Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lights, Gamera, Action

In the 1950s and 60s, the Godzilla films were a very popular and successful movie franchise, and soon the Toho Company (the studio that produced many of the most successful of the Japanese monster movies) were inflicting all manner of giant, mutated creatures on Japan—Rodan, Mothra, Ghidorah, and all the other denizens of Monster Island. There were 28 Godzilla movies alone, and soon the daikaiju eiga (giant monster cinema) was a thriving industry. For American audiences, these movies often included additional filmed scenes of the U.S. military calling most of the shots (as it were).

Naturally, other studios started getting in on the action, including the Daiei Motion Picture Company which launched the successful (though not as successful as Godzilla) Gamera giant flying turtle series. Like the Godzilla movies, these were staples of 1970s Saturday afternoon UHF station creature-feature series. The Gamera movies also featured additional American footage—interestingly, there are several versions of the original Gamera floating around. In addition to the original Japanese version, there are two American versions, which feature different footage. The Sandy Frank version called simply Gamera was shown on MST3K and features an American general who sounds like a cross between Buddy Hackett and Curly from the Three Stooges, as well as some bad dubbing (well, not that any of the dubbing was especially good in these movies). Another, which is the one I have in my sci-fi box set, is called Gammera the Invincible (the extra “m” is for extra “monster” perhaps) and features a slightly higher caliber of American character actor (Brian Donleavy, Dick O‘Neill, Albert Dekker, Alan Oppenheimer—no, the names are not familiar, but you’d know them if you saw them). Gammera the Invincible also features a cool surf-guitar theme song.

Of course, all the “m”s in the world won’t make Gam(m)era any more watchable. Still, it does have that goofy cheese factor that makes them so appealing as lazy Saturday afternoon TV fodder.

Other entries in this Mis-Treatment series of silly sci-fi movie recaps include:
Kong Island
The Skull
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
The Horrors of Spider Island
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Gammera the Invincible (1966)
Auteur(s)/Perpetrators: Noriaki Yuasa/Sandy Howard
Star of Shame: a 1960s character actor buffet
Monster: Giant flying turtle (aka sweaty Japanese guy in rubber suit)
“Plot”: Prehistoric giant turtle is accidentally released from frozen Arctic ice, destroys Japanese cities, befriends child

By the way, no model shop owners were harmed in the making of this movie.

Speaking of which, we open on a squadron of model airplanes and cut down to a bathtub where a toy boat is cutting through the ice. Don’t you hate it when you run out of hot water in the middle of a bath? It is, the narrator tells us breathlessly, an expedition of Canadian, American, and Japanese seamen cutting through the Arctic looking for “an open route across the top of the continent: Henry Hudson’s fabled Northwest Passage.” Unfortunately, all they found was Northwest Airlines, which is hardly the same thing.

Meanwhile, Dr. A.J. Hidaka and his team of zoologists (is that what they are?) are also in the vicinity, studying the native animal life (which shouldn’t take long). They approach an Eskimo village. Accompanying Dr. Hidaka is a photographer named Aoyagi, and Kyoke, Hidaka’s assistant. The photographer immediately complains about the cold.

Out of an igloo comes the Eskimo leader. “Hi, boys and Girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black and I'm the Eskimo of the group.” He welcomes Dr. Hidaka, and then advises him, “Watch out where the huskies go and don’t you eat that yellow snow.” (Nah, I'm only kidding; Jimmy Carl Black didn't play on Zappa’s Apostrophe(’) album.) They are buzzed by sound effects of jets passing over.
Back in the bathtub, the captain of the toy boat is freaked out by the planes. It is also insinuated that Dr. Hidaka and co. were on the boat, but it’s really not clear. They send a telegraph to what the onscreen graphic identifies as “adquarters Air Defense Sect” in North Alaska. I guess this was a widescreen movie at one point, or someone was trying to type the graphic while wearing mittens. (It was apparently widescreen, because the violent panning and scanning can very easily make one seasick.)

We meet some of the American military personnel. Sgt. Susan Embers isn’t in the scene for a minute before she is leered at by her male “superiors” (in rank only, methinks, and “rank” is certainly the right word) with lines like “Baby, it’s cold outside” and “He’s right, gorgeous. You gotta thaw out.” Where’s Gamera when you need him? Can we go back to Jimmy Carl Black and the Eskimos of Invention? “Remember that airmen don’t drool, they obey,” she says by way of retort. Gamera! Gamera! Gamera!

Thankfully, we are interrupted from this witty, Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue by the clacking of the teletype machine. A report is handed to General O’Neill, played by character actor Dick O’Neill. He looks so familiar—what was he in? (A check of IMDb instead prompts the question, “What wasn’t he in?”)

Anyway, he receives a message from the Japanese explorer ship Cheddar Romero. Can that be right? So what was in the message? “Four UFOs headed toward our missile sites.” The general is not pleased, and starts barking random orders, only a couple of which make actual sense. (What does “ride herd” mean? Is that military code?) He asks to speak with another general. I’d prefer to speak with someone specific, but that's probably just me.

Finally, air defense is calling. Well, a guy in a plane. The general informs him that four unknowns are “in your area.” Yow, that can't be good. The pilot is ordered to escort them to base. “If they resist, you are to use Plan Skylark and destroy.” Plan Skylark? “Hail to thee, blithe spirit” indeed. The general is one tough son of a Bysshe. The pilot then calls the general Roger, for some rea— Oh, I get it...

General O'Neill gets a call from the President. Everyone looks at each other oddly. O’Neill hangs up. “Red Alert.” The music kicks in and everyone begins scrambling. Even the teletype machine starts typing furiously...for some reason.

Models of Air Force jets chase down the “four bogies.” No bacalls, though. “Identify!” the pilot calls to the bogies. “Or I’ll cut the strings holding your planes up.” It would be pretty easy. “What is your nationality and flight plan?” And, “Do you like pina coladas? Getting caught in the rain? Making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape?” The bogies do not respond, but fire something at the Air Force models— I mean, jets. The Air Force returns fire, and one of the UFOs goes down and explodes in the ice.

The pretty small explosion attracts the attention of Dr. Hidaka and the Eskimos. “Only a nuclear explosion could cause a blast like that,” says Kyoke. That tiny blast? Aoyagi kicks himself for staring at a cloud instead of taking pictures of it “A fine news photographer I am,” he says. But then given how he’s dressed I assumed he worked for Fop Monthly or something.
Back at adquarters, it is reported that a “one-megaton atomic bomb” has been detonated. The remaining bogies are heading back toward the Siberian border. “It appears to have been a single incident,” says the lieutenant. “Do you regard a nuclear explosion as a ‘single incident,’ Lieutenant?” barks the general. Well, when there is just one of them, by definition, yes.

Meanwhile, in the Arctic, the ice splits apart. Yep; guess who’s coming to dinner? The star of our show. And he is given quite the elaborate introduction. The ice loudly breaks apart, gusts of steam billow out, a blinding light shines from the chasm, and the spraying snow looks like someone is snowblowing their driveway just off-camera.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Tropicana is proud to present, in his one-man show, “Turtle! Turtle! Turtle!,” Mr. entertainment himself, Gamera!

Oh, and now we get the titles. I think that was actually in Gamera's contract. And as the titles roll, Gamera does a little dance which is rather upsetting.

Back at adquarters, General O’Neill is on the phone with the President, and LBJ (I would think) informs him that the four Russian fighters—which is what the bogies apparently turned out to be—flew off course by accident. “Bull!” yells Captain Lovell with a cigar in his mouth. The General agrees with the President. They seem to be ignoring the 400-pound turtle in the room... Of course, part of the reason could be that “something” is interfering with the radio signal. What about the teletype that had been so trusty in the past? Ah, now it sits ever silent. “It just doesn’t make sense!” He orders Lovell to put more interceptors in the air to find out what is happening. He then orders Sgt. Embers to get him some more coffee. “And better make a new pot. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.” Sure, the woman has to make the coffee. I bet Sgt. Embers is smoldering over that.

Back in the Arctic, the radio is not working, and they assume it is interference from the bomb, so Aoyagi and Dr. Hidaka decide to head back immediately. They bid farewell to the Eskimo chief, who then remembers an ancient Eskimo legend, wherein it is written...on whatever it is that they write it on up there...that if anything bad every happens to your eyes as the result of some sort of conflict with anyone named Nanook... (Sorry.) Anyway, the Eskimo chief reaches into his pocket and removes what looks like a petrified porterhouse steak. I guess he used to be a waiter at Morton’s Steakhouse and this is what happens when those demo cuts of meat are used a little too often. (And why is the Eskimo elder wearing a crucifix attached to rosary beads? I didn’t know that Eskimos were Catholic. If that is a porterhouse he’s proffering, I hope it’s not Friday.) The Eskimo hands it to Dr. Hidaka and explains that it “is very old stone about cloud of death.” Dr. Hidaka immediately recognizes it, and reaches for some A1 Steak Sauce. “It is a primitive carving of a proto-chelonian.” A what? “An ancestral turtle like the leatherback.” Right. He asks the Eskimo guy if there is a legend associated with the porterhouse. Oh, what are the odds? “Yes. A very old story about death and evil.” Of course. Aren’t all ancient legends about death and evil? Just once I’d like to read an ancient legend that featured puppies and butterflies and happy children frolicking. But no. They always have to be about evil and death. The Eskimo adds, “About Gamera!” And at that, dogs start yelping and children start running. I think we’re all on board with that. Dr. Hidaka shows the steak to everyone else. “There is a weird pattern in the background.” That’s just fat marbling. They try to decipher the pattern, which they initially think represents the sea. All the old Eskimo guy can offer is that it is evil and frightening. A big help he is.

While they are studying their cut of meat, across the tundra, Gamera destroys the model boat. Oh, and Gamera can shoot flames while at the same time making a noise that sounds like a combination of a cat in heat and bagpipes. It’s a noise not far removed from nails on a blackboard.

At adquarters, Capt. Lovell reports that the Cheddar Romero was destroyed “and all that remains is a huge crack in the ice—“ “What?!” shouts the general incredulously. And whatever you do, don’t call it a single incident. Lovell goes on to explain that Captain Foster (that must be one of the Air Force pilots) saw “a giant turtle walking away from the crash site. A huge creature, 150, maybe 200 feet tall.” Oh, that goes over well. General O’Neill barks orders to Sgt. Embers, including, “Tell General Arnold he must meet me.” In your usual candlelit restaurant, sir? He pauses for a beat. “A giant turtle!” he grouses. Bah!

We then cut to an obligatory montage of newspapers from around the world—all of which oddly enough have only the single relevant headline in English, and the rest of the text in their native languages—reporting on a giant turtle controversy.

In New York, we are treated to a clip of a talk show—curiously enough shot without actually having a set—hosted by Mr. Standish, who could very easily be played by Joe Flaherty from SCTV. His guests are Dr. Contrare (!) and...some other guy. They immediately begin fighting about whether or not Gamera could exist. This is SCTV! Where’s Earl Camembert? Dr. Contrare takes Dr. Hidaka’s side, stating that his theories are the results of a life’s studies. Really? He was just given the porterhouse steak that explained it all a few minutes ago. Talk about life in a day... He also adds that tales of chelonians (turtles) date back to ancient Greece. Yes, and let’s not forget how one killed the playwright Aeschylus. “How big were turtles a million years ago? Or even a hundred million years ago?” asks Dr. Contrare, rather smugly. If only an eagle would drop a turtle on his head. The other guy says, “Oh, Dr. Contrare, every time you bray you make a bigger jackass of yourself.” “Read, you ignorant ape, read what intelligent men have written for thousands of years!” Dr. Contrare returns, in quite the lather. Then they start bellowing at each other. Still, they do advance more cogent arguments than any of the shrieking heads on cable news. “Where did you get your diploma,” asks Contrare’s adversary, “‘Made in Japan’?” Uh, is that really a line that should appear in this movie?
Blissfully, we then go to a Pan Am flight. Dr. Hidaka and his Scooby gang are flying back. Aoyagi reads a newspaper report of a flying saucer, and asks if there is a connection between it and the destruction of the Cheddar Romero. There is also a cigarette ad; is that related to the destruction of the Cheddar Romero? What about the white sale at Macy’s? Or story about the building code under fire? Dr. Hidaka is also convinced that all of this has something to do with Gamera, especially given the “overwhelming” evidence of the pilot’s report (which somehow he had heard of) and the Eskimo’s petrified porterhouse. They muse about how destructive Gamera would be if he were real. “Well, you’ve convinced me, Doctor,” says the photographer, who is credulous as hell. “Let’s hope General Arnold can convince the American people.” Why? What are they going to do about it? And who’s General Arnold? Did a couple of Japanese zoologists exploring the Arctic get a top secret American military briefing?

Anyway, we go to Washington, and a meeting of Senators and military brass. “Gentlemen, I think we all know why we’re here,” begins...someone (I think he’s the Secretary of Defense). General Arnold is asked for his report. Oh, so that’s General Arnold. He reports on the finding of giant footprints “like that of a giant turtle” leading away from the spot of the explosion toward where the ship was discovered. The Senators all roll their eyes, especially one who looks like Joe Flynn (he is never given a name). He’s having none of it. General Arnold explains that a UFO has been sighted over various world cities, moving around the globe in an easterly direction. It’s Gamera’s world tour. And where will the giant turtle end up? “It will be sighted next over Japan. I would estimate in five or six hours.” For some reason, he looks at his watch as he says this. Are he and Gamera synchronized? He then makes reference to Dr. Hidaka, and the Senator who looks like Joe Flynn complains that he has never heard of Dr. Hidaka and smugly announces that he has chaired science councils, and thus should apparently know every scientist in the world. He then does everything short of calling for the head of Dr. Hidaka to be brought to him on a pike. Which, in retrospect might not be a bad idea.

The Secretary of Defense cuts Joe Flynn down by saying “Dr. Hidaka is eminently qualified” Well, that told him. Apparently, Dr. Hidaka was rescued from the ice by “one of our heelicopters.” Heelicopters? They then apparently took Dr. Hidaka to the airport to catch the Pan Am flight, although you would think it would have made more sense to give him military transport if he was so important. Joe Flynn thinks the public should not be informed of Gamera, and thinks everyone is being alarmist.

This argument drags on for a while. No wonder nothing ever gets done in Congress.

“Gentlemen, I think we’re in for a time of it,” says the Secretary of Defense. Ya think? General Arnold is put in charge of the “Gamera Operation.”

Meanwhile, in Japan, a radio announcer informs a breathless public that Dr. Hidaka is due in Tokyo in a day. Back then, in 1960s Japan, Arctic zoologists were bigger than The Beatles, and throngs of teenage girls would frequently be waiting at the airport to greet their planes.

That evening, a drunk is staggering along a wooden bridge singing and swinging a Japanese lantern. He looks in the sky and beholds a flying saucer—presumably Gamera. Of course; there is always a drunk in these movies who sees the monster before anyone else. He gives a horrified cry in Japanese, which I think translates as “What crappy animation.”

The next day, we go to a lighthouse. Noburu Sakurai is a teenage girl and her nine-year-old brother, Toshio, apparently has some obsession with turtles. He is inseparable from his pet turtle, and he is reprimanded in school for drawing pictures of turtles instead of doing his schoolwork. He can’t even stop singing “Happy Together” or playing Terrapin Station. Toshio lives in a lighthouse without any friends. Gee, I can’t imagine why that would be.

That night after dinner, Noburu and their father stage a turtle intervention, because liking things is just wrong. He is ordered to set his turtle free. “This may sound cruel—and it is—but I’m doing it for your own good.” Yep, you gotta be cruel to be kind. Sad music plays as Toshio walks outside and lets his turtle run free.

Speaking of turtles, guess who’s back? A head pokes up from behind a dune. Oh, it’s just Julian Cope. And with that breath of fire, fried indeed.

Nope, it’s Gamera, and Toshio for some reason runs to the top of the lighthouse. Man, that kid can sprint; he gets to the top before his father can finish yelling the name “Toshio,” which he does 500 times. Gamera knocks over the lighthouse, and Toshio hangs from the railing by his little hands—and falls. However, Gamera has a change of heart, catches the kid, and gently places him on the ground. Gamera then heads back out to sea, as Toshio realizes that Gamera saved his life—but neglects to consider that Gamera actually put his life in jeopardy to begin with. I suspect this won’t do much to quell Toshio’s turtle obsession.
Meanwhile, at the Tokyo Airport, Dr. Hidaka and his entourage finally arrive, even though it’s been like three weeks. He is swarmed by his throngs of admirers, his reputation only having grown the longer he has been in the air, for some reason. Walking through the terminal, he is immediately called to the phone. He makes some odd oinking sounds, then says “I’m practically on my way.” It was professor Murase, who reported that Gamera was spotted in Hokkaido “by a number of reliable witnesses.” I guess that means “sober ones.”

At Toshio’s house, everyone think the little loon is in bed, but he really runs out to the beach to look for his turtle. The turtle, wisely, refuses to come out of its shell.

At a nearby geothermal power station, workers react to what seems like a tremor. “We have them here all the time.” Was it wise to build a power station on a spot that has a lot of earthquakes? Anyway, it is decidedly not a tremor, but our old be-shelled friend, as the pilot of a model plane soon discovers. There are more tremors. “What is that?“ everyone yells. “It is an earthquake. Or a steam explosion.” You know, it might have been a good idea to hire people, or at least install instruments, that could tell the difference.

At Japanese military headquarters, Dr. Hidaka is treated like royalty, but Aoyagi the photographer is barred. Hidaka can’t do anything without his foppish sidekick, and pulls some strings. King Hidaka is then given the Gamera status report, and is told that Gamera has been spotted near the geothermal power plant. It then needs to be explained to him what geothermal power is. This guy knows everything there is to know about mythological giant turtles, but he doesn’t understand steam? I think he’s specialized a little too highly. The upshot, though, is that Hidaka does not know how to stop Gamera. He then asks what the power output of the power station is. 350,000 kilowatts. “It might just work,” he says cryptically. Well, the movie is only half over, so don’t count on it.

The military deploys its weaponry in an attempt to head off Gamera, but Brigadier General Hidaka asks that it be stopped to try his plan first. Ah, remember when scientists had complete control of the military?

Lord Hidaka gets on the walkie-talkie, and as Gamera approaches the power plant, starts getting all the circuits ready for full discharge. Gamera severs one set of wires, makes the cat in heat/bagpipes noise, and Aoyagi comments, “It didn’t even slow him down.” Dr. Hidaka then says, “Yes, this was a mistake.” Now we know why kooky scientists aren’t put in charge of military operations. “Captain, you’d better give the order to attack.” Oh, is the great Lord Dr. Hidaka relinquishing command now? Tanks, cannons, and other large guns open fire, having even less effect on Gamera, just bouncing off his shell. And then Gamera starts eating flames. Or, as the military captain says, “It looks like he’s eating it.” Oh, I they’re all eating it right about now. Hidaka still continues barking out orders. “Evacuate the area, or at least the civilians. And call me a car.” What?

Hidaka and his Scooby gang pay a visit to Dr. Murase, another kooky scientist who is a dead ringer for a Japanese Orville Redenbacher. “You mean he ate the flames?” asks Dr. Murase, thinking that flames would be perfect for popping popcorn. Gamera eats fire? Well, there’s an Indian restaurant in Saratoga that makes a lamb vindaloo that’s pretty much the same thing. “His metabolism is not like ours.” Wow, a giant mutated turtle that was encased in ice for millions of years and eats fire has a metabolism that differs from that of humans? Inconceivable! “It’s not only conceivable but highly likely.” Ah. “His cell structure differs radically from known lifeforms.” “For example silicon or metallic elements replacing carbon in his tissues.” Now you’re just making stuff up. Says Dr. Murase, “I think his cells are made from popcorn kernels.” Hidaka had remembered to bring along the petrified porterhouse, and Dr. Murase ponders the strange wavy line symbols. “It could be melted butter,” he perhaps is thinking. “I don’t think they’re rhythmic enough for waves,” he says. What? It’s a rock carved by Eskimos, what do you want, photorealistic artwork? It’s probably not drawn to scale either. “Dr., it would be very useful if we could decipher this.” No! Really? Is there maybe another scientist they could consult?

At the power plant, the military watch helplessly as the bombs and missiles have no effect on Gamera. One officer comments, “Nothing short of an atom bomb would be any use.” His superior has a wild hare...

And he calls the American military and asks to borrow a cup of missiles. In the Senate council meeting (where it appears no one has moved for days), Joe Flynn is aghast. “One of our missiles! But that means getting the approval of our allies. I’m sure you’re aware of our peace treaties and our international obligations.” Surely they can make an exception for a giant mutated turtle. General Arnold is not in the mood for Senate stonewalling. “The destructive power of Gamera is beyond comprehension!” Well, not really; he just pulled down some power lines and broke a smokestack. Oh, and knocked over a lighthouse. I can pretty easily comprehend that. Hell, I’m more destructive before my second cup of coffee in the morning. Anyway, Joe Flynn starts pounding the table again, but the Secretary of Defense immediately shuts him up. He says to General Arnold, “You may inform General Yotobashi, Dr. Hidaka, and Dr. Morass (?) that our missiles are entirely at their disposal.” Should we really be arming flaky scientists? The Secretary then orders General Arnold to “get to it.” He then suggests they order lunch, “if you approve, senator,” he says sarcastically to Joe Flynn. And Joe Flynn responds, without moving his mouth in the slightest, “You can expect my complete cooperation.” How did he do that? Is he a ventriloquist? The Secretary then says, “I expect nothing less, sir,” and his mouth movements do not match the dialogue. Wow, they can’t even properly dub American dialogue in this movie.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Dr. Redenbacher arrives at the front line. He is informed that “The Americans are going to attack Gamera with nuclear missiles.” Lord King Hidaka then chimes in. “No, wait. The missiles won’t do any good. It’s more likely they’ll serve as a source of energy.” Hasn’t this guy been wrong about everything up to now? “All right, if you say so,” says General Yotobashi. Well, that was easy! “So, Professor Murase, what do we do?” I believe you’re Japanese military officers. Oh, I see what he means... Responds Orville, “I don’t know, since our most powerful weapons are useless.” He then adds, “Perhaops if I started wearing a bowtie...” General Yotobashi, who is probably getting sick of scientists by now, asks Dr. Hidaka, “Do you have any ideas?”

And, from our You’ll Be Sorry You Asked file, comes his response: “One, and it’s not even an idea, just a thought that occurred to me.” Oh, boy, hunker down... “We assume Gamera is invulnerable, obviously with a great deal of justification.” Oh, those scientists and their empirical observations! Oh, do go on: “But Gamera is vulnerable: to cold. Remember he was frozen in the ice until the bomb released him.” Professor Murase concurs. “We must devise some means of freezing Gamera.” Oh, so they’re going to bring Gamera to Syracuse. “Dr. Hidaka,” starts General Yotobashi, “bite me.” Oh, wait: the general says, “Our scientists have developed a freezing bomb.” Have they now? It’s still in the experimental stage, and there is one drawback: “The gases used in this bomb dissipate in 10 minutes.” Dr. Hidaka likes the idea, and instructs General Yotobashi to get started on acquiring the freezing bomb. So there’s not even any question about who’s giving orders at this point, is there?

Meanwhile, Gamera is leaving the power plant and heading for the mountains, specifically, what we are told is a resort area in the mountains. What would a mountain resort be without a view overlooking a giant geothermal power plant?

Atop the mountain, they await Gamera. Lord King Hidaka addresses the troops. He points out that effect of the freezing bomb doesn’t last long. So...they’re planting dynamite and when Gamera is frozen, they’re going to blow him up. Can that be right? Isn’t that what thawed him to begin with? Again, is there some other brilliant scientist they can consult?

Dr. Hidaka says it’s OK to begin, and they fire the freezing bomb at Gamera, who starts slowing down. They now have 10 finish whatever it is they are doing. They then start drilling holes to plant the dynamite, even though they only have three minutes left. Wow; tempus fugit. Now, I’m not an expert in logistics, but might it not have been a better idea to plant the dynamite first, and then freeze Gamera? Somehow, they make it with 30 seconds to spare, then ignite the dynamite. It goes off, and Gamera topples down the mountain. Everyone seems relieved that he has landed on his back. Even Orville is pleased. “Because Gamera, as with any turtle, once he’s on his back, he can’t get up again.” I know how he feels. Everyone starts cheering (“Hey, he didn’t screw it up this time!”) and Dr. Hidaka starts basking in the glow of adulation. “In a month from now, he’ll be just another zoological specimen.” Yeah.

I think they’re counting their turtles before the eggs have hatched. They notice that Gamera is pulling his head and legs inside his shell. “He knows he’s licked.” Yuck. “That’s what you call turning turtle!” Ha ha ha. But Gamera has more tricks up his sleeve—literally. Flames shoot out of his arm and leg holes and he begins to spin. He then lifts off into the air. “An amazing adaptation,” says Orville, wondering how he could incorporate that idea into a new kind of popcorn popper. And soon Gamera vanishes into the air. Well, another brilliant idea, right down the crapper. Dr. Hidaka then asks Kyoke for the Eskimo’s porterhouse. He now understands the weird pattern. “They are clouds, meant to represent that Gamera can fly.” Now wait a minute. Didn’t they already know that Gamera could fly? All those UFO sightings earlier? Heck, even the drunk guy with the Japanese lantern knew Gamera could fly. I hope these two professors were denied tenure.

Meanwhile, at the U.N., Secretary General Ponce E. Brit snidely announces that the American weapons have been useless against Gamera, and the Japanese radar systems barely offer enough warning to evacuate the civilian populations. He then proceeds to heap shame on every country in the world in alphabetical order. “We must now work as one cohesive unit.” Oh, yeah, that’s gonna happen. The mission: “To destroy Gamera before he destroys civilization.” I think I’m with Gamera at this point.

He then turns the mic over to General Arnold, who is still spouting off the theories of Dr. Hidaka and Dr. “Morass” who “are convinced that Gamera is continually on the hunt for food.” I guess that’s why they’re eminent scientists because no one else could ever possibly have figured that out. “There is some chemical substance in our fuel that it needs to exist, perhaps the same chemical substance it consumed over 200 million years ago.” Wait—how can there have been fossil fuels before there were fossils? “In the beginning, in the Earth’s atmosphere...” Oh, boy, this’ll take a while. Zzzzzzzz..... You see, Gamera dates from a time in the geological history of Earth when there was no oxygen in the atmosphere, before creatures developed lungs. He had— NOW WAIT A MINUTE! First of all, we’re really talking a couple billion years, and how did a giant turtle evolve spontaneously when at the time that the earth’s atmosphere started becoming oxygen-rich, there was nothing more than bacteria and simple plant life? Talk about punctuated equilibrium. Second of all, what the hell does that have to do with his ability to eat flames? “This all came within the radii of our microscopes.” Uh, oh, now General Arnold is just babbling. Can we get a resolution or a point of order or something here? “Do you mean it literally eats fire?” the General is asked apropos of nothing. “Yes. The beast actually eats fire.” The beast! Twas fire that fed the beast. That gets everyone murmuring. “He’s most destructive when he is unable to satisfy his ravenous appetite.” I think we’ve all been to buffets like that. “He is least destructive when he is gorging himself at some oil refinery or fuel reserve.” Kind of like Dick Cheney. The meeting is then thrown open to discussion. Wow, Gamera must really be a threat: both the Soviet Ambassador and the American ambassador voice no complaints about offering whatever assistance they can. Funny, they couldn’t even get all the U.S. Senators to cooperate.

Ah, but the amity doesn’t last long. The Russian ambassador starts getting belligerent and challenging General Arnold’s taking charge of the military operation. Now that’s more like it! When’s he going to start pounding his shoe on the table? You know, Japan is curiously unrepresented in this meeting of the U.N. They decide on a joint command between General Arnold of the U.S. and General Sokolovsky of the U.S.S.R. General Arnold then announces Plan Z. This should be good. Did he run it by Dr. Hidaka and Orville? Suddenly, we do see a Japanese ambassador, who says, “Pran Z is hope of world.” Oh brother.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hidaka and Kyoke are studying photographs taken of Gamera from around the world. “But only in the air. The freezing bomb frightened and upset him.” I know how he feels. At this point, Toshio and his sister arrive at Dr. Hidaka’s office...for some reason. I guess in Japan, you can’t visit Tokyo without paying your respects to Lord King Hidaka, like paying one’s respects to the Pope. They are staying with an uncle in Tokyo and are also in town for some sightseeing. “See there,” says Noburu. “That’s the Tokyo Tower,” which is visible outside Dr. Hidaka’s office window. Well, that takes care of the sightseeing. Toshio is more excited by it than anyone really should be.

Toshio asks Hidaka about Gamera. “Gamera saved my life. He doesn’t mean to be dangerous. He’s just so big and clumsy, that’s all.” Again, I know how he feels. Noburu smiles sheepishly. “He goes overboard when it comes to turtles.” Of that I have no doubt. “I like turtles is all,” says Toshio. “I bet Gamera is lonesome, too, wherever he is. A turtle doesn’t like to be alone.” Yeah. Um, look, kid, the Psychology Department is just down the hall. Maybe you should pay them a visit.

Dah! Suddenly there is an abrupt and jarring cut, and Noburu says “Good night, Toshio.” He’s going to sleep in Dr. Hidaka’s office? Oh, they’re suddenly in a bedroom. OK. That was weird. I think Gamera ate the rest of the previous scene. He does chew up scenery—on a variety of levels. Noburu is tucking Toshio into bed; he looks like a large Japanese burrito. “I thought it was nice of Dr. Hidaka to explain everything to you.” Yeah, I bet. Was any of it accurate?

A week later, there are news reports of a mysterious “reversal of the tide” which wrecked several boats and piers, and somehow this is related to pictures of Gamera’s destruction of the power plant. Estimates of the power plant’s rebuilding range in the “millions.” Of what? Yen? Sounds like rather a bargain. The newsreader then discusses the arrival of representatives from around the world to an international conference—but we are breaking in live with comment from Dr. Hidaka. Man, this guy is the king of all media, isn’t he? He and Orville are taking questions from the press. “How did you find America?” “Turned left at Greenland.” In a nutshell, Gamera is back in the Tokyo area. He snuck in wearing a fedora and dark glasses and checking into a hotel under the name “G. Smith.” Dr. Hidaka then says that Gamera’s presence in Tokyo “gives us a chance to try out the, uh, United Nations’ uh, Plan Z for his, uh, disposal.” Get thee to, uh, a public speaking class, Dr., uh, Hidaka. He then shows a short promotional film about Plan Z, which will take place on a dormant volcano on Oshima Island in Tokyo Bay.

That night, Gamera buzzes and destroys the control tower at the airport. He must have flown U.S. Airways.

Then we go to a Tokyo nightclub where teens are movin’ and a-groovin’ to the Gamera song played by a live band. The building starts shaking, and the police politely ask everyone to leave. The teens insist, “Don’t blow your cool. We’re not going anywhere. I say we should stay here and dance!” would be so easy to make a joke about youth in Asia, but I shan’t. The band kicks back in. How do three guitars make the sound of an orchestra string section? A moot point, because the nightclub is very soon destroyed by the subject of their song.

Gamera then goes on a rampage throughout Tokyo. Model trains are ruthlessly destroyed. Large cardboard buildings are crushed like...cardboard. The Tokyo Tower goes down. So much for Toshio’s sightseeing trip.

Speaking of Toshio, while his sister is trying to pack and evacuate, he is gawking out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of Gamera. Yeah, so this is an accident, eh, Toshio? Gamera doesn’t mean to knock down every building in the city and use his flame breath to fry everyone in range? Admit it, kid: your friend has turned bad.

The next morning, everyone is evacuating the city. Noburu cannot find Toshio. She is told he has gone “down to the river.” She then shouts “Toshio!” more times than any human should. Meanwhile, people are running away from the local refinery, which is where Gamera is wreaking more havoc (and it is strangely night all of a sudden). Naturally, Toshio decides to head toward the refinery.

It looks like Plan Z, whatever it is, is going to be put into effect and it apparently involves a train. An oil tanker car is sent toward Gamera, where it explodes. Just another day on Amtrak.

Lord King Hidaka calls the refinery. Does this guy ever rest? The foreman at the Tokyo oil refinery answers the phone. “O’Neill speaking.” O’Neill? That’s a good Japanese name! Anyway, Lord God King Hidaka says that the Plan Z people won’t be ready for another 24 hours. The plan? Keep feeding Gamera oil and gas until the supply runs out. Brilliant! So that’s why oil prices hit record highs. Toshio overhears this and hops on one of the trains heading toward Gamera. O’Neill (yeah) spots him and jumps on the train to try to rescue him. He has to forcibly drag Toshio off the train. “He’s my friend!” protests Toshio. There is an explosion and somehow Toshio and O’Neill (uh huh) are on the ground, having been thrown off the train. Everyone laughs at Toshio for wanting to see Gamera, and for good reason. Toshio is filled with shame...and for good reason.

Back at the U.N., a Japanese ambassador with a ludicrous and borderline offensive Japanese accent is explaining the situation, that Gamera is being held at the oil refinery, “but our fuel suppry is now dangerousry row.” Oy. General Arnold saves the day. “You will receive a steady flow of high-grade fuel.” Responds the Japanese ambassador, “Excerrent.” Ahhh!!!! The Russian ambassador—no less a stereotype either—asks, “How are you coming with Plan Z?” Says the Japanese ambassador, “Our men are working around the crock.” So Plan Z involves a slow-cooker? They’re going to make Gamera into turtle soup?

Plan Z has to work, because, says the U.S. ambassador, “Gamera may destroy civilization as we know it.” If these clowns are any reflection of civilization, I’m with Gamera.

Back in Tokyo, it is announced that the U.N. airlift of fuel has kept Gamera at the refinery, and everyone cheers (one guys says “Smashing!”) when it is announced that Plan Z will be ready that evening.

Orville pops in: “Let’s not congratulate ourselves prematurely.” Especially given that every other plan they have tried has failed dismally.

And the evacuation of civilians from Oshima Island continues. (I thought it was a volcano?) Toshio opts to hide in a box meant for Oshima rather than evacuate.

Watching it all is Orville. “Dr. Murase, a young lady to see you.” That’s not something he hears very often, and he pivots around to see Noburu. She tells him that Toshio is missing. He must be thinking, along with everyone else, “That’s a bad thing?”

On Oshima, Toshio is discovered and brought before Lord God King Hidaka. “I just wanted to see Gamera,” he says shamefully. Hidaka grunts. “OK, but you have to behave.” Behave? Has he yet behaved? Ever? “I’ll take care of Toshio,” says Kyoke. I bet. I say let the beatings begin. Hidaka gives the order to begin. This should be good. I wager 45 seconds before Hidaka once again says “This was a mistake.”

Men with hoses leap into action, barrels are dropped into the harbor, and Orville tells Noburu that Toshio is safe on Oshima Island. Whether this is good news or not is unclear.

Soon, everything is ready, and Orville and Hidaka call each other to coordinate. Then, the two doddering old professors give the military the order to proceed. Yeah. Riflemen shoot the tanks in the harbor, and they burst into flames. This leaves a fire trail to the island; Gamera is attracted to it and follows. Everyone seems happy by this. ”It worked!” exults Hidaka. Yeah, well, they said the same thing about the freezing bomb, so they may want to hold their applause until the end. Hidaka is looking at the tableau through binoculars. Kyoke asks “Can you see Gamera.” “Kyoke, for heavens’ sake,” he chides. Jeepers, what a grouch.

There is suddenly an announcement of a typhoon warning. A small typhoon has changed course and is heading toward Tokyo. No one saw a typhoon coming? Is everyone in Japan an arcane cryptozoologist and no one bothers to study something practical, like meteorology? Someone also says that volcanic activity is expected to increase, too. What? Oh, and earthquakes will split the ground wide open, frogs and locusts will fall from the sky, and they will run out of toilet paper. Could more things suddenly be going wrong simultaneously?

Toshio stands on the shore shouting, “Gamera! It’s a trap! Get back!” Good one, kid! Why, you little—

The typhoon suddenly blows in and puts out the fire trail. Gamera is still famished and starts heading away. “This blasted typhoon!” grouses Hidaka. I’m surprised he can’t actually control the weather.

Meanwhile, someone starts setting the tents behind them on fire. It is Aoyagi, the photographer, who has a cunning plan to lure Gamera back to the island. Shockingly, it works. But then it starts raining, putting the fire out. Doh! Gamera turns away again. Toshio is elated, the little sh— um, brat. But then, just when it seems hopeless, the volcano on Oshima Island starts erupting, which then draws Gamera back again. Oh, brother. This is like “Gammera the Implausible.” Everyone starts cheering except for Toshio. Take that, twerp.

Orville and Noburu decide to fly out to the island. “Not even a live volcano could keep me away,” says Orville to the pilot. How about they drop him in it?

They quickly arrive with three minutes left before...something happens. They tour the vast underground facility that had apparently been built in less than a day. Yeah.

Ten seconds...and Lord God King Hidaka orders Step Two to go into action. Gas jets light up around a circular stage area. That attracts Gamera, and he walks on to the stage—and as he does, panels on the ground slide aside and two half-domes pop out of the ground. “Close capsule!” yells Hidaka. And the two domes trap Gamera inside. OK, now what? There is a countdown...and the capsule is actually the top of a rocket that was buried underground. It ascends above ground—wobbling rather a lot—and is launched into space.
Everyone in all the various other movie footage—the U.N., the Alaskan adquarters—start cheering. Even the Japanese, the ones who actually did everything, start cheering. A U.N. radio broadcast comes on and an announcer points out that the Plan Z rocket carrying Gamera is on its way to Mars. The announcer then stresses that Plan Z was a scientific achievement that was the result of international cooperation, despite the fact that Dr. Hidaka was in charge of everything and no other country came to help the Japanese military.

Toshio is surprisingly cool with this, and says to Dr. Hidaka that “Someday I will be a scientist like you.” What, in charge of the world? “And then I’ll go to Mars in a rocket.” Why wait? Any chance they have another one down there?

Cue Gamera theme music and Toshio bids Gamera “Sayonara.” And Dr. Murase pops some popcorn.

The end.

Ah, remember a day, a day before today, a day when scientists had complete control of the military? Didn’t Mr. Wizard plan the invasion of Normandy? And, unless I’m mistaken, Bill Nye the Science Guy headed up the first Operation Desert Storm. Oh, and the cast of 3-2-1 Contact stopped the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Ah, scientists. Is there anything they can’t do?

In the sequel to Gamera, Dr. Hidaka is appointed Grand Emperor of Earth and his Vice Emperor is, of course, Dr. Murase, the latter of whose only royal edict was that he be submerged in a giant bathtub filled with popcorn. He was never heard from again.

Toshio grew up to become an eminent herpetologist specializing in, of course, turtles, so in Japan he was revered as a god. He would soon force his father and sister to live in a terrarium.

Interestingly, the Jimmy Carl Black-esque Eskimo chief left the Arctic and landed a job as a waiter at a Don Shula’s Steak House. But, alas, it was not to last long, as he could not stop himself from reading legends of death and evil in the cuts of meat he was displaying to patrons. This frightened and confused many of them, who ended up ordering the chicken. The Eskimo guy was fired, but did end up in a Chik-Fil-A in the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, CA, where he also managed to find legends of death and evil written on the surface of fried chicken nuggets. He eventually had to get out of food service entirely. Still, his next career as a shoe salesman was no less checkered.

As for Kyoke and Aoyagi, Dr. Hidaka’s Scooby gang, they eventually divorced each other—which was strange since they had never actually been married. Their attorneys were confused as hell, so it at least had that going for it.

Oh, and what about out titular turtle? Oh, he came back...five times, and in color, too, until Daiei went bankrupt in the early 1970s. Even Lord God King Emperor Poobah Hidaka couldn’t save the company from gross mismanagement.

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