I wrote this article specifically for Black Gate as a summary of the Gamera Blu-rays, so it repeats most of what my regular readers have already experienced over the past two week. (I think I have regular readers.)
Mixed up in there was a flying turtle who was the friend to all children, Gamera. This airborne Chelonia somehow managed to sustain a seven-film franchise during the Golden Age (plus a strange one-off in 1980), making it the most successful monster after Godzilla, and the only giant monster from a studio other than Toho to make a large impression on audiences outside its home country.
Gamera is Godzilla’s poor stepchild/competitor, but the spinning turtle has leaped into the Blu-ray ring right along with the recent influx of Godzilla films as part of the release of the U.S. Godzilla. Reaching North American shelves a month before Godzilla stormed onto screens, all eight of the Gamera films from 1965–80 are available courtesy of Mill Creek on two separate releases, presented in their original Japanese language soundtracks. Now people with little acquaintance with Gamera outside of memories of watching the AIP television versions in the late ‘70s and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing episodes can witness all the full weirdness of this uniquely strange/wonderful/awful region of kaiju cinema.
This release will test many adults’ threshold for Japanese giant monster films. You’ll either devour the oddness and tolerate some of the poorer (actually, horrendous) installments, or you’ll check out before Gamera starts doing gymnastics routines while a children’s chorus sings the monster’s praises. Undiluted Gamera is simply not for everyone, although I can unreservedly recommend the five Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, which are available as a box set from Shout! Factory and should come as a packaged purchase with the Mill Creek Blu-rays. (The Mill Creek discs are inexpensive, so you really ought to shell out for the MST3K set as well.)
To provide some balance to all the Godzilla material I’ve written, and since I can never get enough of giant monsters, I spent two weeks running straight through the classic Gamera films on their Blu-ray discs—the first time I’ve watched the films in release order. I’ve returned with some of my sanity intact and a few observations on the individual films (I’ve written longer reviews of each elsewhere).
However, Gamera does require a bit of background first….
Gamera: A Brief History Full of Turtle Meat
Gamera was born in 1965 when the giant monster boom in Japan was approaching its height. Although Toho Studios had dominated the genre since its inception in 1954 with Godzilla, the other three major studios threw out their own entries. Daiei Film Co. Ltd. took the genre the most seriously. They not only created the period-set Daimajin trilogy (filmed consecutively in 1965 and released in 1966), but they made a low budget imitation of the original Godzilla featuring a mega-turtle.