Gammera. He's neat. He's full of turtle meat. I never though I would say that infamous line. But it is a suitable say to begin something which I usually don't talk about: Showa gammera. Only I should say Gammera with the extra "m" since I am talking Showa. The original gammera film is sadly not very well studied upon, unless you own MONSTERS ARE ATTACKING TOKYO, one of the numerous books by Stuart Galbraith IV and Guy Tucker's book AGE OF THE GODS. Sadly, I own neither nor is there any book previews or anything. So I wrote this paper "in the cold". But I always try for a challenge and hopefully this paper pleases.
Gammera was not the first thing for Daiei's monster division. Originally, another film about giant rats were to be used. The film was to be called GIANT GROUP BEAST NEZURA, or simply SWARM OF RATS. The film's premise was simple: they were going to make miniature sets which rats would be let loose and chew up things, especially dolls of people. Sadly, it never got off the ground because by 1964, kaiju eiga - then dominated by Toho - gave off the appearance of being expensive. You had to have a good script, a good budget for the SFX, and some good actors. Another factor of this project's cancellation was that the flea infestation inflicted the studio, making filming with rats impossible. The project was overall canceled and was turned into nothing. But with this hole in the schedule, something needed to be a filler and fallowing the making of the original Gojira, Gammera came up to seize the day.
When Gammera came up, script writer Nisan Takahashi was hired. Takahashi is also the one who came up with the premise of "a flying turtle". Concerning the flight patterns, it was inspired by fire works instead of a flying saucer (this shows that fireworks used to be very different back in the day). Most important, he came up with the name Gammera, which is an alteration of the Japanese word "turtle". With the main premise set down, the art department was set to do the special effects. Noriyoshi Inoue (not related to Yasuyuki Inoue of the Godzilla franchise) was the main designer for Gammera, drawing a massive 500 sketches with only the first one being ultimately used. Daiei executives set the budget at 8 million yen, which in those days were $100,000 USD. Finding a director was one of the hardest parts of the filming process with many turning down the project like the Nezura film and many were turned down by Daiei, but one name prevailed: Noriaki Yuasa. Noriaki Yuasa would come to find the film to be a struggle to make. While Toho had the luxury to have two different directors for their kaiju films (one for actors and the other for SFX), Yuasa would end up shooting both SFX footage and acting footage. The first planning meeting for the film lasted no long considering the time it ended: 10:30AM. By that afternoon, Takahashi already wrote a synopsis titled, "Fire Eating Turtle Attacks Tokyo." This became a trademark for Takahashi, who gained a reputation of having a harder time coming up with ideas than writing the script. The script would ultimately involve nuclear test in a similar fashion of American monster films.
Being produced by the art department in Daiei's Tokyo division only made it harder to make the film. The reason for only the Tokyo division do the work was because of conflicting the schedule between Gammera and it's Daiei competitor Daimajin. Also being taunted by his fellow directors, he was told that he should play Gammera. Two main points for the shooting was to be different from "GOJIRA" and to show mostly monster films, since this film has an obvious American feel to it. But one thing that both Yuasa and Tsuburaya had in common was that they did not show human casualties in monster films. Along with choreographing the battles, only 4 months were used for filming with a little over half of that for the SFX shooting. Due to budget, the film was shot in black and while. Another technique used in the film was that showing Gammera's legs was avoided if possible. Yuasa said once in an interview that he started directing Gammera once the kaiju got his name. Taking only a month to draw the storyboards, the story boards were fallowed closely, questioning how much direction Yuasa gave. Sadly, producer and Daiei exec Hidemasa Nagata did not once visit the set. One must question weather or not this is a sign of not so good faith. Something one must question is how faithful the budget reported was. Apparently, due to the gunpowder and strategic lighting of the holes which shoots fire while Gammera flies was very expensive which for just one cut of film containing the activity, unless going to another cut of film shot as the same time as the previous. The total cost for one of these scenes was $3,361 on average with each hole's lighting costing $84 due to the type of gunpowder used.
Working with the actors was an easy task, especially considering that Yuasa allowed actors to improvise if it was necessary and he loved working with kids. However, Yuasa did mention in an interview that when Gammera saves a child, he did that out of chance and not because of the "hero to children everywhere" subplot which would plague the rest of the Showa series. Post production lasted only a month. Tadashi Yamaguchi saw only a rough cut of the film and made one minute cues which would be later mixed for the film. In the first test screening, everyone was worried since Nagata usually had his way with film whether they go out or they fail. After the screening for Gammera, an employee quietly said to Nagata, "Well, that's the way it is sometimes." Nagata replied, "Isn't the film good?" All of the employees in the room rapidly agreed with the producer and executive.
The film would be released in Japan on Nov. 26, 1965. The film was a respectable money maker. On the other side of the world, different things were cooking up for this film. Supposedly reported to be budgeted at a million dollars, Gammera was marketed like a Godzilla film. The extra scenes, filmed in New York City, became a nuisance and the film. Opening on December 15, 1966 - ten days before Christmas, the film would durring the second half of it's run played with the film KNIVES OF THE AVENGER. Interesting advertisements for this double bill including, "Gammera the Invincible vs. Rurik the Viking." Gammera would later become the most bootleged kaiju film ever on DVD.