Review: GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995)

The giant turtle is rebooted reborn in GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, a 1995 science fiction film directed by Shusuke Kaneko from a screenplay by Kazunori Itō. This picture comes after the conclusion of the Daiei Film Gamera series, which began in 1965 with GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER and wrapped in 1980 with GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER. In Kaneko’s hands, Gamera is less a hero for the children of the world and more a hero to all.

GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE begins as a transport tanker full of plutonium runs aground on a floating atoll. A team of scientists investigates the atoll, discovering all sorts of interesting objects. There is also trouble on Himegami Island, as a village has been attacked. Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is among those on the case and she discovers that a group of giant birds is behind the assault. The birds get loose and the atoll comes to life as a giant turtle. The scientists try to save the people of Japan as the monsters do battle.

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There are other details, like how the turtle develops an spiritual connection with Steven Seagal’s Daughter/Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) or how the scientists trap the birds in the Fukuoka Dome. The Japanese call the giant turtle “Gamera” and discover that the birds are a species of genetically-engineered lifeforms known as “Gyaos.” This gives the proceedings a certain mythological feel and blends it with modern science fiction, comprising a tale of woe that speaks to the enduring evils of messing around with stuff we don’t understand.

This point is the thrust of many kaiju movies. GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE also hints at the interconnectivity between humanity and nature, as with Asagi and Gamera. They become unified in surprising ways, with young Asagi having to nurture herself as Gamera heals from the wounds of battle. And she likewise nurtures him, a contrast to Gyaos’ lethal leanings. Kaneko homes in on this as he has the bird perch atop the Tokyo Tower, a vision of ruin atop a throng of helpless humans. With this darker but no less entertaining approach, Gamera takes on weight. But there’s still levity, even as the seeds of destruction are sown.

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