STUDIO: Shout! Factory
MSRP: $15.99
RUNNING TIME: 86 Mins & 81 Mins Approx.
  • English Dubs
  • Publicity Galleries

The Pitch

Someone takes a shot at filming your childhood monster playtime with a (modest) budget. Twice.

The Humans

Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Writer: Fumi Takahashi
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Kichijiro Ueda, and Reiko Kasahara

Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Writer: Fumi Takahashi
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Mari Atsumi, and Junko Yashiro


The Nutshell

Gamera is an enormous monster with a heart of gold. He battles less wholesome monsters for the right to be Japan’s most feared biped.

The Lowdown

Nobody does monster movies quite like the Japanese. Hollywood Creature Features, for all their trappings, often fail to capture the bonkers fun of a proper monster mash-up. They spend too much time dealing with human interest stories (Godzilla, Cloverfield) and not enough time with their titular titans. Sticking two horror icons in a movie together and watching them hack each other to bits is fine on paper, but it isn’t enough either. There is, however, something great about two beasts’ names in a title, a Vs. in between, and a whole lot of scared Asians. The good people at Shout! Factory and Kadakowa Pictures understand this, as proven by this Double Feature Presentation.

“How’s my breathing? Call 1-800 U-FRY!”

Meet Gamera (pronounced “Ga-MARE-ah.”) He’s a gigantic fire-breathing monster believed to have evolved from the lost city of Atlantis. Way evolved. Like, 197 feet tall and 80 metric tons evolved. He flies, he breaths fire, he doesn’t know when to walk away from a fight: Gamera’s an 8,000 year old tough-guy with a thirst for justice. Petrol, lava, and radioactive materials are three of his major food groups. Of course, his outer shell is invulnerable.

First up on this double-feature is Gamera Vs. Gyaos. A series of volcanic eruptions attracts our hero’s attention (Gamera gotta eat) prompting an investigation into what makes the big guy tick. Meanwhile, a group of farmers quarrel over whether to sell their land to a construction company keen on building a new motorway. However, both villagers and road-workers find a bigger problem than pricing disputes in the form of Gyaos (pronounced “GAH-OOSE!”) a large, pointy-faced bat creature with a foul temper and a mouth that fires lasers. He resides in the middle of the proposed expressway. All the hubbub awakened him… and he’s none too happy about it.

“Arrowhead insists you tell him of any food stuck on his teeth. He has a date tonight with Mecha No-Neck’s Sister.”

These films promise epic contests between two ancient beasts and that’s exactly what we’re treated to. Director Noriaki Yuasa balances the human/monster interest ratio nicely on both occasions, giving us round after round of monster smack-down, but also offering a real sense of Gamera’s importance to the people of Japan and, indeed, the World; think Doctor Manhattan, but less mopey blue superman and more… heroic turtle. Key to the human interest in Gamera Vs. Gyaos is young Eichi (Naoyuki Abe) the village leader’s grandson. Eichi is Gamera’s biggest fan and a keen observer of ancient monsters in general. He has an amusingly better grasp of the national crisis than any military figures or diplomats, but his “wise beyond his years” routine does become annoying after a while. Eichi basically shouts “GO, GAMERA! KICK HIS ASS!” every time Gyaos starts getting fresh and gets to ride on a flying Gamera’s back, though, so the boy’s pros definitely outweigh his cons.

“Doctor, your flying rat/hamster hybrid would make a fine pet I’m sure… but this is a briefing and hardly the time or place.”

Gamera Vs. Viras takes everything that worked about its predecessor and expands on it. That means more monster battles, more oddball family humour (with swearing children!) and massive collateral damage. After destroying other Earth creatures, it was only natural Gamera’s next foe would come from the stars. Enter Space Monster Viras (pronounced, um, “Viras”) leader of the Virases, a race of body-snatching octopus/elephants who like the look of Earth, but not the idea of sharing it with us. They send a spaceship here, but Gamera takes it out. Unlike Gyaos, Viras is a superior tactician so he decides to use his brainwashing prowess to control Gamera in the hope of taking out mankind’s cuddly bodyguard.

Susie was right. She wasn’t like other girls.

Instead of one Eichi, Gamera Vs. Viras gives us two; Masao (Toru Takatsuka) and Jim (Carl Craig), two prankster boy scouts with impressive mechanical skills. They’re a vast improvement on the harmless but flat Eichi, and a clear template for the likes of Shia LaBeouf’s Sam in the Transformers series. Mercifully, they get more to do than cheer Gamera on and highlight military stupidity. A long sequence early on establishing the boys’ mischievous nature and technical wizardry is paid off nicely when they’re taken hostage on a very colourful “telepathic” alien spaceship. If your childhood was spent battling scary creatures and uncovering strange locations inspired by the likes of Gremlins, The Goonies, and Explorers, you’ll get a kick out the boys’ antics. Although the sequence is marred by some dodgy plotting, the charmingly “period” alien ship design means it’s not a total bust.

“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”

By the half-way mark, Gamera Vs. Gyaos starts to feel like Extreme Animal Planet’s Wrestlemania. This wouldn’t be a problem, were the range and scale of fights not so modest. Even accounting for budgetary limitations, it would’ve been nice to see more varied tactics from Gyaos than LASER LASER, FLAP WINGS, LASER LASER, SQUAWK, FLY AWAY. He’s so predictable I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s playing FIFA online right now under the name “GoOnErZ_4_Eva_82.” Gamera Vs. Viras opens strongly; the Virases’ (Virasian? Virish?) threat to Earth is established quickly with a memorable space battle.

Unfortunately, this only makes the regurgitation of footage from previous films around the twenty minute mark all the more jarring. A decent chunk of the movie’s 81 minute running time is devoted to this cheeky “recap” of footage from its predecessors. It’s a blatant excuse to fill a light story with “background exposition.” In a sense, it’s good that ten minutes of new, garbage material weren’t jammed in there just for the sake of it, but this is no quick Army of Darkness style catch-up. It’s a distractingly lazy move with a tenuous narrative purpose that damages the momentum built up early on.

This is what I like to think the Japanese monster equivalent of a horse’s head in the bed is.

There’s no getting around the amount of unintentional humour on show here. These films have their share of crow’s feet, make no mistake; butter looks more menacing than Gyaos’ “laser” breath, Gamera’s basically a massive tortoise, when he isn’t spinning around in the sky, and there isn’t a three-dimensional character or plot nuance in sight. Performances range from forgettable (that one guy with the, um, I think he was a guy…) to dangerously comical (the Jay and Silent Bob style road worker double act.) Only Kojiro Hongo makes the most of his basic roles and achieves any kind of depth. His Foreman Tsutsumi is an essential anchor amidst the Gyaos-inflicted craziness unfolding around him. It’s no coincidence he was brought back for basically the same purpose as the Scoutmaster in Viras.

In Japan, half-time is more exciting than the match itself.

The villagers’ arc is an exercise in convenient plotting, but that shouldn’t bother anyone who makes it past the first five minutes (I sincerely doubt anyone has ever watched Gamera Vs. Gyaos to learn what became of the proposed expressway.) Viras‘s mind-control aspect is fudged by a flimsy script. This isn’t the main point of films like these at all, though. I wasn’t expecting Memento, nor were they conceived to be. Frankly, the amount of competent story-telling on show in both films far exceeds what I’d hoped for. Had there been any more, I’d have felt positively pampered.

The amount of visible wires and dodgy dialog alone should sink these movies, but, like their buggly-eyed hero, they’re almost impossible not to root for. Against considerable odds, two creaky B-Movies the wrong side of 40 still have the power to entertain as more than punchlines. Any films with lines like “Too bad that Gamera isn’t here. I guess he’s gone to cure his hand…where he lives at the bottom of the ocean” that can say that are doing pretty well.

Puma: king of intergalactic footwear.

The Package

The amount of special features available is quite disappointing. Both films contain their original Japanese audio with English subtitles. Gyaos has 2 English language dubs, Viras has 1. Despite a valiant effort from some of the English voice actors, the quality of the dubs leaves a lot to be desired. Lip-synching issues mean that long, comical pauses often occur at unusual moments, making the actors sound tired and a little hungover. Both films also feature Publicity Galleries filled with stills, concept art, and gorgeous painted posters, all of which would make fine wallpaper.

The films look and sound better than they have any right to, thanks to newly restored anamorphic widescreen transfers. It’s testament to their excellent design that an alien spaceship which looks like a robotic bee and obvious model cities can scrub up so well. Gamera’s theme-song (no, that wasn’t a typo) booms over Viras’s title sequence. It’s corny, hilarious, and completely awesome. Sample lyrics:

-Gamera! Gamera!
-You are so strong, Gamera!
-Earth, water, fire, or gold!
-All you monsters from Mars, Venus, or any other planet/
-Bring it on!
-Fight! Fly! Go! Go! Go!

Some people can’t even nip out for a pint of milk without making a scene.

The disc itself comes in a very handsome package. Its front cover is a lovely little nod to old-fashioned, pulpy marquees, and the inside of the case features a wonderful cross-section of Gamera from Asahi Sonarama’s An Anatomical Guide to Monsters; it’ll make you wish you had a uranium storage sac in your chest, too.

6.5 out of 10