1965 Daiei Studios decided to capitalize on Toho's successful
Godzilla film series with their own fire-breathing radioactive
star, Gamera the flying turtle. At the time Gamera was "the
friend to children" and his films, though entertaining and
fun, were largely considered to be inferior to the Toho series
of Kaiju Eiga (giant monster films).
In 1995, after a 15-year retirement,
Daiei brought back the shelled one and gave him a new lease on
life. The man given the responsibility of transforming Gamera
from a low-budget children's monster into a serious contender
fell to director Shusuke Kaneko, whose earlier work consisted
of several successful horror films and comedies.
This time out, the Gamera originated
from Atlantis. The ancient people created him in response to the
threat of man-eating prehistoric birds called Gyaos, who was a
favorite foe from the 1960's films. Gamera's intentions to
save modern day Japan from the birds are misinterpreted by the
Self Defense Force and they attempt to kill him. Instead of making
him a friend to children, director Kaneko opts to endow Gamera
with a magical jewel that enables him to bond with a teenage girl
named Asagi (played by Steven Segal's daughter Ayako Fujitani).
Through Asagi, Gamera harnesses the added strength required to
defeat the Gyaos in a grand battle that takes place in broad
daylight. This was quite an ambitious undertaking for special
director Shinji Higuchi, but his work is seamless with Kaneko's
in the finished film.
Aside from the bigger budget, the
film also succeeds at being more dramatic than the original series.
Kaneko treats the characters and plot with respect even when there
is humor present. More than any other director in the Kaiju
Eiga genre, Shusuke Kaneko succeeds at melding humor and horror.
For those not into movies with guys
in suits, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe also succeeds
on the same level as the Rocky films. Gamera
gets beat up pretty bad early on but comes back with fireballs
a-blazin' to kick some serious Gyaos tail feather. Screw all the
fancy CGI effects. This is one entertaining flick with as much
ambition as you're ever going to see in a movie of this kind.
The sequels are even better. (Magicvoice 2002)