Friday, October 8, 2010

GAMERA VS GYAOS / GAMERA VS VIRAS


Shout! Factory continues its line of widescreen, uncut Gamera kaiju klassics with the third and fourth entries in the series, GAMERA VS. GYAOS (1967) and GAMERA VS. VIRAS (1968), paired on a single double-feature DVD.

In GAMERA VS. GYAOS (a/k/a RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS), a road construction crew awakens a giant, carnivorous, reptilian "bat" creature from its slumber in a cave near Mt. Fuji, and even the titanic terrapin Gamera seems incapable of defeating the winged terror, which has the ability to project a laser-like sonic ray that can slice through anything, including mega-tortoise flesh. The authorities attempt to incapacitate the nocturnal beastie by luring it onto a giant turntable with a vat of artificial human blood and then spinning it around until it's too dizzy to defend itself (seriously), but when that brilliant scheme fails, it falls once again to Gamera - and his schoolboy friend Eiichi - to save the day.

With GYAOS, the series hasn't quite transformed completely into kiddie matinee fare - the plot does feature some prominent adult characters and subplots - but the writing is on the wall. Small boys were part of the formula in the first two films, but in GYAOS, the character of Eiichi is more integral to the plot, interacting directly with the mutant turtle and even telling the adult authorities how to fight the monsters. Still, it's a fun kaiju adventure, fast-paced and well-made, with some surprisingly scary and violent sequences.

In GAMERA VS. VIRAS (a/k/a DESTROY ALL PLANETS), hostile aliens on a reconnaissance mission to Earth encounter Gamera in orbit and their ship is destroyed by the heroic reptile, but not before they send a warning to their homeworld. Soon, a second spacecraft arrives on Earth, its crew prepared to deal with Gamera by exploiting the monster's greatest weakness - his love for children. They kidnap two Boy Scouts, Masao and Jim, and hold them hostage on their spaceship. Using a mind-control device, the aliens then force Gamera to attack Earth's cities, while the Scouts repeatedly attempt to escape their captors.

With VIRAS, the Gamera series has officially become kid's stuff, with the characters of Masao and Jim the focus of the narrative and enjoying the most screen time. There are numerous scenes clearly designed to delight children, such as when Gamera "races" the two boys underwater as they pilot a mini-submarine without any adult supervision. In fact, the adult characters in this movie are completely helpless, and spend the entire film standing by waiting and worrying as Earth's fate is determined by two junior woodchucks and a giant turtle. VIRAS also features copious, undisguised stock footage from the previous three films - there's a 15-20 minute sequence, as the aliens "scan Gamera's memory," that is nothing but monster battle footage from the preceding entries, including black & white clips from the first, GAMERA THE GIANT MONSTER (1965).

Both films are presented uncut and in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is simply mind-blowing, especially after years of only experiencing the movies through awkwardly cropped, full-frame TV prints. The transfers are nearly flawless, with bright colors and sharp details, which stands in harsh contrast to the faded, scratchy, grainy Gamera prints that most kaiju fans are used to seeing. Audio options include the original Japanese soundtrack and English dubs. Bonus features are limited to a still gallery for each film, showcasing the original theatrical posters and other publicity material.

For fans of Japanese monster movies, these discs are a must have. They're little more pricey than the "budget" discs out there using the beat-up 16mm AIP-TV (cropped) prints, but the widescreen aspect ratio makes a world of difference - the compositions are really quite striking and the sets and effects look much less cheap when you can see the full scope of the filmmakers' efforts.

Yeah, they're aimed at 1960's children, and today's kids might find them too simple or goofy for their sophisticated, 21st Century tastes, but for lovers of imaginative cinema and nostalgic film buffs, the Gamera discs from Shout! Factory are a joy.

Highly recommended.

BUY: Gamera Vs. Gyaos / Gamera Vs. Viras [Double Feature]