Gamera the Brave
- Original title
- Chiisaki Yusha-tachi Gamera
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 108 minutes
- 29 September 2006
by Tom Mes
What has prompted Kadokawa to unearth Gamera seven years after Shusuke Kaneko's widely praised resurrection of the giant turtle? Cynics would say that it is opportunistically jumping into the gap left by Godzilla's big screen bow in Ryuhei Kitamura's Godzilla: Final Wars. And they may well be right.
What can still be done with the big tortoise after Kaneko's revamping resulted in arguably three of the greatest kaiju films ever made, so great that even the director himself couldn't top it with Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All-Out Monster Attack, in spite of all the means Toho put at his disposal? Gamera the Brave doesn't even bother with the question. It relies on that old strategy for new episodes in long-running series: it goes back to the roots.
What most clearly set the original Gamera of the 1960s apart from Toho's Godzilla films was the turtle's role as a friend and protector of children. Gamera the Brave literally picks up the thread, with an opening scene set in 1973, thus ignoring both the Kaneko-directed trilogy and the 1980 patchwork quickie Gamera: Super Monster. A group of villagers, including one young boy, look on as Gamera self-destructs in a last-ditch effort to vanquish the evil pterodactyl-like Gaos and save a nearby coastal community. Since then, life has been calm and free of monster mayhem. The government has finally decided to disband its kaiju research team when Toru, the son of that boy who witnessed the big monster's heroic suicide, discovers a mysteriously blinking red light on an island just off the coast. Swimming over, he finds a crimson, heart-shaped stone, with an egg resting on top of it. Just as he grabs it, the shell cracks and out comes a tiny turtle, which the boy dubs Toto, after his favourite amphibian comic book character. He hides the little critter in his bedroom, but Toto has a nasty habit of growing up very quickly. What's more, he can fly too. Soon, the once adorable little pet is too big to fit in a bedroom and Toru and his neighbourhood friends decide to bring Toto back to where he came from.
In true kaiju fashion, a few fishing trawlers are mysteriously shipwrecked off the coast of Kyushu and it's not long before a giant iguana dubbed Zedas (the Japanese pronunciation 'Jiidasu' makes it sound like a variation on Jesus, though I doubt this was intentional) emerges from the water and attacks Toru's peaceful town. But, just as we were all expecting, an adolescent Toto, now standing some 8 meters, comes to the rescue and valiantly defends the inhabitants. Gamera the protector is back.
Gamera the Brave will strike many seasoned monster fans as a Kaiju 101. They, however, are not the target audience of this new instalment, which is clearly pitched at the under-12s. Gamera himself has been cutened up, given large eyes and a round snout that makes him look, well, rather dorky, really. It's the children that save the day during the finale (which takes place on twin towers as dust clouds blast through surrounding streets - get it? Of course you do) helping Toto/Gamera defeat Zedas in a battle that levels a good part of the city of Nagoya. And no family film would be complete without the obligatory handicapped child (in this case a girl next door with a heart condition) that Japanese producers seem to be so terribly fond of.
There are no great surprises, nor much originality to be found, but Gamera the Brave is an agreeable time waster that introduces the tried and true kaiju formula to a new generation. There's a fairly convincing bit of city stomping to keep older fans of the genre amused, but with the recent re-release of the original 1954 Godzilla, Shusuke Kaneko's trilogy so readily available, and Korean director Bong Joon-Ho reinventing the monster film with his masterful The Host, anyone aged 13 or over will likely be looking elsewhere for their monster movie fix.