Kessen [2000]

Gamera, Japan's favorite jet-propelled giant flying turtle, was Daiei's child-friendly answer to Toho's Godzilla franchise. This decidedly juvenile staple of the 1960s became a modest success, but those early features, with cut-rate special effects and gooey child stars, rate little beyond camp nowadays. With such a legacy, his 1995 rebirth Gamera, Guardian of the Galaxy, is a delightful surprise. Now taking over the franchise, Toho comes through with an old-fashioned giant monster adventure in candy colors with excellent special effects and an attitude that straddles serious science fiction and outrageous spectacle. Gamera, still a hero of the people, is given a mythic back-story and a foe of apocalyptic dimensions, the flying people-eating lizard Gyaos that the government, in all its misguided wisdom, decides to protect while attacking the misunderstood Gamera. There's romance (featuring the best come-on line ever: "Someday I'd like to show you around a monster-free Tokyo"), bureaucratic satire, and a well-meaning environmental message, but that's all gravy to the movie's meat: giant monsters battling it out in the traditional Tokyo war zone, laying waste to acres of lovingly detailed miniatures. That's what Japanese monster movies are all about. --Sean Axmaker

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