Hero in a Half-Shell: Shout! Factory’s Gamera DVDs Reviewed, Part Three

Hero in a Half-Shell: Shout! Factory’s Gamera DVDs Reviewed, Part Three

Greetings, readers. I’d like to apologize for the lateness of this piece — it should have come out in March or April 2011, but I somehow managed to miss that the films had been released on DVD until just recently.  I know what you’re thinking — “What a shliemiel!” — and yeah, that sounds about right.  If you want to look back over the previous films in the series, you can read part one here and part two here.  If you’re asking who Gamera is and don’t feel like clicking the links, Gamera is sort of Godzilla’s much-put-upon follower.  Godzilla came first, with Gamera an attempt by rival studio Daiei to cash in on the monster craze.  Between Gamera’s smaller budgets, lighter, kid-friendly tone, and appearances on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Gamera has never gotten the respect Godzilla commanded, though in the 1990s Gamera got a very impressive gritty reboot.

Without further ado, here are the final two films of the classic Gamera series.

Gamera vs. Zigra (Gamera tai Shinkai kaijû Jigura, 1971)

A spaceship, resembling a casserole dish filled with everlasting gobstoppers and sporting a bladed fin arrives from the Zigraplanet in the Romulum Galaxy, and starts causing earthquakes across the globe.  A beautiful woman in a lycra and tinfoil space-suit kidnaps a couple of marine biologists and their kids, announcing that Zigra has come to Earth because Earthly pollution has rendered Zigraplanet uninhabitable and since Zigra lives in the sea, he will now claim Earth’s oceans as his domain.  When the children escape, Zigra demands their deaths as they “know too much” — and that puts Zigra squarely at the top of Gamera’s shit-list.  Zigra, an enormous armor-plated shark with an energy beam that fires out of his face, emerges from his ship to put Gamera down…but does this “Hitler in a Sharkskin Suit” (a quote from the back of a VHS tape of this film that Wes sent me a while back) have the sashimi to stand against Gamera and conquer the world?

I think GAMERA VS. ZIGRA is one of my favorites of the original series.  It really very nicely blends the quality storytelling of the early couple films with the space-alien menaces and extreme light-heartedness of the later films.  There’s even a scene where Gamera picks up a rock and plays the first few bars of his theme song on Zigra’s back-plates, as if it were a xylophone.  Like Viras, Zigra has a voice, however Zigra continues to speak and taunt the human characters while in giant monster-form, and he manages to be pretty imposing, even keeping in mind the fact that he’s a shark with a frickin’ laser beam on his head.

Also, nice little sign of the times — much like GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (aka GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER), released the same year, GAMERA VS. ZIGRA addresses the issue of environmentalism and the dangers of pollution.

Super Monster Gamera (aka Gamera the Super Monster, Uchu Kaiju Gamera, 1980)

An enormous white delta-shaped space ship drifts casually though purposefully across the galaxy, because STAR WARS did great guns at the box office so let’s have something that looks like an Imperial Star Destroyer to bring in the theater-goers.  This is the spaceship of Zanon, a notorious cosmic pirate.  It’s up to Earth’s resident trio of attractive Japanese superheroines, the Spacewomen, to prevent Zanon from destroying the Earth.  The Spacewomen don’t stand a chance, however, once Zanon releases his army of monsters — Gyaos, Barugon, Viras, Jiger, Guiron and Zigra.  At this point, only Gamera has the power to stand between Zanon and Earth’s destruction.

This film, cobbled together from stock footage culled from preceding films, was designed to bring Daiei out of financial difficulties.  Unfortunately, it failed, and six months later Daiei filed for bankruptcy.  It’s an interesting look at pop culture in Japan in the 1980s — Zanon’s spaceship is modeled on the Imperial Star Destroyers from STAR WARS, the Spacewomen are kind of a spoof of such henshin (“transforming”) heroes as Kamen Rider (and probably most especially Starman).  To top it all off, there’s a dream sequence in which Gamera is cruising through space and has a run in with SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO! Crazy!

***

First off, the good of this DVD.  Picture and sound quality are universally excellent throughout both films (starting to sound like a broken record here, but having watched grainy, washed out versions of the films for years makes me extra appreciative of how cleaned up and nice these releases look), and will probably never look better until the films get a Blu-Ray release.

On the downside, once again the release is very light on extras.  The bonus features consist of an English dub track and a small publicity gallery.  Which usually, for me, would be just fine — but after the fantastic documentaries and such we got on the first two releases, it ends up feeling a bit lame.  Again, this is no knock against August Ragone, #1 Kaiju Super-Fan and Special Features Producer for these releases.  My understanding is he had a good deal of quality material lined up, and the Powers that Be felt it was too much when weighed against potential profits, and scaled back.

All in all, I’m extremely pleased to have the full set of Shout! Factory Gamera DVDs in my sweaty little paws and occupying a place of honor (well…OK, the space between FORBIDDEN WORLD and ‘GATOR BAIT) on my shelves.  I say a must-have for Kaiju fans.


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Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

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