There is some sensibility left in Gamera vs. Gyaos. This is the transition film for the original series, after a kid-friendly first-entry and adult-oriented second, Gyaos splits the audience base right down the middle.
No child is going to care for the story of a small village looking to capitalize on a construction company willing to buy their land. Sure, the human story is peppered with comedic characters, but the tale of overwhelming greed in the face of adversity is not going to resonate with younger children. Neither will the surprisingly glorified violence, rather graphic even if the blood is bright pink. Gamera rips Gyoas’ toes clean off, forcing the monster to regrow the lost part in what seems like an awfully painful sequence.
However, the younger set will appreciate the toned down Gamera suit, the larger eyes and softer face certainly friendlier, and nicely in contrast with the angular face of his new opponent. Gyaos himself continues the string of goofy monsters from this series, this time a reptile/bird hybrid that shoots supersonic lasers from his mouth which splits things clear in half, spreads a fire-dousing power from his belly, and flies like a jet without flapping his wings. It’s a stiff, immobile suit, although explained away in part by the inevitable scientist character who states his two throats prevent Gyaos from moving his head.
Future entries would have their budget diluted, Gamera vs. Gyaos filled with some of the finest large scale props, detailed miniatures, and matte paintings of the series. While creating a bit of a contrast between the rough monster suits, the convincing cityscapes and forests are pleasing to the eyes. Gamera vs. Gyaos is a colorful, wonderfully Japanese effort in this genre (popular enough to be sort-of remade for Gamera’s ’90s comeback), one of the final highlights in what will be a downhill swing from here, Gamera vs. Jiger one of the brief blasts back to form.
Gamera vs Viras is the beginning of the end for this series, one of the most shameless films to utilize stock footage… ever. Sure, the Godzilla series would recycle footage en masse, but Viras is bold enough to utilize scenes from the original film which was done in black and white. Apparently, since this is pulled from Gamera’s “memory” by the aliens attacking Earth, the giant terrapin only remembers certain things in color and human characters he never came in contact with.
The new action, save for some small sequences early, don’t come until the final 10-minutes. Viras remains human-sized for much of the film, caged inside a spaceship that truly does look like some ping pong balls glued together (one of the times where the stereotype of Japanese giant monster movies proves true). As a final attempt to take over the planet, Viras grows and conducts one of the goofiest monster battles ever, only topped by the incoming sequels. This brawl never destroys any structures, despite some minor miniatures around the set, although it does break every physics law imaginable, and ends so anti-climatically as to be laughable.
One time American child actor Carl Craig would never act again, but gained a small following via the Japanese monster community for his role here, and he used to have a website dedicated to his sole credit. Unfortunately, that’s gone, and all we’re left with is this film, a full 100% shift into the realm of kiddie matinee fare, pretty dull, and utterly hilarious.
Despite cramming two films on one disc, it doesn’t seem to harm either of these encodes. Grain is well resolved and controlled well. A bit of banding can be visible on certain skylines in Gyaos, a brief issue that is never seen again. For all of the cheap, public domain efforts of Gyaos, this Shout Factory presentation does a remarkable job of restoring an adequate contrast, whites under control and not bleaching fine detail. The print is in fantastic shape, even a hair better than the Region 2 DVD. Black levels still languish a bit, certainly flatter than the expectation. Still, the level of detail, including some light facial texture and the coarse look of the Gyaos suit, are wonderful in close. A loss of depth is not the end of the world.
Viras fares a little better by design, taking place in brighter environments, leading to richer colors. The first few scenes at the Boy Scout camp are loaded with some bright reds and blues, and primaries remain strong throughout. Like Gyaos, there is some banding on display, the walls of the alien spaceship with their flickering lights consistently revealing the compression problem.
Detail is a hair better too, series director Noriaki Yuasa shooting the film a little tighter. Close-ups reveal an exceptional level of facial detail, and the monster suits are exquisite as well. Grain is well resolved again, and the black levels are a hair deeper here too. Surprisingly, the stock footage looks great, and in fact, despite the misguided purple tint to the original film’s footage, scenes lifted from the first Gamera hold a little more depth here than they did on the stand-alone release. Go figure.
Three audio tracks are afforded to Gyaos, the original Japanese track (including subtitles with a few typos), and two separate English dubs. Dialogue in the original language is fine, carrying a slight level of precision and clarity. The dubs are of course overdone and unnaturally loud. The score in this 2.0 mono mix strains itself on the high end, coming through distorted and flat when it hits those high notes. Any complaints about the music playing second to the sound effects and action is purely by design, a decision that ran through every film in the series.
Viras has a chipper little score, accentuating the lighthearted nature of the film, with nary a tense piece of music to be found. It never reaches many high notes, so by design it sounds a bit crisper than the score for Gyaos. We’ll call it the winner by default. A theme song for Gamera sits over the opening credits, the lyrics a bit tinny and flat, although adequate. Dialogue is fine, the kids high-pitched voices a bit crisper than expected, although still aged by the source. Only one English dub is available for this film. Note the subtitles weirdly contain expletives spoken by the kids which is almost surely inaccurate, and at one moment a time stamp pops up on screen.
Extras for each film only include a promotional gallery, although in both cases some behind-the-scenes stills are tossed in. There are no commentaries or other bonuses like there were with Shout Factory’s previous Gamera releases. — Matt P.