Killer space squid from space (?) fights Gamera and Mill Creek’s Blu-ray compression
Gamera vs Viras is 88 minutes long. Fifteen of those minutes are stock footage.
Daiei Studios was beginning to teeter financially by 1968, forcing budgetary cutbacks of such substantial levels, the all-color Viras was forced to splice in destruction footage from the first black & white 1966 Gamera and sell it as part of this frumpy narrative.
It’s surreal to consider Gamera vs Viras released to theaters. Modern quality control has burned these incoherently cheap entries and relegated them to television or home video – or they’re not made at all. Not so for kids in 1968 Japan where Daiei lured them in with a promise of giant monsters and two starring children who pour on the instructions to an alien fighting, flying kaiju turtle. They may as well have stayed home and engorged on Ultraman.
Kenjiro Hirose is credited with a snappy theme song which carried the series into its early ’70s extinction, a chipper piece of music with screechy kids sounding off their affection for Gamera. That plucky theme suits the groan inducing “action” which finds American Carl Craig (in his only acting role) and Toru Takatsuka sucked into the bowels of a space craft to eat sandwiches (!) while aliens execute mind control over Daiei’s superstar.
Viras meanders as the Boy Scout duo (the film comes through as an ad for the group) courageously fend off alien Viras… Viri… Virases…? With minutes to go, these aliens bond together and form Viras’ squid-like visage and hokey nonsense plays out on barren miniature sets. Some fire breathing and ship destruction occur to make this one pop, but it’s clear this series was already closing in on utter exhaustion despite four more films to go.
Almost all of these back half entries are only appreciated for their oddness, but Viras is caught between the shifting dynamics. It’s neither too goofy to qualify for comedic commentary like the dismal Gamera vs Zigra nor appreciably constructed like Gamera vs Gaos. This is a vanilla offering without any coating to pump up its franchise stock.
Although it is irrational thinking, Viras appears the most afflicted by Mill Creek’s crushing compression problems, appearing as the final of four films on this one disc. Viras seems scrunched, as if the encoding process had to end here and compressionists entered into a complete panic over making this fit as the fourth entry.
Blocks are thick and heavy enough to dislodge the imagery, causing the look of encoding errors. It’s a remarkable collapse of quality. Grain is smashed into visible pixels which rob the frame of Blu-ray’s resolution bump. The effect is wholly distracting, more so than DVD MPEG-2 which, through the years, has subsided in its impact as processes improved.
If nothing else, Viras is miles from its usual US origins, scratched up 16mm prints meant for low-fi UHF channels at 2 AM. Color is vivid and the searing contrast is hefty with only a mild fade. Some stray marks remain on the print, although they’re only negligible in terms of interference.
Viras comes as a surprise when third act monster antics finally produce some fidelity, including the shimmering silver of Viras and close-ups of the Gamera suit. Even some of the aliens, specifically Gamera vs Barugon veteran Koji Fujiyama, display facial definition. There’s something to take away from this mass of compression.
Sadly, the days spent waiting to hear the Gamera song in full uncompressed audio will have to wait. This is Dolby Digital only – not that you’re missing much. Like those live action sets, audio is dimmed by its pitifully no-budget source. Some of those stock Daiei sound effects are in place, while the score feels almost hidden behind other cues.
Mill Creek offers Japanese only dialog with subtitles, meaning those looking to take pot shots at the dub are out of luck.
No extras as space was clearly too restricted.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.