Fly Turtle, Fly
In this new Gamera lore, the massive turtle came to be through genetics and human hands – ancient human hands. Think Mu, or Atlantis, seeking to save their own civilizations. First appearing in Guardian of the Universe, he causes a ship carrying plutonium to run aground. Centuries later, Gamera is still out to stop humanity’s mistakes.
Modern people don’t understand Gamera. Leaping from the sea on Japan’s coast, Gamera prompts a military response. There’s debate whether Japan can defend itself due to the WWII treaty, but it’s a markedly telling moment once the missiles make contact. School kids excitedly discuss the monster, then run from their classroom, ready to join Japan’s defense forces; they barely look like teenagers, yet dart toward action against an enemy they’re told is evil. Gamera is, of course, the hero. Guardian of the Universe boldly suggests the generations removed from war would quickly descend to a nationalist posture.
Guardian of the Universe is a near masterpiece
Guardian of the Universe is a near masterpiece
The actual enemy is Gyaos, repurposed from 1967’s Gamera vs Gyaos, but a more sensible being when placed in this world. It’s a fleshy bird, a psuedo-dinosaur. Japan’s leaders see Gyaos as plausible, interesting, even understood to a degree, and want to study these creatures. When researchers state Gamera and Gyaos stem from prophecy, an official rolls his eyes saying, “A more realistic situation would be appreciated.” Fight what’s not understood, preserve what’s rationale.
In a brief exchange, Guardian of the Universe discusses pollution and climate change, interwoven with those military stances. Preserve our way of life unchanged, but fight against changes that as of yet, cannot be understood. After Gamera appears, stocks drop, airports cancel flights, and trains no longer run. Shooting at Gamera resumes normalcy faster than trying to comprehend him. Those small birds pose less of an economic threat – at least until Gyaos balloons in size. Only then is the problem made clear.
Kaiju cinema almost universally reflects Japan in the time it was made. This is no exception. Japan underwent significant expansion to overseas markets, causing consternation in the west, and that’s what matters in Guardian of the Universe. Gyaos might deliver new science and discoveries; Gamera smashes skyscrapers on his instinctive quest to batter Gyaos. Property matters, not the citizens Gyaos knowingly ate.
Guardian of the Universe is a near masterpiece, a production made with the combined knowledge of Japan’s eccentric special effects output. While then new digital composites falter, the hand-crafted, exquisite miniature cities and brilliant monster suits look revelatory. They’ve lost nothing to time. Like Gamera itself, it represents an old way – a perfected way. Losing tradition, like the Atlantis-lore running through Guardian of the Universe, means forgetting history and culture, both of which Japan teeters on doing in this movie.
Almost certainly the main even in Arrow’s Gamera Blu-ray set, the Heisei series films receive new 4K masters for this release. The results impress. Resolution brings out awesome details on the Gamera/Gyaos props. Miniature set flourishes, down to the keypad on a pay phone, show through. Facial textures fill close-ups, and wide shots make full use of this 4K source.
Grain does run a little busy. Although given its own disc, resolving the film stock does cause some digital grit. That’s minor though. Guardian of the Universe maintains its organic, film-like aesthetic, and with the amount of definition, compression isn’t lessening the visual quality to any great degree.
Renewed color adds vibrancy to the incredibly scaled explosions late in the film. Dense greens on Gamera show up here better than any previous presentation. Bold saturation skews warm, giving flesh tones a hefty bump, inoffensively so. Black levels hit their mark, creating satisfying depth, along with precisely calibrated contrast. Dimension is a constant in this transfer.
Along with the American dub in both 2.0 and 5.1, there’s also an option for the UK dub (complete with its absurd techno soundtrack). Of course, the highlight is the Japanese track(s). The surround option offers movement aplenty, a bevy of helicopters and flying monsters sweeping through the sound stage naturally. Rain effects excel too. Destruction drops debris into the stereos, collapsing to the rears as needed. It’s by no means a modern, aggressive affair, but sufficient.
The same is true of the low-end, accentuating Gamera’s steps, giving rumble to fireballs, and adding heft to tank rounds. Again, not the lowest of the low, if enough to bring scale into these monster duels.
Artist Matt Frank hops in for an energetic (and entertaining) commentary, and August Ragone continues his excellent introductions. A Testimony of 15 Years runs two hours, and it’s only one of three parts; the other two follow on the sequels, deep diving into the trilogy’s creation. Shusuke Kaneko and two Shinji Higuchi interviews follow (one running 90-minutes). Sixteen minutes of set footage and interviews follow in the next feature.
Daiei’s official production announcement (from 1994) is included, with a four minutes set footage montage up next. The film’s official unveiling in Hokkaido is featured in an edited six-minute video, with Tokyo’s opening day up next. English credits, trailers, and an awesome image gallery make this perfect bonus set complete.
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Gamera: Guardian of the Universe
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe brings out the greatness of the kaiju genre, both through adventure and thematic weight.
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