I still consider myself a Keigu Eiga novice. Over the last couple of years, I have sampled a good number of Godzilla films – not as many as I would like, only around eight – but I haven’t really branched out into the other monsters. Today I rectify that (well it’s a start) with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. As far as monsters go, Gamera, as giant turtle, isn’t really as threatening as Godzilla, or even King Kong. And although I have never seen them, the early Gamera movies are generally derided for being pretty cheesy. But this feature, Guardian of the Universe isn’t too bad at all. I enjoyed it immensely – only slightly hindered by a slow start – it is over thirty-five minutes into the film, before Gamera really makes his first appearances.
As the film begins, the Patrol Boat Nojima is escorting the freighter Kairu Maru off the Indonesian coast, heading up, back toward Japan. The Kairu Maru’s cargo, and the reason for the escort, is one ton of plutonium. All hell breaks loose, when the Maru runs aground on an atoll – the weird thing being that they were in 3000 feet of water at the time. Of course, every fears an environmental disaster of epic proportions – but thankfully the ship’s hull was not breached. But this uncharted atoll is a mystery – especially when it is discovered that that atoll is actually moving – also heading towards Japan. A young scientist named Yonemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara) joins a research team to find this atoll.
Seemingly unrelated, Professor Hirata, an ornithologist, is called to the island of Himegami, off the Japanese coast, as there have been reports of a giant bird causing havoc. But after a storm, and the disappearance of the entire population of Himegami, including the Professor – the police are called into investigate. They contact his first assistant, Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama), to pick up the pieces. She flies out to check the scene.
The island has been trashed – and the only sign of the Professor is found in (sorry folks) a giant turd. It can be assumed that the monster bird, which made the deposit, has eaten the Professor. Later Nagamine and the police venture further into the jungle interior of the island searching for the killer bird. As they wander aimlessly, it flies overhead. The bird’s size – it has a 15 metre wing span – panics the police chief who then exclaims that this job in no longer in his jurisdiction. He wants to get off the island he becomes a snack for the giant flying fiend.
But the bird is not after them. It is migrating to the Goto Archipelago, where food (people) is more abundant. Nagamine and the police follow the bird in a helicopter – and while in pursuit, she takes a photo of the creature in flight. Inadvertently, when the flash goes off, she discovers that the creature does not like bright light. But that is the least of her discoveries. As the creature circles around, they discover that there are two more of the flying killers.
Of course, these beasts aren’t birds at all – as they have no feathers, and they have fangs. They are, in fact, Gyaos, a creature that is ancient and evil.
Meanwhile Yonemori and his team, have been busy with their atoll research. They have tracked the moving atoll, and launch a team to investigate the floating, rock covered anomaly. The team land in an inflatable dinghy, and begin a search. Among the rocks they find a series of small comma shaped beads – I won’t tell you what the beads do, but I can assure you, they come into the story later. Next they find a large carved stone tablet, half buried amongst the rocks. The research team break out the picks and shovels and begin to dig it free.
Finally the tablet is free and Yonemori arranges for a helicopter to fly over from the research vessel, and airlift it out of there. But before this can happen, the tablet shatters, and the atoll begins to move once again. The rocks covering the surface of the atoll begin to crumble and fall away. Yonemori and his team and thrown from the atoll into the churning water – and there they see that the atoll is in fact a giant creature that had been encased in stone. I probably don’t need to tell you, this is Gamera.
Back at Gyaos central, Nagamine has been asked by the Japanese government to come up with a plan to capture the flying fiends. And that plan is to drive them forward, with spot lights ained at them from helicopters, towards Fukuoka Baseball Stadium which has a retractable roof. Once the creatures are driven inside, the roof will be closed, and Gyaos will be trapped. The army will then tranquilize them, and cage them.
While all this is being prepared, Yonemori returns and at monster HQ, informs everybody that they have another problem – and that is a giant sea creature heading their way – yes, Gamera. But the powers that be, are too busy with their Gyaos problem, and ignore the giant turtle that is on a collision course with the city.
Nagamine’s plan almost works. However, the tranquilizer shots are fired before the roof is fully closed and one of the Gyaos gets away. As it flies out over the sea, Gamera leaps out of the water on his hind legs. Then he proceeds to stomp through the city, causing the expected (and quite welcome, by this viewer) monster mayhem.
The question is – is Gamera a friend of the Gyaos, only in town to reek more destruction? Or is he an age old rival, and humanity’s only hope at stopping the flying forces of evil?
Gamera; Guardian of the Universe does everything a giant monster flick like this should do, and does it all pretty well. There is some CGI, but mostly it is miniatures being trashed – and that’s the way it should be – it is a part of the film’s charm. Gamera would return to save the earth one year later, in Gamera: Attack of the Legion.