Direction: Shusuke Kaneko
Screenplay: Kazunori Ito
Music: Ko Otani
Special Effects: Shinji Higuchi
Can it really be eleven years ago that certain giant monster scholars were hailing Gamera: Guardian of the Universe to be one of the greatest kaiju eiga ever made? The film was considered a major breakthrough in terms of not only special effects, but also story and direction. Most fans unfavorably compared the new Gamera to Toho's Heisei Godzilla series, with the latter found severely wanting. Of course, at the time, the most recent Heisei offering was Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla, the worst of the Heisei films, and it's little wonder it wasn't able to hold its own against the newly revamped Gamera.
For a number of reasons, the lauding of the 1990's Gamera was ironic. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, Gamera was considered a second-string Godzilla. In addition, the flying turtle's adventures were deemed to be strictly kid stuff. The special effects, direction, scripts, and overall production values took a clear second seat to Toho's more polished (if also sometimes juvenile) Godzilla efforts of the day. However, many fans considered the new 1995 Gamera to actually be superior to the then-recent Godzilla entries.
So now that all the dust has settled, how does Gamera: GOTU rate?
Quite high on this fan's kaijumeter.
The film features all the classic ingredients of the best kaiju eiga -- giant monsters, horror moments, interesting characters, military battles, creature confrontations. And though these elements are pleasantly familiar, the movie serves them up in a fresh manner, adding imaginative and intriguing details that make all the difference.
For example, the Gyaos bird pellet found on the island. Obviously giant monsters would have to leave their waste products somewhere, and Gamera: GOTU handles this matter-of-factly, without humor or embarrassment. This also helps establish that the Gyaos do indeed eat people, and later in the film we witness them doing just this (albeit non-graphically).
Other interesting details: The fact that a bill must be passed in the Diet before the Japanese government can authorize military force against Gamera. The economic effect of Gamera's presence that drives up the price of fish. The "roosting" of Gyaos in Tokyo which causes, among other things, economic chaos due to the closing of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. These details help ground Gamera's fantastic aspects into more of a real world milieu than that seen in the average giant monster film.
And even Gamera's and Gyaos's origins become quasi-plausible, as both were the result of genetic engineering carried out by an advanced civilization whose gene tampering brought about their own downfall. One of the characters notes that this helps to explain how a giant turtle could take to the air like a flying saucer. It also helps to explain Gamera's fireballs and Gyaos's sonic beams.
The characters are handled well and are well-integrated into the plot. Exactly why Gamera requires Asagi to "help" him isn't clear, and this hints of mysticism rather than science. But this plot element strengthens the characters' ties with the warring monsters, as well as bringing Asagi and her father closer together.
Shinji Higuchi's special effects still hold up well, especially considering the tiny budget he was given to work these visual wonders. Yes, sometimes the miniatures appear to be just that, but more often than not, they achieve a credibility rarely seen in kaiju eiga. The low-angle camera work always makes us aware of the monsters' hugeness, as well as the meticulous detailing of the various model houses, telephone poles, office buildings, etc.
The reinvention of Gyaos (first seen in 1967's Gamera vs. Gyaos) from a stiff Rodan wannabe into a sleek, slimy, human-eating horror is inspired. Gamera's update likewise serves the super-turtle well. In addition, the final confrontation between the two monsters features plenty of action and spectacle.
My only real problem with this movie is the title. As seen in the film, Gamera is NOT the "Guardian of the Universe" (which would be a pretty tall order even for Superman). Rather, he is the guardian of our humble planet. But maybe Gamera: Guardian of the Earth didn't sound "cosmic" enough. (Or something.)
Overall, Gamera's 1995 cinematic return holds up quite well. The movie exudes that almost indefinable "daikaiju glow" that gives every good kaiju eiga its luster and appeal. In short, Gamera: GOTU remains one of the best Japanese monster movies yet filmed. Need more be said?