Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
American version stars Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy
Mill Creek’s Blu-ray Gamera sets, Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2, have gotten some lukewarm reviews. They don’t look all that good. The detail’s fine, but things are a bit flat. Same goes for the audio: flat. But what I think folks are forgetting is that this is right in line with the way we’ve always seen these Japanese Daiei monster movies in the States. Growing up in the 70s, I saw them on TV — pan-and-scan and perforated by used car commercials. Later, when they started showing up on videotape, they looked just as bad, only you could stop them to go to the bathroom.
What I’m taking forever to get around to is this: in my mind, these kinds of movies aren’t supposed to look all that good. An iffy transfer? If you insist. Scratches? Yes, please. Splices? A few, just for authenticity. And grain? It’s a must. When these start looking too good, they lose some of their appeal. (Grindhouse didn’t look like that just to be obnoxious.)
And, be honest, did you buy a set of Gamera pictures to demonstrate your swanky TV next time your brother-in-law comes over?
A Brief History Of Giant Flying Turtle Movies, Part One.
Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) was produced by Japan’s Daiei Motion Picture Company, clearly inspired by the callossal worldwide success of Toho’s Godzilla films.
Gamera is a giant prehistoric fire-breathing flying turtle with tusks, who’s released from the North Pole or someplace by a nuclear explosion. Gamera makes his way to Japan, where all hell breaks loose. The first attempt to get rid of him fails (explosives underneath him simply flip him onto his back), and he’s lured into a rocket and sent to Mars.
It’s clearly a Godzilla knock-off, with its meager budget evident in almost every frame. It’s black and white and Scope, which is always a good look, regardless of the picture’s budget (Lippert’s black and white Regalscope pictures were notoriously cheap).
A special version was prepared for the United States, called Gammera The Invincible (note the extra M), with sequences added featuring Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy. This version played theaters in 1966 and was a constant on TV throughout the 70s.
The first volume in the Mill Creek Blu-Ray set includes the original foreign version, in Japanese with English subtitles. It looks nice and sharp — it’s terrific to see it widescreen, and the original Japanese audio tracks give the picture a slightly more sophisticated feel. (Very slightly — remember, this is a movie about a giant flying turtle.)
Personally, I would’ve preferred the Dekker/Donlevy American version I saw countless times on TV as a kid. It adds an extra layer of cheese, and for me, has added nostalgia value. Some of the dubbed voices are cats you’d recognize from Speed Racer and Ultraman.
By the way, there was a theme song, “Gammera The Invincible” by The Moons, released as a single in 1966 (that’s the sleeve to the right). It’s suspiciously similar to Neil Hefti’s Batman TV theme.
The picture was a success in Japan, particularly with kids, and a series was quickly launched, with Gamera taking on one crazy monster after another. The followups were all in color — and in the States, they all went straight to TV. Only Gammera The Invincible played US theaters.
Gamera: The Giant Monster was followed by six additional Gamera films, released between 1966 and 1971 —
Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966; AIP-TV title: War Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967; AIP-TV title: Return Of The Giant Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Viras (1968; AIP-TV title: Destroy All Planets)
Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969; AIP-TV title: Attack Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970; AIP-TV title: Gamera Vs. Monster X)
Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)
Daiei ran into money trouble and went into bankruptcy, leaving an eighth Gamera picture unmade. But just like Gamera busting out of the ice after that long repose, the series was back in theaters in 1980 with Gamera: Super Monster from New Daiei. It includes footage from the seven previous movies. The fiery flying turtle was revived again in 1995 for series of films I have absolutely no interest in.
Mill Creek’s Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2 give these eight Gamera movies in hi-def, looking pretty splendid (as I see em). All are in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, are all in color but the first one, and all feature what seems to be a solid job of subtitling. And, to top it all off, the pricing is terrific.