Gamera The Brave (Chiisaki yûsha-tachi: Gamera)

Japan (2005) Dir. Ryuta Tasaki

You can’t keep a good giant turtle down! After a 15 year absence, Gamera returned to the screens in a big budget trilogy in 1995 which ended in 1999, before resurfacing for his 40th anniversary with this even bigger budget outing.

In 1973, Gamera sacrifices himself to save the people from the deadly Gyaos but self-destructing. 33 years later Kousuke (Kanji Tsuda), who watched this as a young boy, is now a widower with a son of his own, Toru (Ryo Tomioka). One day, Toru sees a red light flashing on the island where Gamera died and investigates, finding a red gemstone with an egg sitting atop.

The egg hatches an a tiny turtle pops out, which Toru take home and names Toto, his late mother’s nickname for him. But Toto starts to grow quickly and even flies, and Toru struggles to keep him hidden from his father. On the advice of his neighbour Mai (Kaho), Toru hides Toto in an old beach hut, just as a giant monster appears and attacks the town. Luckily, a giant, different looking Toto saves the day – or as his father calls him, Gamera!

Well, not strictly, since Gamera was dead and Toto popped out of an egg as a lickle baby so he is more Son of Gamera, although this raises many questions about the biological capabilities of male turtles to lay eggs. Anyway, Gamera The Brave feels like a pseudo reboot of sorts, with the clear intention of reviving the franchise to fill the gap left by Godzilla’s (then) swan song Final Wars in 2004.

Unfortunately, the film didn’t do so well at the box office and Gamera was left to fly off into the sky, yet to return. Is this justified? It’s debatably certainly, but there are worse kaiju flicks out there. Director Ryuta Tasaki was very happy with his efforts and felt he made a masterpiece, but even the earnestness suffused in every frame wasn’t enough to make audiences agree with him.

Opening the film with a version of the “classic” Gamera was a smart move to hook older viewers and create a bridge between them and their kids who are soon to be seeing their “own” Gamera. A key factor to this is the script remains true to the old formula of kids being the ones to understand Gamera best, with Toru assuming the role of every child from the original series, only far less precocious.

Such a refreshing change to see Gamera’s junior support circle is ordinary kids instead of pint-sized geniuses; instead, this aspect is comparatively diluted to callow blind faith, allowing the kids to experience real danger first. However, this eternal bond between Gamera and the youngsters remains a huge part of the story and inevitably in the final showdown with the creature known as Zedus.

At the centre of this is the red gemstone which Toru gives to Mai as a good luck charm when she goes into hospital for a life saving operation. Mai is a few years older than Toru and is the one to tell him his precious Toto is likely the reincarnation of Gamera, which Toru refuses to believe. Even when dad Kousuke says the same thing, Toru is adamant Toto is not like that, despite Toto being able to fly and doubling in size overnight.  

Fans of the older films will recall how the kids always came up with outlandish scientific solutions to help Gamera that the adults failed to see. In this instance, both are on the same page, in that Mai and Toru realise Gamera needs the red gemstone to boost his power, whilst the government officials, who shut down the Giant Monster Squad just before Zedus arrived, had samples of the red gemstone to help the injured turtle.

Not that the government were completely altruistic in this, but the script doesn’t do much to flesh this subplot out, its only significance coming at the end. This is one of the major issues with Yukari Tatsui’s screenplay, that it wants to be a child friendly humanist story about the loneliness of a boy missing his dead mother and a traditional kaiju flick. It is possible to combine the two but Tatsui doesn’t quite make the conflict aspect as prevalent as the lighter stuff.

Putting this aside, much of what is on offer is a huge step up from the classic 60s films which were all a variation on a theme, with the acting and dialogue also vastly improved due to tire old ropes being abandoned. Now a busy actress and model, Kaho makes her debut here aged 15 as Mai, whilst Ryo Tomioka outclasses all of his junior predecessors with ease, yet only made one more film after this.

But what of the special effects? This is possibly the most accomplished of them all in that regard, as it should be. Toto starts as a real baby turtle, then both small and full-scale animatronic models and finally Toshinori Sasaki in a suit. His appearance is less menacing and closer to a real turtle with a rounder head and big eyes, making him more rubbery looking than ever. Sadly, the flying scenes are early 90s bad overlays, which is shocking for a 2005 production.

Zedus doesn’t arrive until 45 minutes in so fights are limited but still fun, with the usual destruction of buildings and landmarks which look great thanks to the top notch model making. Aside from the opening battle against the Gyaos, I can see some fans being impatient waiting for the action to finally arrive.   

Gamera The Brave is in many ways the strongest film in the series in how much it gets right and from having the technology to do Gamera justice without betraying its Kaiju legacy. The patchy script only meets the reboot ambitions half way but its heart is in the right place, and if is this is Gamera’s farewell, it’s a poignant way to go.