Something there is that doesn't love a Gamera movie. Noriyuki Youasa brought Gamera to the happy eyes of Japanese audiences in 1964 with a stark yet kid-friendly Godzilla homage featuring a giant turtle, a kid, and some military guys tasked with throwing the fire eating/breathing terrapin into space. Daiei did pretty well in the giant monster biz back in the 1960s, with this series and the Majin films they carved out a few new little notches in the genre. Gamera being geared increasingly towards fetuses, and the Majin films sucessfully mixing chambara and kaiju with some cinematic mysticism.
Daiei relegated Yuasa to special effects duty on Gamera vs. Barugon, but they let him back behind the camera for all of the other films. Whether you like Gamera or not, it's impossible to deny that his films are unmistakable when compared to other kaiju cinema of the time.
Shout! Factory has been a great resource for we in the giant monster loving community, and these Gamera releases are no step backwards. Whether it's the stuffed to overflowing release of the original Gamera, or Gamera vs. Barugon, or the more stripped down double features, they've presented these pristine copies, unedited, widescreen, and in original Japanese with English subs, and with their various English dubs. We'll come back to this later, but first let's talk about the movies here.
Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
Gamera vs. Jiger is not one of the better films in the series, by now Yuasa had already tread all of the storytelling ground covered here. Ancient culture? Check! Cursed object releases monster? Check! Gamera gets whupped on and nearly killed then vanishes for most of the movie? Check! 20 minutes of stock footage of monster fights from the preceding films in the franchise? Check! The entire stock of the Japanese scientific and military establishment placed in the hands of elementary school kids? Check!
Gamera vs. Jiger is set against the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka and is pretty much just a giant advertisement for the attractions there, this isn't a bad storytelling idea. The expo was weird and big enough that it sort of built a whole lot of its own publicity and to have a monster film associated with it couldn't only help. I have no idea what business arragements were necessary to allows the fair to be used, but it wouldn't surprise me if either the Expo or Daiei made money. And, if anyone did, it sure as hell wasn't Daiei, they'd go bankrupt the following year.
So, welcome to the expo which will feature exhibits from all over the civilized world, even, much to the chagrin of the residents, from Wester Island where a group of archeologists have found a huge monument and want to transport it to Japan for the expo. The leader of the Wester Island natives comes all the way to Osaka to voice his concerns and is ignored. Back on Wester Island (which is apparently close enough for the characters to visit within minutes of leaving the fair grounds) even Gamera thinks messing with the monument is a bad idea and interferes with the helicopters trying to jerk the think out of the ground.
Before you can say, "oh shit a monster!" Jiger appears and begins to trash the camp, and not surprisingly, Gamera. Like all of the other films (except the first) directed by Yuasa, Gamera is seriously injured and leaves the film for the next 40 minutes or so. The monster fights are actually a little better than Yuasa normally manages, Jiger (or as I remember her, Monster X) is a 4-legged triceratops type thing that shoots larvae filled darts, and has a death ray. Since Daiei was funding these films with IOUs, the costumes look like crap. Gamera is even in rough shape, the model cityscapes are very small, when used at all, and the miniature of the expo looks like a tabletop model.
Gamera recovers from his injuries via kids invading his body in a minisub (one of Yuasa's weird film devices) and killing off the parasitic larvae of Jiger growing in Gamera's lung. It's actually just the regular Jiger costume, and the kids kill it by throwing a walkie-talkie at its head. Anyway, Gamera returns, and uses the Wester Island spike to kill Jiger.
What's nice is that while the story is silly and the human characters are either super annoying or completely ineffective the pace is just fast enough to keep the whole juggernaut of stupid plodding along.
If any of you readers are like me, then you only know this film from it's old TV edit from way back in the stone age when American International Television sold these all into TV syndication. Those versions were cropped, edited for time and content, dubbed, and for the most part, mangled. Shout! Factory is presenting these films in their original widescreen, crisp and gorgeously struck from a fresh print from the Daiei vaults (Now owned by Toho) with the original Japanese language track and English subs (the film is still stupid in its original language), and it includes the rather nice AIP dub over the unedited film. This considerably improves the experience of watching Gamera vs. Jiger and if you have kids between 5 and 12, this film may make them smile and giggle and sing the Gamera song until you want to sell them to a for-profit adoption agency.
This half of the DVD double feature also contains some publicity stills.
Gamera vs. Guillon (1969)
Tom and Akio love astronomy. With the announcement of a newly discovered 10th planet by Dr. Shiga, Tom and Akio are more diligent than ever that they will be the first to discover life on this new world. Their persistance pays off when a flying saucer lands just outside of town and they are the only two who see it. Oh, and they are both eight years old, wear short pants (really short pants... I mean, who makes shorts like this jeez!), ride bikes all over town, and play tricks on the local police constable Kondo.
This is, after all a Gamera movie, and anyone who knows the Daiei Studio’s terrible turtle knows also that he is the protector of all children. This is more apparent in the Showa films (1965-1970) which are for all intents and purposes movies made for little kids. This is not a bad thing.
Considering the wealth of crap out there marketed as kids entertainment is, more often than not, little more than a 90 minute commercial for some line of toys, breakfast cereal, clothes, collectible cards, and any other product said film can be attached. Gamera Vs. Guillon is mercifully free of any product placement.
Gamera vs. Guillon has a lot going for it. This film actually takes a short time to develop relationships between little kids and adults so lacking in most kids films. Illustrating this is the adult/child relationship between local police constable Kondo and Akio’s five-year old sister Kuniko. See, Kuniko, being a little sister, tags along with the boys as they race off to see the flying saucer landing site, and like all little sisters, refuses to get aboard with her brother because it is probably dangerous.
The only person who believes Kuniko is officer Kondo. Not even Kuniko’s mom or Tom’s mom believes her and dismisses her ravings as those of a – well – five-year-old. But, Kondo seems to have a streak of compassion lacking in the other adults.
The boys get aboard the spacecraft and are whisked away to the 10th planet (that’ll teach them to play with the ship controls!). As the ship speeds across the solar system Gamera appears and attempts to rescue the boys but the ship is faster than the propane powered terrapin and they leave him in the proverbial space-dust. The ship reaches the 10th planet and touches down in a futuristic city (and it looks almost exactly like a tabletop model!) run by twin sisters Barbella and Flobella, the last humanoid inhabitants of said planet.
Their city is guarded by vicious knife-headed monster Guillon, who when called forth from his underground lair, does the sister’s bidding. We first meet Guillon as he slices up a silver Gyaos monster that is attacking the city. I always had fond memories of Guillon, and he looks pretty cool even now, with a big silver/blue head, and little shukigen launchers where his ears should be. He's a good foil for Gamera too since they are both sort of slow and clumsy and yet, even with a giant knife head, he doesn't looks as absolutely idiotic as Zigra – a sort of half shark and half fighter plane thing – or as clumsy and quickly designed as Barugon or Jiger. He has some personality too, a low rumbly menacing laugh as he cuts up enemies or puts Gamera down for the count for the first time.
Flobella and Barbella want off the 10th planet in the worst way, and what better way to get intelligence on their proposed next new home, Earth than by sucking the brain matter from two young boys?
Gamera has tracked the boys to the tenth planet and we get a long sequence on monster destruction that is silly and fun. Will Gamera save the boys? Will anyone but Kondo believe Kuniko’s rantings? Will Tom ever wear long pants?
Like the other Gamera films, the plot centers on how Tom and Akio can outwit the grown ups and help Gamera to defeat Guillon. Of the two films, this one is easily the most fun. Flobella and Barbella are easy on the eyes, and the monster sets are better than the usual. Shout! Factory brings this one also in a crisp and amazing widescreen print that is clear and crisp and bright as the day is long on the longest day of the year. It ships with the original Japanese language track with English subs, and both the AIP-TV English dub and the Sandy Frank TV dub.
The Sandy Frank dub has a little notoriety for being the version of this film used in an early season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's friggin awful. I think Sandy Frank hired two voice actors to play all the parts and it is just complete crap. The translation is like "Engrish" too where great stretches of "scientific" dialogue are just utter convoluted incomprehensible gibberish. There are some synching issues with the Sandy Frank dub too that make it that much more unwatchable. The other notable bit about this dub, compared to the AIP TV dub, is that it always contained the "Guillon slices up Space Gyaos" sequence that was edited out of the AIP version (deemed too violent and scary). That scene is in both dubs here (it is not scary unless slicing styrofoam is somehow scary).
Fortunatley Shout! Factory has chosen not to include two more commentaries by kaiju-experts who list all of the film accomplishments of every actor, minor or major, appearing in the both of these film, and I for one say thank you. I like a good commentary track as much as the next guy, but the key phrase is "good". Some earlier ones, like the ones from the Classic Media Godzilla releases, border on the obsessively detailed and torturously boring.
I'd rather have a double feature, like this, than two singles with commentaries for the Gamera titles, and as such this is a great release for two underrated films in the Gamera franchise.