As the reboot trilogy came to an end with 1999’s Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, it seemed as if we’d seen the last of our rocket-powered turtle guardian. However, seven years later there was another – in the form of Gamera the Brave, a film that marries the modern filmmaking approach seen in the 90s reboots with the more kid-friendly appeal of the Showa Era films, though it isn’t without its darker moments.
Another reboot, there’s a whimsical, almost Studio Ghibl-esque magical realism to Gamera the Brave, which is to its credit. Young Toru, who’s recently lost his mother in a car accident, happens upon a glowing egg on an island that was the site of a kaiju battle in the 70s, which ended with Gamera sacrificing himself to destroy Gyaos creatures and save humanity. When the egg hatches and Toru’s small pet, who he names. Toto, grows incredibly large, very quickly indeed – as well as being able to fly and breathe fire – it becomes glaringly obvious that he’s not just a normal turtle. When a new kaiju – who’s developed a taste for humans – emerges, the still-growing Toto springs into action to help save the day.
Along with the Ghibli-esque magical realism, there are shades of the Iron Giant as the story focuses on the sweet, endearing bond between Toru and Toto. It helps that the effects work is phenomenal, with some wonderful puppetry and nice use of CGI in play as the little turtle grows to a much bigger size and develops some of his special abilities. Though the kaiju-sized action fits a little awkwardly alongside the more naturalistic and convincing effects in the earlier scenes, there’s a lot of moments where the man-in-suit action is actually pretty well implemented alongside the live action. It’s still a shame that the film succumbs to the worst tendencies of kaiju films at points though, with unnatural and over the top fight choreography – in conjunction with the obvious modelwork, it does spoil the magic a bit.
There’s still so much here to appreciate though, including a surprisingly moving and beautiful sequence (with stirring, gorgeous musical accompaniment) in which children fight their way through panicking crowds one by one in an attempt to assist Toto, the new Gamera.
The whole film is such a huge improvement on the Showa Era films and even the first three Heisei Era films, which got a little too dark and serious for their own good at points, even while retaining some of the silliness (albeit unintentionally). Gamera the Brave is a beautifully shot, Ghibli-esque children’s adventure and, though it’s a shame that it’s the final Gamera film so far, it’s certainly not a bad thing to see the series bow out on such a well made, charming and – perhaps most surprisingly – genuinely endearing high.
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