Monday, August 3, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Viras, Gamera Vs Guiron]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my life time, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.


To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the amount of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.



Director: Noriaki Yuasa

It’s 1968, the kaiju boom is still swinging pretty hard, judging from the number of films being released in this time frame, and like the rest of the genre, Gamera seemed to be going for the stands with its attempts at being as entertaining as possible. The themes and elements that found themselves leaping to the forefront in the last film are in full bloom in this fourth film, Gamera Vs Viras. It leaves the film being a brightly colored, cheesy, and often very childish film, but if that’s what you’re looking for – it certainly delivers on those promises.


While the previous films featured kids as some of the protagonists, the two kids in Gamera Vs Viras are full-on heroes and actively involved in helping our titular turtle kaiju fend off a full-on alien invasion. Sounds tempting right? I mean, full on science fiction has now descended on the franchise and squid like aliens (who look like humans at first) are game to kidnap some kids, lure Gamera out, try to use some mind control on him, and then have to duke it out with the King of Shell. The problem is that Gamera Vs Viras is all over the place. The plotting is one sentence long, the narrative is built to entertain children first, and Daiei makes the choice to use a ton of stock footage from other Gamera films to beef up its story. The aliens analyze Gamera at one point, where the film detours into showing his kaiju battles with both Barugon and Gyaos – a greatest hits collection. Later on they actually send him to destroy a dam which is the exact same sequence as the opening one from Barugon. As if not having enough material for one film was bad enough and large chunks are flashbacks, they don’t even bother filming actual scenes for its own plot. Hell, they even cut in clips from the original Gamera film – fully in black and white.


The rest of the film is a general Japanese science fiction flick. There is essentially only one set for the alien spacecraft, the aliens look like humans until the final act, and our titular antagonist kaiju doesn’t even show up until the last 11 minutes. Once the film stops using spliced in set pieces, it starts to actually be quite entertaining and the final battle is blissfully silly. Still, the human plot is really asinine with no real characters, and the obvious intentions to make this entry a full-on Saturday cartoon is worn on the sleeve. For some, this is the Gamera they grew up with and it will definitely entertain. However, this is where the series starts to lose some of its grip for me.



Director: Noriaki Yuasa

After the last film perplexed and disappointed, expectations would naturally be low for Gamera Vs Guiron. It’s easy to see that the series would be doubling down on the formula that was working with the success of Vs Viras. Reading a synopsis only pushes this expectation lower. Aliens? Kid protagonists? Flashbacks? Shivers will run down the spine if you think too much about how the formula could potentially run this franchise into the ground.


Gamera Vs Guiron is, fortunately, a much superior film from the last one. This is how that formula can work to be an entertaining and fun watch. All of those elements from the film prior are accounted for in this one. Two young boys end up stealing an alien spacecraft on accident and head to another planet where two aliens (who look like women dressed in tin foil theme park worker outfits) plan to eat their brains. Naturally, Gamera shows up to save them and must battle the watchdog, Guiron – a knife faced land shark kaiju. It’s devilishly outrageous, particularly in how the film essentially abandons most of the family plot once the boys are off to the foreign planet, but it’s also blissfully aware of it and attempts to deliver on the fun promises. In particular, Guiron is fantastic as a villain and an early fight sequence against Space Gyaos (a silver-painted version of the previous villain) is weirdly violent and showcases the consequences of Gamera losing to the shark monster. It ups the ante and the film goes to deliver on that with the two battles between shark and turtle.


The script is definitely thin and if the viewer isn’t ready to just leap into the science fiction foundation then Gamera Vs Guiron will be a hard pill to swallow, but compared to the last film this one actually understands its formula and works with it better. The villain is memorable, the kaiju fights are eye-rolling fun, and the simple narrative just feeds into the child-like fantasy with more effective parallels. Now that the original run is halfway done, it’s exciting to see what the rest has to offer.


Written By Matt Reifschneider

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