Gamera vs. Barugon
Directed by: Shigeo Tanaka
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Starring: Koji Fujiyama, Kojiro Hongo, Kyoko Enami, Takuya Fujioka
Barugon is the most grounded monster in the original Showa Gamera series, a beast that shoots ice from the tip of its tongue and a rainbow from its back. That says something for what was to come next.
It’s important that Barugon (not to be confused with rival Toho’s creation Baragon) provides something to look at, something that makes him interesting, because he dominates this film. Despite the title, the infamous flying, flame-spitting terrapin Gamera is physically on-screen for all of about ten minutes the entire movie.
In fact, the opening sequence, detailing Gamera’s escape from the Z-Plan rocket used to remove him from the planet in the original film, is all rather pointless in terms of story and progress, although it is quite a sight. Arriving back on Earth, Gamera begins an assault on the first energy source he can find, Kobe dam. The extensive miniatures are impressive, and the redesigned Gamera suit, now a bit meaner with deeper, smaller eyes, making for an energetic opening until 40+ minutes in when Barugon shows up.
Nisan Takahashi returns as the writer (and for all future Showa Gamera films), developing the human plot not on the military, but on a group of men seeking an opal. Led by Onodera (Koji Fujiyama), the threesome treks through New Guinea in search of their prize, which the audience eventually learns is Barugon’s egg.
The human element works, a rarity in Japanese monster films, mostly because Onodera is so utterly cruel and heartless, anticipating his next string of antics is part of the fun. He lets one of his partners die from a scorpion sting, tries to blow up another with grenades, punches a woman, pushes another, slams heavy steel lockers down on a crippled man then burns him alive, and still has the audacity to try stealing the diamond used to lure Barugon into his potential watery grave.
While Gamera vs. Barugon (released in the States directly to TV with the blanket title War of the Monsters) is sluggish, it is quite lavish, utilizing the budget, color photography, and widescreen frame admirably. Gamera’s first tumble with his foe has the turtle fly off the frame to the left, then back in to the right and smash into a building, an extended shot making use of the space allotted. It’s a sight that would become nearly extinct in later entries as Daei studios would begin their decline into bankruptcy.
Shout! Factory delivers the first ever widescreen release for the film in the US, and in its original language only. Those seeking the Sandy Frank dubs are out of luck, licensing apparently playing a role. The transfer here is exceptional, even better than the Region 2 DVD release. While a bit flat in terms of depth (black levels are mediocre, likely a source issue with the film stock), the vibrant colors benefit greatly. Prior DVDs of the film in this country butchered the early island scenes, the sequence in which the natives dance blown out so poorly that it was hard to see what was happening. Now, not only is the sequence loaded with natural color, it is sharp and reasonably detailed. The same goes for Barugon’s brightly detailed rainbow.
Clean-up has removed any specks or scratches from the frame, save for the unavoidable damage on the multi-pass effects shots such as Gamera slamming into Barugon’s rainbow. Facial detail is surprising, the first appearance of Keisuke (Kojiro Hongo) inside the plane setting the tone for the rest of the transfer. Scenes in New Guinea show off the excessive heat with sweat on the brow of the actors, all visible and reasonably defined. The grain structure is well resolved and left intact with no visible tinkering. The monster suits benefit as well, some of the more unusual shots for the genre benefiting greatly. As Barugon chases the light from the jewel around 1:17:00, the miniature street-level view reveals the texture of the suit remarkably well.
Shout! does not tinker with the audio, leaving it “as is” with a 2.0 mono mix. The score from first (and only) time series composer Chuji Kinoshita may sit within the mid-range, but it offers clarity and resolution with minimal distortion. Later in the film, it sits behind the action almost quietly, as it always has over the years by intent. It’s a shame the booming score is underutilized, but it’s no fault of this track.
Dialogue is generally free of problems, save for the occasional narration from Genzo Wakayama, which sounds mildly rough. It lacks the precision of the main actors, and even the monsters roars which exist on both the high and low ends (a rather interesting way to enhance the opposite nature of the beasts).
August Ragone returns, this time with translator and fan Jason Varney for a commentary, that mostly consists of actor biographies. Their interactions sound a little forced and scripted, but there is some fine information in there when it can be found. A photo gallery, promotional gallery, and Japanese movie program (with stills from Gamera vs. Barguon’s co-feature, Daimajin) are also on the disc. Inside the case is a nicely detail booklet, along with thoughts from Kojiro Hongo, translated from a 2001 Gamera photo book.