Today’s feature was the debut of the Hesei era of the famed kaiju franchise Gamera: 1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was written by Kazunori Itô, who is best known for Ghost in the Shell and .hack//SIGN. He would also return to write both of the following Gamera films.
The movie was directed by Shûsuke Kaneko, who also helmed the film adaptation of the popular anime Death Note as well as the Toho kaiju showcase Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Out Attack. As with Ito, Kaneko returned for both of the subsequent Gamera movies.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe featured two cinematographers: Kenji Takama (Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, Death Note: The Last Name) and Junichi Tozawa, who would later shoot Gamera 2: Attack of Legion and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.
The editor for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was Shizuo Arakawa, who would also cut the sequel, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.
The producers for the film included Hiroyuki Kato (who has produced recent episode of the Pokemon television show), Yasuyoshi Tokuma (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), and Tsutomu Tsuchikawa, a frequent collaborator of Takashi Miike’s on such movies as Dead or Alive and The City of Lost Souls.
The effects team for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe included Hajime Matsumoto (The Grudge, Ringu), Mahiro Maeda (Mad Max: Fury Road, Blue Submarine No. 6), Tomo’o Haraguchi (Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Air Doll), Shinji Higuchi (Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Attack on Titan), Makoto Kamiya (Godzilla vs. Biollante), Toshio Miike (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), and Shin’ichi Fushima (Godzilla Against Mechgodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus).
The cast for the movie includes Ihara Tsuyoshi (13 Assassins, Letters From Iwo Jima), Shinobu Nakayama (Fist of Legend, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), Ayako Fujitani (Man From Reno, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris), and Hirotarô Honda (Kamikaze Girls).
The antagonist monster of the film, Gyaos, was performed by a woman actor, which was reportedly the first time this was done in the history of kaiju movies.
The reception to Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was generally positive: it currently holds a 6.9 rating IMDb alongside a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is plenty respectable for a franchise known for its historic low quality.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe stands in sharp contrast to the Showa era of the franchise, which I covered a while back. Whereas those movies were generally goofy and aimed at children, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has a much more serious and dark tone, more in line with a typical monster or disaster movie. There is also the notable absence of children characters in the cast, which was a staple of the Showa era and the Gamera character.
I particularly appreciate that Gamera: Guardian of the Universe still uses the classic rubber suit monster effects, just updated for the times. If they had attempted to use mid-1990s CGI, this movie would be nearly unwatchable. Speaking of which, the team also made the solid decision to introduce both Gamera and his classic foe Gyaos in this movie. The original Gamera didn’t feature an antagonist, and is the weakest in the franchise from an action standpoint because of it (unlike the original Gojira, which was a true drama that didn’t need monster action to carry it).
Gyaos in this movie looks more like Toho’s Rodan more than I ever remember him looking before. The design used in the Showa era had a larger, more pronounced triangular head, whereas the Hesei update is toned down significantly with a head more reasonably proportional to the body. The result is a creature that looks very similar to the Heisei design of Rodan which debuted a handful of years before in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.
Overall, this is a really enjoyable kaiju movie. It isn’t revolutionary in any sense and doesn’t break any new ground for the genre, but is perfectly serviceable for what it is. For fans of big monster action, this is absolutely worth checking out. It still isn’t as good as the Heisei Godzilla flicks, but that shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise. The fact that a Gamera movie is honestly worth the time spent watching it is noteworthy enough.