Gamera: The Complete Collection Review

Gamera: The Complete Collection Review

A reptile mutated by an atomic blast who grows to enormous size. A man in a rubber monster suit stomping all over models of Japan. A series of films featuring a host of, less than convincing, giant monsters that our hero must face as he is established as a protector of our planet. That's right, it's everyone's favourite kaiju superstar Godzi...... but no, wait! It's actually the original hero in a half-shell, Gamera: The Giant Monster. Ten years after Toho Studios unleashed it's megastar monster onto the world stage it was the turn of rival studio Daiei to bring its giant turtle to life. Made with smaller budgets and quickly adopting a kid friendly tone, the Gamera movies have, for the most part, always been seen as inferior to the Godzilla series. Certainly less well known to the general public Gamera has always played second fiddle to his far more famous monster cousin. However, it is now his rightful time to shine as Arrow Video deliver a complete Blu-ray box set containing all 12 Gamera movies and more special features than you could shake an atomic death ray at.

Spread across 8 Blu-ray discs are the original 8 movies (Showa era), the trilogy made in the mid '90's (Heisei era) and the soft reboot Gamera The Brave from 2006. Housed in a box, featuring new artwork by acclaimed American kaiju artist Matt Frank, you also get books, comics and enough other goodies to satisfy even the most discerning monster movie fan. Also included are commentary tracks, multiple versions of movies, deleted scenes and a huge amount of behind the scenes material befitting such a gargantuan beast.

The Films

I'm not going to lie, the original Gamera: The Giant Monster is not the greatest. Released some 11 years after Godzilla it is certainly nowhere in the league of that classic. Made in black and white and on a small budget, the film manages to look at least 15 years older than it actually is. The 'acting' by the American military officers is laughable. Even for a genre well known for its less than spectacular special effects the amount of wires on show is remarkably high. Of course, whether all this diminishes your enjoyment of the film will be highly subjective depending on your appreciation of old monster movies. Personally, even as a big fan of giant monsters hitting each other repeatedly, I found this one a bit of a slog. Daiei however were very pleased with the money it raked in upon release and the sequels started rolling in.

Daiei must have taken some of their new Gamera cash and actually invested it into the making of the first sequel, Gamera Vs Barugon. Released only a year later, the film is streets ahead of its predecessor in virtually every regard. Colourful, vibrant and looking much more like a picture released in the mid '60s, Gamera Vs Barugon is a huge step up. It is easy to see why this is thought of as probably the best of the original Gamera movies. The tone is more adult than a lot of the other Gamera films and the special effects rival the higher budgeted Toho Godzilla movies of the time. I'd go as far as saying that Gamera Vs Barugon surpasses quite a few of the Godzilla movies - a trend that unfortunately wouldn't continue for long.

The next 6 movies span from 1967 through to 1980 and are all of varying quality, rarely rising above mediocre. Gamera takes on a procession of monsters whilst also earning himself the moniker 'friend to all children'. Just as his Toho studio counterpart gradually became less a threat and more mankind's saviour, so too did Gamera as he become family friendly. Already heavily leaning towards being kid-centric, Daiei struck a deal with an American distributor who wanted more Gamera content. One stipulation was that children be the focus of the films and that usually meant including a white child sidekick to boot. This thinking led to a loss in popularity of the Godzilla films of the time and Gamera quickly went the same route. Whilst still commercially successful to a degree the films were rapidly alienating their fanbase, now remaining of interest for hardcore fans only. For everyone else, the grating of the child actors may be too much to swallow. By 1980 the series was done and Gamera: Super Monster was the final nail in the coffin. Made up of a lot of footage reused from previous films it does not come as recommended viewing. With the franchise pretty much run into the ground the Showa era films were done, and the franchise went on hiatus for 15 years, but like every giant monster Gamera wasn't out for the count just yet.

After slumbering for the best part of 2 decades Gamera was unleashed back onto the big screen with a trilogy that is, quite frankly, some of the best monster action ever seen. I will quite happily state that the '90s Gamera Heisei trilogy stands head and shoulders above most of the Godzilla output. Given a new back story, where Gamera is now a sort of bio-engineered weapon made by the ancient Atlanteans, Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe is a fantastically fun adventure. Although obviously not quite up to Hollywood blockbuster standards the special effects are a massive step up from previous efforts and utilise fledgling CGI technology to varying effect. The whole trilogy has a flowing story that builds from film to film, culminating in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris which features some absolute top notch monster battles as well as an emotional pay-off. Huge hits in Japan at the time of their release, this trilogy is near the pinnacle of Japanese monster movies, holding their own against all but the best of the Godzilla releases.

After the success of the Heisei trilogy Gamera took another short break before getting a soft reboot in the form of Gamera the Brave. Taking a backwards step from the previous films the giant monster action is toned down and there is a return to the more child focused storytelling of the original films. By no means is it on the same level as some of the worst Showa-era films. The children featured are actually relatable and far less grating than their original counterparts. Whilst still an entertaining family adventure, it's a bit of a shame that Daiei couldn't have kept up the momentum generated by its hit trilogy.

Overall you get a bit of a mixed bag. The newer films are far better than the originals in just about every way. That's not to say the older films don't have their charms, but only hardcore fans will want to sit through some of the lesser entries in the series multiple times. The Heisei trilogy more than makes up for this however and are highly recommended viewing.

Audio and Visual

From a presentation point of view Arrow Video have done a stellar job and all the films have never looked or sounded better. It should go without saying that the newer films fare much better than their lower budget predecessors but that's not to say care and attention hasn't been applied across the whole series. The Showa era films all have lossless original Japanese mono soundtracks as well as English dubs should you prefer. They're not really going to give your home cinema system a robust workout but they are clear and perfectly serviceable and appropriate for the features. The Heisei films and Gamera The Brave all get new DTS-HD MA 5.1 upgrade options which sound fantastic. Rear speakers are active throughout the action sequences, their are some nice panning effects as aircraft and monsters fly about. There is also a fair amount of low end to give your subwoofer a workout. Dialogue is always clear and upfront with the music and effects coming in strong from the surround channels.

In terms of picture quality I was massively surprised at how good the Showa films looked. Whilst not up to the pristine quality that we have come to expect today all the films have solid transfers. The original movie suffers most from its low budget beginnings with a fair amount of grain but the contrast levels are good. The picture is fine but nothing great. When compared to the remastered Godzilla, a movie 11 years older, it can't compete but is perfectly acceptable. Its follow up, Gamera Vs Barugon, by contrast is a much better affair. Colours pop and really give a feel for the time period. The later trilogy is treated to a 4K restoration before being output at 1080P and it really benefits from the added attention. Gamera's fire breathing effects in his initial night time attack in Gamera 2 Attack of Legion look beautiful, rich reds and yellows lighting up the darkened city.

Overall the Gamera films have never looked or sounded better, the Heisei trilogy benefiting particularly from the 4K scans.

The Extras

If ever the word 'exhaustive' was most aptly used it would be for the additional content Arrow Video has put together for this collection. The review discs do not come complete with cover art, so I cannot comment on the packaging and the books that are normally included, but from the photo in the section below I can imagine they are also beautifully presented and provide a wealth of information.

The discs themselves contain so many features it will take a hardcore fan months to wade through everything. Wherever a film has alternative directors cuts or versions made for the US they are also included. Every film has an introduction and a commentary from various kaiju experts. The introductions are not just the normal fluff pieces but have sustained running times and offer up a lot of information and context to the films. Likewise, the commentaries are chock full of more information than you could possibly want.

There is a 3-part documentary contained on the Heisei trilogy discs which is worth the price of admission alone, this is before you've even watched the hour and a half long interview concerning the special effects process. The usual deleted scenes, trailers and behind the scenes footage is also included. As I've previously stated, this is how you do a collectors box set. You give the fans absolutely everything they could possibly want, no matter how trivial. Sure, only the diehards will get through everything included but that's exactly who Arrow Video have made this for and they should be applauded for it.

Overall

This is the definitive Gamera collection. It's hard to see it could ever be bettered and is an absolute no-brainer for kaiju fans. The audio and visual presentation mean the films have never looked better. The sheer amount of special features is overwhelming. Arrow Video have surpassed themselves in putting together such a comprehensive collection. With a set of films like this it's difficult to set a score that would be consistent. For kaiju fans this is a 10 out of 10 and an obvious purchase. For the average film goer they may wonder what all the fuss is about, especially with the more annoying kid friendly entries. I've tried to take this into account with my scores. If you aren't a fan of Japanese monster movies then feel free to knock a couple of points off, but if men in rubber monster suits flailing around miniature replicas of Tokyo are your thing then add on as many points as you want.

Now if only they can finally get that Gamera vs. Godzilla film off the ground...

Gamera: The Complete Collection is available on Blu-ray from August 17.

Detailed below is a complete list of what you are getting for your money:

  • Limited collectors’ edition packaging, housed in a large-format rigid box, fully illustrated by Matt Frank
  • Casebound, fully-illustrated disc book containing eight Blu-ray discs
  • High Definition (1080p) versions of all twelve films, with lossless original Japanese audio and a complete collection of English dub tracks, including classic American International dubs on the Showa-era films remastered from original MGM elements
  • Hardback 130-page comic book including a full-colour reprint of the four-issue Gamera comic series originally released by Dark Horse Comics in 1996, and the first-ever English-language printing of the prequel comic The Last Hope by Matt Frank and Joshua Bugosh
  • Perfect-bound 80-page book including a new retrospective on the series by Patrick Macias, an archive interview with Noriaki Yuasa by David Milner, kaiju X-ray illustrations by Jolyon Yates, Fangoria set reports on the Heisei trilogy by Norman England, and a viewers’ guide to the English-dubbed versions of the films
  • Double-sided four-panel poster of “Gamera’s Map of Japan” in both Japanese and English
  • Collectors’ art cards for each film, featuring new artwork by Matt Frank

DISC ONE – GAMERA THE GIANT MONSTER

  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of Gamera the Giant Monster, with lossless original Japanese and dubbed English mono audio, and optional English subtitles
  • Commentary and newly filmed introduction by August Ragone
  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of Gamera the Invincible (Blu-ray premiere), the American theatrical version of the film, with lossless mono audio and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Remembering the Gamera Series, an archive featurette from 1991, including interviews with director Noriaki Yuasa, writer Nisan Takahashi and others
  • Interview with Noriaki Yuasa, filmed by Jörg Buttgereit in 2002
  • Gamera Special, an hour-long best-of compilation supervised by Noriaki Yuasa in 1991
  • Alternate English credits
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC TWO – GAMERA VS. BARUGON / GAMERA VS. GYAOS

  • High Definition (1080p) transfers of Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera vs. Gyaos, with lossless original Japanese and dubbed English mono audio, and optional English subtitles
  • Commentary on Gamera vs. Barugon by August Ragone & Jason Varney
  • Commentary on Gamera vs. Gyaos by Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Newly filmed introductions to both films by August Ragone
  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of War of the Monsters, the shorter American edit of Gamera vs. Barugon, with lossless English audio
  • Alternate English credits for both films
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC THREE – GAMERA VS. VIRAS / GAMERA VS. GUIRON

  • High Definition (1080p) transfers of Gamera vs. Viras and Gamera vs. Guiron, with lossless original Japanese and dubbed English mono audio, and optional English subtitles
  • Choice of three different versions of Gamera vs. Viras via seamless branching (72-minute Theatrical Version, 81-minute Director’s Version and 90-minute US Extended Version)
  • Commentary on Gamera vs. Viras by Carl Craig and Jim Cironella
  • Commentary on Gamera vs. Guiron by David Kalat
  • Newly filmed introductions to both films by August Ragone
  • New featurette with actor Carl Craig showing his souvenirs and props from Gamera vs. Viras
  • Highlights from the G-FEST X convention in 2003, featuring Noriaki Yuasa and Carl Craig
  • The 4th Nippon Jamboree, a promotional film for the Boy Scouts of Japan directed by Yuasa in 1966
  • Alternate English credits for both films
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC FOUR – GAMERA VS. JIGER / GAMERA VS. ZIGRA / GAMERA SUPER MONSTER

  • High Definition (1080p) transfers of Gamera vs. Jiger, Gamera vs. Zigra and Gamera Super Monster, with lossless original Japanese and dubbed English mono audio, and optional English subtitles
  • Commentary on Gamera vs. Jiger by Edward L. Holland
  • Commentary on Gamera vs. Zigra by Sean Rhoads & Brooke McCorkle
  • Commentary on Gamera Super Monster by Richard Pusateri
  • Newly filmed introductions to all three films by August Ragone
  • Alternate English credits for all three films
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC FIVE – GAMERA THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE

  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of Gamera the Guardian of the Universe, from a 4K restoration by Kadokawa Pictures
  • Original Japanese and dubbed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio, with optional English subtitles
  • Commentary by Matt Frank
  • Newly filmed introduction by August Ragone
  • A Testimony of 15 Years: Part 1, the first in an epic three-part documentary interviewing cast and crew of the Heisei Trilogy
  • Interviews with director Shusuke Kaneko and SFX director Shinji Higuchi, filmed by Jörg Buttgereit in 2002
  • Extended 90-min interview with Shinji Higuchi from 2001, focusing on the trilogy’s special effects
  • Behind the scenes featurettes tracing the film’s production from announcement to release
  • Alternate English credits
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC SIX – GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION

  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, from a 4K restoration by Kadokawa Pictures
  • Original Japanese and dubbed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio, with optional English subtitles
  • Commentary by Kyle Yount
  • Newly filmed introduction by August Ragone
  • A Testimony of 15 Years: Part 2, the next part of the documentary interviewing cast and crew of the Heisei Trilogy
  • On-set footage from the shooting of the film’s main unit and special effects filming
  • Behind the scenes featurettes tracing the film’s production from announcement to release
  • Alternate English credits
  • “Lake Texarkana” comedic dub track
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC SEVEN – GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS

  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, from a 4K restoration by Kadokawa Pictures
  • Original Japanese and dubbed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio, with optional English subtitles
  • Commentary by Steve Ryfle & Ed Godziszewski
  • Newly filmed introduction by August Ragone
  • A Testimony of 15 Years: Part 3, the final part of the documentary interviewing cast and crew of the Heisei Trilogy
  • Newly filmed interview with Kaho Tsutsumi about the DNA Tokasatsu exhibition in Tokyo, by kaiju historian Edward L. Holland
  • Behind the scenes featurettes tracing the film’s production from announcement to release
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Awakening of Irys (Remix), a montage of behind-the-scenes footage and work-in-progress special effects footage
  • Alternate English credits
  • Spoof commentary by “Gamera” & “Soldier No.6”
  • Trailer and image galleries

DISC EIGHT – GAMERA THE BRAVE

  • High Definition (1080p) transfer of Gamera the Brave
  • Original Japanese and dubbed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio, with optional English subtitles
  • Commentary by Keith Aiken & Bob Johnson
  • How to Make a Gamera Movie, a featurette hosted by director Ryuta Tasaki
  • Behind the Scenes of Gamera the Brave, an all-access on-set documentary
  • The Men That Made Gamera, a documentary looking back at the series from start to finish, featuring interviews with cast and crew
  • Opening Day Premiere, a featurette showing the cast and crew presenting the film at its first showing
  • Kaho’s Summer, an interview with the film’s young star
  • Special Effects Supercut, a montage of effects shots overseen by FX supervisor Hajime Matsumoto
  • Trailer and image galleries

Phew, quite frankly I'd be surprised if there was any more Gamera content left out there to find. Arrow Video have done a superb job of making this the only choice for fans and raising the bar in what a Blu-ray box set can be. Other distributors should take note. This collection can easily sit proudly on your shelf next to the Criterion Godzilla set.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
10 out of 10
Overall

Arrow Video have delivered a love letter to kaiju fans with solid picture and sound and an exhaustive amount of special features to excite even the most hardcore Gamera fanatic.

8

out of 10

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