Welcome to another installment of what's officially - well, according to Greebo, anyway, and that's good enough for me -
the joint-fourth most popular read in the H2G2 Post. Many thanks to both of you who voted for the column - you will of
course receive an unlimited supply of rice pudding as soon as I can figure out a way of attaching it to an email.
Those of you lured in by the Harry Potter mention out front may want to skip on down the page to my inaugural
24LAS competition, as I strongly doubt you'll want to be reading about Japanese guys in rubber suits. Everyone
else - and that's a hopeful assumption - read on.
Now then, having been not terribly nice about Steven Seagal last week I thought it would be best 1 that I say something positive about the great man this time around. This, of course, was
not as easy as it first appeared, but finally I hit upon the answer... Ahem: Steven Seagal's daughter is a very reasonable
child actress. And - what are the chances of that happening? - she just happens to have made her screen debut in this
week's main subject, the 1995 movie Gamera: The Guardian Of The Universe!
The Kaiju Eiga Sanction
The more I look at movies the more I'm convinced that there are a few keystone pictures that most of the rest derive
from, one way or the other. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one, Westworld another from the SF/fantasy genre.
The 90s thriller owes a huge debt to Ringo Lam's City on Fire (by way of Reservoir Dogs), and as far as the
monster movie goes the Big Daddy is King Kong.
Kong inspired FX-guru Ray Harryhausen, whose first big success was
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. This was a hit in the far east and leading Japanese film studio Toho quickly began
production on a home-made, big-budget knock-off. Lacking the expertise or resources for Harryhausen's painstaking
animation, they realised their giant lizard by sticking a fat stuntman in a rubber monster suit. The resulting movie was known
in the west as Godzilla: King Of The Monsters and a legend was born.
In the west we call them 'suitamation' movies, or more frequently 'crap', but in Japan they're known as
kaiju eiga which loosely translates as 'big scary monster'. Surely everyone has heard of Godzilla and his various
sparring partners (Mothra, Ghidorah and the rest), if only from the flawed American Godzilla movie and the cartoon series,
but the big guy had competition back in the 60s and 70s, from rival studio Dahei's monster star, Gamera. The original cycle
of Gamera movies mainly ran between 1966 and 1971, and was aimed rather more at a juvenile audience than the early
Godzilla movies. The end result was that both franchises moved downmarket in search of the kiddy yen. Audiences
stayed away in droves and for a long time after 1975's Counterattack of Mechagodzilla (sample dialogue: "Darling, I
love you, but Mechagodzilla's brain is in my stomach!2") it looked like the serious Japanese monster movie was finally extinct.
But then from 1984 onwards Toho relaunched a back-to-basics Godzilla in a series of dark, inventive movies with a new
take on some old monsters and (fairly) state-of-the-art special effects. True, it all normally boiled down to two guys in
monster suits having a barney in a balsa wood cityscape, but at least the suits were now occasionally animatronic. With the
revived Godzilla now big at the box office once more, it was only a matter of time before Dahei's megachelonian megastar
was dusted off too.
The Gamera Never Lies
Which leads us neatly into Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera: The Guardian Of The Universe, the first of the new-look
Gamera movies. The story opens with Yanemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a young naval officer, escorting a freighter full of
plutonium across the Pacific. The convoy runs into an uncharted floating atoll, which drifts off towards Japan. Meanwhile
ornithologist and babe Muyami Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is called in when a mysterious new species of giant
lizard-bird devours the entire population of a small island. The government lures the bird-things (which we later learn are
called Gyaos) to a sports arena on the mainland, hoping to trap them under the retractable roof (a useful fringe benefit of this
feature which the architects of the new Wembley stadium might want to consider).
As the plan goes into action the atoll, now monitored by Yanemori and investigator Kusanage (Akira Onodera), enters
the nearby harbour and turns out to be, startlingly, a 60-metre tall turtle (yes, this is Gamera, a rather good costume albeit
with slightly boggly eyes). Gamera stomps his way to the arena and goes after the captive Gyaos. But what is the
relationship between the two types of monster?
Well, thanks in part to Kusanage's daughter Asagi (Ayako Fujitani, better known as Steven Seagal's daughter) forming a
psychic link with Gamera, the truth is revealed. It all turns out to be perfectly simple: 12,000 years ago the Gyaos, a
genetically-engineered Atlantean life-form, ran out of control and destroyed their own creators. But not, however, before the
Atlanteans were able to create Gamera to defend humanity from the winged menace. Now environmental damage has
caused a clutch of ancient Gyaos eggs to hatch, and Gamera's expertise is clearly required 3.
The movie zooms along at a manic pace, with vast amounts of property damage and some nifty special effects. Well,
perhaps I should qualify that by saying that you'll hardly ever be in doubt as to how any of the effects are achieved (the
Gyaos are obviously glove puppets, Gamera is obviously a guy in a rubber suit), but they tell the story brilliantly. This was one
of the first kaiju eiga to use CGI - for Gamera's and the Gyaos' breath weapons and some rockets the army use on
them - and it adds enormously to the look of the picture.
I saw the dubbed UK Special Edition of this movie and inevitably this adds to the comedy value of the dialogue - it's
weirdly-accented, bizarrely-cadenced, and at some points it seems deliberately designed to raise a laugh - 'Move along,
there's nothing to see,' a rather-too-mellow traffic cop entreats the crowd at one point, while behind him an enraged giant
turtle demolishes a national landmark.
The other interesting thing about the UK version is the music. Rather charmingly the UK producers thought that today's
sophisticated young audience would all rush to see an old-fashioned foreign monster movie as long as it had bangin' techno
tunes on the soundtrack. And so virtually the entire movie takes place to a pulsating backbeat. The first time I watched it this
drove me up the wall in annoyance, but on subsequent viewings it really grew on me: it adds an odd kind of urgency to the
story and is a refreshing change from the stilted march music that comprises the average Godzilla soundtrack.
I am, of course, aware that a lot of people would choose to donate a kidney rather than sit through a dubbed, foreign,
not-exactly-big-budget monster movie. And while I respect this, I still think it's a shame, because - if you're in the right mood
- this is at least as entertaining as your average Hollywood blockbuster. Of all the kaiju eiga I've seen - which is
probably more than is healthy - the only one I'd even consider recommending over this would be the 1992 version of
Godzilla Vs Mothra. Monstrously entertaining, and you should really give it a chance.
Harry Potter and the Atrophied Vocabulary
Gosh, is it me or has it suddenly got a lot more crowded in here? No, it's not a review4 (wait, come back), that'll be along in a few weeks, but I thought I'd mark
the release of this little-known, low-budget, art-house flick by having the first 24LAS writing contest.
Now, back in 1989 the 16th Bond movie had the working title of Licence Revoked, but it reached the screen as
the less-relevant Licence to Kill. The reason? Americans didn't know what 'revoked' meant. Now, in a similar vein,
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has been retitled Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone for the US
audience. As a trained philosopher this irked me no end, but then it struck me that there are another three films in the works,
and all with equally complicated names!
So, here's the contest: you have to come up with equally simplified-for-foreign-audiences titles for the other three Harry
Potter books when they're filmed. For visiting Martians, they're called Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. My crack(ed) team of judges will
decide the winners, who'll receive... uh, a warm glow of achievement? Any particularly patronisingly amusing entries will be
anonymously forwarded to the film company. All entries must be posted by 8pm GMT on the first Wednesday in
Well, good luck with that. Next week I'll be taking a look at Ridley Scott's Alien. Don't fail to miss it.
his lawyers insisted.2Honestly. Someone actually says
that.3I said it was
simple, I didn't say it actually made sense.4I was unable to
bully my little sister into doing one.