“In our findings on Gamera, we’ve ascertained that: Firstly, it is attracted to and consumes fire. Secondly, it also seems to possess an internal power plant, of sorts. This emits a signal frequency that can jam radio communications. In order to store up energy reserves, Gamera consumes inorganic resources. Not only does it consume petroleum as well as other mineral and fossil fuels, but Gamera may also seek out atomic bombs.”
Ask anyone about Japanese monster movies and Gamera usually won’t be the first name that comes into their minds. Godzilla would likely dominate the conversation, and for most of the last 60 years the folks at Toho have been synonymous with large monsters. But they didn’t exactly hold a monopoly on the big beasts. Kadokawa Pictures had their own little monster franchise going on. It all started in 1954 with Gamera: The Giant Monster. From 1965 through the 1970’s the studio would produce 8 Gamera films in all.
Gamera was a giant turtle who was awakened from his millions-of-years slumber when a Soviet nuclear bomber crashes into the Arctic. The ensuing explosion cracked the ancient ice and unleashed Gamera. The turtle was not only huge and could breathe fire, but he could fly, looking like a flying saucer as he spins his way through the sky. Before long, no one in the entire world is safe as Gamera is eventually sighted in many countries across the globe. An international team is assembled to stop the creature before his destructive rampage devastates all of humanity. Conventional weapons are useless. Gamera’s hide is too thick for most projectile weaponry. Any type of energy weapon is merely consumed by the creature, giving it even more strength. Even the power of an atomic bomb will only fuel the beast’s internal engine. Plans to freeze the turtle only meet with partial success. It appears the monster is indestructible. Mankind’s only hope is to capture Gamera and send him to Mars, where he will be unable to threaten the human race again…or will he?
Gamera meets all of the traditional giant monster movie traditions. You have the somewhat radiation origins of a sleeping behemoth from prehistoric ages. There’s plenty of scenes of Gamera trouncing on buildings and fleeing mobs. You must always have that scene where the monster breaks through some electrical lines. There is even a young boy who likes turtles and thinks that Gamera might be his own pet turtle, now grown to super size. Gamera saves the young boy from a fall. This ends up becoming a very important theme in the Gamera films, one the Toho folks eventually tried to copy with Godzilla. Gamera became a friend, and often guardian, of children. He had a weak spot for youngsters and often fought other creatures to protect them. In Japan the theme caught on and Gamera became a huge, pardon the pun, hit among school-age children. Even today the giant turtle can be found on everything from bed sheets to lunch boxes. Now is your chance to check out the only real competition Godzilla ever faced.
In the 1990’s a more modern version of Gamera returned to the big screen. Perhaps with Shout Factory’s release of the original films we’ll see a resurgence in the giant turtle phenomenon, and maybe we’ll see Gamera return as a new original movie.
Gamera is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The movie is in black & white. The rest of the franchise was filmed in color, but this one was more a test than anything else. This is an old film from what was then a fledgling franchise. The print shows the obvious appearances of wear. You’ll see dirt and scratches, but there is an obvious effort here to deliver the best element that was possible. The contrast is also very weak at times, leaving little in the way of deep black levels. Still, I found the print far better than the bootleg and television copies that have previously been the best available. It’s an improvement that fans will surely appreciate. Hey, the image is sharp enough to see wires holding up some of the aircraft.
Unfortunately, only the original Japanese track is included here. You have to remember that the English version of the movie was changed much like the original Godzilla had been with the Raymond Burr added scenes for American audiences. The Gamera film was called Gamera: The Invincible and also featured new Americanized footage. That’s not what you’re getting here, and it’s likely there isn’t a dubbed version of this film anywhere. It does contain hiss and some distortion at times. You can hear just fine. Gamera’s roar is intact and as good as I expected it to be, if not a little bit better. There is a fair amount of English, anyway. The scenes of American soldiers is originally filmed in English and preserved here.
A Look Back At Gamera: (23:11) It doesn’t look like a recent feature. Many of the original team are much older here and offer plenty of retrospective on the film and franchise that followed. This is rare and wonderful footage to have and a welcome extra in this release. The participants are frank about the subjects and offer very personal insights. Of course, this is also in Japanese and dubbed into English. The best part comes during the final 6 minutes when we are treated to a presentation of an unfilmed Gamera story using both storyboards and actual models. The monster enemy is called Garasharp and appears to be a giant cobra. Man, I wish this had been filmed.
Audio Commentary by Eiji Tsuburaya, author of “Master Of Monsters”
Shout Factory has done a masterful job of finally bringing the original Gamera film to DVD. This is one of those treasures that I never expected to see on DVD anytime soon. It looks like there will be future Gamera releases. On July 6th Shout Factory will follow up with Gamera vs. Barugon. That promises to be the beginning of what I hope will be the entire Gamera library over the next few months. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m not ready to say, “Gamera, goodbye.”
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