Heisei Gamera, which spans three films: “Guardian of the Universe,” “Advent of Legion,” and “Revenge of Irys,” follows the worldwide infestation of alien monsters called Gyaos. All three are directed by Shunsuke Kaneko, and take place during a four-year span. A swarm of flying creatures called Gyaos have appeared on Earth, and begin attacking suburban Japan. A team of scientists with the aid of the military, set out to capture one of these creatures to study. Instead, they end up awakening the ancient kaiju Gamera. Gamera, whose sole purpose is to repel any threats to the Earth, soon battles it out with swarms of Gyaos.
Compared to most big-name kaiju with standalone films, such as “Godzilla” and “Rodan“, Gamera is one of the few that is clearly benevolent. The only other kaiju that is explicitly on the side of humanity is Mothra, while the rest are simply forces of nature. Gamera is also a distinctly mythical creature. Unlike Godzilla, an ancient creature either affected by radiation or subsisting off it, Gamera is a monster that had been deified in the past. He only emerges when the world is in danger, and has to be awoken through human contact. He maintains a sympathetic psychic bond with a young girl named Asagi, who provides him with energy, and can command him to an extent. When humans are in danger, he goes out of his way to protect them, even if he is injured in the process. In that sense, Gamera is more of a supernatural protector spirit than a traditional kaiju, since his aim is to save humanity from threats instead of destroying beasts that infringe upon his territory.
Despite being set up as a largely benevolent creature, Gamera is definitely not nonviolent. When we first meet Gamera in “Guardian of the Universe,” he is seen smashing a Gyaos and sending it hurling into a power plant, and causing fear when he tries to tear open a stadium. Even though the Gyaos attack and consume human beings, the military views Gamera and the Gyaos as equal threats. Intentions aside, both monsters can cause harm to humans through direct and indirect means. “Advent of Legion” ends on a fearful note, with the cast wondering what would happen if Gamera turns against them. Benevolent or not, Gamera is still viewed as a creature with great power, and that power could be potentially catastrophic.
The first two films introduce the Gyaos, both illustrating their origins and showing how they pose a threat to mankind. However, the most interesting part of the trilogy is likely the third movie, that features Gamera’s nemesis, Irys. “Revenge of Irys” highlights the struggles of a young girl named Ayana, whose parents were killed during the destruction in the second film. Ayana despises Gamera for unintentionally killing her family and ruining her life. She remains traumatized even when she moves to a more peaceful area. While there, she accidentally stumbles upon an egg that eventually hatches into the monster, Irys. Irys is influenced by Ayana’s grudge, making it aggressive, and setting it on a mission to destroy Gamera. A young girl’s vengeance inadvertently causes a nationwide disaster.
Very rarely do kaiju films highlight the destruction that occurs when giant monsters enter a heavily populated area: the structural damage is immense, businesses are destroyed, and lives can be lost in great numbers. Instead, most plots focus on how to defeat the larger threat. They also fail to include the public’s impressions of the attacks. Does the public see the monster acting as their guardian in a positive light? Or are they distraught about how their lives have been upended? Revenge of Irys is a rarity in how it touches upon all of these points.
Overall, the Heisei Gamera series interestingly takes the kaiju mythos in a different direction. It highlights a kaiju that acts on humanity’s behalf, and details the range of reactions of those most directly effected. While there are scientific and militaristic aspects to the films that other franchises share, Gamera stands apart by adding a distinctly human angle. There are also plenty of kaiju battles, so the movies are plenty of fun as well.