In the summer of 2003, this writer reviewed the Alpha DVD release of a worn 16mm print of WAR OF THE MONSTERS (the AIP-TV release of GAMERA VS. BARUGON). At that time, it seemed highly unlikely that genre fans would ever get pristine transfers of the classic Gamera series much less any other Japanese monster movies (Sony had not yet released their Godzilla DVDs nor did Media Blasters or Classic Media release their classic Godzilla and other Toho monster films) mostly because of tough negotiations with the Japanese film companies. Well all that has now changed as of 2010 as our friends at Shout! Factory in conjunction with Kadakawa Pictures (Gamera’s copyright holders) have joined forces to officially release the classic Gamera series (1965-1980) on North American Region 1 DVD. The first release was a gorgeous transfer from a high definition source of GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER (1965) and now, the 1966 sequel GAMERA VS. BARUGON follows in an even more stunning presentation which would look terrific on any monster movie fan’s DVD shelf.
Six months after “the Z Plan” in which Gamera was lured into a rocket which was sealed and shot to Mars, a meteorite crashes into the rocket thus liberating Gamera from his prison. His first act of revenge against mankind is the destruction of Kurobe Dam in Northern Japan. After disappearing to the Equator, Gamera takes a back seat to the main plot which shifts to a group of men who fly to a primitive island near New Guinea. It seems that Ichiro Hirata (Akira Natsuki) hid an opal in a cave at the close of World War II. Twenty years later, he sends his brother Keisuke Hirata (Kojiro Hongo) and two other men, Onodera (Koji Fujiyama) and Kawajiri (Yuzo Hiyakawa), back to the island to find it. Well…find it they do, but it turns out not to be an opal, but an egg of a baby dinosaur which when accidentally exposed to a radiation lamp grows to enormous size.
The monster is christened Barugon (no relation to Toho’s Baragon from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS) and soon attacks Osaka. Among its many formidable powers is the ability to freeze everything with its enormous tongue as well as disintegrate steel and metal objects with its heat-ray rainbow, emitting from the monster’s back. Ultimately, Gamera is attracted to the heat and radiation emitted from Barugon and rushes across the skies to Osaka to battle the new monster. Although Gamera appears to be getting the upper hand, Barugon soon freezes Gamera, seemingly to death. Barugon continues his rampage throughout the Japanese countryside as all man-made weapons seem powerless against him. However, it turns out that Gamera was only frozen and not dead. Soon the ice melts and the titanic turtle challenges Barugon to a second and final duel in which Barugon is drowned in Lake Biwa.
GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER was released in Japan in November 1965 and was a huge success. It was really the only Japanese monster movie from a rival studio (Daiei Motion Pictures) to successfully challenge Toho Company Ltd. and their stable of monsters (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, et al) at the box office. It seemed only natural that a sequel would be produced and as a result of the success of GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER, GAMERA VS. BARUGON was given a larger budget with the addition of color and bigger production values. Since this was considered an “A” list movie, Shigeo Tanaka was given the director’s duties replacing Noriaki Yuasa from the first film. However, Mr. Yuasa was on this film in the special effects capacity. In addition, popular young actor Kojiro Hongo makes his first leading man appearance in a Gamera film. He would also headline GAMERA VS. GAOS in 1967 and GAMERA VS. VIRAS in 1968 as well as THE RETURN OF GIANT MAJIN in 1966. Although according to his essay included in the DVD’s 11-page booklet, Mr. Hongo was less than enthusiastic about appearing in any type of giant monster film. GAMERA VS. BARUGON was released on April 17, 1966 in a double bill with Daiei’s cult classic, DAIMAJIN (U.S. title: MAJIN-MONSTER OF TERROR).
As far as GAMERA VS. BARUGON’s American release is concerned, this film marks Gamera’s first association with American International Television (AIP-TV). AIP-TV was American International Pictures’ television subsidiary which would often buy and redub many foreign action-adventure/science fiction/horror films and release them directly to television thus bypassing any theatrical exhibition. These include such genre fan favorites as the K. Gordon Murray Mexican horror films of the 1950s and early 1960s as well as many “sword and sandal” epics from Italy and the infamous homegrown Larry Buchanan television remakes of 1950s AIP horror and science fiction films. AIP-TV eventually released a total of six Gamera movies to American television beginning in 1967 with the syndicated broadcast of WAR OF THE MONSTERS (AIP-TV’s American title of GAMERA VS. BARUGON). The American version was cut by 13 minutes (from the 101 minutes of the Japanese theatrical version). The AIP-TV versions are the ones most remembered by genre fans of this reviewer’s age group (41 years-old) as a result of frequent showings of these films on WABC-TV’s The 4:30 MOVIE, WPIX’s CHILLER THEATER and SCIENCE FICTION THEATER in New York City.
There is a third version of GAMERA VS. BARUGON released by Sandy Frank Productions in the 1980s. This version originally played on the COMMANDER USA cable television show in the 1980s and later appeared as a MST3K spoof. The Sandy Frank version is an uncut 101 minute print, but instead of the AIP-TV dub. Contrary to popular belief, Sandy Frank’s company did not re-dub this film in the 1980s, but used the existing "international" dub from Daiei, done in Hong Kong in 1966. In fact, the same dubbed voices can be heard in Toho’s DOGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER (which AIP-TV released in the United States) as well as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (also an AIP-TV release) and several “international” versions of such Toho classics as ATRAGON, SPACE AMOEBA, and GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (the international dub of GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER).
As with GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER, the good people at Shout! Factory must be congratulated for such an excellent DVD presentation, giving this film the dignity and respect it deserves. The 2.35:1 anamorphic color image is impeccably clean and transferred from an all new high definition master created by vault elements. Any genre fan who has suffered through the numerous public domain transfers of horribly grainy and faded 16mm prints of this film will be totally amazed by the epic scope of this film as it has never been seen in such a beautiful image in the United States before. The subtitles are sharp and very clear to read. The audio is in Japanese language only while the other audio track is an excellent and very informative commentary by August Ragone author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters this time joined by fellow Japanese monster film expert Jason Varney. These two gentlemen do an amazing job providing informative and comprehensive details on every aspect of this film from exhaustive info on the cast and crew to discussing the original concept of what would eventually become the monster Barugon. This reviewer hopes they will collaborate again on the future Gamera DVDs that Shout! Factory plans to release.
Other special features include the aforementioned collectable 11-page booklet, an anatomy diagram of Gamera (as well as Barugon), a photo gallery and a publicity gallery. The only negative thing about this release is once again the lack of an English language audio track. This reviewer knows some fans will be disappointed at this, but do not let that stop you from purchasing this DVD. This disc looks amazing in every other respect and American audiences are getting to see (and hear) the film the way the Japanese filmmakers intended it to be seen.
With two more double feature discs, GAMERA VS. GYAOS/GAMERA VS. VIRAS and GAMERA VS. GUIRON/GAMERA VS. JIGER, both slated for a September 21, 2010 street date from Shout! Factory, you can expect all of them to be reviewed right here at DVD Drive In. (Joe Cascio)
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