|Gamera film series character|
Gamera, as featured in Gamera, the Giant Monster
|First appearance||Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965)|
|Last appearance||Gamera the Brave (2006)|
|Created by||Yonejiro Saito|
|Alias||the Friend of All Children|
the Friend to All Children
the Guardian of the Universe
Gamera (Japanese: ガメラ, Hepburn: Gamera) is a fictional monster originating from a series of Japanese films of the same name. Gamera first appeared in Noriaki Yuasa's 1965 film Gamera, the Giant Monster, produced by Daiei Film. The character and the first film were intended to compete with the success of Toho's Godzilla film series. Since then, Gamera has become a Japanese icon in his own right, appearing in a total of 12 films produced by Daiei Film and later Kadokawa Daiei Studio, as well as in comic books, manga, anime and video games. Gamera has been given various nicknames throughout the history of the franchise, including the Friend of All Children and the Guardian of the Universe.
Gamera is depicted a massive, fire-breathing, prehistoric monster resembling a turtle, mutated by exposure to nuclear weapons. In the first film, Gamera is portrayed as aggressive and destructive, though he also saves the life of a young Japanese boy. As the film series progressed, Gamera took on a more benevolent role, becoming a protecter of humanity, and especially of human children, from extraterrestrial races and other giant monsters.
In the United States, Gamera attained prominence during the 1970s due to the burgeoning popularity of UHF television stations featuring Saturday afternoon matinée showcases like Creature Double Feature, and later in the 1990s when five Gamera films were featured on the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The idea for Gamera was developed by Yonejiro Saito. The character was created as a property of the production company Daiei Film, and was intended to compete with the Godzilla film series (featuring the giant monster character of the same name), owned by rival studio Toho. Gamera has been described as being a rip-off of Godzilla.
The name Gamera (ガメラ) derives from the Japanese kame ("turtle"), and the suffix -ra, a suffix shared by such other kaiju characters as Godzilla (Gojira) and Mothra. Gamera's name was spelled Gammera in the title of Gammera the Invincible, the re-titled American release of the first film in the franchise, Gamera, the Giant Monster.
Gamera's turtle-like design may have been inspired by the Black Tortoise, one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations in East Asian mythology. The Black Tortoise is known as Genbu in Japanese, and is usually depicted as a turtle entwined together with a snake. Each of the Four Symbols are said to act as guardians over each of the four cardinal directions, with the dragon Seiryu in the east; the tiger Byakko in the west; the bird Suzaku in the south; and the tortoise Genbu in the north. In Gamera, the Giant Monster, the first film in the franchise, Gamera is depicted as awakening in the Arctic, the northernmost region on Earth. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, the 11th film in the franchise, contains a scene featuring a book describing the Four Symbols, including Genbu.
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Gamera resembles an enormous prehistoric turtle, and is capable of both bipedal movement and flight. He occasionally walks on all four legs in the first three films of the Gamera franchise. He can fly by means of "jets" which can be ignited out of his limb holes when he retracts his legs into his shell. The jets allow Gamera to rise into the air and spin, propelling him forward. In later films, he is shown to be able to fly with only his rear legs drawn inside his shell, allowing his front limbs more freedom. Gamera's shell is presented as being incredibly resilient and strong, and can deflect missiles and other projectiles. His plastron (lower shell) is more vulnerable than his carapace (upper shell), however, and he has been wounded in his plastron to the point of bleeding. He possesses a pronounced crest on his head, his mouth contains rows of teeth, and two tusks protrude upward from each side of his lower jaw.
During the franchise's Shōwa period, Gamera is depicted as feeding on flammable substances, such as oil and fire. According to notes by frequent series director Noriaki Yuasa, Gamera's internal anatomy includes sacs which allow him to store oil, lava, coal, and uranium. In Gamera, the Giant Monster and Gamera vs. Barugon, cold temperatures are shown to weaken Gamera. During the franchise's Heisei period, Gamera has retractable spikes protruding from his elbows, and is shown to be able to shoot plasma fireballs from his mouth. Gamera has also been portrayed as being able to absorb mana from the Earth, to fire a plasma beam from his chest, and to regenerate lost limbs.
The original 1965 film, Gamera, the Giant Monster, depicts Gamera's origins as being a result of United States military fighters launching an attack on enemy bombers (presumably belonging to the Soviet Union), which causes the detonation of an atomic bomb on board one of the aircraft. The nuclear blast releases Gamera from a state of suspended animation in the ice. Meanwhile, a Japanese research team stumbles upon an Inuit tribe in possession of an ancient stone etching that depicts a giant turtle, which the tribe refers to as "Gamera".
In the franchise's Heisei era, which began with the 1995 reboot film Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera's in-universe origins were changed. In the Heisei films, Gamera is portrayed as an ancient, bio-engineered creature from Atlantis, created for the purpose of defending the people of Atlantis from Gyaos, a pterosaur-like creature which breathes a destructive supersonic beam when on the attack. Human researchers find Gamera floating in the Pacific Ocean, encased in rock, and mistake him for an atoll. Within the rock, they discover a large monolith explaining Gamera's origins, along with dozens of magatama made from orichalcum, which allow for a psychic link between Gamera and humans. In Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, an undersea graveyard containing numerous Gamera-like fossils is shown, suggesting that Gamera was not the only one of his kind. One character in the film refers to these fossils as "beta versions" of Gamera, possibly failures in Atlantis' attempts to create the final version.
The continuity of the franchise was rebooted a second time with the 2006 film Gamera the Brave, the 12th entry in the series. The opening scene of the film, set in 1973, depicts the original Gamera sacrificing himself by means of self-destruction to save a coastal village from three Gyaos.33 years later, a young boy named Toru Aizawa finds a glowing, heart-shaped rock near his home, with a small egg lying on top of it. A baby turtle soon hatches from the egg, and begins to grow in size at an alarming rate. The turtle, dubbed "Toto" by Toru, quickly forms a bond with the boy and develops the ability to breathe fire and fly. After consuming the glowing rock found with his egg, Toto fully transforms into the next incarnation of Gamera, gaining the power to defeat a lizard-like monster known as Zedus.
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The Gamera film series is broken into two different eras, each reflecting a characteristic style and corresponding to the same eras used to classify all kaiju eiga (monster movies) in Japan. The names of the two eras refer to the Japanese emperor during production: the Shōwa era and the Heisei era.
Shōwa period (1965–1980)
The film series began in 1965 with Gamera, the Giant Monster, directed by Noriaki Yuasa, which is the first and only entry in the entire series to be shot in black-and-white. In 1966, the film was released in the United States under the title Gammera the Invincible. A total of seven Gamera films were produced between 1965 and 1971, with one being released each year. These films, several of which were also directed by Yuasa, became popular with child audiences. During this time, five of the seven films were picked up for television distribution in the United States by American International Television. Like Gamera, the Giant Monster becoming Gammera the Invincible, each film (except for Gamera vs. Zigra) was re-titled for American viewers—Gamera vs. Barugon became War of the Monsters; Gamera vs. Gyaos became Return of the Giant Monsters; Gamera vs. Viras became Destroy All Planets; Gamera vs. Guiron became Attack of the Monsters; and Gamera vs. Jiger became Gamera vs. Monster X.
An eighth entry was slated for a 1972 release, tentatively titled Gamera vs. Garasharp. However, in 1971, Daiei Film went into bankruptcy and the Gamera films were forced to cease production as a result.
After Daiei was purchased by Tokuma Shoten in 1974, the new management wanted to produce another Gamera film, resulting in Gamera: Super Monster, released in 1980. The filmmakers were forced to make the movie because of the contract for one more Gamera film that they owed to Daiei. Approximately 1/3 of Gamera: Super Monster is composed of stock footage from six of the previous seven films. However, when production of the film had begun, Yuasa saw how poorly Tokuma Shoten was handling things and knew that Gamera's reputation would never recover from the film, so he had Takahashi rewrite the ending into one where Gamera was killed at the end by sacrificing his life to save Earth.
In 1985, the American distribution rights to the Gamera films were bought by producer Sandy Frank, who distributed five of the eight films with new English dubbing. In 1988 and 1989, Frank's versions of Gamera, the Giant Monster (simply re-titled Gamera), Gamera vs. Barugon, Gamera vs. Gyaos (re-titled Gamera vs. Gaos), Gamera vs. Guiron, and Gamera vs. Zigra were each used in episodes of the television program Mystery Science Theater 3000, during the show's first season, which aired on KTMA-TV.
Heisei period (1995–2006)
In the 1995 series reboot, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, three Gyaos are discovered on a remote island. The Japanese government discovers that they are all female and decides that since they are the last of their kind, they should be captured and studied. Meanwhile, a search has been assembled for a moving atoll in the Pacific. They find it, along with small gems made of an unknown metal and a stone sticking up out of the center of it. They manage to take pictures and collect some of the strange gems, but the stone crumbles and the atoll takes off towards Japan at high speeds. It ends up that the atoll is actually an ancient monster, made by the Atlanteans, called Gamera. He attacks the Gyaos, killing two, but one escapes. The remaining Gyaos grows to Gamera-like proportions and the two battle. Gamera manages to defeat his foe and heads out to sea.
In Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, released in 1996, Earth is attacked by an alien force known as Legion.
In Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, released in 1999, Gamera has to face hordes of Gyaos and a new foe known as Iris.
In March 2014, Anime News Network reported that a new Gamera production was planned, with no release date specified. On October 8, 2015, Kadokawa Daiei Studio's senior managing director Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and producer Shinichiro Inoue screened a proof-of-concept trailer at the New York Comic Con, revealing plans to commemorate the Gamera franchise's 50th anniversary by producing a new film reboot of the series, set to be directed by Katsuhito Ishii. The proof-of-concept trailer featured a newly designed Gamera, a swarm of newly designed Gyaos and a new, as of yet unnamed monster, all of which were created and rendered through the use of computer-generated imagery.
Daiei and Kadokawa productions
|Shōwa period (1965–1980)|
|1||1965||Noriaki Yuasa||None||Arrow Video|
|5||1969||Guiron, Space Gyaos|
|6||1970||Jiger, Jiger's baby|
|8||1980||Gyaos, Zigra, Viras, Jiger, Guiron, and Barugon|
|Heisei period (1995–2006)|
|9||1995||Shusuke Kaneko||Gyaos||Arrow Video|
|12||2006||Ryuta Tasaki||Gyaos, Zedus|
In 2003, Alpha Video released the American versions of four Shōwa films on pan and scan DVDs: Gammera the Invincible, Gamera vs. Barugon (as War of the Monsters), Gamera vs. Viras (as Destroy All Planets) and Gamera vs. Guiron (as Attack of the Monsters).
In 2010, Shout! Factory acquired the rights from Kadokawa Pictures for all eight of the Showa Gamera films in order to release the uncut Japanese versions on DVD for the first time ever in North America. These "Special Edition" DVDs were released in sequential order, starting with Gamera, the Giant Monster on May 18, 2010, followed by Gamera vs. Barugon and two double features: Gamera vs. Gyaos with Gamera vs. Viras, and Gamera vs. Guiron with Gamera vs. Jiger. On March 15, 2011, Shout! Factory released the last two films of the Showa series in a double feature of Gamera vs. Zigra with Gamera: Super Monster. Shout! Factory later released MST3K vs. Gamera, a special 21st volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000 containing the episodes featuring all five Gamera movies from the show's third season.
On April 29, 2014, Mill Creek Entertainment released the eight Showa Gamera films (1965–1980) on Blu-ray in two volumes, Gamera: The Ultimate Collection Volume 1 and Gamera: The Ultimate Collection Volume 2, featuring the original widescreen video and original Japanese audio only with English subtitles, and also the first 11 films (1965–1999) on DVD again as The Gamera Legacy Collection: 1965 - 1999, also featuring the original widescreen video and original Japanese audio only with English subtitles. The Heisei trilogy was re-released on Blu-ray earlier from Mill Creek Entertainment on September 27, 2011, once again featuring the original widescreen video and original Japanese audio only with English subtitles.
On August 17, 2020, all 12 Gamera films will be released on a limited edition eight-disc Blu-ray set called Gamera: The Complete Collection by Arrow Video. The set will feature the original Japanese cuts, with English audio options; the Blu-ray debut of Gammera the Invincible; HD transfers as well as 4K restorations of the Heisei trilogy; case artwork by Matt Frank; audio commentaries by August Ragone, David Kalat, Steve Ryfle, and Ed Godziszewski; a full color hardcover reprint of Dark Horse Comics' four-issue comic book miniseries Gamera the Guardian of the Universe; the English-language printing debut of the comic book story Gamera: The Last Hope by Matt Frank and Joshua Bugosh; and an 80-page book featuring a retrospective on the series by Patrick Macias with illustrations by Jolyon Yates.
Dark Horse Comics published a four-issue miniseries based on Gamera called Gamera the Guardian of the Universe in 1996. The miniseries features Gamera, Gyaos, Zigra, and Viras. The manga series Dr. Slump, written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama, depicts Gamera as appearing in the land of Penguin Village. In the manga series Dragon Ball, also by Toriyama, a flying turtle which resembles a smaller version of Gamera is summoned by Master Roshi to carry him to Fire Mountain. There are references to Gamera in chapters of the manga series Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo, written and illustrated by Osamu Akimoto, and Kinnikuman, created by Yudetamago. These chapters appear in Gamera: Super Monster, the eighth film in the franchise.
The third season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 contains five episodes which each feature a film from the Gamera franchise's Shōwa period: Gamera, the Giant Monster, Gamera vs. Barugon, Gamera vs. Gyaos, Gamera vs. Guiron, and Gamera vs. Zigra. In a similar manner to events depicted in the manga series upon which it was based, the anime television series Dragon Ball features a creature known as Baby Gamera, a flying turtle resembling a miniature version of Gamera which transports Master Roshi to Fire Mountain. Gamera was parodied in the South Park episode "Mecha-Streisand", and was featured in the Simpsons episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo".
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Gamera appeared in several video games released in 1995, including Gamera: Daikaiju Kuchu Kessen for the Game Boy, Gamera: Gyaosu Gekimetsu Sakusen for the Super Famicom, and Gamera: The Time Adventure for the Bandai Playdia. In 1997, Gamera 2000 was released exclusively in Japan for the PlayStation. In 2017, Gamera appeared in the video game City Shrouded in Shadow, released for the PlayStation 4, alongside such characters as Legion, Godzilla, Ultraman, and Evangelion Unit-01.
Box office performance and critical response
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Many of the Gamera films were commercially successful in Japan, rivaling the Godzilla franchise at the box office during the 1960s. However, they were commonly regarded as being inferior to the Godzilla films, with criticism being aimed at the derivative and absurd nature of the series. Despite this, the 1995 reboot Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was a critical and financial success, remaining in the top 10 films in Japan for its first six weeks of release and grossing more than Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, which was also playing in Japanese theaters at that time.
Todd McCarthy, in his review of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe for Variety, wrote that "Despite its horrific countenance and plated shell, Gamera remains one of the most likable of all movie monsters". Brian Solomon of the website Bloody Disgusting ranked Gamera eighth on his list of "Most Kick-Ass Giant Monsters in Movie History". Gamera was also ranked eighth on Rick Mele of Sharp's list of "Greatest Giant Monsters in Movie History". Chris Coffel of Film School Rejects wrote that "I would argue that the Gamera franchise is better than the Godzilla franchise", complimenting Gamera's turtle-like design and his affinity for children.
The University of Maryland Gamera I human-powered helicopter, along with its successor, was named after Gamera. Developed by University of Maryland engineering students in 2011 and 2012, respectively, the name was also chosen in reference to the University's mascot, the diamondback terrapin, as well as to flights undertaken by Japanese human-powered helicopters years prior.
In July 2011, Washington State University veterinarians successfully fixed a prosthetic caster onto an African spurred tortoise named Gamera (after the giant turtle), who was a single amputee.
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