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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Go Gamera!

Ed Stephens Jr.

Since I’m just a guy in a beach chair, I periodically have to add a touch of class to this column so you don’t think I’m a vulgarian or something. So today I will share a foreign film from my private collection. This long-neglected classic is a delight to the senses and a joy to the heart. Made in Japan, in 1969, it was re-released in 2010 as a DVD under the “Shout! Factory” label with excellent video and audio quality, suitable for a connoisseur de cinema such as myself.

It is called Gamera vs. Guiron.

Please, don’t refer to this as a “Godzilla flick.” I’ve got nothing against Godzilla, but frankly, he strikes me as a bit of a plodder. A man of my refined tastes can only choose Gamera. Gamera isn’t some lummox of a lizard, but is a true marvel of biological engineering: a giant, flying, fire-breathing, rocket-powered turtle.

The story starts with three kids in Japan; two buddies and one of their sisters. The kids stumble across a flying saucer in a field. The buddies (naturally) hop into the thing and blast off for space. The sister returns home to rat out her brother (naturally) but gets a cool reception from her mother.

So things on the home front are a bit strained, especially when the other buddy’s mother drops by to ask where her kid is. Kid? What kid? Oh, that kid. Well, rumor is that he took off in a flying saucer with my son. Would you like some tea?

That’s just back story, but it helps ease into the high drama in outer space. The buddies can’t control the flying saucer. It’s on auto-pilot on a pre-programmed route. An asteroid field menaces their route, but here Gamera makes his first appearance and clears the way. So far, so good, but it’s not good for long, as great evil awaits.

The saucer lands on a planet that is ruled by two space babes. The good news: They look mighty nice in their silver, form-fitting space babe outfits. The bad news: They plan on eating the boys’ brains. Raw, as a matter of fact.

The space babes have a resident monster who takes care of their dirty work: Guiron. I’ve got nothing good to say about this guy. He’s got a body like a shark, but with short, stubby legs. His head is a giant knife blade. It’s so sharp it can penetrate Gamera’s shell. Also, embedded in his knife/head is a stash of throwing stars that he launches with deadly aim.

As for Gamera, well, let’s look at the engineering specs. He has two flight modes. In his spinning mode, he retracts his extremities into his shell, and his rockets vector their thrust so he spins around as he flies through the air. He also has sky-surfing mode, sticking his head and arms out and swoop along like an airplane. Zoom, zoom, go Gamera!

You can probably foresee the situation here, and, yes, your worst fears are realized when Gamera has to duke it out with the evil and treacherous Guiron if the buddies are to be rescued.

It doesn’t start well for Gamera. He neglects to do a recon before he lands, and so the minute he hits the landing zone, Guiron knifes him in the back; it’s sort of like doing business on Saipan. For a while it looks like Gamera is a goner, and he winds up sinking into the ocean. But he eventually rousts himself, gives Guiron a solid thrashing, and saves the buddies.

So now it’s time to get them back to earth.

Unfortunately, the flying saucer isn’t in flying condition anymore. So Gamera puts the buddies into the saucer, then holds it in his mouth like a dog with a bone. He uses his sky-surfing airplane mode to zoom back to earth.

As Gamera enters final approach for Japan the sister spies them in her telescope. She alerts the community. Everybody scrambles out to the field: parents, cops, the media, and some scientists. Incidentally, you know the scientists are scientists because they’re wearing white lab coats over their charcoal-gray wool suits. I like those kind of cinematic details. Keeps things realistic.

Gamera lands on the field. The buddies disembark, and the sister’s credibility is re-affirmed. It’s hugs and smiles all the way around.

Gamera’s grand departure is in the spinning mode at full takeoff thrust. It’s a little bit sad to see him flying away, since we don’t know when we’ll see him again, nor what terrifying perils and fiendish beasts he’ll have to confront the next time around.

Ah, but life is like that. We close one chapter only to face the specter of the next chapter, as yet unwritten. Thus, the past, present, and future all intersect in one fleeting moment of reflection. That’s why I like these films; they make me think, as only true art can do.

Go Gamera!

Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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