Devil’s Envoy

Eleven years passed between Toho’s Godzilla and Daei’s Gamera, two franchises forever linked (however indirect and unofficial those tethers are). Much changes over a decade, and for Gamera, it was a radically different post-war, economically recovered Japan.

Gamera doesn’t admonish or blame another nation for this giant monster incident. The nuke that loosed the herculean turtle is never attributed to a specific nation, just broadly defined superpowers of which Japan is stuck in-between. Fisherman bemoan their lacking inventory in Gamera, a scene familiar to Godzilla watchers, but the reason for the tuna shortage changed. When fish go missing here, it’s suggested a local corporation dumped their waste into the water, fearful their profits might drop should Gamera appear. By 1965, Minamata disease was known, caused by a Japanese company dumping mercury into local waters, causing a toxic seafood supply.

Gamera acts like an introduction to the disaster genre, much as it does kaiju

It’s a changed military too, refusing to submit and ready to escalate to nuclear weapons. The commander even seems excited at the thought, flustered when scientists explain why irradiating Gamera will doom Japan. Consider it only took a little over 20 years for Japanese films to go from rebuking atomic weapons to inviting America to launch an arsenal at their shores.

“We see too many terrible things if we live long,” says an older woman, reacting to Gamera’s existence. Given her age, she saw war. She saw nukes. Now, she sees monsters. It’s a resonating line in a movie with few of them. Daiei’s kaiju counterpunch stuffs itself with stock characters – scientists, reporters, army men – with the exception of a small child. He’s there rooting for Gamera, no doubt speaking for kids cheering on the beast who tears down cities. Gamera acts like an introduction to the disaster genre, much as it does kaiju. It’s simplified and thematically colorful, while maintaining a deep black and white aesthetic.

Through American eyes, Gamera is little else other than a cheap knock-off. That’s not entirely unfair, even if the later sequels do more to elicit said reputation. Effects work lacks finesse, English actors painfully line read their parts, the non-violent (and absurd) method of finishing Gamera too ridiculous to consider, and the demographic aim lessening the wide appeal.

But outright dismissing Gamera isn’t fair either. It’s a movie in transition, with Japan stumbling on to a marketable, pop culture hit, readily exported to hungry western audiences. Aiming for overseas appeal, Gamera admits Japan’s faults, while putting themselves in the lead of an international plot to save the world – together. Japan belonged to a united brotherhood, atoning for their mistakes, hoping for a more united future, and entertaining while doing so.

Video

While not a definitive statement, Arrow appears to use the same master made for Shout Factory’s DVD release, and then later, Mill Creek’s Blu-ray. This means a clean, sharp print without source imperfections (stock footage aside), scanned at decent enough resolution. Just decent though.

The benefit Arrow’s disc has over those others is compression; this is significantly cleaner. No artifacts cause trouble. That said, the master brings in extensive, fat grain, the indication this isn’t a freshly scanned presentation. It’s older, dated even, and likely from a generational print. Fine detail withers, occasionally impressive, but mostly routine in this 4K era. Close-ups bring decent enough texture, and miniatures wane in their effectiveness as presented here.

Black levels matter though, and help quite often. Included on the same disc, the cruddier US version, Gammera: The Invincible, keeps to a flat gray scale. Not so with the Japanese cut. Arguably, it’s too dark, crushing shadows, where the US edition exposes those same details. On the other side come benefits, giving Gamera a moodier, more dramatic appearance. Contrast glistens as explosions begin, and seeing actors carefully lit for maximum light/dark balance accentuates the typically drab cinematography. A hit and miss Blu-ray.

Audio

Beautifully crisp, untouched mono brings unexpectedly pure audio quality. While not much for range, the treble-heavy DTS-HD track offers precise analog replication. Scoring, action, and dialog mix well, and the music’s balance between high and low horns excels.

No, it’s not a booming, throbbing action affair, but for what it is, this is sensational.

Extras

Japanese sci-fi expert August Ragone provides a commentary (originally included on Shout’s DVD) and an intro that runs 13-minutes. A Laserdisc feature from the early ‘90s is centered around director Noriaki Yuasa as he looks back on the series; this runs 23-minutes. Another Yuasa interview, this one from 2002, lasts 13-minutes. Super cool is an old highlight reel (of sorts) put out by Daiei on VHS, directed by Yuasa, running through the series’ visual effect scenes and trailers. This runs an hour; skip to 43-minutes to see a short bit about a Gamera suit being made. Alternate English credits and promo materials follow.

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.

Gamera: The Giant Monster
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Released as Japan became trapped between Cold War superpowers, Gamera considers a world united against a common cause: a giant turtle.

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