Back to roots imagined the 1960s, the Gamera franchise returns in brand new form. The focus is again on a small child with a close connection to the monster, and any prior history to the series has been rewritten. While a radical departure from the massive turtle's darker edge from the late '90s, this is a fine, enjoyable, and wonderful effort from director Ryuta Tazaki.
The film begins in the 1970s as an adult Gamera battles the classic franchise villain Gaos, a flock of wild vicious birds. It's an exciting opening and a fantastic way to begin the story, setting the stage for a plethora of special effects. Things quickly move forward as the script shifts its focuses to young actor Ryo Tomioka playing Toru Aizawa.
Toru becomes the focal point as he adopts a baby turtle. Unbeknownst to him, that turtle is a new Gamera, born again to begin a fight against an as of yet unseen foe. These early scenes are charming, colorful, and handled with great care. These are critical as they're necessary to the story development, and they manage to completely avoid becoming hokey or uninteresting.
Gamera's powers are in full force, even as an infant. Young Toru continually finds a way to prevent his new pet from being seen, made difficult by a rapid growth spurt, the creature's ability to fly, and a few spurts of fire from its mouth. The lighthearted moments are constructed in a way that even adults will find themselves smiling thanks to some additional computer generated effects to enhance the creature's facial reactions.
The bond between Gamera and children became the focal point of the original series. It became a problem as the ridiculous plot lines grew more absurd and without giving a reason for Gamera's fondness for younger set. Gamera The Brave takes care of this quickly, leading to the film's first monster battle less than a half hour into the film.
Zedus is the imaginative foe, covered by spines and scales that flap with each move. It gives the creature an extra sense of movement to make up for a rather stiff and elongated face. This is also a mobile beast, climbing and jumping as the fights continue to cause property damage.
The scale is definitely smaller than most Japanese monster films. The creatures are dwarfed by the majority of the buildings, which allows for extensive detailing on the miniature sets. It makes the movements of Zedus believable, and likewise, the entire film better.
Gamera is redesigned by Tomoo Haraguchi who built the suits for all three incarnations of the creature in the previous trilogy. The stunted face, bulging eyes, and smoothed over tusks refrain from making the monster seem threatening. The suit works regardless, with an excellent range of motion and the right amount of cuteness to the make the final scenes come together beautifully.
While it's fine to change the suit, changing Gamera's roar is not. Not only has his trademark bellow been deleted, it hasn't been replaced by an original sound. It's been directly lifted from the 1976 remake of King Kong.
Gamera The Brave avoids many standard clichés from this genre, keeping it fresh and unpredictable. The military is never involved, nor are there any drawn out scenes as scientists attempt to explain the "why" of the situation. The central focus of the story never shifts, to its credit.
The human side of the story does cause a jittery feel every time the action picks up. At every turn, the camera shifts back to eye level as the characters scramble to survive or help Gamera. It's hard to get into the flow of the fight scenes when the script continually moves back and forth.
Regardless, Gamera The Brave is a wonderfully lighthearted effort. This is everything the original Gamera director Noriaki Yuasa wanted his films in the '60s to be, but couldn't because of budget and time constraints. The charm is undeniable, and this is a film worth tracking down.
Hopefully, another company can tackle this film on DVD. Universe presents this disc in the proper aspect ratio, though without a decent resolution. This barely looks better than a VHS tape, complete with a fuzzy look, macro blocks everywhere, and low color. Opening scenes are ridiculously dark, and it's nearly impossible to make out anything. This is hardly the proper way to see this film.
On the other side, Universe does a stunning job on the Japanese audio. The mix is more active and immersive than a lot of American summer action movies. Bass could stand to be a little heavier in spots, though you'll never complain about the use of the surround and stereo channels. Nearly every scene after the monsters make their appearance has people running for their lives. Everyone one of them sounds tracked by the audio mix. Buildings crumble around the viewer as debris flies everywhere. This is the best audio you'll ever hear from a Japanese monster movie.
This is the first Gamera film not to come from creator Daiei studios. They were sold in 2002 to Kadokawa Pictures. While initially named Daiei-Kadokawa Motion Picture Company, the title was shortened finally, leaving Daiei as note in history.