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Gamera the Brave (2006)
Not Rated

Starring: Kaho, Ryo Tomioka, and Kanji Tsuda

Rating:
****
out of
*****

In the 1990's, director Shusuke Kaneko re-imagined and re-energized the giant Japanese monster known as Gamera. Made in the 1960's and early 1970's, the original Gamera films were generally regarded as Z-grade trash. (No less than five Gamera movies were featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000".) Gamera, the creature, was a giant friend to the children of Japan. Kaneko tried to take the Gamera series out of the realm of camp and make it somewhat respectable. He succeeded. The three Gamera movies that Kaneko helmed -- Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera: Attack of Legion, and Gamera: Revenge of Iris -- are three of the best-made kaiju movies of all time. The good thing about Gamera the Brave, the latest Gamera movie, is that you need to know absolutely nothing about the history of the monster to enjoy it, as this film uses none of the previous films in the series as a foundation for its story. Gamera the Brave is geared towards younger audiences, but it's entertaining for adults as well.

The film begins in 1973, as Gamera fights several bat-like monsters known as Gyaos. Drawing the attention of the monsters away from the village they were attacking, Gamera self-destructs and immolates the Gyaos in the process. Gamera's sacrifice saves the village and earns the respect of Kousuke, a young boy. Flash forward to 2006 and Kousuke is now a father. His son, Toru (Ryo Tomioka), is drawn to a small island off the coast of the village. He swims out to the island and discovers a small egg perched on what looks like a carved red gemstone. The egg hatches and a small turtle appears.

Toru is forbidden to keep a pet by his restaurant-owning father, but he keeps the turtle anyway. Naming it Toto, Toru discovers the turtle possesses the power to fly and seems to be growing at an accelerated rate. Toto grows so fast that Toru cannot keep him safely hidden in his room and must enlist the help of his friends to transport the large turtle via a wagon to a clubhouse they've built on the coast.

One night, Toru goes to check on the turtle but cannot find him. Shortly thereafter, a large lizard-like creature attacks the village. Toru and his friends are attempting to flee when they're cut off by debris caused by the attack. The creature -- later known as Zedus -- is about to eat the boys when he's suddenly blind-sided by Toto, who is now 24 feet long. Kousuke recognizes Toto as Gamera, the monster that protected the village when he was a child. Toto manages to keep Zedus from doing any further harm to the village for the time being, but another battle seems inevitable.

Gamera the Brave returns the series to its "friend to the children" roots, but does so in a way that's actually quite charming. The relationship between Toru and Toto is rather heartwarming and is handled with a good sense of humor by director Ryuta Tasaki. (Long time Gamera fans will get a chuckle out of an encounter between Toto and a kitchen utensil.)

Kaiju eiga otaku (giant monster movie fans) will enjoy the fight scenes and kids should enjoy the humor and the storyline. While they may not be quite up to Hollywood standards, Gamera the Brave's effects are impressive for the genre and include a healthy dose of CGI to make everything fairly seamless.

If you're a fan of Japanese monster movies, you probably already have this in your Netflix queue. However, if you're the slightest bit curious as to what all the fuss is about when you hear about Godzilla or Gamera and have yet to see one of these movies, I highly recommend you start with Gamera the Brave. It's probably the most universally appealing Japanese monster film ever made.

Trivia: Director Ryuta Tazaki has also directed various episodes of the Power Rangers and Kamen Rider TV series. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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