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Friday, May 12, 2017

Flying Turtles, Fleas And Film

Growing up (still am, I suppose), I was a huge Godzilla and Gamera fan.

While Godzilla seemed almost comical in some of the stunts the actor in the rubber suit had to perform as the movie series grew long in the tooth during the 1970s, Gamera always managed to remain the same… the best flying turtle pal to a kid anyone could ever hope for in this galaxy.

Gamera (ガメラ) is a kaiju (aka strange beast) of the Japanese film genre… they aren’t monsters, according to the Japanese, they are merely strange beasts. I suppose that actually fits the mold, considering that not all the monsters from space were particularly monstrous in behavior—just in looks.

First appearing in Daiei Film’s Gamera: The Giant Monster back in 1965 as a means to combat the monstrous success of Godzilla.

Now… you are probably looking at the movie title… “The Giant Monster” and are catching me on my own words that Gamera wasn’t a monster.

Blame the Americans for that one, because people were gobbling up any and every type of monster movie thrown at it in North America.

The actual Japanese name of the flick was Daikaijū Gamera (大怪獣ガメラ) which means - Big Strange Beast Gamera… which I suppose doesn’t have the same ring as how it is pronounced in Japanese or in its new English form.

So… the first question we should all have for Daiei Films, is WTF (The W = Why, in this case) would you choose to have a monster turtle?

The reason… fleas.

Back in early 1965, a film was being made by Daiei Films called Dai gunju Nezura (aka The Great Rat Swarm), directed by Yuasa Noriaki (surname first).

In production, the film’s plot involved having real rats crawl all over a city… and since there are few things Japan does better, it built a miniature model city for the rats to swarm over.

When the rats arrived for their shot at kaiju stardom, it was discovered they had fleas.

This naturally halted production on the movie.

Now… for whatever reason, they couldn’t simply go behind a dumpster and get more rats… or de-flea the ones they had.

To be honest, a movie about giant rats swarming over a city is kindda freaky, but having said giant rats have giant fleas… audiences everywhere would have been scratching in their seats.

So… here’s what Daiei Films did in the absence of new, clean rats or having someone de-flea (the real term is delouse, by the way)  the received rats… a gentleman named Nagata Masaichi (surname first) proposed that since they already had the miniature city sets built - how about having some other type of monster attack the city.

I don’t know if he was  sitting on this idea for a while, but Nagata came up with the concept of a giant, flying turtle because that’ll fly as well as a lead zeppelin. Oh… wait.

Rat director Yuasa teamed up with his screen writer Takahashi Nisan (surname first) and came up with the film plot of Gamera the Giant Monster.

Are you kidding me? It took less time to write a movie about a giant flying turtle than it took to get a new shipment of rats into Japan or to clean a bunch of rats?!

I don’t know if I am more impressed with the writer/director team or disappointed in the whole rat fiasco!

As well, Dai gunju Nezura (The Great Rat Swarm) movie never got made. Stupid, stupid giant flying turtle creature.*

So… Gamera the Giant Monster movie was made… aimed at a younger audience than the Godzilla flicks (get’em early and you’ll hook’em for life—something comic book companies forgot about during the 1980s and up).

This 1965 Gamera flick was the only one made in glorious black-and-white film, and was also the only Gamera movie that was shown in the United States in movie theaters.

Just like I remember it, these movies—after the first—all debuted on television.

The American version of Gamera the Giant Monster included film specific for the American audience, such as shots of an Alaskan army base, the Pentagon and the UN headquarters.

In case you care:

Japanese Cast
    •    Eiji Funakoshi as Dr Hidaka
    •    Harumi Kiritachi as Kyoko
    •    Junichiro Yamashita as Aoyagi
    •    Yoshiro Uchida as Toshio
    •    Michiko Sugata as Nobuyo
    •    Yoshiro Kitahara as Sakurai
    •    Jun Hamamura as Dr. Murase
    •    George Hirose as the Japanese ambassador

Additional US Cast
    •    Albert Dekker as the Secretary of Defense
    •    Brian Donlevy as Gen. Terry Arnold
    •    Diane Findlay as Sgt. Susan Embers
    •    John Baragrey as Captain Lovell
    •    Dick O'Neill as Gen. O'Neill

Gamera Movies 
    •    Gamera (1965)
    •    Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
    •    Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)
    •    Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
    •    Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
    •    Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
    •    Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
    •    Gamera: Super Monster (1980)
    •    Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
    •    Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)
    •    Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
    •    Gamera the Brave (2006)

Also, in case you wish to watch the original Daikaijū Gamera Japanese movie with English subtitles, let me direct you HERE.

I should note that Gamera becomes more kid friendly after the first movie... I had never seen the Japanese one until now.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: *this is me paraphrasing a famous line from the Bone comic books/graphic novel by Jeff Smith from Fantagraphic Books. You should read these books. 

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