The Diamond Muncher

A remorseful Japan appears in Gamera vs Barugon, a slickly written, melodramatic interpretation of World War II in which mainlanders invade New Guinea, steal their artifacts, and awaken a city-crushing monster. It’s an A-class picture, striking, bold, and allegorical, while still adherent to Daiei’s own ubiquitous, entertaining outlandishness.

Two characters move this story. Not Gamera and not Barugon; often, they remain sidelined in an almost comical misinterpretation of Daiei’s demographic target. Instead, it’s Onodera (Koji Fujiyama) and Keisuke (Kojiro Hongo), representing pre and post-war Japan, respectively. Onodera’s ruthless, shameless greed and brutality concoct a man so heartless as to fall among cinema’s elite villains. Then Keisuke, who from the initial plot to steal an opal left in New Guinea during the occupation, displays empathy toward the natives, and eventually, regret.

Gamera vs Barugon shows a country forced to cope with consequences

“We did this!” cries Keisuke after plans to defeat Barugon – hatched from the supposed opal – fail. In an underground shelter, an elderly man, tired of hiding, asks his wife, “Are they going to drop another atomic bomb?” Actions, reactions, which like in the war, led to Japan’s punishment. Gamera vs Barugon shows a country forced to cope with consequences, and those who refuse to admit wrongs (Onodera) suffer a gruesome fate.

Gamera vs Barugon features scenes where Japan’s military attempt to fend off the new monster. They fail. Barugon marches on Kobe like a superpower devastating the nation. Recast as a hero, Gamera, lets this happen; he’s hardly in the movie, and like tanks and planes, soon sees defeat too. A Paupan women (Kyoko Enami) suggests using a legend to kill Barugon. That plan fails too, and minutes later, Japanese officials demean and berate those traditions. Cultural nationalism wasn’t yet lost among the government.

Although overlong and thin on monster action, Gamera vs Barugon thrives on its production value. In an alternate universe, this is the Gamera series template: Harsh, hardened, and realist, with enough competitive separation to maintain an identity among Japan’s kaiju collection. Prolific composer Chuji Kinoshita crafts a stirring score, worthy to be Gamera’s own theme, but again, in a different place than our own. Here, market dynamics and Ultraman shifted Gamera’s course.

From the original series though, this is the high point in writing, visual effects, scoring, and creativity. It’s a bold choice to cast a monster opponent that shoots rainbows and knocks over buildings with his tongue. To legitimize that with wartime critique is bolder still.

Video

Arrow’s Blu-ray shares disc space with Gamera vs Gyaos, although this doesn’t create any compression issues. Compared to Mill Creek’s Blu-ray, both seem to share the same master, but Arrow’s encoding trounces the previous disc. This allows a clean source to show through, slightly heavy grain preserved, and detail to flourish. Previously, action succumbed to DVD-era artifacting. Not anymore.

Texture shines, revealing not only greater definition in close, but better color reproduction too. As Barugon begins chasing the diamond, his skin takes on numerous hues, from reddish browns to purple spots where dried blood remains on his face. This was never so clear prior. Truly dazzling saturation jumps from New Guinea native dress, and the vivid surrounding jungle too. Into Japan, neon signs give this feature an undeniable glow. Flesh tones warm without excessive digital grading.

Gamera vs Barugon uses extensive range. In older US prints, island scenes suffered clipping, washing out the sunlit scenery. On Arrow’s Blu-ray, it’s still bright, but controlled and refined. Nightfall brings deep black levels, holding to dense shadows, and giving dimension when against explosions or fire. It’s all expertly calibrated.

Audio

With a score pushing heavy drums, this DTS-HD mono track faces a challenge. While not the cleanest – the lows wobble ever so slightly – clarity proves sufficient to handle this load. Trumpets stuff the highs, also managed. Aging is limited.

Dialog cleanly protrudes from any action, creating balance even in the busiest scenes.

Extras

August Ragone is joined by Jason Varney on a commentary track, that followed by Ragone’s eight minute intro. The US cut, titled War of the Monsters, is also offered. Alternate English credits (including the Sandy Frank version) come near the bottom of the list, along with trailers and image gallery.

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 vs Barugon
  • Video
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4

Movie

Staging a morality play among giant monsters, Gamera vs Barugon is an inspired, smart war parable about a country in remorse.

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