April 04, 2007

GAMERA THE BRAVE (2006) - the flying turtle's back!

(2006, Japan, Chiisaki Yusha Tachi Gamera)

Now on official region 3 NTSC DVD from Hong Kong (Universe)

Recommended for younger Japanese monster movie fans

Gamera - the story so far... In the 1960's rival studios came up with a monster of their own, envious of Toho's internationally successful Godzilla series. Though more childish and lower-budget, the series lasted into the 1970's with six movies.

During Godzilla's hiatus between 1995 and 1999 (to make way for the US version), Gamera triumphantly returned with three big budget action spectaculars that put the 1990's Godzilla films to shame. Gamera - Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2 - Advent of Legion, Gamera 3 - Awakening of Irys are arguably the best ever to come out of Japan.

Now, during another Big-G hiatus (Godzilla Final Wars in 2004 was announced to be the last film for at least 9 years) this new film returns to Gamera's roots with a child-friendly monster movie.

For me, the 1990's trilogy contained the most exciting kaiju (giant monster) movie moments ever - with great staging and special effects. The human characters were also well integrated with the monster action, making these well-constructed stories that don't collapse when the monsters are offscreen.

Gamera the Brave begins by playing on audience expectations with a rip-roaring night battle between adult Gamera and 3 Gyaos monsters. While the film has a stand-alone story, this scene ties in with the end of the previous film. It's wonderful to see him back in action.

Then we meet Toto, a young schoolboy from southern Japan, who discovers a strange egg that hatches in front of him. A baby turtle emerges and he adopts it as a pet, not knowing that it's a baby Gamera. There are some very silly scenes when he discovers that his tiny turtle discovery can fly. It looks like someone superglued some fishing wire to a turtle's back - turtles just don't look aerodynamic.

The simple story and believable characters are good enough, but the action gets a little silly, soppy if you like, and amusingly Japanese. The baby Gamera soon grows as big as a house just in time to meet the giant reptilian Zedus as it hits the shore. Zedus is a fearsome amphibious lizard that has been wreaking havoc offshore.

As it arrive onshore, the government see Gamera in action, and want to study him, taking him to a huge research station. But Zedus is following him...

This is more of a family film, but it occasionally oversteps the boundaries by having Gamera's green blood spurt - for example with the usual hand impaling. Otherwise, it's a children's adventure centred on three boys and a young girl who believe in Gamera when no-one else does. Because of the heroics of the children in the story, I think this is why the film was originally publicised as Gamera - Little Braves.

The action scenes are few, but excitingly staged, though it's undignified to see Gamera stuck in a skyscraper with his butt sticking out. The monster, Zedus, looks convincingly like a living monster, showing off 'suitmation' at it's best. While the CGI used, (like Zedus' tongue weapon) doesn't look as convincing as the computer FX in Gamera 3.

Being a baby, the face of Gamera looks a little cutesy, especially compared to his recent incarnations. This especially makes it hard to recommend to hardened newcomers - you have to see the 1990's trilogy first, then see this one.

But at a time when giant monster movies are fairly few, it's nice to see one with solid effects, that isn't tongue-in-cheek.

The film is presented 2.35 widescreen (like many of the early films), but the region 3 only has an extra trailer, but does have a handsome embossed card slipcase. A special edition with a disc of extras is available from Japan but has no English subtitles.

Do you want to know more?

For a full plot description, an alternate review and loads more stills, the Sci-Fi Japan website has an article that's very hard to beat!

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