Greetings, readers. About three months ago, I covered a pair of DVDs from Shout! Factory, beautifully-remastered releases of the first two films in Daiei Studio’s Gamera series, a set of kaiju eiga featuring a giant, fire-breathing, rocket-propelled turtle who protects Earth (and children) from various monsters. Gamera is best known in the west from TV edits of the films, with major cuts and questionable dubbing, which later turned up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, getting riffed on by Joel and the ‘bots. Between this introduction and the generally lighter, kid-friendly tone of the films, Gamera has never gotten much respect in the west.
Today I’ll be covering the next two DVDs in the set, and wouldn’t you know it, this will be a super-sized review, as Shout! Factory opted to release GAMERA VS. GYAOS and GAMERA VS. VIRAS together as a double-feature, and GAMERA VS. GUIRON and GAMERA VS. JIGER in the same format. That’s four films for the price of two, readers! Clearly an excellent bargain.
GAMERA VS. GYAOS (DAIKAIJU KUCHUSEN: GAMERA TAI GYAOSU), 1967
A series of volcanic eruptions rock Japan, stirring fear of Mt. Fuji erupting. When Mt. Fuji does erupt, it releases Gyaos, an enormous bat-like monster that begins to prey on local cattle and cattle farmers. Fortunately, Gamera quickly arrives to battle the flying creature, promptly rescuing Eiichi, a small local boy who is being menaced by Gyaos, and who immediately forms a bond with Gamera reminiscent of the bond between Gamera and Toschio in DAIKAIJU GAMERA. Gyaos proves to be a formidable threat, with a sonic laser, insatiable hunger and regenerative abilities. When threatened with fire, Gyaos can even spray a natural extinguisher. Gyaos’ only real weakness is the sun, and when a human plan to trap Gyaos on a spinning platform (centrifugal force keeping the monster in place) until the sun rises fails, it’s up the Gamera to make Gyaos see the light of day.
Gyaos would prove to be the Lex Luthor to Gamera’s Superman, reappearing again and again to menace the Earth and its people. The design here is cruder than what we’d see in the ’90s reboot, but still has a fantastic sense of menace to it (and is one of the few kaiju I’ve seen eat, ever) and some imaginative biology involved as well.
GAMERA VS. VIRAS (GAMERA TAI UCHU KAIJU BAIRASU), 1968
Patrolling the spaceways, Gamera comes across and destroys an alien spaceship that resembles a group of bumblebees on a keyring. Hey, I didn’t design the thing, I’m just calling it like I see it. Before being destroyed, the occupants of this ship call for a second ship be sent, to destroy Gamera and conquer the Earth. Meanwhile, on earth, a pair of Boy Scouts (or the Japanese equivalent), Masao and Jim, talk their way into being allowed to take an experimental two-man minisub on a joy ride, racing Gamera underwater.
Their fun is cut short when the second spaceship arrives, and uses a “super catch beam” to kidnap the two boys. The aliens scan their brains, searching for Gamera’s weakness, and we are treated to a stunning nineteen minutes of stock footage from earlier Gamera films. Learning that Gamera is the “friend of children,” the aliens offer an ultimatum: Gamera will become their mind-controlled slave, or the two boys will die. Gamera initially capitulates, but with the aid of the two boys, breaks free from the alien’s control, resulting in a brawl between the Colossal Chelonian and the squid-like Viras, a monster created from the fusion of the aliens into a single body.
This marks the first Gamera film to feature a significant quantity of stock footage, and is second only to SUPER MONSTER GAMERA, the final film in the original series, in terms of quantity of recycled footage. Squid monsters are difficult to pull off with a man in a rubber suit, though Viras manages okay, and I’m a fan of his owl-like facial features and flared head.
GAMERA VS. GUIRON (GAMERA TAI DAIKAIJU GIRON), 1969
Two boys, Akio and Tom, amateur astronomers hoping to find the source of strange radio waves that have baffled scientists, spot a flying saucer through their telescope. Tracking it to it’s landing site in a vacant lot, they investigate, Akio’s younger sister Tomoko in tow. Akio and Tom get on board without hesitation, leaving Tomoko behind. The ship immediately takes off, whisking the boys to Planet Terra, a twin to Earth orbiting on the opposite side of the Sun. Their first sight on Terra is the silvery Space Gyaos, which is quickly killed and dismembered by the surreal blade-faced monster Guiron, used as a watch-dog by Barbella and Florella, a pair of silver-suited space-babes who represent the last survivors of a humanoid civilization on Terra.
Unfortunately for the two boys, Barbella and Florella really just want to eat their brains and conquer Earth. They feed the kids drugged donuts and shave Akio’s head in preparation for scooping his tasty gray matter into a fondue pot. Unfortunately for the space-babes, at that point Gamera shows up. Guiron is released, demonstrating even more weirdness as he not only has a giant knife for a face, he can also shoot organic ninja stars capable of puncturing Gamera’s shell. Gamera thoroughly trounces Guiron, repairs the spaceship with his fire-breath, and carries the boys home safely, where they reunite with their frantic mothers and Akio gives a passionate speech about improving Earth instead of seeking perfection elsewhere in the universe.
If I come across as a little snarky in my synopsis, it’s because GAMERA VS. GUIRON is one of the goofier entries in the series. Guiron is, as alluded to earlier, a cross between a bulldog, a toad, and a machete; he’s almost too weird to take seriously as a monster. It was nice to see Gyaos again, even with his gaudy silver paint job, and Guiron’s dismemberment of Gyaos is one of the goriest I’ve seen in a kaiju flick, with the nice additional touch of Guiron picking up a slab of dripping purple meat, sniffing it, and throwing it away with a cruel chuckle of disgust. Gamera, likewise, is handled more lightly, including a scene of Gamera performing a parallel bars routine. It’s out there, but fun. Definitely makes for a good companion piece with GAMERA VS. VIRAS, if you’re doing a double-feature of your own.
GAMERA VS. JIGER (GAMERA TAI DAIMAJU JAIGA) 1970
It’s 1970, and Japan is preparing for the World’s Fair, being held in Osaka. On Wester Island in the South Pacific, a giant stone idol, known as the Devil’s Whistle, is being excavated for transport to the World’s Fair, despite the protest of one belligerent priest. To the archaeologists’ consternation, Gamera also does a flyby over the dig-site. As soon as the statue is on board, it begins to make a bizarre piercing noise, driving men insane. A hollow shaft is found bored through the statue, making the Devil’s Whistle an actual whistle.
The statue removed, the monster Jiger, long kept dormant by the statue’s piercing shriek, emerges. Gamera engages the tusked, horn-faced creature in combat, but is impaled through the limbs with quills shot from Jiger’s face, and in a second round, injected with Jiger’s parasitic offspring, making Jiger one of the few undeniably female kaiju out there. These parasites render Gamera comatose; it is up to several children in an experimental minisub to enter Gamera’s body and kill the parasites manually. Once revived (via a massive electric current applied directly to his heart), Gamera faces off against Jiger for the last time. Having learned from his prior encounters with the monster, he is able to evade her attacks and kill her, stabbing her in the face with the Devil’s Whistle.
Jiger is another interesting and unique monster, with Daiei showing a lot more creativity during this period than Toho (1971’s Hedorah and 1972’s Gigan excluded) was. Interestingly, Jiger is associated with the Lost Continent of “Mu,” much as Gamera is associated with Atlantis. With her quadrupedal gait and mythological background, Jiger feels like a kind of throwback to Barugon, and is a nice break from alien monsters.
I’ve grouped the synopses together rather than dealing with each film and it’s special features together, because, well…unlike the very nice extras we got for DAIKAIJU GAMERA and GAMERA VS. BARUGON, here we basically get nil. Each film is accompanied by a gallery of publicity images, and your choice of languages: Japanese with English Subtitles, and one or two English dubs (AIP and in some cases, the Sandy Frank dubs). We don’t even get booklets in the DVD cases this time around, just a thin sheet of glossy paper with the chapter listings for each film on one side, and advertising for other Shout! Factory releases on the other. More than anything, I was disappointed by the lack of anatomical illustrations of Gyaos, Viras, Guiron and Jiger. Those were one of my favorite touches for the first two releases, and it definitely bugged me not to have those here, especially as the monsters got weirder.
This is no fault of August Ragone, the Special Features Producer for Shout! Factory’s Gamera releases and all-around kaiju scholar and tokusatsu superfan. August was kind enough to let me know that Monster Anatomy illustrations and additional materials for GYAOS through JIGER were submitted by him to Shout! Factory for inclusion.
The picture quality is absolutely perfect, with rich, vibrant colors and clear visuals, much appreciated after years of watching washed out and indistinct prints of the films. There’s only a few scenes where the matte work is severely noticeable. The sound likewise is crystal clear in both Japanese and English, with the monster roars once again mixed louder than the human dialogue in a nice touch.
Overall, while these are perhaps the best quality releases of the original Daiei Gamera series we may ever see, and are a worthwhile addition to any kaiju fan’s collection, it was disappointing to see the lack of extras. Hopefully we’ll see some bonus features in the next release, which I’m predicting will be another double-feature rather than two separate discs for GAMERA VS. ZIGRA and SUPER MONSTER GAMERA.