Happy Birthday Gamera ... 50 Years And Still The Biggest Turtle Of Them All!
A group of Soviet fighter planes carrying nuclear weapons are shot down near the North Pole. The resulting crash detonates one of the bombs waking a giant prehistoric turtle, Gamera (Gammera is the US release), from a million year old hibernation. The titanic turtle takes little time destroying a research ship before taking off in search of the energy it needs to recharge itself.
Unlike Godzilla the destruction Gamera dishes out on Japan is not nature striking back at mankind, but a simple quest for food. Also, like Godzilla, mankind's vast array of weapons have no effect on the monster. A plan to sedate the creature just long enough to allow tons of dynamite placed around it to be detonated does nothing to curve the carnage.
In a move somewhat out of character the monster saves the life of young boy who was watching it from a lighthouse it was attempting to destroy. Gamera would reach out it's gigantic hand and catch the lad in mid fall and place him safely on the ground. From this point on Gamera would be known as the protector of children.
The world's science community would concoct one final plan to save mankind. Gamera would be lured to a remote island where a giant rocket was constructed to transport the creature far into space where it could never return.
Gamera would take the bait and become trapped in the massive nose cone of the spaceship. Earth was saved......well until the next film anyway.
In the late 1950's and early 1960's Toho had the monopoly on Kaiju (Monster Films) made in Japan. Another film maker Daiei was about to change that with the release of the film "Daikaiju Gamera" or as we know it here in the US "Gamera the Invincible". Gamera would prove to be a success for Daiei and spawn it's own series of films just like their rival Godzilla. In the world of kaiju though Gamera would always play second string behind Toho's mighty monster. The stories and special effects always seemed to be a step below the competition. Eventually Daiei would put their turtle on the shelf while the Godzilla franchise would keep on making films.
In the mid 1990's that would all change. Daiei would decide to bring Gamra out of mothballs and restart the series with new direction, new monsters, and state of the art scripts and effects. The timing was perfect for Daiei. Toho had just decided to give the Godzilla series a break and focus on other projects. The stage was set and the door wide open for a Gamera comeback. The first of the new series "Gamera Guardian of the Universe" would draw great praise from critics and fans alike. In most ways these new Gamera films would be better than the Godzilla films that Toho had been making. Gamera was now on top. The series had new life and Gamera was again on the kaiju scene.
In 2014 Kadokawa studios announced it's plans to begin production on a 50th anniversary Gamera movie. These plans were revealed in the Summer issue of Newtype magazine that published the exclusive scoop on the details. The issue contained storyboard images and other pre-production art. Until that point the 50th anniversary Gamera film had been speculated but not confirmed.
In recent years Kadokawa has shown a great interest in resurrecting the fantasy film franchises' of Daiei starting with 2010's 'Daimajin Kanon, a television drama based on the studio's Daimajin trilogy produced in the late 1960s.
Many fans of the Japanese giant monster genre (kaiju-eiga) consider Kadokawa's three Heisei era (1995 - 1999) to be the best ever produced. That being said the last Gamera movie, the 2006 release 'Gamera: The Brave' failed to recapture that glory. It will be interesting to see just what Kadokawa will have up it's sleeve to try and keep pace with Legendary's 'Godzilla' and the new bread of Kaiju films being produced in Japan as of late.
Like all classic monster movies, it is the folly of man that unleashes a ginormous beast upon the world. This time it is literal fallout from the Cold War — a Soviet bomber is shot down over U.S. airspace in the Arctic Ocean, with the massive radiation from the resultant atomic explosion awakening the ancient, gargantuan Gamera. A long-forgotten legend of the lost continent of Atlantis, the 200-foot-long, fire-eating turtle isn't in a good mood, and proving impervious to all manmade weapons, the colossal chelonian smashes a cataclysmic swath across the globe. But when he arrives in Tokyo, a small boy forms an odd connection with him, allowing authorities to unleash “Plan Z.”
The classic Gamera was directed Noriaki Yuasa, who helmed all seven of the original Gamera entries in the Showa era series between 1965 and 1971, and stars Eiji Funakoshi (Fires On The Plain), Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashiko and Jutaro Hojo (Wrath of Daimajin). The subsequent franchise was more kid-friendly (yet ironically bloodier) than Godzilla, who became less menacing and more cuddly himself during the Sixties. The Gamera series was creative in the monstrous nemeses that it pitted against the towering turtle, the most famous being the flying, pointy-headed Gyaos, who was resurrected for the successful trio of movies in the Heisei-era series between 1995 and 1999.
Gamera Vs. Barugon
Even though Japan's Self-Defense Forces sent Gamera hurtling into space in a giant rocket at the climax of Gamera: The Giant Monster, a stray meteor soon collides with his flying metal prison, freeing the ginormous turtle and allowing him to spin back to Earth. That sounds like it spells doom for Japan, but when another colossal creature named Barugon is awoken from an ancient slumber, all Hell breaks loose. And only Gamera can stop him.
After three greedy Japanese explorers steal a rare opal in New Guinea, not realizing that it is actually a monster egg, and unwittingly subject it to infrared radiation, it hatches and grows to immense size. Barugon is not simply bad because he's big: His elongated tongue, itself a deadly weapon, can emit a freezing spray, while he has the ability to shoot a deadly, laser-like rainbow from his back. And when our favorite fire-spitting Gamera becomes trapped in the creature’s frozen grip, mankind looks like it could be doomed. Can one of the explorers, Keisuke Hirata (Kojiro Hongo, Satan’s Sword), and a New Guinea native, Karen (Kyoko Enami, The Woman Gambler), help to defeat Barugon before it plunges Japan into a new Ice Age? - Info from the DVD release by August Ragone.
Gamera: Super Monster
Gamera: Super Monster, a 1980 kaiju film, was the belated final entry in the Shōwa Gamera series, and the last Gamera film written by Nisan Takahashi and directed by Noriaki Yuasa. It relied heavily on stock footage from previous Gamera films. This movie was made when Daiei was brought out of bankruptcy by Tokuma Shoten publishing company. It was intended as a one-shot movie for children. There wasn't another Gamera film for another 15 years, until his revival in 1995.
Carl Craig talks Destroy All Planets
MIN: Destroy all Planets was your only acting job and it has been noted that you never really wanted to become an actor. For those fans who may have never heard the story, how did you end up being cast as Jim Morgan in the film?
CC: I was an American serviceman's kid in Japan from 1965-1969. My mother is Japanese and her older brother (my uncle) lived next to a Daiei producer. The producer was telling my uncle that Kenji Yuasa had finally gotten approval from Daiei management to have an American in the upcoming Gamera film but they were having a problem finding someone for the part. My uncle explained that he had a nephew that was blond and blue-eyed that spoke Japanese fluently. Numbers were exchanged and when I came home from school one day, my father explained I was going down to audition for a movie part. The rest is history.
MIN: Some of the Gamera films that were produced later also had story lines that featured young people. Were you ever considered for parts in those films? Was Jim Morgan ever considered as a character in those films?
CC: I was never approached or asked to do another Gamera feature. I left Japan in 1969 (the year after Destroy all Planets was done) and was not available anyway.
MIN: What is you fondest memory of working on the film?
CC: Getting out of school for almost 3 months. I had a limo driver and a tutor go to and from the set everyday.
MIN: I read on your website (gone now) about the passing of Gamera director Noriaki (Kenji) Yuasa. Was he a great influence on your life? How did his influences help mold that young man into the man you are today?
CC: Yuasasan was a gentle man. He was great with children and specifically me, a rookie on the set. He was calming, yet very forceful and made his point to me very clearly. He expected me to act when I had no acting experience. He was very fair and expected nothing less than 100% attention to detail. I sorta have that quality but feel I am very fair in my interpersonal relationships.
MIN: Are you surprised at how many fans there are worldwide of the Gamera films? Did you ever think that some 30+ years later people would still remember your role as Jim Morgan?
CC: I was rather freaked out actually. I attended my first convention in 2000 (shortly after it was discovered that I was Carl Craig aka Jim Morgan) I was amazed at all the stories told to me about fans who indicated their sentiments about the film. They called it their favorite Gamera movie. I am still amazed at the fanfare and the following. That is why I make every effort to share my experiences, the memorabilia and my experiences that I have from the film.
MIN: Have you remained a big Kaiju fan throughout the years? If so what are some of your favorites?
CC: I always liked Godzilla and Bob Eggleton made me a believer again. I liked the new Gamera from Kanekosan but feel loyalty to the Yuasa era Gamera. I have seen all the modern Gamera films. I own them all.
MIN: Many fans may not know that after Destroy All Planets you went on to become an Air Force Pilot and an advisor to former U.S. President George Bush. What are you most proudest moments from your post Gamera career?
CC: I retired from the Air Force as a Field Grade officer and senior pilot. I flew the venerable F-4 Phantom and the sleek T-38 Talon. I can say that I lived a dream by accomplishing those feats. I am a 18+ year Federal Law Enforcement officer in the Department of Homeland Security. The duty tour at the White House was an interesting one. I took two oaths to defend the constitution and have worked with some great people, doing an important and sometimes thankless job. I am proud of my Japanese heritage but I am most proud to be an American in a country with no boundaries for those that wish to push the envelope!
Sometimes you are afforded an opportunity of a lifetime. What you do with those opportunities says a lot about yourself. In my case a chance to act in a Kaiju film as a young kid. The other, a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a jet pilot. Lastly, to serve my country in a capacity where dedication to duty, difficult times in leadership and horrific events (Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, etc) compel us all to act in a way we feel fit to express ourselves. Some may never have the opportunities that I had, some may never have something that significant in life just presented to you. I had to work to accomplish my goals in life. I have been successful in some and a failure in others but those failures were not because I didn't try hard enough. One must remember that no one owes us anything. If we expect to succeed in life, we must make the effort, time and time again, until we reach the level we desire to achieve. Failures can be expected, how we deal with failure also makes us better people. My favorite saying is; "Loyalty above all, except honor." Be sure you understand that loyalty has a price and that price cannot exceed the statute of honor. Doing the right thing all the time will get you far in life, selling yourself short of doing the right thing because your loyalty is misplaced, is a sad way to travel the roads of life. The first time you sell yourself short, you'll never be able to look yourself in the mirror ever again. I am proud of the fact that I can still look myself in the mirror, every day!