Arrow Video’s Gamera: The Heisei Era brings together the four most recent Gamera films, including director Shusuke Kaneko’s trilogy with new transfers and a wealth of special features.
The Production: 3.5/5
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe: 3.5 out of 5
Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion: 2.5 out of 5
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris: 3.5 out of 5
Gamera the Brave: 3 out of 5
In an attempt to reboot the Gamera franchise, then-40 year old director Shusuke Kaneko was given the opportunity to breathe new life not only into Gamera, but the kaiju (monster) genre as well, and succeeds tremendously.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe marked the return of Japan’s favorite giant turtle to the big screen since the abysmal Gamera: The Super Monster in 1980. The Gyaos have been re-awakened, attacking small villages and eating their human population. This brings Gamera out of hibernation (apparently he’s been afloat in the world’s oceans encased in a large rock littered with comma-shaped amulets), ready to protect Earth. The Japanese government sees the Gyaos as an opportunity to research and profit from the exhibition of these creatures, and Gamera as a threat to both that opportunity and the Japanese public as a whole. Poor Gamera is just misunderstood (and will continue to be misunderstood by the military throughout this three-part series), as all he wants to do is save the Earth from destruction. Seeing the Gyaos as more of a threat than Gamera, the scientific community takes his side, trying to convince the military of a way to help Gamera destroy the Gyaos, especially since a teenage school girl, Kaneko, is spiritually and psychically linked to Gamera from one of the comma-shaped amulets that was given to her as a gift from a friend of her father’s.
In Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion, what appears to be a meteorite is approaching Japan, but when it begins to decelerate as it gets closer, scientists believe it may be an invasion from outer space. When it eventually crash lands in the city of Saporro, their theory is confirmed. The Legion attack the Kirin brewery (in an obvious product-placement deal), removing the glass from the bottles and leaving only the beer. Electronic communications are disrupted. Giant plant-like tentacles make their way out of the building the meteor crashed into, burrowing into the ground and through the subway tunnels. When Gamera comes to the rescue, the Legion attack him like ticks on a dog, covering him head to toe and rendering him powerless. The Legion have a trick up their sleeve – they are creating a Queen (which looks like a cross between a metallic tick and a flea) to annihilate the planet. Why have the Legion arrived? That is something never quite explained in this film, the weakest of the three. Many of the main characters have returned, which help give the film a flow between the previous and next chapters in the trilogy.
Everything comes full circle in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris. A young girl, Ayana, blames Gamera for the death of her parents and pet cat, Iris, which occurred during the first film, and befriends a creature that shares a similar hatred of Gamera. Ayana names the creature Iris, and as Iris quickly matures, it builds a spiritual and psychic link with Ayana, using the hatred they both share to extract revenge on Gamera. Kaneko, the girl who was spiritually bonded with Gamera in Guardian of the Universe, returns, as do many of the main characters from the previous entries. Kaneko reaches out to Ayana, and eventually Ayana learns the truth of how her parents died, and eventually brings the film to a thrilling showdown between Iris and Gamera. Although the pacing for the first half of Revenge of Iris is relatively slow, it is somewhat necessary to tell Ayana’s story and genesis of Iris.
The visual effects in all three films are outstanding, improving (as one would expect) throughout the series. Sure, Gamera and the other monsters are, most of the time, actors in monster suits, but these “suits” have come a long way since the original film series. Gamera even manages to show a good range of emotion, particularly after the final showdown in Gamera 3. The miniatures, although sometimes obvious, never look like toys. These miniatures have a well-thought out scale to them, and are lit more naturally to help them appear more realistic. The films, as a whole, never become overly campy like their predecessors. There are no scenes of Gamera rotating on a parallel bar and doing an Olympic-style dismount, or Gamera pounding on his opponent like a xylophone. These films are much darker, and the themes are a bit more mature. Like I said, these are not your father’s Gamera movies.
Once one gets over the fact that Gamera the Brave forgets the three previous films from the 1990s, it settles into a fairly sweet little film (although relies more heavily on CGI than any previous entry). The movie opens with a flashback to the year 1973, when Gamera was in an epic battle with Gyaos, in which Gamera self-destructed in order to save mankind and defeat his arch enemy once and for all. Flash forward 23 years later, Kousuke (Kanji Tsuda), who witnessed Gamera’s sacrifice, is now a grown man with a young son, Toru (Ryo Tomioka). Toru finds a turtle egg one day and takes it home for safe keeping. The egg hatches, and Toru names the turtle Toto, who quickly shows his powers of breathing fire and flying while also growing in leaps and bounds. A giant monster by the name of Zedus arrives, wreaking destruction across Japan, and it is up to Toro to assume his destiny as the new Gamera and save the day. Director Ryuta Tazaki is obviously influenced by films like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial with the films lighter and sweeter tone earlier on before Zedus arrives, and this entry, like those from the 1960s, is aimed more at kids than the more mature audience that director Shusuke Kaneko made his series of films for. Although Gamera the Brave doesn’t quite fit with the other three films in this set, it is a nice addition.
3D Rating: NA
For those who purchased the three Shusuke Kaneko films previously as part of the Gamera Trilogy Blu-ray set from Mill Creek, Arrow’s release, although much pricier, is like a breath of fresh air. These films now reside on their own BD50 discs, maximizing bitrates and eliminating many of the compression artifacts found on that budget Mill Creek set. All four films look spectacular, as these were sourced from new 4K scans created in 2015. Film grain appears natural throughout (although there is some build-up during some of the more visual effects heavy sequences), colors are nicely rendered, and detail is excellent. Black levels are also vastly improved upon over the Mill Creek release (of the first three films), with deep shadow details. Arrow has also fixed many of the subtitle issues found on Mill Creek’s release.
Arrow has included several original Japanese and dubbed English tracks for all of the films in DTS-HD MA. The best of the bunch across all films is, of course, the Japanese 5.1 mix, which are impressive even by today’s standards. They feature a wide soundstage with very active surrounds and LFE where needed. The higher audio bitrates of the 5.1 mixes on the first three films also provide a much wider dynamic range than what was found on the Mill Creek releases (the first two films featured DTS-HD HR 5.1 tracks). The English 5.1 tracks are interesting and nice to have for those younger audience members who don’t like subtitles, featuring much of the same sound design as the Japanese tracks.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Fans of the Gamera series will feel like they hit the jackpot with the wealth of features found on each disc, so much so that I could write pages upon pages on the material.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe
Audio Commentary by Matt Frank
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 4:34)
A Testimony of 15 Years: Part 1 (720p; 105:47)
Interviews with Shusuke Kaneko & Shinji Higuchi (720p; 35:48)
SFX Interview with Shinji Higuchi (720p; 92:42)
Behind the Scenes (720p; 16:01)
Production Announcement (720p; 5:05)
Backstage Clip: The Legend (720p; 4:17)
Yubari Film Festival (720p; 6:13)
Hibiya Theater Opening Day (720p; 2:55)
Alternate US English End Credits (720p; 5:17)
Alternate UK English End Credits (1080p; 1:57)
Theatrical Teaser 1 (1080p; 0:31)
Theatrical Teaser 2 (1080p; 0:34)
Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:31)
TV Spots (720p; 2:12)
US Video Trailer (1080p; 1:20)
Gyaos Destruction Strategy SNES commercial (720p; 00:32)
Image Gallery (1080p)
Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion
Audio Commentary by Kyle Mount
“Lake Texarkana” Comedy Dub (1080p; 99:42): A RiffTrax-type dub of the film originally produced for the 2003 US DVD release by ADV Films.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 4:21)
A Testimony of 15 Years: Part 2 (720p; 121:05)
Behind the Scenes Production Footage (720p; 59:54)
Production Announcement (720p; 6:34)
Backstage Clip: Sky (720p; 3:11)
Promotional Events (720p; 5:16)
Hibiya Theater Opening Day (720p; 3:58)
Additional English Credits (720p; 1:21)
Comedy Dub Outtakes (1080p; 3:56)
Behind the Scenes Trailer (1080p; 3:37)
Special Trailer 1 (1080p; 00:33)
Special Trailer 2 (1080p; 3:41)
Theatrical Trailer 1 (1080p; 2:21)
Theatrical Trailer 2 (1080p; 1:03)
Theatrical Trailer 3 (1080p; 0:35)
Theatrical Trailer 4 (1080p; 0:39)
TV Spots (1080i; 2:12)
US Video Trailer (1080p; 1:32)
Image Gallery (1080p)
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris
Audio Commentary by Steve Ryfle & Ed Godziszewski
Audio Commentary by “Gamera, Iris & Soldier 6”: Another RiffTrax-like track created by ADV Films for the US 2003 DVD release.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 4:14)
A Testimony of 15 Years: Part 3 (720p; 134:31)
DNA Tokusatsu Exhibition (1080p; 10:47)
Publicity Announcement (720p; 3:50)
Photo Op (720p; 00:55)
Backstage Clip: I Want You to Teach Me Again (720p; 4:41)
Shibuto Cine Tower Opening Day (720p; 6:00)
Deleted Scenes (720p; 10:21)
The Awakening of Irys (Remix) (720p; 37:34)
Storyboard Animation (720p; 6:08)
Special Effects Outtakes (720p; 2:19)
Comedy Dub Outtakes (1080p; 3:24)
Additional English Credits (720p; 1:22)
Theatrical Trailer 1 (1080p; 1:11)
Theatrical Trailer 2 (1080p; 0:36)
Theatrical Trailer 3 (1080p; 0:28)
Theatrical Trailer 4 (1080p; 0:33)
Theatrical Trailer 5 (1080p; 2:01)
TV Spots (720p; 5:30)
Gamera 2000 Playstation commercial (1080p; 0:20)
Image Gallery (1080p)
Gamera the Brave
Audio Commentary by Keith Aiken & Bob Johnson
How to Make a Gamera Movie (720p; 37:15)
Behind the Scenes of Gamera the Brave (720p; 93:39)
The Men that Made Gamera (720p; 43:16)
Opening Day Premiere (720p; 5:01)
Kaho’s Summer (720p; 10:02)
Special Effects Supercut (720p; 32:32)
Theatrical Teaser 1 (720p; 0:25)
Theatrical Teaser 2 (720p; 1:00)
Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 1:40)
TV Spot 1 (720p; 0:17)
TV Spot 2 (720p; 0:32)
Image Gallery (1080p)
Although the set commands a hefty price, it is a terrific upgrade from the bargain-level Mill Creek editions of the first three films, plus you get the latest Gamera the Brave plus a wealth of special features. Recommended for the die-hard Gamera fan.
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