Growing up a giant, fire-breathing Japanese turtle by the name of Gamera became just as an important influence on me as his more famous giant, atomic-breathing Japanese cousin, Godzilla.
It was back when we used to get the WPIX channel from New York over here in Massachusetts, and they had this thing they used to run called ‘The 4:30 Movie.’ If you go on DVD Drive-In’s website there’s a page devoted to ‘The 4:30 Movie’ with a list of movies (with dates) that were aired. My first Gamera movie was War Of The Monsters (1966, aka Gamera Vs. Barugon) and according to DVD Drive-In it aired on Friday, January 11, 1974 during “Monster Week.”
That puts me at 5 years old and does coincide with the memory I’m about to recount.
I remember that “Monster Week” well, and I remember seeing the commercial for War Of The Monsters the day before. It was a quick one and I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what I saw. It looked like a Godzilla movie but there was no Godzilla. My brother was watching with me at the time and I turned to him and asked, “Was that a giant turtle? What was that other monster?”
The following day in school we were all allowed to go to the library, one at a time, and for only like 15 minutes or so. Once one kid came back the next one went. When I went I found a particularly nice picture book about UFOs. At some point it started snowing. By the time noon came the snow was so bad they decided to cancel the rest of the school day.
We all cheered.
When we got home my mother wanted to take a trip to the little store (aka the local general store). It was snowing like crazy out, but my mother wanted to go, so we all hoped in the car and went. They had some new candy displayed that day that came in this plastic flying saucer container. What a coincidence, I find this awesome book on UFOs and this cool plastic flying saucer-thing I can play with once the candy is all gone.
This is how I remember that day we saw War Of The Monsters.
The next Gamera movie I recall seeing was Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970), like Gamera Vs. Barugon that one too was aired under it’s American title, Gamera Vs. Monster X. That movie was quite a departure from the previous one. This one had more of a kids-vibe to it and being a kid I ended up liking it more than War Of The Monsters. I even recall being somewhat disappointed years later when Monsters was aired again, wishing it had been Monster X instead. Nowadays, I still like Monster X, but I personally think of all those early Gamera movies his battle with Barugon was the best they one ever made.
At some point during childhood I recall those other ones finally airing, but when I saw them they just didn’t appeal to me. The foes were too outlandish and the tone was too geared towards children.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, maybe, longer, that I finally saw his first ever movie, Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965). Just like Godzilla’s first film, Gamera’s was also shot in black and white. In these early series of movies Gamera’s origin is linked to the legendary continent of Atlantis. Apparently when the continent was in existence there was a race of these giant turtles that would commonly hibernate for thousands of years. During the opening of the movie a scientist and a reporter are in the arctic following leads on these giant turtles when a dogfight between the US and Japan results in one of the planes crashing. The atomic blast of the nuke it was carrying breaks open the ice and releases Gamera into the world.
One of the subplots involves this kid who’s obsessed with turtles. One day his father and sister get fed up with it interfering in his school that he’s made to go down to the shore and let his current pet turtle go. He doesn’t want to so he sets up this makeshift area near the cliff side meant to keep his turtle there. After Gamera shows up and he can’t find his turtle he suddenly believes it somehow turned into Gamera, and thus begins his journey around the world to make sure Gamera doesn’t “do anything bad.”
Well, Gamera does do a lot of bad things, namely destroying property on a large scale, much like Godzilla is adept at doing, while the citizens of Earth figure out some way to stop him. Guns, heavy artillery and fire are no good. Eventually the Z Plan is hatched and in the end they manage to lure Gamera onto this island, trap him in the head of this rocket and send him off to Mars.
His second movie, Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966, aka War Of The Monsters), is solidly connected to his first movie. A recap in the first few minutes shows his capture and rocket departure but now we learn somewhere in space he was able to break free thanks to a collision with a meteor and return to Earth. Once back on earth he destroys a dam looking for energy to absorb and then the last we see of him is when he flies off to a volcano he senses about to erupt to feed on the fire.
The human story centers on three men who trek off to a remote island to retrieve an opal the brother of one of the men found during the war and buried in a cave. The catch is the opal isn’t really a gem; it’s the egg of this mythical reptile that roams the island ever few thousand years. The natives know this and try and stop the men from venturing to the cave.
Eventually they find it and the opal and that’s when one of them betrays the other two. One is killed and one is seemingly killed. On the boat back to Japan an infrared heating lamp is left on by accident and it ends up forcing the reptile to hatch and grow to giant proportions.
Kaiju mayhem ensues as we finally see what kind of creature has been born prematurely into the world. It’s four-legged and it’s primary weapons are it’s chameleon-like tongue, which not only can snatch a living man out of a boat and eat him but spray this freezing mist out of its tip that can freeze any and all surrounding areas/beings/creatures (i.e. Gamera), and this rainbow ray it can generate from its back spine that can destroy anything miles from where the creature is at.
It’s the use of this ray that attracts Gamera.
Our hero who survived his “stab in the back” partners up with a native woman and together they head to Japan to get this opal back, but once they arrive they see it’s far too late. Now their motivations switch to trying to stop the beast.
You actually feel bad for Barugon during his final battle with Gamera. He’s not really a “bad guy” but more of a victim of circumstance and greed.
My next favorite Gamera movie, Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970, aka Gamera Vs. Monster X) is actually the 6th sequel in the franchise…by this point in the series Gamera is being aimed squarely at the kids and is now their hero. The tone is lighter, but for this particular entry it seems like they took a few cues from their Barugon entry, making Gamera’s foe a four-legged beast with unique qualities. More than Barugon had actually.
He can shoot arrows out of his horns on his face, shoot a similar ray to Barugon’s from this glowing organ on his nose, has suction cups on the bottom of his feet that helps in snatching rocks from a distance or holding Gamera fast on his back and his most insidious weapon is a stinger that pops out of the end of his tail he ends up using to inject his larva into Gamera.
Jiger is part of Mu mythology and has been imprisoned for thousands of years under the ground on this remote island by this statue called the Devil’s Whistle. Scientists excavating the area pull the statue out of the ground and voila another monster is freed Gamera must tangle with.
The story on the human side centers on three kids once Gamera comes into the picture whle the adults try to thwart Jiger. Just like in his Barugon movie, Gamera is sidelined for a portion of the movie by one of Jiger’s unique abilities, namely the injection of the Jiger larva.
The Daiei Motion Picture Company shared the same fascination with aliens Toho did giving all but the first four of Gamera’s movies plots revolving around extraterrestrials thus making those previously mentioned four about prehistoric throwbacks instead, which I actually prefer. There were a total of eight in the franchise made and they are spread out equally, in chronological order, on two separate volumes.
Gamera Vs Barugon has the longest running time at over 100 minutes while the others run 78-91 minutes.
On Volume 1 you get Gamera, The Giant Monster (1965), Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966), Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967) and Gamera Vs. Viras (1968). On Volume 2 you get Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969), Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970), Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971) and the really cheesy 1980 Gamera, Super Monster.
All movies are in their original aspect ratio, 1080p 2.35:1 anamorphic high definition while Super Monster is 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic high definition. These are the original Japanese versions with English subtitles only (2.0 Dolby Digital). Mill Creek could not get all the dubbed versions so just decided to keep the Volumes consistent and release only the Japanese originals.
There are no trailers or any extra features.
These were previously released by Shout! Factory back in 2010. The only one I had bought back then was Gamera Vs. Barugon and by comparison this new blu-ray is more colorful and more crisp, with that in mind I can naturally surmise then the transfers on the others are indeed very nice upgrades to what Shout had released.
For those who don’t have a blu-ray player Mill Creek has released all these movies along with the 90s trilogy in a massive DVD set called the Gamera: Legacy Collection. If you’re a die-hard fan I can personally recommend the blu-rays and just on general principle will also recommend the Legacy Collection. And since we’re on the topic I already own the 90s trilogy in their blu-ray form, which came out years ago through Mill Creek, and those too look light years better than their old DVD versions Section 23 released back in the early 2000s.