Arrow Video brings the original Gamera films to Blu-ray with nice transfers and a wealth of special features.
The Production: 3.5/5
Gamera: The Giant Monster: 3.5 out of 5
During the Cold War, the United States shoots down a Soviet jet leading to an atomic blast in the Arctic, which awakens Gamera, a giant, flying turtle that feeds on feeds on fire. The beast goes on a worldwide destructive rampage, but somehow befriends a young boy, Toshio, after destroying his home. Zoologist Dr. Hidaka leads a team of scientists in search of a way to rid the world of Gamera.
Daiei Studios was looking for a monster film to take on Toho’s very successful Godzilla series, and writer Nisan Takahashi and director Noriaki Yuasa came up with a worthy competitor in Gamera: The Giant Monster, released here in both its original Japanese language version and the American theatrical English language version. As goofy as many of these Japanese monster movies are, after viewing this version, one must wonder if it was the Americanized dubbed versions that have given these films such a bad name over the years.
Part of the movie’s charm is the obvious man in a monster suit surrounded by an equally obvious miniature set. The ability to listen to the actual Japanese dialogue adds more credibility to the actors’ performance (although the original English language scenes were cast with military personnel and their families living on the local US base).
Gamera: The Giant Monster is by no means a classic in the Hollywood sense, but it is a classic by Japanese standards, and it is a delight to see it finally arrive on Blu-ray.
Gamera vs Barugon: 3.5 out of 5
After the success of Gamera: The Giant Monster, Daiei Studios quickly commissioned a follow up, Gamera Vs. Barugon. When we last saw Gamera, he was captured in the Z Plan capsule and hurled into space. As the film opens, the capsule collides with a meteorite, freeing Gamera, who returns to Earth to destroy Kurobe Dam to replenish his energy supply. Gamera then disappears from the film, chasing volcanic eruptions and whatnot throughout the world, according to the film’s narrator. The film spends the next 35 minutes preparing for the introduction of Barugon.
Although this is a Gamera film, he only appears in three set pieces: his return to Earth, his first battle with Barugon, and the eventual showdown at the end of the film. This is really Barugon’s story, as well as an adventure film somewhat similar to 1933’s King Kong. Hirata, Onodera, and Kawajiri set sail to New Guinea, where the natives warn them not to take the opal. Onodera double-crosses and leaves them for dead on the island, escaping with the opal. But the opal is actually an egg, and Onodera allows the egg to mutate by accidentally (or irresponsibly) subjecting it to infrared radiation while treating his feet for athlete’s foot. The egg hatches and Barugon is released as Onodera arrives in Japan. Hirata recovers and returns to Japan with Karen, a New Guinea native who speaks fluent Japanese and knows about the legend of Barugon. Hirata feels responsible for Barugon’s destruction of Japan, and with Karen’s help, assists the Army in finding a way to kill the monster.
Working with a larger budget and shooting in color, this second entry in the franchise is a marked improvement over the original. The optical and miniature effects are as good, if not better, than what we would see some 12 years later in films like Superman: The Movie, at least until the monsters appear (obviously as men in monster suits). The destruction of Kurobe Dam rivals a similar scene in Superman, when Hoover Dam is destroyed by an earthquake. The characters in this film have more depth than in the previous film, the real standout being the villain, Onodera, played by Koji Fujiyama. Onodera is perhaps one of the most sociopathic, narcissistic villains in the history of Japanese cinema, who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, regardless of the outcome.
Arrow Video has included both the original Japanese theatrical version along with the shorter American version known as War of the Monsters.
Gamera vs. Gyaos: 3 out of 5
After the success of Gamera vs. Barugon, Daiei Studios continued to release at least one Gamera film per year. In 1967, they released Gamera vs. Gyaos, which began to steer the series as more family-friendly, re-introducing a child sidekick of sorts for Gamera, but still maintained the threat to nature and human greed themes of the previous films. After a series of volcanic eruptions, a survey team preparing to build a road through a farming village mistakenly disturbs a large bat-like creature capable of spitting laser beams at anything in its path. The young boy, Eiichi, names him Gyaos, because its “voice sounds that way.” Gyaos follows a formula similar to Barugon, in that the bad monster appears, Gamera fights and loses, Gamera fights again and loses, the humans come up with a preposterous plan on defeating the monster themselves and fail miserably (the plan this time centers around using a revolving hotel to make Gyaos dizzy, knocking him unconscious, and letting the sun’s rays destroy him), and Gamera ultimately comes to the rescue, defeating the monster. It is rather apparent that the effects budget on Gyaos was much smaller than the previous films, as many of the miniatures look like miniatures, even without having Gamera or Gyaos stomping around to give the effect away.
Gamera vs. Viras: 2.5 out of 5
One year later, Gamera vs. Viras would complete the transition of the series into a kid-friendly franchise, but it would also bring smaller budgets, forcing the filmmakers to re-use many of the effects footage from the previous films. At times, Viras feels much like those infamous (and dreadful) “flashback episodes” that used to be a staple of television series. In this outing, aliens arrive on Earth, hoping to conquer and colonize the planet. Gamera manages to thwart the first spaceship, but not before the aliens dispatch a distress signal. A second ship is launched, kidnapping two mischievous Boy Scouts and holding them hostage so that they can use Gamera to help them conquer the world. This sets up the ability to use footage from the first film, as Gamera destroys Tokyo (in purple-tinted black and white). The monster Viras finally makes his appearance during the final ten minutes, a giant squid-like creature capable of walking on two of its eight legs. The film is goofy, at best, and the miniature effects have taken on an even more toy-like appearance. Unfortunately, Gamera vs. Viras is very much what most Americans think of when you mention Japanese monster film.
Arrow Video has included three different versions of the film (Original Theatrical cut – 72:14; Director’s Cut – 81:17; and US Extended Cut – 90:24) via seamless branching.
Gamera vs. Guiron: 2 out of 5
In Gamera vs Guiron, two young boys see a spaceship land on the outskirts of town, and when they find it in an open field, seemingly abandoned, they decide to enter it and explore. The next thing they know, the ship has launched and begins travelling into space towards a planet on the opposite side of the sun. Have no fear, as Gamera is not far behind, following their trail in outer space. When they arrive, they find that Gyaos is wrecking havoc on the planet, but not for long, as Guiron quickly and quite literally makes lunchmeat out of him. As we wait for Gamera to arrive and save the boys, they are then captured by two female citizens of the planet who want to devour their brains to digest their knowledge before attacking Earth. In many ways, Guiron is a retread of the previous entry in the series, Gamera vs Viras, continuing the evil alien premise (the girls even have the same glowing eyes as the men in Viras, and even the sets are very similar), and Gamera doesn’t show up to battle Guiron until the last 30 minutes. This is perhaps the silliest plot for a Gamera film (Jiger will come in a close second).
Gamera vs. Jiger: 2.5 out of 5
Gamera vs Jiger begins as a commercial for the 1970 Exposition Fair in Osaka, as the audience is taken on a tour of the fairgrounds during the first ten minutes or so. Archaeologists are planning to bring to the Expo an artifact from Wester Island (not to be confused with Easter Island), the Devil’s Whistle, which has a supposed curse attached that brings doom and destruction to anyone who removes it from the island. Gamera shows up, trying to stop the scientists, but fails to do so. Jiger is unleashed from the bowels of the island, and sets off in pursuit of the Devil’s Whistle, and eventually wrecks havoc on Osaka. Similar to Barugon and Gyaos, Gamera takes a beating in his first two rounds with the villainous monster, coming quite close to death this time out, only to be saved by two boys who do their own Fantastic Voyage inside the big turtle to do battle with a parasitic offspring of Jiger.
Gamera vs. Zigra: 2.5 out of 5
In Gamera Vs. Zigra, a moon base is destroyed by a spaceship resembling the Burger King crown, and heads for Earth’s oceans. Peru and Arabia are hit by magnitude 12 earthquakes, and shortly thereafter, two scientists from Japan Sea World and their two children are kidnapped by Zigra, who has been causing the earthquakes, and sends a magnitude 13 earthquake on Tokyo. The two scientists are put into a trance, but the children manage to escape with their fathers to dry land, where they are met by a hermit (looking suspiciously like Michael Palin’s hermit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus) in a subplot that goes nowhere fast. Apparently, Zigra (who looks like Bruce the mechanical shark from Jaws, minus the skin) is looking for a new ocean home now that his race has destroyed their own oceans on his home planet. Before Zigra is able to wreck more havoc on Earth, Gamera comes to the rescue, destroying Zigra’s spaceship and ultimately having a fish fry on the beach by incinerating Zigra with his fiery bad breath. Of all the previous Gamera films, the titular character has the least amount of screen time in this last, “original” story, and the pacing is dreadfully slow. The production values, however, are quite good, and the effects hold up to some extent, even by today’s standards.
Gamera The Super Monster: 2 out of 5
As a last ditch effort to not only revive the Gamera franchise, but to pull the ailing Daiei Studios out of debt, Gamera The Super Monster was released nine years later in 1980. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing original in this movie. The opening sequence is a direct rip-off of the opening shot from Star Wars, as the evil Zanon arrives to conquer Earth, although we never really learn why. Three space women are undercover in Japan as a pet shop owner, a teacher, and a car salesman, and they are here to protect the planet from Zanon. They befriend a young boy, Keiichi, who is a fan of the Gamera comic books, and (again never explained) has a “connection” with Gamera. Zanon then sends monsters, one by one, to attack Japan and try to defeat Gamera. This is all just filler to recycle many of the battle sequences from previous films from the series, and sadly, it never gels together. Gamera The Super Monster often feels like a cross between a Gamera film and a bad episode of Charlie’s Angels. The film ultimately failed to connect with Japanese audiences and forced Daiei Studios into bankruptcy months after the film was released.
3D Rating: NA
Gamera: The Giant Monster: 4.5 out of 5
Compared to the 2010 DVD release by Shout! Factory, the two thing most viewers will notice off the bat is that Arrow Video’s 1080p transfer is not window-boxed and film grain is more apparent. Detail is very good, so much so that wires and seams in many of the miniature backgrounds are more obvious. Contrast is also very good, with deep blacks assisting with the film’s black and white cinematography. The same cannot be said of the American version, originally released theatrically by World Entertainment Corp., which is extremely soft and free of any noticeable film grain. There are also very noticeable film scratches throughout.
Gamera vs Barugon: 4.5 out of 5
Arrow’s 1080p transfer, once again, is not window-boxed like Shout Factory’s previous DVD release. This is a gorgeous color transfer, retaining the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vivid but not overly saturated, offering natural skin tones and luscious greens. Contrast is very good, with deep blacks and excellent shadow detail.
Gamera vs. Gyaos: 4 out of 5
This is a gorgeous color transfer, retaining the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vivid but not overly saturated, offering natural skin tones and luscious greens. Contrast is very good, with deep blacks and excellent shadow detail.
Gamera vs. Viras: 4 out of 5
Another gorgeous color transfer, retaining the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vivid but not overly saturated, offering natural skin tones and luscious greens. Contrast is very good, with deep blacks and excellent shadow detail.
Gamera vs. Guiron: 4.5 out of 5
Another gorgeous color transfer, retaining the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vivid but not overly saturated, offering natural skin tones and luscious greens. Contrast is very good, with deep blacks and excellent shadow detail. This is, perhaps, the best looking film in the collection.
Gamera vs. Jiger: 3.5 out of 5
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for Gamera vs Jiger has excellent color saturation, but overall the image appears softer that the previous entry, and contrast also appear a bit off, with some darker sequences suffering from crushed blacks.
Gamera vs. Zigra: 3.5 out of 5
Similar to the transfer for Gamera vs Jiger, the overall image appears softer that the previous entry, although contrast is slightly improved with better shadow details during darker sequences. Colors saturation is excellent.
Gamera The Super Monster: 3.5 out of 5
The picture quality of the film is all over the place, mostly due to the source material and not the transfer itself. This 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, unfortunately, makes the newer visual effects sequences composited on video even more obvious. Non-effects sequences look very good, with well-saturated color and good detail overall.
All eight of the films in Arrow’s boxed set have lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono tracks in both original Japanese and dubbed English. These are all very good tracks with excellent fidelity, virtually free of any noticeable pops, clicks, and hiss.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Arrow Video has ported over many of the previously released extras from Shout! Factory’s earlier DVD releases, plus many newly created ons.
Gamera: The Giant Monster
Audio Commentary by August Ragone: Ragone is the author Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, and while he provides a wealth of information, his commentary is dry and not engaging, sounding as if he were simply reading an essay he wrote beforehand. This track originally appeared on Shout! Factory’s DVD release of the film.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 13:12): Covering much of the same material in his commentary track, Ragone discusses the history of kaiju monster movies in Japan and how Gamera eventually made his way to the big screen.
Gamera the Invincible (1080p; 85:41): The American theatrical version of Gamera: The Giant Monster, dubbed in English with additional scenes directed by Sandy Howard.
US Theatrical Trailer for Gamera the Invincible (1080p; 1:35)
Theme Song from Gamera the Invincible (1080p; 4:08): The theme song created for the US release performed by The Moons, including both versions with vocals and instrumental.
Remembering the Gamera Series (upscaled 1080p; 23:13): Previously released on the Shout! Factory DVD as A Look Back at Gamera, this documentary, apparently produced for Japanese television, takes a look at the Gamera franchise. Presented in 1.33:1, in Japanese with English subtitles.
Interview with Noriaki Yuasa (upscaled 1080i; 13:11): The director of Gamera: The Giant Monster is interviewed by Jörg Buttergeit at Daiei Studios in Tokyo in 2002. In Japanese with English subtitles.
Gamera Special (upscaled 1080p; 58:12): A compilation of fight scenes and trailers released on VHS in Japan in 1991.
Alternate English Credits (1080p; 5:11): The opening and closing credits to the botched Sandy Frank TV edition.
Original Japanese Trailer (1080p; 1:58)
US Video Promo (upscaled 1080p; 1:03)
Image Gallery (1080p; 12:50): A collection of 77 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Gamera vs Barugon
Audio Commentary with August Ragone and Jason Varney: Ragone, the author Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, and Varney, a longtime fan of Japanese cinema, provide a much more engaging commentary track than Ragone’s solo effort on the previous Gamera: The Giant Monster track. Although they do tend to sound like they are reading from cue cards when dispatching trivia and providing quotes from actors, the two men do break out and discuss their childhood recollections of seeing this film, which is where the commentary excels. This track originally appeared on Shout! Factory’s DVD release of the film.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 7:57): Covering much of the same material in his commentary track, Ragone discusses the development and production of the first Gamera sequel.
War of the Monsters (1080p; 88:45): The shortened American version of the film.
Alternate English Credits (1080p): The opening and closing credits to the American International (1:17) and the botched Sandy Frank TV (2:09) editions.
Theatrical Trailers: Includes Japanese Trailer 1 (1080p; 1:13) which is a trailer for a double-bill of Diamajin and Gamera vs Barugon; Japanese Trailer 2 (badly upscaled 1080p; 2:38) for Gamera vs Barugon with subtitles; and Japanese Trailer 3 (1080p; 2:31) that is in Japanese with no subtitles.
Image Gallery (1080p; 21:41): A collection of 130 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Gamera vs. Gyaos
Audio Commentary with Stuart Galbraith IV: DVD Talk reviewer and film historian Stuart Galbraith IV discusses the production of the film.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 9:12): Ragone discusses the development and production of this second Gamera sequel.
Alternate English Credits (1080p): The opening and closing credits to the American International TV version (1:17), alternate insert shots from the American International TV version (1:10), and the botched Sandy Frank TV version (4:34).
Theatrical Trailers: Includes the Japanese Trailer (1080p; 2:29), the German Trailer (1080p; 2:18), US TV Spot (1080o; 1:08), and US Video Promo (upscaled 1080p; 0:52) which misspells our lead villain as Gaos.
Image Gallery (1080p; 21:31): A collection of 129 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Gamera vs. Viras
Audio Commentary with Carl Craig & Jim Cirronella: Frequent Special Features producer Cirronella is joined by actor Carl Craig, who’s only acting credit is as the young Jim Crane in this film, and the two discuss the production of the film (available on the US Extended Cut only).
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 11:14): Ragone discusses the development and production of this third Gamera sequel.
Gamera vs Viras – 52 Years Later (1080i; 12:29): Actor Carl Craig shows off some of his souvenirs from the film, including original props.
G-Fest 2003 Highlights (upscaled 720p; 60:59): Director Noriaki Yuasa and actor Carl Craig are featured as honorary guests at the 2003 kaiju convention in Chicago.
The 4th Nippon Jamboree (720p; 6:18): A promotional film from Noriaki Yuasa on the Boy Scouts of Japan, produced prior to the production of Gamera vs Viras.
Alternate English Credits (1080p; 1:28): The opening and closing credits to the American International TV version.
Theatrical Trailers: Includes the Japanese Trailer (1080p; 2:32) and the US TV Spot (1080p; 1:04).
Image Gallery (1080p; 18:11: A collection of 109 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Gamera vs. Guiron
Audio Commentary with David Kalat: Film historian David Kalat discusses the production of the film.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 11:25): Ragone discusses the development and production of this fourth Gamera sequel.
Alternate English Credits: The opening and closing credits to the American International (1080p; 2:24) and the botched Sandy Frank TV (upscaled 720p; 2:44) editions.
Theatrical Trailers: Includes the Japanese Trailer (1080p; 2:13) and the US TV Spot (1080p; 1:04).
Image Gallery (1080p; 10:30): A collection of 63 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Neptune Media Archive Gallery (1080p; 6:40): A collection of VHS sleeves and other rare still images from the original US home video distributor of the Gamera series.
Gamera vs. Jiger
Audio Commentary with Edward L. Holland: Kaiju film historian discusses the production of the film, although there are many gaps of silence.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 8:39): Ragone discusses the development and production of this fifth Gamera sequel.
Alternate English Credits (1080p; 1:11): The opening and closing credits to the American International TV edition.
Original Japanese Trailer (1080p; 2:20)
Original German Trailer (upscaled 1080p; 2:15)
US TV Spot (1080p; 1:01)
Image Gallery (1080p; 20:41): A collection of 124 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Gamera vs. Zigra
Audio Commentary by Sean Rhodes & Brooke McCorkle: The co-authors of Japan’s Green Monsters: Environmental Commentary in Kaiju Cinema discuss the film’s production.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 8:23): Ragone discusses the development and production of this seventh Gamera movie.
Alternate English Credits (1080p; 3:15): The opening and closing credits to the botched Sandy Frank TV edition.
Original Japanese Trailer (1080p; 2:23)
US Video Promo (upscaled 1080p; 1:01)
Image Gallery (1080p; 15:20): A collection of 92 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Gamera The Super Monster
Audio Commentary with Richard Pusateri: Journalist and kaiju fan Pusateri discusses the production of the film, although admits during the opening that he’s not much of a fan of Gamera.
Introduction by August Ragone (1080p; 6:05): Ragone discusses this troubled production and the even-more troubled studio.
Alternate English Credits: he opening and closing credits for Filmways Pictures’ 16mm prints (1080p; 4:49) and an unspecified VHS release (upscaled 1080p; 5:59).
Original Japanese Trailer (upscaled 1080p; 2:36)
Original English Trailer (1080p; 2:37)
Image Gallery (1080p; 7:50): A collection of 47 lobby cards, promotional stills, newspaper clippings, posters, and home video artwork.
Having these films finally on Blu-ray with decent transfers and the wealth of special features maker this a must-have for fans of Gamera.
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