Gamera the Invincible (1966) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Gamera the Invincible (1966) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on October 29th, 2021 | Movie Review | Sci-Fi, Mutant, Classic Creature

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It’s about an enormous turtle biped on the rampage. 

Gamera the Invincible (originally titled Daikaijû Gamera (1965) (translation: Giant-Monster Gamera) and alternatively titled Gamera: The Giant Monster (1966) (sometimes with double-m’s – as in, Gammera)) was directed by Noriaki Yuasa (Gamera vs. Gyaos, Gamera vs. Barugon, and The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch), with a screenplay by Niisan Takahashi (Snapping Turtle Girl Gang Boss and Wicked Nun). It stars Eiji Funakoshi as Dr. Hidaka and Yoshiro Uchida as the boy, Toshio.

Can an international consortium of scientists defeat a gigantic, fire-breathing flying turtle?

Gammera the Invincible Review

Gamera the Invincible is the first of the kaiju Gamera films and the only one filmed in black and white. The finely grained quality to the film – especially when the camera captures Gamera, soaked in the rain, by moonlight – is striking. The imagery is only slightly dimmed by the dime store feel to the Gamera suit with its cardboard teeth and rubber claws. The Technicolor tang of the full-color sequels is charming, but cartoonish. The scenes here which embrace the vivid texture of the monster’s shell – streaked with rainwater – give this film a bewitching tone. 

Now, Gamera is the friend of children, and he has a friend here, an eight-year-old boy. Gamera appears just after the boy has been ordered to release his beloved pet turtle. Initially, the boy insists that Gamera is his resurrected pet. Back from the turtle-grave, just bigger. Later, he seems ready to acknowledge that the two turtles are not numerically one turtle, but claims they are nevertheless closely related. The way the film honors this kind of childlike reasoning, a blending of myth and wish, story and reality, is an accomplishment shared by very few Western films. 

Giant monsters are oftentimes symbolic social constructs. King Kong represented the history of African Americans, brought to our shores in chains. Godzilla spoke to the calamity of atomic weapons. What does Gamera symbolize? Gamera is released by a nuke, but his atomic symbolism is muted. In truth, he is an arctic Aleut monster, not a Japanese one.

I think that a strong case can be made for Gamera as Japanese nationalism. Moderate patriotism is a virtue, but excessive patriotism led to Japanese imperialism, carnage, and total defeat. This dualism is reflected in Gamera. Director Yuasa grew up during World War II. He saw his own boyhood patriotism mangled by grown-ups into something hideous. Gamera, too, has a split-shell of sorts; childhood-pal but also destroyer-of-cities. Chummy, even silly – and yet perilously threatening. And powerful. Gamera really does seem invincible. 

The film places a lot of expectations on the final scheme the scientists have dreamed up to defeat the terrible terrapin. The actual plan – dubbed “Plan Z” – is kept hidden until the last moments of the film. When it is revealed, it does not disappoint.

Worth Watching?

Certainly. This classy chelonian is constructive, classy cinema. And commendable for children.

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