I remember a few years when I first discovered Gamera the Brave. I was quite shocked to discover a new, modern Gamera movie. Thankfully Netflix had it. With the Blu-ray recently released, it was time for another watch. The gap between this and the previous movie, Awakening of Iris, was pretty big being 7 years. Kaneko had finished his spectacular Heisei trilogy, presumably ending the Game mythos. But Director Ryuta Tasaki breathed new life into the flying turtle with a modern kaiju film in 2006, two years after the last Godzilla movie, Final Wars, came out. Sadly this film did poorly in the Japanese box office, as did Final Wars. It goes to show that people just weren't into kaiju films anymore. So Gamera was put to rest after The Brave. This doesn't stop the movie from being a solid entry.
The story begins in 1975, when a much older Gamera was defending Japan from a herd of Gyaos. They prove too much for him to handle however, so he's forced to blow himself up to defeat them. All hope is not lost, because many years later a new Gamera rises, which is good since Tokyo is getting terrorized by a human-eating beast dubbed Zedus. The Brave's intro is easily the best part of the film. It starts out very grim, almost as a continuation of how Awakening of Iris ended. (Since the film went out of its way to homage that, they should have just made it a continuation.) It's a very exciting start, plus we get to what a very beaten and old Gamera looks like. After the incredible intro, the film changes gears quickly for a more light tone. Despite the previous trilogy being such critically acclaimed for its dark tone, The Brave chose to go a more Showa route, light in tone and kids being the stars. This is not a bad thing however, since part of what makes Gamera Gamera is that he's a 'friend to all children.' You take that out, you take out a piece of character. Thankfully the movie avoids all the cheesy pitfalls of the post Vs. Barugon films.
The main character is a boy named Tomioka. From the get-go it's established he's a little lonely since his mom passed away. His dad is good, but also extremely busy managing a restaurant. Having a kid be the main character could turn off some people, and maybe that's part of the reason it didn't do too well. But he's pretty solid. The relationship between him and Toto (baby Gamera) is established really well. The other main character is a girl, a little older than Tomioka named Mai. She's a nice addition, a soft voice in the bunch. (Though if you see the dub you are going to laugh at how she says 'Toto.') Her heart surgery is a minor plot point and it's handled well, the viewer actually cares about her.
This being made in 2006, it was very interesting to see how far Japan had gotten in special effects. The movie shows that suitamation still works. The monsters look realistic and the destruction is fantastic. It's a truly a shame this was the last Gamera movie, I would have loved to see what else they could have done special effect wise. Zedus is the antagonist monster. While never achieving 'classic' status, he's a really cool addition to the roster.The film succeeds in making him a threat from the start. When you hear the sirens followed by people screaming/running then his roar, you know things are about to get deadly. What's interesting is that he actually eats people. Believe it or not, kaiju eating people is a rarity. In fact, the only other kaiju movie I can think of where something eats a person is in War of the Gargantuas. So that was a very cool thing to see. (It's not gruesome, but viewers know what's happening.)
The Gamera suit succeeds perfectly in what it was trying to achieve: a cute thing for viewers to root and feel sorry for when he gets beaten around. Seriously, it's impossible to not "Awww" when he shows up with those adorable eyes. The fight scenes are both incredible set pieces and satisfying. Not only is there traditional wrestling, but there's some unique maneuvers by Zedus, such as figuring out how to crawl on top of a bridge and climbing up a building to get to Gamera. The soundtrack is pretty solid. There aren't too many themes played, but when there was music playing it matched the respective scene well. The only standout theme is the end credits song. Another important thing to mention is where the story takes place. It doesn't happen in a very industrialized city like we're used to seeing in Godzilla movies, rather it takes place in a kind of village. It makes for some unique scenery.
Overall, Gamera the Brave is a nice entry to Daiei's (later bought by Kadokawa) premiere kaiju series. It may not be as dark or 'epic' as the Heisei trilogy, but it's a fun and heartwarming adventure for the whole family. It's a shame it didn't ignite a whole new series, but I guess in a way when Tomioka said "So long...Gamera" it was also the audience saying farewell. Maybe when GODZILLA is a box office hit we'll see a Hollywood adaptation of the fire-breathing turtle!