Friday, March 4, 2022

Godzilla or Gamera (Showa Era)?: Let’s Decide (For Me)

Godzilla or Gamera (Showa Era)?: Let’s Decide (For Me)

At one time Gamera was seen as the Cracked to Godzilla’s Mad Magazine. The giant turtle was considered a pale copy that lacked the special effects and writing of the Big G’s outings. Certainly, a lot of this originates with Mystery Science Theater 3000 featuring five Gamera movies during the original run of that show. (They also managed to mock two Godzilla movies that Toho has since made more difficult to find by pulling them from official releases.) Since the 1990s Gamera has a seen a significant upgrade in how well it is regarded both as a character and a franchise, while Godzilla too has found a surge in popularity with several recent films.

So, which better? (For me)

Well, Gamera obviously.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Godzilla. I grew up with him, idolized him, I wanted to be him. I still watch and love Godzilla movies, but let’s face it, Godzilla has had all of the advantages in this contest, a bigger studio, bigger budgets, and worldwide fame. Gamera begins his kaiju career with Gamera (1965), eleven years after Godzilla makes his first appearance. The first Gamera movie takes more than a few notes from Gojira (1954), a moody black and white atmosphere, an attempt to comment on nuclear proliferation, and even a human who has a strange connection to the monster (in this case a kid rather than an embittered scientist). Even when wearing Godzilla’s clothes, a Gamera movie can’t help but start to show its (relatively) stranger side by having the movie conclude with the humans trapping Gamera in a giant rocket and shooting him into space. 

"Hey folks it's me, straight icon,
Gamera the giant fire breathing turtle."

The second film, Gamera vs. Barugon (1966) an arguably even an even grimmer outing except that a) now it’s in color and b) for all its serious nature we have Gamera facing off against a monster with a giant tongue that shoots frost clouds and a rainbow laser from its spines. From this point on we are off to the campy wonderland of Gamera, complete with goofy death traps for monsters, squirting blood of all colors, dismemberment, telephones poles jammed into ears, and much more. Sure, Showa era Godzilla engaged in more than its fair share weird camp, but those moments feel out of place for that franchise, where as Gamera they were baked into the whole aesthetic from the start.


Kinda gay

Whereas the Godzilla films fly their freak flag more and more up to the pinnacle of Showa era madness, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), they start to tamp down on those excesses afterwards. The Gamera films show no such interest, finally flying off to an ignoble and ridiculous end in Gamera: Super Monster (1980) where our hero plays second fiddle to three costumed women, is mostly represented by clips from earlier films, and dies in an explosion. An amazing finale of bathos and camp is something the Godzilla franchise would never even attempt. 


"Oh I think the LSD kicked in."

Godzilla is great, but Gamera speaks to the weird, outlandish, and queer world that I find myself living in now. Almost a trans allegory, we see Gamera imitating something else only to eventually shed that image and embrace the colorful and often gross mess that it was always meant to be.

Just like me.

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