Gappa Ticked Off

There’s nothing new in Gappa. Not now, not then. Its release in 1967 saw long-standing Japanese studio Nikkatsu crib the British Gorgo and Toho’s King Kong vs Godzilla, the mash-up leading to the routine Gappa.

Although Nikkatsu specialized in teen dramas during the ’60s, Gappa takes an adult approach in examining Japan’s changing culture. It’s messy, with barely there characters defined by their careers rather than any personal traits. For Gappa, that’s partly the point – the heroes, a journalist and scientist, look to their jobs for moral clarity. Research is needed, and the press must report the findings, even as a newly discovered species is cruelly exploited.

In using the formula, Gappa bridges Japan’s pre and post-war identity, the western influence evident in a reckless magazine publisher, Funazu (Keisuke Inoue), looking to turn a native island into a resort; the impact to tribes living there (Asian actors in embarrassing blackface) is not a consideration. At home, Funazu’s daughter learns traditional dance, this while his work impedes parenting time.

Creaky as Gappa often is, it’s heartfelt and culturally pure

That’s a link to the monsters themselves, devastating Tokyo looking for their child, the latter taken from its home by Funazu’s company. Creaky as Gappa often is, it’s heartfelt and culturally pure. The script mourns a time before Japanese salarymen, suggesting that losing family to work will inevitably lead to the nation’s downfall, not success. While the ending matches Gorgo, Gappa avoids anything crass, emotionally firm with a connection to the story arc.

Issues arise when Gappa tries to bring in a love triangle, a dismal and unnecessary failure, plus a tone deaf, sexist turn for the lone female in the cast. The rest isn’t helpful to Gappa’s cause either, template stuff set in labs, military responses, and destruction.

Undervalued for decades though, Toho special effects director Akira Watanabe adds a spark to an otherwise lean production. Miniature sets make full use of available space, gorgeously detailed, and larger compared to Toho’s output – the full sized, parent monsters don’t reach Godzilla’s height, allowing for better scale. Sadly, it’s the title creatures ruining the illusion, a hokey design lacking in plausibility (even by the genre’s soon-to-be anything goes output in the ‘70s). And yet, a tear or two may be shed as the bland suits sail toward the sunset, reminding a country to slow down and appreciate the people around us. They matter more than profit.

Video

At best, Gappa came to DVD via Media Blaster’s Tokyo Shock line. Mostly, Stateside presentations were public domain, cropped, and faded. Even the Tokyo Shock release suffered fading, and without anamorphic support, looked like an analog Laserdisc transfer. Not on Blu-ray.

No information is given regarding the source. Noting the editing splice marks visible in the frame, a best guess says this transfer comes from a release print. Damage appears too, including occasionally aggressive vertical scratches, a few hairs, and stray dirt. Digitization keeps grain natural and resolved; few signs (if any, for most viewers) of artifacting appear.

But, the resulting images deliver incredible sharpness. Bemoan Gappa’s effects only after seeing them here, with their texture and detail finally given due. Previous releases turned the nighttime attacks into a murky, gray mess. Now, each miniature building shows proper aging (dirt, scuffs), and the scope becomes visible. This goes for all of Gappa, with impressive facial definition on display. Sharpness excels, even dazzling when on the island, revealing rocks, sand, and tree lines.

Splendid saturation gives energy to everything. Small touches on the Gappa kaiju, like a variety of color in their wings, turn visible for the first time. Flesh tones become vibrant, and other primaries blossom. Although clipped in spots, renewed contrast gives Gappa life, along with stable (if not pure) black levels.

Audio

Both Japanese dialog and an English dub come in PCM mono. Focusing on the original language track, depth understandably lacks. Any low-end is lost and unrecoverable. However, the crisp highs capture the score well, even the bombastic vocals in the opening/closing theme song.

Audible dialog keeps its clarity, unimpeded by hiss, static, or popping.

Extras

Sadly nothing.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Gappa
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Imperfect and existing only to exploit a trend, writing off Gappa ignores that it’s trying to bring a sense of normalcy to a changing country.

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