Gamera (ガメラ) is a series of giant monster films and other licensed products featuring the character and titular kaiju Gamera, owned by the Kadokawa Corporation. Starting in 1965, the Gamera series remains one of the longest-running film series.
The Gamera series initially began as an attempt by Daiei to capitalize on the success of rival studio Toho's successful kaiju films of the time, most notably the Godzilla series. The first Gamera film, Gamera the Giant Monster, was released to Japanese theaters on November 27, 1965. The film was a success, inspiring Daiei to not only produce a sequel, but also the acclaimed Daimajin trilogy of films. Gamera was released in theaters in the United States a year later as an edited and dubbed version titled Gammera the Invincible.
Like the Godzilla series before it, the Gamera series went on to include numerous other entries, all featuring the titular Gamera battling against other, more malevolent creatures. It attempted to aim itself more towards child audiences, with all but one of the first eight films featuring children prominently. The Godzilla series even attempted to emulate this with its films in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After Daiei went bankrupt in the early 1970s, the Gamera series was placed on hiatus and, aside from a failed revival film produced by Daiei's successor in 1980, another entry was not produced until the series' 30th anniversary in 1995. The new film, Gamera the Guardian of the Universe, was distributed by the original Daiei's former competitor Toho and proved to be a huge critical and financial success, inspiring two similarly critically-acclaimed sequels. In the early 2000s, Daiei was acquired by the Kadokawa Corporation and absorbed by the company's filmmaking branch. Kadokawa finally produced its first Gamera film, Gamera the Brave, in 2006 to celebrate the franchise's 40th anniversary. Kadokawa has since released many of the Gamera films on home video and produced remastered versions of a few entries, released a four-minute short in 2015 to commemorate the character's 50th anniversary, and is developing an animated miniseries titled GAMERA -Rebirth- which was released on Netflix on September 7, 2023.
While the Gamera series began as a cash-in on the popularity of the Godzilla franchise, it has since developed its own identity and become a popular and respected film series in its own right. Gamera, while not quite as popular as his Toho counterpart Godzilla, is still a recognizable pop culture icon in Japan and around the world. The 1990s Heisei Gamera trilogy directed by Shusuke Kaneko is widely recognized as the finest example of giant monster films ever produced. Many crew members who worked on the trilogy would go on to work on the Godzilla series as well.
The Gamera series consists of 12 films, seven of them produced by the now-defunct Daiei, four by its successor Daiei Film (later simply Daiei), and one by Kadokawa Herald Pictures. Like the Godzilla series, the Gamera series is divided into distinct eras; however, unlike the Godzilla series, the Gamera series consists of only two: the Showa and Heisei eras. The first eight entries make up the Showa series, while the last four are considered to comprise the Heisei series. The Showa films are often categorized by their campy, child-friendly nature, while the later Heisei films are seen as much more serious and mature in nature.
The first series of Gamera films is named after the Showa period of Japan, referring to the reign of the Showa emperor, Hirohito. The Showa series began in 1965 with the release of the black-and-white film Gamera the Giant Monster. This film is distinct from all of those that followed it in that it is the only one filmed in black-and-white, as well as the only one to portray Gamera as a villain and not feature him battling another monster. Gamera the Giant Monster was inspired by the popular Godzilla films, most prominently the original 1954 Godzilla, telling the story of an ancient giant reptile being awakened by a nuclear bomb and laying waste to Tokyo. Following the film's success, a sequel was greenlit by the studio. Like what had occurred with the Godzilla series, Daiei chose to film the sequel in color and have Gamera do battle with another creature. The creature created for this purpose was the giant lizard monster Barugon, which was Gamera's opponent in the film Gamera vs. Barugon. This film was followed a year later by Gamera vs. Gyaos, which introduced Gamera's archenemy, the flying creature Gyaos, and also featured a child protagonist who assists Gamera. Gamera vs. Gyaos set the standard for the remaining five Showa films, which all revolved around a heroic Gamera collaborating with human children to defeat other monsters and oftentimes alien invaders. The Gamera films were notable for featuring a great deal of graphic violence and gore in their monster battles, while the Godzilla films of the time often refrained from showing the creatures bleed. As the Gamera films proved incredibly popular with child audiences, the Godzilla films of the early 1970s found themselves emulating them by featuring increased blood and gore and the appearance of child protagonists.
As the Japanese film industry declined in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Daiei found itself relying heavily on the use of stock footage from the previous entries. The company planned to produce another Gamera film following the release of Gamera vs. Zigra in 1971, but the studio went bankrupt later that same year and all plans for the tentatively titled Gamera vs. the Two-Headed Monster W were abruptly scrapped. Daiei's assets were eventually purchased by Tokuma Shoten, who planned to revive the Gamera series with a new film while the Godzilla series remained on hiatus. The newest Gamera film, Gamera Super Monster, was produced and released by Daiei's successor Daiei Film in 1980, nine years after the previous film, and was primarily composed of stock footage from the previous seven films. Super Monster also featured obvious attempts to capitalize on the popular Superman and Star Wars films of the time, seen through the Spacewomen and the spaceship Zanon. Super Monster was a critical and financial failure, and convinced Tokuma and the new Daiei to put the series on hold once again. In the meantime, five of the eight Showa Gamera films were dubbed and released by Sandy Frank in the United States on television and home video, leading to a growth in the series' popularity outside of Japan. All five of these movies were even featured on the movie-mocking TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 1990s.
In 1995, Daiei began production on a new film to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Gamera series. The new Daiei turned to its predecessor's rival Toho to distribute the film, and hired little-known director Shusuke Kaneko to direct. It was decided to begin the series anew and ignore the previous eight entries, discarding the kid-friendly tone of the later Showa films in favor of a darker and more serious style, akin to what the Godzilla series had done with The Return of Godzilla. The resulting film, Gamera the Guardian of the Universe, was a huge success with critics and audiences, even earning a theatrical release in the United States. Famed film critic Roger Ebert, who had long given negative reviews to kaiju films, gave the film three out of four stars, praising it for being "fun." Daiei immediately began production on a sequel, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, which was released in 1996. The sequel was even more well-received than its predecessor, making use of higher production values. A third entry, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, was released in 1999, and despite disappointing box office returns was praised by many as the greatest giant monster film ever made, rivaling even the original Godzilla.
Daiei was later purchased by the Kadokawa Corporation in the early 2000s and merged with the company's filmmaking branch. As the series' 40th anniversary approached, Kadokawa decided to produce a new film for 2006. The film, Gamera the Brave, was a reboot from Kaneko's trilogy that re-adopted some of the kid-friendly tone of the Showa series while still maintaining the seriousness and higher production values of the Heisei trilogy. Gamera the Brave was a box office failure despite being well-received, convincing Kadokawa to put the series on indefinite hiatus. In the meantime, Kadokawa began releasing the previous entries on DVD and Blu-ray in Japan, while extending the Gamera license to other companies who began making Gamera merchandise.
While Gamera the Brave is not connected to Kaneko's Gamera trilogy, it is still grouped in with it as part of the series' Heisei era, due to it being released during the political Heisei period in Japan. Contrary to popular belief, Gamera the Brave is not part of the Millennium series, a term that only applies to the Godzilla franchise films released from 1999 to 2004.
50th anniversary short (2015)
For Gamera's 50th anniversary in 2015, Kadokawa commissioned a four-minute short simply titled GAMERA directed by Katsuhito Ishii, which was first shown at the 2015 New York Comic-Con. The short featured Gamera, a flock of Gyaos, and a new monster with tentacles, all rendered through CGI. This short would prove to be the final piece of GAMERA media produced during Japan's Heisei era.
Films by series
The following is a list of all official entries in the Gamera franchise, grouped according to series and including the year of release.
- Gamera the Giant Monster (1965)
- Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
- Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)
- Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
- Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
- Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
- Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
- Gamera Super Monster (1980)
- Gamera the Guardian of the Universe (1995)
- Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)
- Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
- Gamera the Brave (2006)
Aside from the 12 official entries in the Gamera series, numerous films were planned but never saw production.
Daiei's original plan for a sequel to Gamera the Giant Monster featured Gamera doing battle with a race of ice-based aliens attempting to take over Earth. The film's climactic battle would have Gamera taking on the aliens' ultimate weapon, the Ice Giant. Daiei decided to make Gamera's opponent to be a non-humanoid reptilian creature instead, but retained the Ice Giant's cold-based abilities. The Ice Giant was heavily altered to form the basis of the stone giant Daimajin from Daiei's successful Daimajin trilogy of films.
Following Gamera vs. Zigra, Daiei began production on the next Gamera film. The film, given the placeholder title Gamera vs. the Two-Headed Monster W, pitted Gamera against the titular monster. However, Daiei's bankruptcy in late 1971 led to the film's cancellation, despite director Noriaki Yuasa stating that a practical W prop, either a puppet or a suit, had already been completed at Daiei for Gamera's new foe. Unfortunately, this prop was destroyed in a riot that was brought about by the aforementioned bankruptcy and Daiei not paying its workers as a result.
Daiei's original vision for Gamera's 30th anniversary revival film was titled Gamera vs. Phoenix, and involved Gamera battling a giant phoenix. When Daiei brought Shusuke Kaneko on board as the director, he discarded the screenplay and chose to revive one of Gamera's old opponents for the new film, which was ultimately decided to be Gyaos. Rather than completely ignore the Gamera vs. Phoenix screenplay, Daiei published it as a novel.
During production of the Gamera trilogy, Daiei's executives mused at the idea of a film pitting Gamera against Godzilla. The two famous kaiju had already clashed in a live stage show in 1970 and had been featured in numerous informational books and magazines together. Following Daiei's acquisition by Kadokawa, Kadokawa approached Toho in 2002 and proposed a Godzilla vs. Gamera film. Toho rejected the offer for unknown reasons.
Following the abandonment of Godzilla 3-D in exchange for Legendary Pictures' Godzilla, Yoshimitsu Banno, the unmade film's producer, turned his eyes to a Gamera project. Banno repackaged the screenplay for Godzilla 3-D into Gamera 3D, featuring Gamera battling a pollution-based monster called "Gaira" (no relation to the Green Gargantua), which transforms into the more powerful Namagon. Gamera would then team up with the mythical creature Son Gokuu and defeat Namagon. Like Godzilla 3-D, this was intended to be a 40-minute short IMAX film to be produced by Banno's independent company Advanced Audiovisual Productions. This idea was discarded in favor of another film featuring Hedorah battling a green algae-based kaiju called Midora, which Banno was still actively working on at the time of his death.
Every entry in the Gamera series after the original film, Gamera the Giant Monster, has featured at least one other monster doing battle with Gamera. The following is a list of all the monsters that have appeared in a Gamera film.
- Gamera - The primary monster of the franchise, Gamera made his debut in the film Gamera the Giant Monster in 1965. Gamera is a giant bipedal turtle capable of flying and breathing fire. While Gamera was a villain in his debut film, he has developed into a heroic monster that defends humanity from threats and has a special affinity for children. Gamera's origins are connected to the ancient Atlantis civilization in both the Showa and Heisei series. In Gamera, it is only speculated that Gamera lived in Atlantis at some point in the ancient past, while Gamera the Guardian of the Universe establishes that Gamera was actually genetically engineered by the ancient Atlanteans to battle their previous creation, Gyaos, which had gone out of control and destroyed their civilization.
- Barugon - A giant lizard-like monster, Barugon was Gamera's first opponent, debuting in the 1966 film Gamera vs. Barugon. Barugon began life inside an egg found inside a cave in New Guinea. A thief took the egg back to Japan, believing it was an opal, only for it to be placed under an infrared lamp and hatch into a huge monster. Barugon terrorized Japan and attacked Osaka, where he was engaged by Gamera. Gamera later defeated Barugon by drowning him in the ocean. Barugon has very unusual abilities, he can fire a deadly rainbow from seven of the spikes on his back and extend his tongue and fire an icy mist from it. Barugon's only weakness was water, which allowed Gamera to defeat him.
- Gyaos - Gyaos is a giant flying creature which resembles a cross between a pterosaur and a vampire bat. Gyaos made its first appearance in the film Gamera vs. Gyaos in 1967, and since has become Gamera's arch-nemesis and his most famous enemy. In the Showa series, Gyaos was discovered inside a cave, then flew out of it and began feeding on humans and livestock. Gamera appeared and fought Gyaos, eventually defeating it by drowning it in a volcano. A group of silver Space Gyaos appeared in the film Gamera vs. Guiron, with one of them fighting and being killed by Guiron. Gyaos returned as Gamera's opponent for the series' 1995 reboot to the series, Gamera the Guardian of the Universe. In this film, Gyaos are ancient creatures genetically engineered by the ancient Atlanteans that turned on their creators and wiped them out. Gamera was created as a last-ditch measure to defeat the Gyaos. Gyaos appears in the third entry of the Heisei trilogy, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris in a new evolved form called Hyper Gyaos. The antagonist of the film, Iris, is also implied to be related to Gyaos somehow. A flock of three Gyaos appears in the opening of the film Gamera the Brave, where Gamera self-destructs in order to kill them. Another flock appears in the 2015 GAMERA short film, which Gamera incinerates with a massive fireball.
- Viras - Viras is a giant alien squid-like creature that appears in the 1968 film Gamera vs. Viras. Viras is actually the result of several smaller aliens, the Virians, combining together into a single entity. The Virians invaded Earth and tried to control Gamera and force him to wipe out human civilization, but the mind control was severed by two children. The Virians then combined into Viras to defeat Gamera. Gamera eventually destroyed Viras by freezing him in the upper atmosphere and dropping him into the ocean below, where he exploded.
- Guiron - Guiron is a giant blade-headed alien beast that guards the planet Terra. Guiron is featured in the 1969 film Gamera vs. Guiron, where he battles a Space Gyaos and later takes on Gamera when he arrives on Terra to save two children from two female aliens who want to eat their brains. Guiron is defeated by Gamera when Gamera lodges a rocket in the notches on Guiron's head and detonates it with his fire breath.
- Jiger - Jiger is the villain in the 1970 Gamera film Gamera vs. Jiger. Jiger is a demonic beast from Wester Island that is drawn to Japan when the statue that repels her is taken from its place on the island. Jiger invaded Japan and fought Gamera, defeating him by implanting her parasitic offspring inside his body. Gamera was rescued by two children who destroyed the baby Jiger, and he resumed his battle with Jiger. Gamera finally killed Jiger by shoving the statue into Jiger's skull, then brought her carcass back to Wester Island.
- Zigra - Zigra first appeared in the film Gamera vs. Zigra in 1971. Zigra, a giant fish-like alien, hails from a planet where fish feed on people, and came to Earth to take up residence in the planet's oceans and feed on mankind. When Zigra's plans to mind-control humans failed, he emerged from his ship and fought Gamera underwater. Gamera forced Zigra onto land, where he easily defeated it with his fire breath.
- Legion - The Symbiotic Legion are a race of silicon-based insectoid aliens that are featured in the 1996 film Gamera 2: Attack of Legion. The Legion arrived on Earth in a meteor and began breaking down silicon compounds to feed their propagation device, a giant flower. When Gamera destroyed the flower, the gigantic Mother Legion appeared and flew to Sendai to plant a new flower. Legion defeated Gamera in Sendai, but Gamera intercepted the flower's seed before it could enter outer space, destroying Sendai in the process. When Legion attempted to plant a flower in Tokyo, Gamera returned and killed her with a powerful attack known as the Ultimate Mana Blast when his normal attacks could not harm her.
- Iris - Iris is the antagonist of the 1999 film Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, the final entry of the Heisei Gamera trilogy. Iris is an ancient creature of unknown origin who was discovered in a shrine by the vengeful Ayana Hirasaka, who blamed Gamera for her parents' deaths. Ayana raised Iris to take revenge for her and kill Gamera. When Iris reached maturity, it broke out of the shrine and exterminated the population of Ayana's village, then pursued Ayana to Kyoto. There, Ayana commanded Iris to kill Gamera, who had followed it there. Iris seemingly killed Gamera, then attempted to forcibly bond itself to Ayana. Gamera saved Ayana and pulled her out of Iris' body, then destroyed Iris at the cost of his own arm.
- Zedus - A giant mutated sea lizard, Zedus is the antagonist of the 2006 film Gamera the Brave. Zedus came ashore in a village and started eating the citizens, only to be attacked by Toto, the young Gamera. Zedus defeated Toto and headed to Nagoya, where the fully-grown Toto attacked him again. This time, Toto overcame Zedus and destroyed him with a fireball.
Gamera, along with many other famous Japanese kaiju, was frequently featured in informational books and magazines in the 1970s and 1980s. Notable among these is Godzilla-Gamera Daikaiju, a book featuring super-deformed illustrations of monsters from both the Godzilla and Gamera series drawn by the artist behind Bandai's Godzilland merchandise line.
In 1995, the story for the unmade film Gamera vs. Phoenix was published as a novel by Shogakukan. To tie in with the 30th anniversary film Gamera the Guardian of the Universe, a manga illustrated by "Hurricane" Ryu Hariken called Manga Boys Special Edition: Gamera was released, featuring Gamera battling all of his enemies from the Showa era along with new monsters based on the unmade monsters Garasharp and Marukobukarappa. Following the success of Gamera the Guardian of the Universe, Dark Horse, publishers of numerous Godzilla comics at the time, published a brief American four-issue comic book miniseries titled Gamera in 1996 set one year after the events of the film. This comic featured Gamera battling a clone of Gyaos, as well as new versions of Zigra and Viras. In 2002, Kadokawa published a manga adaptation of the film Gamera vs. Barugon, adapting it into the continuity of the Heisei Gamera trilogy and setting it between the events of Gamera 2: Attack of Legion and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris. A tie-in manga called Gamera 2006: Hard Link was released for the film Gamera the Brave, taking the form of an anthology telling various different stories connected to the film.
Gamera has been featured in numerous video games, many of them developed and published by the company Sammy. A tie-in game for the film Gamera the Guardian of the Universe was released for the Game Boy in 1995, along with a strategy game titled Gamera: Gyaos Destruction Strategy for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. In 1997, Virgin Games released a space shooter-style game called Gamera 2000 for PlayStation. In 2009, Sammy developed a Pachinko game titled CR Gamera, which featured computer-generated recreations of Gamera's numerous battles from the films. Oratta released a mobile game titled Gamera: Battle in 2012. To commemorate Gamera's 50th anniversary, he and a few of his monster co-stars were included as guest characters in the Sega mobile RPG Monster Gear, which also included exclusive costumes and weapons based on them.
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