GAMERA THE BRAVE
The Giant Flying Turtle Celebrates His 40th Anniversary with a New Film
Author: Keith Aiken
Translations: Oki Miyano
Source: Kadokawa Herald Pictures, Inc., Kadokawa Pictures USA
Official Movie Site: Gamera.jp
Special Thanks to Ed Godziszewski and Daisuke Ishizuka
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
Over the past four decades, the giant monster Gamera has been called “Invincible”, “The Friend of All Children”, “Super Monster”, and “The Guardian of the Universe”. Now, the popular kaiju returns with a new title; “The Brave”.
Six years after Gamera’s last big screen appearance; Kadokawa Pictures announced that they would be bringing the monster back in an all-new motion picture. Shochiku is handling theatrical distribution in Japan, where the film will be released on April 29, 2006 as GAMERA: THE LITTLE BRAVES (Chiisaki Yusha-tachi Gamera). International sales are being handled by Kadokawa Herald Pictures, Inc., who is planning to market the movie worldwide with the English title GAMERA THE BRAVE.
The latest film is a slightly belated celebration of the 40th anniversary of the original GAMERA (Daikaiju Gamera, U.S. title GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE, 1965). Directed by Noriaki Yuasa, GAMERA premiered during a time when Japanese audiences were flocking to giant monster movies. The film was a box office blockbuster for the Daiei Motion Picture Company, and the studio quickly went into production on the first sequel, GAMERA VS BARUGON (Daikaiju Ketto-Gamera tai Barugon, a.k.a. WAR OF THE MONSTERS, 1966). Starting with the third movie in the series, GAMERA VS GYAOS (Daikaiju Kuchusen- Gamera tai Gyaosu, a.k.a. RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS, 1967), Yuasa and his crew directly targeted younger audiences by featuring children in lead roles, bizarre and colorful stories, outlandish monster villains, and over-the-top violent battles that contrasted sharply with the kaiju films from rival studio Toho Co., Ltd. Daiei’s formula was enormously successful, and at its peak the Gamera series was a strong contender for Godzilla’s crown as the box office “King of the Monsters”.
Unfortunately, the flying turtle was done in by outside factors. Daiei declared bankruptcy on December 23, 1971 and the Gamera series came to an abrupt end with the seventh film, GAMERA VS ZIGRA (Gamera tai Shinkai Kaiju Jigura, 1971). The following year, lawsuits in the Tokyo District Court revealed that Daiei president Masaichi Nagata and three other executives had been using company funds for illegal political contributions and other non-business activities. In 1974, Daiei was bought by Yasuyoshi Tokuma, president of the Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company, and the studio returned to limited production of new films. Gamera was briefly revived for GAMERA, SUPER MONSTER (Uchu Kaiju Gamera, 1980), an odd conglomeration of new material and stock footage from the earlier movies.
The monster star made a far more triumphant return on his 30th anniversary. GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (Gamera: Daikaiju Kuchu Kessen, 1995) was a hit with fans and film critics, and was quickly hailed as one the best kaiju films in decades. The following year, director Shusuke Kaneko (GMK, DEATH NOTE), effects director Shinji Higuchi (LORELEI: THE WITCH OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN, SINKING OF JAPAN), writer Kazunori Ito (GHOST IN THE SHELL), and composer Koh Otani (GMK, THE iDol) reunited for GAMERA: ATTACK OF LEGION (Gamera 2: Region Shurai, 1996), and in 1999 the same creative team completed the trilogy with the visual effects tour de force GAMERA: REVENGE OF IRIS (Gamera 3: Irisu Kakusei).
Following the passing of Yasuyoshi Tokuma, Daiei was sold to the massive Kadokawa Publishing Company. In November 2002, Chairman Maihiko Kadokawa announced that Daiei would merge with the company’s own film division to form the Kadokawa-Daiei Motion Picture Company. Shortly thereafter, the company’s name was simplified to Kadokawa Pictures.
The new studio quickly went to work on several projects. They approached Toho about co-producing GODZILLA VS. GAMERA, but Toho rejected the offer so Kadokawa turned their attention to reviving some of the combined studio’s best known properties. 2005 saw successful releases for both Masaaki Tezuka’s SAMURAI COMMANDO: MISSION 1549 (Sengoku Jieitai 1549) and Takashi Miike’s THE GREAT YOKAI WAR (Yokai Daisenso). As these two films opened in Japan, Kadokawa Pictures revealed that the studio would next begin shooting the twelfth Gamera film in July 2005.
The announcement of GAMERA THE BRAVE was met with great enthusiasm by tokusatsu fans who were both excited by the return of the flying turtle and hoping for a new kaiju film to fill the void left by Godzilla’s recent retirement following GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. But when photos of the new Gamera first surfaced in the Japanese press and magazines like Newtype The Live, they created a bit of stir. The previous incarnation had been widely praised for its menacing and realistic appearance, so many people were baffled that the filmmakers chose a smaller and much cuter Gamera design for GAMERA THE BRAVE. The new look was an intentional decision on Kadokawa’s part since the latest film is set in a “totally different world” from the previous Gamera movies and has no direct connection to events in any of the earlier films.
In July 2003, Shusuke Kaneko revealed in a video interview for the California film show Thrillville that turtles did not exist in the universe of the 1990s Gamera trilogy. While that premise was never stated directly in any of the films, it set up the idea that mankind saw Gamera not as a giant turtle, but as a strange mythical beast. This concept allowed the filmmakers to experiment more freely with the character over the course of the series, and by GAMERA 3 the monster had evolved into a symbol of destructive power. In order to create a defined break from the previous series, turtles are a common species in GAMERA THE BRAVE, and Gamera is clearly identified as one in the film.
The new movie definitely maintains one violent tradition of the earlier Gamera films. Over the past forty years, the monster was often overmatched by his foes and would suffer terrible injuries in battle… he has been sliced by Gyaos, stabbed by Guiron, impaled by Zigra and Iris, slashed by Legion, and even impregnated by Jiger. The filmmakers recently explained that this was not done to make Gamera appear weak when compared to other monsters like Godzilla, but to show the kaiju’s fighting spirit and willingness to take any punishment in order to protect mankind.
In GAMERA THE BRAVE, Gamera takes a beating at the hands of his latest opponent, a gigantic frill-necked sea monster called Zedus (not ‘Jidas’ as has been widely reported). Based on the marine iguana, Zedus is a swift swimmer and fast runner that feeds on human beings. It has sharp teeth and long claws that allow it to climb cliff sides and buildings with ease, but Zedus’ most deadly weapon is a chameleon-like tongue that lashes out from its mouth. The tongue can be stiffened into a stabbing weapon strong enough to pierce Gamera’s shell.
According to producer Yoichi Arashige, GAMERA THE BRAVE will contrast the strained relationship between a father and son with the strong bond of the boy and a young monster growing up together. The film is set in the world in which we live, with one glaring exception… it is also a world inhabited by giant monsters.
The story opens in the seaside town of Iseshima in Mie Prefecture, where 11 year-old Toru Aizawa (Ryo Tomioka) lives with his father Kousuke (Kanji Tsuda). The boy’s mother had been killed in a traffic accident a year before, and in their grief father and son have grown distant from one another. Toru prefers to spend his time with his best friends Ishimaru (Shingo Ishikawa) and Katsuya (Shogo Narita), or his 14 year-old next door neighbor, Mai Nishio (Kaho).
While playing alone at a nearby beach, Toru discovers an egg. He picks it up and uncovers a strange, semi-transparent red stone that is covered in strange markings. As Toru gently holds the egg in his hand, the shell cracks open to reveal a baby turtle. The boy decides to keep the newborn and names the creature “Toto”. He sneaks Toto and the red stone past his father and into their home.
While he initially sees Toto as a pet, the two quickly develop a bond and Toru begins to consider the turtle almost as a brother-like figure. The boy senses there is more to the creature than meets the eye, and Toto soon proves him right. The little turtle begins to fly and belch small fireballs, and even scares Mai by hovering outside her bedroom window.
Mai tells Toru that she suspects Toto is somehow connected to Gamera, a gigantic turtle that had once protected the people of Iseshima from an attack by several Gyaos. Toru was already familiar with tales of the monster; thirty years ago his father Kousuke’s life had been saved by Gamera during the incident. After that battle, Gamera was never seen again. An only child, Toru feels a deep sense of loneliness after the loss of his mother and months of emotional isolation from his father. He refuses to even consider that Toto is Gamera because that means he will eventually lose his new friend.
The turtle grows extremely rapidly. Toru notices that strange markings on Toto’s carapace have become more prominent as the turtle matures. When Toto reaches 3 feet in length the boy realizes can no longer hide it in his home, so he and his friends move the turtle to an abandoned shack that the children use as a beach hideout. However, the new situation comes to an abrupt end when Toto suddenly flies away and does not return.
Soon after, a series of bizarre incidents begin to occur in the Pacific Ocean. One by one, fishing boats are being sunk — and the crews devoured — by the monster Zedus. Each attack brings it closer to Japan until the beast comes ashore at Iseshima. Zedus rampages through the city, and Toru, Ishimaru, and Katsuya find themselves directly in the evil monster’s path. They are cornered and about to be eaten, when another creature drops from the sky and lands between them and Zedus. The new arrival is a giant turtle; standing upright on two legs. While it resembles Gamera, it is not the same monster from years past… the creature is clearly a juvenile. Toru recognizes the familiar pattern on the creature’s belly and comes to the realization that this new Gamera is indeed his former pet, Toto.
The two monsters face off, and Zedus strikes at his much smaller opponent with incredible speed and ferocity. Gamera is quickly overwhelmed by the assault, and barely manages to hold off his foe long enough for Kousuke to get the children get to safety. The giant turtle’s shell is penetrated by Zedus’ tongue, and he suffers a deep gash to the side of his neck and collapses onto the street. Gamera is beaten, and the victorious Zedus turns its back on the fallen kaiju and returns to the sea.
People line the streets to see Gamera. Before long, a military unit arrives and the unconscious kaiju is loaded onto a truck and transported to a research facility in Nagoya for scientific examination. Kousuke and Toru follow, and soon learn that the scientists have information that will hopefully help them to revive Gamera. But before they can get to work, Zedus also appears in Nagoya, spoiling for a rematch. Will Gamera be able to recover in time and somehow find a way to defeat a much bigger, stronger, and faster foe? And what role will the mysterious red stone play in the final outcome?
Filming for GAMERA THE BRAVE began with location shooting in Iseshima on July 9, 2005. For two days, the crew filmed scenes of a full-scale, 15 foot-long prop of the unconscious Gamera being transported on a flatbed truck. Despite bad weather that included intermittent but strong rains, the shoot went smoothly and set a good precedent for the rest of the production.
In August, the crew moved to Nagoya for several days. While Nagoya has been attacked by kaiju in other films (most notably Godzilla in GODZILLA VS THE THING), GAMERA THE BRAVE is the first movie to use the city as the location for a battle between two monsters. The crew received a great deal of cooperation from city officials and was allowed to film all over the city, from the underground shopping malls to the tops of tallest buildings. They even received permission to stage an attack by Zedus on the JR Central Towers, a 51 story-tall skyscraper that was built only 4 years ago and is now one of the major landmarks in Nagoya.
Kadokawa Pictures had put out a “cattle call” for extras, and hundreds applied for the parts. The filmmakers were surprised by the response, since many of the people came from outside of Nagoya in the hopes of getting into the movie. In the end, more than 130 extras where chosen for scenes of the populace fleeing from Zedus’ rampage.
On October 12, a press conference was held at the Teikoku Hotel in Tokyo to announce that live action filming had wrapped for GAMERA THE BRAVE. The assembled reporters were treated to a bit of theatrics… a massive egg onstage cracked into two halves to reveal the main cast and crew, the full-scale “unconscious Gamera” prop, and an animatronic Toto puppet with remote controlled blinking eyes.
Leading the group was executive producer Kazuo Kuroi. A veteran producer of science fiction and horror films, Kuroi’s recent credits include the hits ONE MISSED CALL (Chakushin Ari, 2004), THREE…EXTREMES (Saam Gaang Yi, 2004), INSTALL (Insutoru, 2004), and SAMURAI COMMANDO: MISSION 1549. At the press conference he explained the pros and cons of making a Gamera film; “I wondered if people would think I was crazy to make GAMERA THE BRAVE since giant monster movies are out of fashion in Japan these days. But that was all the more reason to do the movie now because it gave us the freedom to do something unconventional with the genre. It opened up all kinds of possibilities for the film.”
“Gamera is a major property for Kadokawa, so we need to take good care of the character. Whether GAMERA THE BRAVE launches a new series of Gamera films or not will depend on how audiences respond to the movie.”
Working with Kuroi is producer Yoichi Arashige. Arashige had a massive international hit with the original SHALL WE DANCE?, and he had previously teamed with Kuroi on ONE MISSED CALL and INSTALL.
GAMERA THE BRAVE was directed by Ryuta Tazaki, a veteran of Toei’s television programming. Tazaki started as an assistant director on episodes of MASKED RIDER BLACK (Kamen Raidaa Burakku, 1987), the direct sequel MASKED RIDER BLACK RX (Kamen Raidaa Burakku RX, 1988), and HOTEL (Hoteru, 1990), a drama series from Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of Masked Rider. In 1995, he was promoted to director for SUPER POWER TASK FORCE KING RANGER (Choriki Sentai Ohranger), and in 1999, Tazaki came to the United States to direct episodes and videos for the Americanized versions POWER RANGERS LOST GALAXY and POWER RANGERS LIGHTSPEED RESCUE. His other television credits include MASKED RIDER AGITO (Kamen Raidaa Agito, 2001), MASKED RIDER RYUKI (Kamen Raidaa Ryuki, 2002), MASKED RIDER 555 (Kamen Raidaa Faiz, 2003), PRETTY GUARDIAN SAILOR MOON (Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon, 2003), and the hit horror series SHIBUYA 15 (Sh15uya, 2005).
Tazaki moved to the big screen with the theatrical film MASKED RIDER AGITO: PROJECT G4 (Kamen Raidaa Agito: Project G4, 2001), and followed up with MASKED RIDER RYUKI: EPISODE FINAL (Kamen Raidaa Ryuki: Episode Final, 2002), and MASKED RIDER 555: PARADISE LOST (Kamen Raidaa Faiz: Paradise Lost, 2003).
He has developed a reputation for working quickly and effectively; the key word he uses to describe his style as a filmmaker is “run”. For GAMERA THE BRAVE, the cast constantly had to run in and out of danger. The director joked that even the widescreen image will have trouble keeping the characters in frame. Tazaki hoped to cross his trademark fast-paced style with a touching story; “My first thought about GAMERA THE BRAVE was ‘What would it be like to make a Gamera film that doesn’t look like a typical monster movie?’. I tried to create a strong human drama that involves a battle between giant monsters… my goal was to make a monster movie that would make the audience cry.”
“The cast was made up of two generations; the younger performers like Ryo Tomioka and Kaho, and the older, more experienced adults. Both groups did a great job and showed a lot of dedication to the film. Tomioka spent his entire summer working on the movie, and you can really see all that time and effort in his performance.”
“GAMERA THE BRAVE is a children’s film, but it was also made for their parents; those adults that watched the older Gamera movies when they were kids.”
Yukari Tatsui wrote the film’s screenplay, a rare female writer working in the kaiju genre. “I’ve been a writer for TV dramas [her credits include VIRGIN ROAD (1997) and PLATONIC SEX (Puratonikku Sekusu, 2001)] and this was my first time creating a movie screenplay. I was surprised that I got the assignment to write for Gamera since I’ve never been a fan of monster movies, but I soon realized that this would be a milestone in my career. This is the kind of film that the whole family can see together, or young children can go to the theater and watch with their friends. I hope those kids who see GAMERA THE BRAVE will look back on it fondly when they grow up, as today’s adults do now with the older Gamera movies. I really want this movie to have that type of effect on people.”
Special effects director Isao Kaneko (no relation to the director of the Heisei Gamera trilogy) is a former animator and assistant director who worked on RAINBOW BRITE (1985), GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE (Gojira tai Biorante, 1989), Mamoru Oshii’s AVALON (2001), as well as projects for Katsuhiro Otomo and Keita Amemiya. In 2005 he was assistant special effects director for the live action film version of TETSUJIN-28 (Tetsujin Nijuhachigo) and Yojiro Takita’s supernatural tale ASHURA (Ashura-jo no Hitomi). At the press conference, Kaneko discussed what he tried to accomplish with GAMERA THE BRAVE; “The face of this Gamera is really cute. In the story, Gamera starts out as a little turtle named Toto, and I worked hard to convincingly show Toto growing up and becoming Gamera. I also put a lot of effort into creating realistic scenes of city destruction. In many kaiju films the buildings just blow up, but in this film I wanted them to crumble and collapse according to the laws of physics.”
40 year-old actor Kanji Tsuda plays Kousuke Aizawa. Tsuda has appeared in several high profile films, including FIREWORKS (Hana-bi, 1997), the massive hit BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN (Odoru Daisosasen, 1998), AUDITION (Odishon, 1999), JU-ON (2003), ZATOICHI (2003), THE GREAT YOKAI WAR, and MASKED RIDER THE FIRST (Kamen Raidaa The First, 2005). “I still remember seeing the Gamera movies in my local community center as a kid. I’m also a big fan of the Heisei Gamera films, but this new Gamera is different than both earlier versions. I hope the audience pays close attention to Gamera’s performance as he grows up in this film.”
Tsuda’s frequent co-star Susumu Terashima is also in the new Gamera film. His credits include ICHI THE KILLER (Koroshiya 1, 2001), DOLLS (2002), CASSHERN (2004), IZO (2004), SUMMER OF UBUME (Ubume no Natsu, 2005), and TAKESHIS’ (2005). In GAMERA THE BRAVE he plays Mai’s father, Osamu Nishio.
As with the classic Gamera films of the 1960s, the key roles in GAMERA THE BRAVE are played by children. 11 year-old television actor Ryo Tomioka stars as Toru Aizawa, the boy who befriends the baby monster. The young actor recently appeared on the big screen in Toho’s fantasy romance A HEARTFUL OF LOVE (Kono Mune Ippai no Ai Wo, 2005), but GAMERA THE BRAVE marks his first leading role in a major film. Tomioka found it sometimes difficult to work with the live African spurred tortoise that played Toto in the early parts of the film; “My strongest memory from making the movie was that the turtle wouldn’t perform like the director expected him to. In the scene where Toto and I were on the bed, he fell asleep.” The tortoise came from a dry, hot environment so no air conditioning could be used in any scenes involving the animal, which could make things uncomfortable for the rest of the cast and crew as they shot in summer under studio lights.
Things didn’t get much easier once Toto has wrapped his scenes. Tomioka told reporters that, “After Toto grew into Gamera he was no longer on the set. I had to imagine that he was in the scenes with me, and it was really hard trying to react when there was nothing there.”
Also starring in the film is 13 year-old Kaho, who plays Toru’s neighbor Mai Nishio. Kaho’s background is in television, with her most famous credit the 2004 series CELL PHONE DETECTIVE (Keitai Deka). “GAMERA THE BRAVE was my first film, and it was very challenging for me to act in a monster movie. I wasn’t sure how to perform properly in a film like this, but I tried to do my best.”
“I enjoyed making the movie a lot. Mai is a country girl… her character was very clear to me and that made it easier to play the part.”
The next major event took place at Shinjuku Station Square on November 27, the exact anniversary of the theatrical premiere of the original GAMERA. Both Ryuta Tazaki and Isao Kaneko took part in a panel discussion for the new film. Several items were displayed, including the 15 foot-long “unconscious Gamera” prop, a replica of a Showa Gamera suit, one of the Heisei Gamera suits, and a special turtle-shaped birthday cake.
One of the highlights of the celebration was a discussion between monster makers Keizo Murase and Tomoo Haraguchi. Murase is a legendary sculptor/creature designer whose designs include the original Gamera, Toho’s Mothra, Varan, Matango, the Heisei King Ghidorah and Mothra, and the Shaw Brothers’ Mighty Peking Man. Haraguchi built the Gamera suits for all three Heisei films, the new Gamera for GAMERA THE BRAVE, and the Reigo puppets for the upcoming movie DEEP SEA MONSTER REIGO (Shinkaiju Reigo). In recent years he has directed the features SAKUYA: SLAYER OF DEMONS (Sakuya Yokaiden, 2000) and KIBAKICHI (Kibakichi Bakko Yokaiden, 2004).
On February 19, Haraguchi and Murase were interviewed onstage at a special Gamera event at Wonder Fest in Tokyo. In addition to the discussion there was an exhibit of props from the 1990s Gamera films, including a large Iris head, a Soldier Legion, and Gamera from GAMERA: REVENGE OF IRIS. Figures from Bandai’s GAMERA THE BRAVE toy line were on display, as were a wide range of Gamera model kits, toys, and dioramas that will be released to stores in the coming months. Rounding out the exhibit were several props from the new film, giving attendees the opportunity to see the new Gamera suit and full-scale prop up close with their own eyes.
Kadokawa Pictures is planning additional Gamera events leading up to the April 29th release of GAMERA THE BRAVE. Advance tickets for the film have been on sale in Japan for over a month. Each ticket comes with a Baby Gamera toy plus an egg containing a smaller “mystery monster” figure of one of Gamera’s foes (either Zedus, or the classic kaiju Zigra, Gyaos, or Guiron).