Greetings, readers! All throughout September I’ve been discussing my cinematic guilty pleasures. No list of guilty pleasure films is complete without at least one kaiju film. While my favorite kaiju monster is Godzilla, I must admit I have a soft spot in my hurt for his atomic powered turtle counterpart as well. That’s right, this week’s selection is Gamera from 1965. The Gamera films are legendary to viewers of the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000. They made for some of the most riff-tastic episodes in the series’ history.
Why do I love Gamera? Let me count the ways. First, the initial concept is pure B-movie magic. A fire-breathing turtle? Who doesn’t want to see that in a movie. And Gamera has an origin story similar to Godzilla. Gamera is resurrected by nuclear technology. The turtle is brought back to life by a nuclear explosion in the far north. He comes out of his icy grave and goes looking for energy. This leads to the next reason I love Gamera.
As Gamera searches for energy, he loves some pretty epic destruction in his path. Of course he eventually ends up rampaging through Tokyo. How Tokyo doesn’t have a giant monster contingency plan after Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan, I’ll never know. As Gamera tears through Tokyo, we get to see some pretty hilarious destruction of buildings that are clearly fake. And then there’s my other favorite thing: the shots of the Japanese army going after the monster. They way it’s shot, it looks like Gamera is being pursued by an army of GI Joe toy tanks and other military equipment. But the fake sets and props are part of its charm.
Oh, did I mention Kenny? At least that’s his name in the version with the English dubbing. Kenny is a little boy who, get this, has a sympathetic link to Gamera. So the atomic flying turtle made a friend. Isn’t that adorable. Kenny is the one person who sees Gamera as more than a monster and wants to save rather than destroy him. You get an awful lot of boy loves dog movies. But when was the last time you saw a boy loves turtle movie? Gamera is that magical movie.
Is the premise of Gamera preposterous? Yes. That’s par for the course in kaiju movies. Does it look cheesy? Yes. That’s another proud part of kaiju film tradition. And yet, the hokiness is exactly why I love Gamera. It’s a fun, light-hearted monster movie. The film is in the great tradition of monster B-movies. Gamera belongs in the kaiju Hall of Fame with Godzilla and Mothra. If it’s Friday night and you need a good monster movie to enjoy over popcorn, Gamera is for you.