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Industrial Propaganda and American Imperialism go Kaiju Krazy!,
This review is from: Gamera Vs. Gyaos / Gamera Vs. Viras [Double Feature] (DVD)
*Contains Minor Spoilers*
Gamera Vs. Gyaos:
Gamera Vs. Gyaos is probably the dullest of the original eight Gamera films, but that still makes it a pretty entertaining movie overall. There isn't much to say about this film except for the fact that Gamera battles a giant bat that spits lasers, which at one point almost amputates Gamera's arm in one rather grisly scene, causing him to retreat to the bottom of the sea to convalesce, where he can still somehow hear the pleas of children on land! It's true that between Barugon and Viras these films got bloodier and gorier while simultaneously getting more childlike in their plotting and story sensibilities, which contribute to their delirious quality. The suit work in this one seems somewhat mediocre, but that could just be the result of them not having much to do in the battles other than spit fire or lasers at each other. There is still a really good use of colour in this film coming off the beautiful rainbow beam of Barugon in his titular outing. Both Gamera and Gyaos have colour coded plasma so we know exactly who is wounded and how severely! There are lots of glowing coloured lights that compliment some excellent models and sets, further establishing the iconic cartoon aesthetic of the Gamera series.
In each of the Gamera films so far we also get some sort of commentary or message regarding Japanese culture. In Gyaos there is a rather insidious pro-industrial development message. The Japanese farmers are made out to be the real villains here, as they hold out against a road building corporation in hopes of getting more money for their properties, which the company needs to run the road through. After Gyaos shows up to menace the community, the holdouts lose their leverage, not to mention their cows, and the population gets cross with their business ambassador for being too greedy. As a result they end up pleading with the road corporation to buy their land at the originally offered price. This is a rather repugnant and naked bit of propaganda, made more unpleasant by its presence in a supposedly kid friendly movie. At one point the female lead even throws away a casual line that is something to the effect of "Wouldn't the new roads stimulate our community"? Yes, of course grandpa is just a greedy old man who wants the road barons to pay a fairer price to lay a road over their house. How exactly is building a road on top of a community going to stimulate it? Don't ask silly questions; sell your family home now and do as you are told! Stop resisting progress! This is your duty to your country, greedy old fool!
Gamera Vs. Viras
Despite the cheapness of the production on Gamera Vs. Viras, we are still treated to an excellent zany plot and a superb final boss fight with some very creative suit work. The Kaiju that we meet here, Viras the giant bird faced octopus from space, is also one of the strangest ever conceived for any Toho or Daiei movie. On this film Daiei decided to cut costs by incorporating reused footage from the three previous Gamera films, including the first one, which sticks out because it's in black and white instead of colour. None of my viewing party could figure out why we were being shown the old footage, either, and we assumed it was the Japanese boy reminding the American boy of Gamera's history. At one point, however, the old footage of Gamera destroying the dam is presented as a new plot event rather than a flashback, and it was at this point that I decided they were going too dam far with it! The old footage pads the film by about 20 whole minutes, and in an 81 minute film that would sour any pus, including a giant space octopus!
Despite this frustrating frugality, there didn't appear to be any expense spared on any of the original material. The plot revolves around an alien species that has apparently abducted and bodysnatched a crew of Japanese men in a plot that seems to have been lifted for a Halloween episode of The Simpsons where Kang and Kodos took the form of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton during an election in order to gain control over all of earth politics! These squid aliens, which are individually about seven feet tall, fly through space in a contraption that looks like five giant bumblebee buttocks threaded through a hula hoop. Aboard the SS Bumblerump, passengers are able to telepathically summon giant glasses of space juice and octagonal space sandwiches, as well as disappointingly pre-peeled apple wedges!
The sequence where the two young kids sabotage the controls of a mini-submarine as a prank is an entertaining bit of goofy slapstick. Later on the scientist who built the sub, unaware of their meddling, allows the gadget wizard kids to try to pilot it, which causes them to get trapped under the alien "super capture ray" along with their friend Gamera! This prank is later used by the kids to resolve the plot while they are aboard the SS Bumblerump themselves, to hilarious ends.
This film fares much better in terms of its social commentary and moral messages. It is impossible to ignore the presence of the American boy scouts organization here. The boy scouts are obviously a paramilitary organization and represent the indoctrination and militarization of young children. The presence of the scouts in Japan is obviously inherited from the cultural influence of America subsequent to World War II. During and subsequent to Word War II, Japan became an American occupied country, and this was accompanied by a greater overall cultural occupation as well. The film satirizes this coercive imperialistic relationship by juxtaposing the American boy scout organization with an alien race that plots to brainwash and indoctrinate the Japanese population and use their own powers against them in the form of Gamera. This is a rich cultural metaphor not to be overlooked.
This film also features no less than five telekinetic decapitations and a space octopus that uses its pointy head as a deadly spear, a tactic which facilitates the most horrific and traumatizing battle moment of the entire Gamera series. I wont spoil the particulars, but be warned that it is brutal.
The quality of the prints and transfers for this double feature is nearly flawless. They are rich in colour and texture, and look excellent on any setup. It's a treat to have the original 1967/1968 Japanese theatrical versions of these films in their original widescreen aspect ratios and language with English subtitles.
There are a couple of small mistakes in the subtitles for both films. In the Gyaos feature there are a few instances where a word like "the" or "and" are missing. This was only noticed twice. In the Viras feature the person entering the subtitles accidentally included the timecode for the translation line along with the line itself. This was also only noticed twice. Neither of these mistakes are bothersome, but I guess it was nice for them to let us know when we are 48 minutes into the film! Some of the subtitle translations are also rather peculiar, as they sometimes have Japanese characters uttering very American style lines, including expressions like "Awesome" and "S***".
If there were more special features, as there were on the previous stand alone Gamera releases from Shout Factory, it would have taken up space on the disc and added a compression strain, but it would have been nice to have some of the old crew explain some of the inspirations and anecdotes from the productions of these films, even if it meant doing a two disc set and charging a bit more money. Either way, this is the best way to see these two films in region one. Overall this DVD is turtletastic!
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 16, 2013 6:57:30 PM PDT
A. Gammill says:
Excellent review; very informative and entertaining. I am just getting into the Gamera films. Loved the first two, and have been trying to decide whether to continue with the rest. Well, after reading this review, I'm prepared to boldly go forward! :-D
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 23, 2013 11:47:09 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 16, 2013 6:02:35 PM PDT]
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