movie in its own right.
This film opens in 1973. In the Gamera timeline this would be two years after the release of arguably the worst monster movie ever made in Gamera vs. Zigra. Regardless, Gamera, looking much like we left him after his battle with Iris, is doing his best against a team of Gyaos birds who are quite honestly kicking his ass while the helpless people of the neighboring island town, including a little boy, helplessly look on. Just when all seems lost and the Gyaos appear to have finally bested their most feared enemy, Gamera plays his trump card ending the Gyaos threat once and for all, but making the greatest sacrifice in the process. That scene was manna from monster movie heaven by the way.
Back in the present day that child has grown into restaurant owner Kousuke Aizawa (Kanji Tsuda) who is doing what he can to help his nine year old boy Toru (Ryo Tomioka) get over the accidental death of the child’s mother a year ago, as the youth seems to exist in a state of constant depression. One day the boy sees a bright light
across the island and there he finds an egg on top of a glowing rock which soon hatches into just the cutest little turtle you’ll ever want to see. Now the boy’s father has told Toru that he can’t have pets due to the fact that they live on top of their restaurant, health violations I guess, so he hides his new pet turtle which he has named Toto for sentimental reasons.
It’s not long before Toto starts doing some strange stuff. Like flying for one, scaring the beejeebus out of the pretty but sickly neighbor girl Mai (Koho) who knows full well that turtles aren’t supposed to fly. Not only does the little turtle seem to keep himself in harms way, it’s also growing at a rather remarkable rate. Mai tells the boy she thinks this turtle might be the rebirth of Gamera, but Toru can’t see how his cute little Toto could possibly grow into the fanged fire breathing monster we all know and love.
Then comes Zedus. Zedus is a large, spiky, mean spirited monster from the sea with a taste for human flesh. Toto has grown large enough where he can do battle with Zedus but not nearly large enough to do the damage needed to silence the beast for good. Toru thinks he has the key that will give Toto the strength to defeat Zedus, but his fear is that he will lose his friend forever and the boy has had just about as much loss as he can take. But the fate of the people of Japan, as per usual, is at stake and only through the help of the children of Japan, who seem to know something that no else does, will Toto become what he needs to become to save them all. And that is he must become Gamera.
Once you accept the fact this is not a continuation of the Kaneko Gamera and come to grips with Gamera’s return to his original roots, ‘Gamera the Brave’ is still a very entertaining little movie. It works because of the emotion that Tazaki is using to spearhead his version of Gamera, which is genuine and heartfelt. Young Ryo Tomioka gives a fine performance as the heart broken little boy who has his spirits lifted by the worlds cutest baby turtle, and its hard not to feel something as the Japanese relay team of small children rushed to get that damn rock to Toru to save Toto from getting his business handed to him by Zedus, and gosh darnit, the movies final scene almost brought a tear to my eye. Think Johnny Sokko saying goodbye to his robot.
Gamera has a far less threatening Godzuki type look to him after his rebirth in this installment, but the monster design is still well done. Zedus looks almost like a throwback to the monsters of yore appearing very much like the classic dude in a rubber suit, and there was far less reliance on CGI in this instance than in the three previous films. To that fact there was less of a reliance on monster battles overall as this was an emotional family film, that is when Zedus wasn’t chowing down on humans with his mouth dripping blood. It’s a lot like a Lassie movie if Lassie had to somehow stop a man-eating lizard from eating Tokyo by coughing up a nuclear tinged fireball and forcing it down that monsters throat, blowing it back to the hell from which it came. Yep, it’s just like that.
Despite the drastic change in tone from the previous Gamera films, this is still Gamera with the turtle returning to his original kid friendly roots. Were Tazaki to play this campy or not take it seriously it could’ve been disastrous, but he gave the story the respect it deserved and has placed his own stamp on the series. We’ll no doubt miss the dark Gamera who would accidentally stomp on a human or two to get his job done, or nuke a city to kill one lousy Gaos bird, but if there are more of these type of Gamera movies to follow, and the story progresses as well as I think it will, I believe Gamera fans have little to worry about.