When your pet ends up saving the world, it is safe to consider yourself the greatest pet owner ever. The TokuNet Film Club reviews the most recent Gamera film, Gamera the Brave.
Within the Gamera franchise there are a few distinct points to break up the series. You have the Showa movie series, the Heisei trilogy of the 90’s, and you have the movie we’ll be talking about today: 2006’s Gamera the Brave. Following the 90’s trilogy, which is considered by many in the fandom to be among the top tier of kaiju movie making, Gamera the Brave had a lot to live up to while also trying to distinguish itself.
Director Ryuta Tasaki, known by tokusatsu fans for directing many episodes and series in the Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Power Rangers franchises, went with a very different tone for the film that contrasted the very intense feel of the Gamera Trilogy.
You could perceive the bridge between the tones of Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris and Gamera the Brave to be the opening scene of the movie. We start in 1973 in the midst of a battle between Gamera and a group of Gyaos. Gamera is clearly outnumbered and literally being picked apart by the flying beasts. Figuring it had run out of options, Gamera charges up a final attack and proceeds to self-destruct. The blast disintegrates the Gyaos’, along with a huge chunk of the land where the battle took place, while saving the onlooking inhabitants of the town, including a young boy named Kousuke Aizawa.
Cut to 2006, we see an adult Kousuke looking at the crater left by Gamera years ago. Kousuke, now played by Kanji Tsuda, who fans may recognize from various shows such as Kamen Rider Ryuki, Kētai Sōsakan 7, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, and most recently in the third season of Garo, Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness.
Kousuke is accompanied by his son, Toru, at the grave site of Toru’s mother and Kousuke’s wife who passed away a year earlier. It is a rather somber scene and introduces us to the type of character that Toru is: he’s more mature than he seems and sees things as they are. When told that his mother is looking down on them, Toru counters that she isn’t “up there” but under the ground.
And some people think this film is too “kiddy.”
Fortunately, it’s not all depressing. Despite a few flashbacks and semi-hallucinations about his mother, Toru is just a regular kid having fun and exploring the world. This is what appeals to me about Toru as a character as well as the story in general. There are definitely moments where you feel for people in this movie, but it doesn’t entirely focus on that to the point of making the film a drag. A lot of the movie feels like you’re peering into a certain point in their lives. And like everyone else, you have your high and your low moments. I think the story here presents that in an almost flawless manner.
Toru’s attitude is lifted ten-fold as soon as he discovers a mysterious egg close to the site of the 1973 battle. A glowing red stone grabs his attention and after a mini-adventure, he finds an egg sitting on top of this stone. It immediately hatches and a small turtle is born. Ecstatic about having a new pet, he sneaks it home with him and shows it off to his friends. Toru names the turtle Toto, which is the nickname his mother gave him. This is probably the most joyful part of the movie, as you get to see Toru just have fun with his new pet. Of course, Toto is not just any ordinary turtle, as it grows at a very rapid pace and seeing Toru and his friends figure out what to do with this situation adds a bit of wonderment and comedy to the movie.
We even get a little nod to a past Gamera monster when little Toto is confronted by a fallen knife, which resembles Guiron from the 1969 film Gamera vs Guiron. It’s just subtle enough of an easter egg that if you weren’t aware of the previous movie, like myself, you’d think it was just a normal comedic moment.
But, this wouldn’t be a monster movie without a big monster for our hero to face. And this time around we have Zedus, a reptilian kaiju appearing from the depths of the sea to destroy and eat whatever it can find. I actually really like the design of Zedus, with spikes running haphazardly down its spine and a long, deadly tail. There is a part of me that wishes we knew a bit more about where it came from, but just knowing that it has been ravishing ships along its path is enough to justify its existence.
And what Zedus lacks in backstory, it makes up for in brutality. From their first encounter, Zedus ruthlessly attacks Toto with either its spear-like tongue or just by flinging him from building to building.
This is probably as good of a time as any to talk about the practical effects done in this film. While not as insanely robust as the previous trilogy, Gamera the Brave manages to pull off some really impressive shots in the monster battles. Things such as suit actors climbing miniature skyscrapers during a fight or really well done composite shots of Zedus’ tail ripping through an occupied building as you look from the interior give the audience a visceral experience while watching these two monsters fight. I also enjoyed the fact that a majority of the battles took place during the day, which is a stark contrast to some of the fights in the Gamera trilogy.
But, what really sets Gamera the Brave apart from its predecessors is the amount of genuine heart the story and characters display. From what I’m told, the Showa Gamera movies had a very strong theme of Gamera being a friend to children. That sentiment is not overtly apparent in the Heisei Gamera trilogy, but I feel that Gamera the Brave pulled it off in a very smart manner. The audience gets to see Toru and Toto grow together and become friends throughout the movie. So when Toru and his friends struggle to help Toto, you really feel like there is a special bond between them.
What also helps sell this theme is the fact that the children in this movie are not dumb kids. Toru and his friends are very proactive in the story and tend to think for themselves. Part of that has to do with the script, which was smartly written to make the kids smarter than the adults believe them to be. There are moments where they bring a bit of levity to the plot, such as when you see Mai and Toru deal with Mai having to undergo a serious surgery.
But it also has to do with the actors themselves. Ryo Tomioka, Kaho, and the rest of the children casted for this movie did a fantastic job with their roles. It’s very rare to watch a movie where the child actors are not boring or annoying. These actors brought so much life to their characters that it legitimized how integral they were to the story.
Gamera the Brave is an all-around wholesome and fun movie, complete with emotional moments, comedic situation and fantastic monster battles. If you have has seen the Heisei trilogy but didn’t bother to watch this movie yet, get on it! And if you haven’t seen any Gamera movies at all, this is a pretty good place to start. If you’re a tokusatsu fan, you’ll find a couple more recognizable faces with Kenjirō Ishimaru (Owner from Kamen Rider Den-O) as Professor Soichiro Amamiya and Tomorowo Taguchi (Scissors Jaguar from Kamen Rider: The Next) as Councilor Yoshimitsu Hitotsugi.
Gamera the Brave is a great movie and, even though I’ve only seen four films, it sits right up there with Gamera 3 for me as my favorite Gamera film.
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