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In 1954, director Ishiro Honda released Gojira (Godzilla), a meditation on nuclear era anxiety couched in a monster movie fable. The movie's enormous success in Japan single-handedly launched the kaiju, or monster, genre of movies that remains popular to this day in the Land of the Rising Sun. If Toho Studio's Godzilla is the most famous and beloved of the giant monsters, then the number two beast in Japanese cinema is Daiei Motion Picture Company's Gamera, a giant, flying, child-loving turtle who first appeared on screens in 1965. From 1965 to 1980, Gamera appeared in eight successful features. His adventures were rebooted in 1995 by director Shusuke Kaneko, who made a trilogy about the giant turtle.
Facts of the Case
This Blu-ray release contains the first two films in Kaneko's trilogy, presented on a single dual-layered disc:
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996)
The first Gamera adventure to hit Japanese theaters in 15 years (24 years since the franchise's heyday in the late '60s and early '70s), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was advertised as a big-budget reboot of the series. It is, indeed, more polished than the Showa period kaijou eiga, but fans of old school Japanese giant monster movies need not fear: This 1995 outing is rife with the miniature cityscapes, model tanks, and men in monster suits that define the genre. The only notable Gamera convention missing from the flick is a shrill pre-pubescent boy in tiny shorts to act as the giant turtle's best friend. Instead, we get a teenage girl (played by the daughter American action movie hero Steven Seagal) who mostly stares into the middle distance as she communicates telepathically with everyone's favorite shelled monster. The movie's plot is ridiculously convoluted with its endless exposition about lost civilizations and the manipulation of DNA, but still aimed squarely at a young audience. The story is a tightly woven tapestry of complete nonsense to anyone over the age of 12. Why on earth would an ancient civilization create giant dinosaur-birds to fight pollution? What motivates the Japanese military commanders and government bureaucrats to decide that Gamera is the real threat and should be destroyed even as the Gyaos are swooping around the city eating people? The only reasonable answer that I can offer is that the filmmakers knew that little kids would be too mesmerized by the giant monster throw-downs to asks such questions.
Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion is a distinct improvement over its predecessor. While the earlier film plays like director Shusuke Kaneko was aping the style of Gamera's earlier adventures, the second movie feels like an honest to goodness attempt to modernize the iconic monster. It's still full of hokey special effects that keep it grounded in the visual conventions of its genre, but the action is decidedly more suspenseful and violent than in the earlier film. An early scene in which commuters are attacked by giant alien insects in a darkened subway tunnel is surprisingly intense and bloody. The plot still makes no sense (extraterrestrial insect-monsters that spawn giant flowers that spawn extraterrestrial insect-monsters? Um, what?), but the action is thoroughly entertaining for what it is. Guardian of the Universe never quite delivered a compelling fight between Gamera and Gyaos (an enemy that dates back to the turtle's third adventure, 1967's Gamera vs. Gyaos). Gamera's throw-down with the outsized queen of the Legion is bloody and destructive, and the turtle is mostly outmatched throughout. The ultimate outcome is never really in question, but if you like Japanese movies featuring stuntmen in monster suits smacking each other around on miniature cityscapes, you'll be thoroughly entertained by Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion.
Despite the fact that the two movies are forced to share space on a single dual-layered Blu-ray disc, video and audio quality doesn't suffer noticeably. The films are presented in 1080p native widescreen format. Detail is solid throughout and colors are mostly accurate (blues occasionally appear artificially boosted in Guardian of the Universe). The transfers are smooth, but not swabbed of all film grain by digital noise reduction. Some of the nighttime sequences in Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion sport coarser grain than anything in the earlier film, but the flaws appear to be rooted in the source, not the digital transfer.
The movies' original Japanese audio tracks are presented in DTS-HD master audio mixes that deliver clean dialogue, as well as decent LFE during the big fights. Both the front and rear soundstages are well utilized, though directional panning is non-existent. There are also English dubs, presented in compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes.
There are no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Shusuke Kaneko made a trilogy of Gamera films. It's a drag that 1999's Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris didn't find its way onto this release.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion offer solid man-in-suit kaiju mayhem for lovers of the genre. This Blu-ray release delivers a decent A/V presentation of both films.
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