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Monday, February 16, 2015

In 1954, Toho Studios introduced the kaiju movie genre with its release of the classic movie Gojira. We could argue all day about the fact that there were plenty of large monster movies before Gojira, but a kaiju movie is not just a big monster movie. There are a lot of things that go into making a kaiju movie that movies about mutated grasshoppers simply do not have. Since 1954, Toho has maintained a level of dominance in the kaiju genre that has often been challenged.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of Japanese movie studios have tried to create kaiju films and all they really succeeded in doing was creating movies about mutated giant grasshoppers. In 1965, Daiei Studios released its kaiju movie Gamera as a direct, and not so subtle, attempt to unseat Gojira as the world’s favorite kaiju. Daiei never really succeeded in toppling the King of the Monsters, but it did finally make a good kaiju movie 30 years after it started.

There is a good chance that anyone my age saw a Gamera movie on channel 29 when you were a kid. You might not remember it and you probably didn’t watch the whole thing, but you saw it. Gamera, for some reason, was getting most of the air time in the 1970’s kaiju wars, which lead Americans to think that Gamera really was giving Godzilla a run for his money. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s there were good Godzilla and Gamera movies and there were really bad ones, but Daiei finally managed to rip off enough Godzilla story lines to put together a trilogy that is nothing short of classic.

I completely understand that Gamera is nothing but a knock-off of Mothra with a Godzilla-like appeal to children, which is probably why I never paid that much attention to Gamera in the 1970’s. I recently reconnected with Gamera when my wife bought me the Legion trilogy and this is one of the best movie trilogies I have ever seen.

To be a classic, a movie has to have a great story and tell it well. I do not get overwhelmed with special effects and 3D is nothing but a novelty to me. One of the reasons I love the drive-in is because there is no 3D to take away from the movie. These three movies — Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera: Attack of Legion (1996), and Gamera: Revenge of Iris (1999) — (and you have to watch all three together to really get the full effect of the story) qualify as classics and I mean that for movie fans, not just kaiju fans.

One of the areas of kaiju movies that Toho sometimes has problems with is the human element of a kaiju story. Daiei used to have that problem as well, but it obviously solved that problem with this trilogy. The human stories flow so well into the kaiju scenes in the Legion trilogy that these movies could not exist without the human elements. That is something that cannot be said for every kaiju film.

There is usually animation instead of CGI and these movies run on suitmation, which was created by Toho. There are miniatures used in this movie, but Daiei used a unique filming technique that adds a look of realism to the miniatures. I won’t go so far as to say that you believe that there are 300-foot tall monsters fighting on a sound stage, but I watched the behind-the-scenes of these movies and there were several scenes that used miniatures that I found extremely realistic.

So what allows something like the Gamera Legion trilogy to be called a classic? For three movies, Daiei manages to bring together all of the elements that go into any great movie and create masterpieces. The acting is superb (which is also unique for kaiju films), the story line is captivating, the special effects take nothing away from the movie, and there is real emotion built up between the movies and their audience.

From beginning to end, the Gamera Legion trilogy are three movies that you should set aside time to watch. I am not sure if they will turn you into a kaiju fan, because that is something usually left to Toho kaiju movies. But I can say, with a high degree of confidence, that you do not need to be a fan of big monster movies to love the Gamera Legion trilogy.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

George N Root III is a drive-in fanatic and kaiju movie expert. He is just patiently waiting for the 2016 release of the new Toho Godzilla movie, which will probably debut at the drive-in.

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