A giant turtle, it turns out, is exactly what the world needs right now. And in 1965’s GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER, it’s exactly what Noriaki Yuasa delivers. This is the first entry in the GAMERA series and a rival to Toho’s GODZILLA series, with producer Masaichi Nagata apparently fielding the idea after Yuasa came up with a storyline about giant rats. Also, GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER is one of the last of the kaiju movies to be shot in black and white.
The movie opens with scientists observing an American fighter jet as it’s shot down. The plane crashes and its cargo, a freaking A-bomb, blows up. This leads to the emergence of Gamera, a giant turtle. The turtle begins on a path of destruction that takes it to Japan, where young Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida) develops an affinity for it because the kid likes turtles. The scientists, meanwhile, are tracking Gamera and try all sorts of things to stop it. Eventually, Dr. Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi) and his team put together the Z Plan.
GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER is a joy, but it’s no trifle. Like GODZILLA and many of the other kaiju pictures, there are clear messages. Yuasa and screenwriter Fumi Takahashi set up a world in which Japan is reeling from the wounds of war in a quite literal way. The A-bomb, inadvertently discharged in this instance, exhumes something ancient from beneath the Earth. The prehistoric demolisher wreaks havoc and the world must come together, Cold War be damned.
There is an expectant flavour to GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER in that the Japanese encourage the Soviet Union and the Americans to set aside their differences for the common good. This may seem like a pipe dream, but it makes for a nice fantasy when there’s a big turtle milling about. The turtle does its job, by the way, and knocks over paper-thin buildings and plops around where it must. There’s fire and electricity seems to make him stronger. When it’s all over, you almost feel bad for Toshio’s buddy.