After I unexpectedly loved every one of the Showa-era Gamera movies, I wasn’t sure how I would react to the character’s reboot/reimagining in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995.) I generally enjoy new interpretations of classic material (more often than not, the darker, the better), so I was looking forward to watching it. The good news is, I enjoyed this one as well!
It does what other successful reboots/reimaginings have done by casting a different tone, yet remaining faithful to the original spirit. Specifically, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe maintains the connection of a child to the giant flying turtle without making it a children’s movie. In essence, it’s the same thing, but viewed through a different filter.
From the first moments of the film, the music by Kow Otani demands our attention and lets us know that we’re already in the thick of things. A plutonium transport ship carries firepower “100 times the A-bomb” through the ocean when it runs aground on a gigantic atoll. We recognize its rocky surface as Gamera’s shell, but the characters don’t.
That’s partially because the world doesn’t know about Gamera yet. In this new age, it’s his first appearance. They also don’t know that he’s the guardian of the universe, formerly friend to all children, so they’ll try to destroy him even as he tries to save them. It’s a trope we must live with, just like superheroes fighting before they join forces to fight evil.
Concurrent with the discovery of Gamera, giant birds from Himegami Island are wreaking havoc on the mainland. They're more like pterodactyls, but scientists and military alike insist on calling them birds. It isn’t long before we realize they are another reimagining. Yes, it’s our old friend Gyaos, the vampire-like creature that comes out at night and is repelled by light.
Eventually, the two stories collide, and the characters finally realize who’s good and bad… what’s trying to destroy mankind, and what’s trying to save it. This is largely due to the psychic link between Gamera and Asagi (Ayako Fujitani), the girl who touches a stone amulet from the atoll/Gamera’s shell.
The 90’s upgrade to nearly 20-year-old special effects is mostly welcome. Although there are still some low-budget-looking shots, they probably weren’t perceived as such at the time. (It’s crazy that 90s technology sometimes now seems dated.) For every realistic demolition of a building, we get a goofy close-up of Gamera, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Original Japanese Version Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen
Released March 11, 1995 (Japan), April 16, 1997 (US)
RT 96 min.
Written by Kazunori Ito
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Starring Tsuyoshi Ihara, Akira Onodera, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani
Rating 7 Ghost-face killers (out of 10)
Home Video Blu-ray (Arrow Video, Gamera: The Complete Collection)