Blu Notes: Gamera vs. Barugon

This article deals exclusively with the 2009 Kadokawa Blu-ray release of Gamera vs. Barugon (大怪獣決闘 ガメラ対バルゴン / Daikaiju Ketto: Gamera tai Barugon). For coverage of the film itself, and the domestic Shout! Factory DVD, click here. Gamera vs. Barugon is available both as a standalone and in a four-film Show Gamera boxed set from Amazon.co.jp.

Specifications:
released:
7/24/2009
disc: All Region / single layer BD25
video: 1080i / 2.29:1 / color
Mpeg-4 AVC / 27.4 Mbps
audio: 16-bit LPCM 2.0 mono Japanese
subtitles: none
supplements: announcementtheatrical trailer

Another day, another classic Daiei effects fantasy on Blu-ray from Kadokawa Entertainment. Released in Japan in August of 2009 (the film is as yet unavailable on Blu-ray outside its home territory) Gamera vs. Barugon is another high-price Blu-ray that will have limited appeal elsewhere. Audio is Japanese only, no subtitles are included, and supplements are limited to an original theatrical trailer and a “special announcement” trailer both Barugon and its original co-feature Daimajin. With an asking price of ¥4,935 (roughly $64.00 USD) this is going to be a tough sell for most, but one indisputable fact remains – for those looking to own Gamera vs. Barugon on Blu-ray this disc is currently the only option.

Like Giant Monster Gamera this Blu-ray is sourced from the same HD master previously used for both the Japanese 40th anniversary Gamera Z-Plan DVD boxed set (issued in 2006) and Shout! Factory’s more recent DVD, and the improvements across formats, while notable, remain pretty modest. Before my thoughts, a brief comparison:

DVD leftBlu-ray right. DVD shots were captured as lossless .png in VLC from the Shout! Factory DVD, scaled to 1920×1080 for ease of comparison and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% in Gimp. Click to view full size.

 
 
 
 
 

Kadokawa’s slightly windowboxed 1080i Blu-ray presentation improves in the expected areas, with detail, contrast, and color each tightening up appreciably in most areas, with the more modest effects photography seeing the least improvement. Still, this is an old HD master (six years at the youngest, and possibly older) and it looks it. The film texture is rendered in a noisy fashion that’s really anything but film – I was actually reminded of the look of some of the laserdiscs I used to own, though the effect is much more subtle here by virtue of the resolution. Detail is reasonably crisp, but a level of artificial sharpening has been applied and some edges display with modest aliasing artifacts (see the rim of Onodera’s glasses in the final shots above). I didn’t find any of the issues here overly distracting in motion, but anyone anticipating anything beyond a reasonable home presentation from this Blu-ray will be sorely disappointed. In the end it’s just the latest link in the chain of improvement for a series that I’ve owned in practically every format imaginable, with plenty of room left for improvement.

Technical specs are less robust than on the other Kadokawa Gamera Blu-rays by virtue of the length of the film (like the rest this is only a single layer BD25), but still substantial enough to support the modest transfer. Gamera vs. Barugon receives an Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a healthy average bitrate of 27.4 Mbps, and compression artifacts are never an issue. The Japanese audio is presented in 16-bit LPCM 2.0 monophonic, and despite some flatness inherent to the original mix it sounds quite good. As previously stated there are no subtitles (English, Japanese, or otherwise) and the only supplements are an original theatrical trailer and a “special announcement” trailer for Gamera vs. Barugon and its original co-feature Daimajin. Each is presented in 1080i HD from native HD transfers. The disc appears to be all-region compatible, and played just fine both in my PS3 (Region A) and in my Region B secondary deck.

This is another disc without much of an audience beyond the more ardent Gamera devotees out there, and whether or not it will be worth it to you depends entirely on your expectations and how well you can justify the exorbitant expense. I had the disposable income available and wanted Gamera in HD, so it works for me. Your mileage will definitely vary.

Blu-ray shots were captured as full resolution .png in VLC with yadif taking care of the interlacing, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool. Click to enlarge.

Gamera vs. Barugon is available on standalone Blu-ray from Kadokawa as well as in Showa Gamera Blu-ray Box I – pictured left – which includes Giant Monster Gamera (1965), Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967), and Gamera vs. Space Monster Viras (1968). Showa Gamera Blu-ray Box II is also available, and includes Gamera vs. Great Evil Beast Guiron (1969), Gamera vs. Great Demon Beast Jiger (1970), Gamera vs. Deep Sea Monster Zigra (1971), and Space Monster Gamera (1980).

Return of Daimajin (Daimajin Ikaru)

For our review of Daimajin on Blu-ray, click here. The Daimajin Triple Feature Blu-ray is available now from Amazon.com.

When Daimajin premiered in April of 1966 it did so to big returns, earning ¥100 million or more in its initial distribution. Producer Daiei Co. was naturally anxious to take advantage of their successful property, but the speed and efficacy with which they did so is mind-bending by the standards of modern productions. Daimajin Ikaru (大魔神怒る, previously released to domestic video as Wrath of Daimajin and here known as Return of Daimajin) debuted on a double feature with Kazuo Ikehiro’s Zatoichi Umi o Wataru (Zatoichi Across the Sea) on August 14th, 1966 – just shy of four months from the premiere of its predecessor.

Serving once more as screenwriter is Tetsuro Yoshida (who would script all three of the Daimajin films), and those familiar with the first film will find themselves in familiar territory so far as story is concerned. The kind, prosperous communities of Chigusa and Nagoshi find themselves under the envious eye of the greedy warlord Danjo, who promptly conquers each for himself. Danjo takes to his newfound affluence in the usual way, with plenty of geisha girls and alcohol, but violent encounters between his forces and the surviving royalty of Chigusa and Nagoshi prove a constant distraction. The remaining royalty are eventually captured of course, and swiftly primed for public execution. Unfortunately for Danjo local superstitions he was so quick to discredit prove to be more fact than fantasy, and dreadful divine vengeance is visited upon him in the form of one very angry giant Majin.

Though the tropes may be familiar Daimajin Ikaru benefits handily from a more vigorous approach to the material, courtesy of ace director Kenji Misumi – master of all things chanbara and one of the biggest names among Daiei’s creative staff at the time. Where Daimajin was a more sullen venture, low on action and high on stiff period dramatics, Misumi’s entry in the series is a pure action picture, with plenty of intrigue, chases and swordplay to keep viewers hooked until the fantasy comes to the fore. Misumi lends a potent vitality to the material and just plain keeps things moving. Even the requisite drama has a spring in its step, and is bolstered by Misumi’s wholesale embrace of the stereotypes of the genre. The good guys here are of such saccharine purity that it can make one’s teeth ache, and the villains are delightfully pulp – Danjo can’t so much as spit without erupting into maniacal guffaws over how clever he is. It’s tremendous stuff, and played with an unflinching earnestness that prevents it from ever falling into glib parody.

More than just an accomplished genre craftsman Misumi was also Daiei’s preeminent peddler of DeMille-ian excess, having previously thrilled audiences with 1961′s Shaka - a massive 70mm undertaking and Japan’s most direct answer to the big-name religious epics of the ’50s. That film climaxed with the epic destruction of a temple by an earthquake, a sequence that reminds heavily of the showstopping finale of DeMille’s 1949 smash Samson and Delilah, but the similarities there pale in comparison to the transparent reinterpretation of DeMille spectacle that awaits in Daimajin Ikaru. The influence of Paramount’s blockbuster The Ten Commandments on the Daimajin films, as noted in my first article, comes full circle here in one of the Japanese film industry’s most dramatic (if derivative) special effects accomplishments.

In Daimajin Ikaru the Majin (referred to simply as kami – god – in this film) resides on a holy island on a placid lake between the kingdoms of Nagoshi and Chigusa, a location that becomes a rally point for the kingdoms’ surviving royalty, and thus a target of the evil Danjo’s violent advances. As in the first film the Majin’s statue becomes a target in its own right, though Danjo’s forces do a more complete job in desecrating it – whereas the first Majin survived intact, with only a chisel embedded in its forehead to show for its troubles, the statue in this case is obliterated outright with explosives. Its destruction is only temporary of course, and when its patience is finally at its end the Majin rises, whole once more, from the depths of the lake. What follows is awesome in the original sense of the word. The island splits in twain and crumbles into the lakebed as the waters part, creating a miraculous path for the wrathful god to tread. The ode to The Ten Commandments is obvious, making the Majin’s passage through the parted “sea” as much pop art as effects extravaganza. Effects director Yoshiyuki Kuroda (assistant SFX director at the time of Shaka) and series photographer Fuji(r)o Morita pull off the concept, perhaps the most ambitious of the entire series, with nary a hitch, setting the bar still higher for what should be expected of contemporary Japanese special effects.

The rest of the giant Majin’s righteous rampage, here limited strictly to the baddies (a contrast to the violent ambivalence of Daimajin), is handled with the same flair, with Kuroda and company taking heed of their missteps in the production of the first film (particularly in the implementation of the full-scale Majin mock-up) and crafting a near seamless sequence in the process. Series composer Akira Ifukube also improves upon his efforts for the first film, providing a superior score that lends a palpable weight and added purposefulness to the Majin’s advance. Ifukube was short of resources more often than not in his film work, leaving some of his scores sounding quite ragged for want not of ability or effort, but of time. While Daimajin is a quintessential example of just that Daimajin Ikaru proves a lovely exception, and obviously benefits from whatever additional resources were thrown Ifukube’s way. The themes here are undeniably heavy, dominated by low brass and even lower woodwinds, but balanced by an almost indefinable elegance, and taken in context with the work of Misumi, Kuroda, Morita et al the effect is appropriately divine.

Even more so than with the first film, Mill Creek’s new Blu-ray presentation of Daimajin Ikaru puts past editions to shame. The initial releases on VHS and DVD from ADVision were sourced from laserdisc masters that were already out of date by the time they were licensed, but at least presented the film in its original ‘Scope ratio. The company’s second run of DVDs (those in the white cases for those seeking to avoid) needlessly complicated things for Daimajin Ikaru on that front in presenting it panned-and-scanned at a compromised ratio of just 1.78:1. With the advent of this new Blu-ray edition that past transgression can be blessedly forgotten.

Mill Creek present Daimajin Ikaru progressive at its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 courtesy of a fine 1080p master from Kadokawa. Like Daimajin, this is not a perfect filmic presentation, but its improvements over the SD editions of the past are such that I can live happily with its minor limitations. The worst that can be said of the transfer here is that it can look a touch processed, and by virtue of that a shade more video-like than some my prefer, but detail and texture still prevail and in motion it can look quite striking. Colors and contrast are each at natural levels, and the dust-soaked conclusion is thankfully free of the unnatural saturation of the last DVD. Detail isn’t so crisp as it perhaps should be, but makes strong advances over SD just the same, and the various composite work retains the thicker, grittier quality inherent to its production. This made for a fine home presentation for me – I dig it!

 

Technical specifications are comparable to those for the first film (which shares the same dual layer BD50). The 79-minute show receives a nice Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a healthy average bitrate of 28.1 Mbps, and artifacts are kept sufficiently at bay. The primary audio, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese, is again a touch flat – a product of its original recording – but sounds quite good even without an excess of range. Ifukube’s cues certainly sound better here than they have in the past, making it easier to appreciate their instrumentation, and this may be worth the upgrade alone. The Titra-produced English dub that graced the AIP television version of the film (Return of the Giant Majin) is included, also in DTS-HD MA 2.0, but sounds quite compressed in its range compared to the Japanese – I suspect fans, forced to rely previously on bootleg tapes or Retromedia’s unimpressive double bill DVD, will be happy that it’s here at all.  Well translated optional English subtitles accompany the Japanese version, and the film is flanked by the original theatrical trailer (HD) and another substantial interview / effects discussion with cinematographer Fuji(r)o Morita (HD), both of which can be found on disc 2 of the set. Though marked for Region A only I suspect these discs to be all-region compatible – each of them booted up just fine in my secondary Region B deck.

There’s really not much else to say – this is another strong showing for Mill Creek, and another must-own for Blu-ray capable kaiju fans. The film itself makes a strong argument for being the best of the series, a fine actioner with a strong fantasy bent and an effects production that’s second to none for its time. Recommendations don’t come any easier – see it!

Blu-ray screenshots were made using our usual method – taken as full resolution .png in Totem Movie Player and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool. Click to see full size.

Daimajin Ikaru is available now at Amazon.com

Daimajin

The 1960s were a time of flux for the Japanese film industry, with the postwar cinema boom finding itself at odds with both lavish import epics and that old Hollywood nemesis – television. Of the prosperous studios of the time it was Daiei who made the biggest gamble towards competing with the West abroad and the tube at home, going so far as to invest in and implement large-format film equipment as a means of differentiating themselves from their domestic competition. It was a bold move that elevated the expense of practically every picture Daiei produced, but one that failed to pay off. By the middle-60s a financial disaster was already brewing at Daiei and in 1971 the company collapsed outright. While the Daiei story doesn’t end there – the studio would see resurrection under Tokuma Shoten in 1974 and survive until 2003, when it was absorbed entirely under the Kadokawa banner – it was certainly the end of an era.

In this context Daiei’s Daimajin films, a series of three high profile special effects vehicles produced back-to-back in 1966, takes on renewed significance, not just as one of the more interesting diversions of the decade’s kaiju boom, but as one of the last gasps of the grandeur that had marked the studio’s postwar career. “Great Films are Daiei Films” the ads said in a pun on the company name, and for a time at least they spoke truth. The production of the first Daimajin (titled simply enough Daimajin [大魔神]) proved particularly ambitious, with Daiei’s Kyoto studio undertaking the project simultaneously with Daiei Tokyo’s production of the A-list Gamera sequel Daikaiju Ketto: Gamera tai Barugon (Monster Duel: Gamera vs. Barugon) – the two films would premiere as a much-publicized double bill on the April 17, 1966.

Penned by Tetsuro Yoshida, a regular contributor to Daiei’s jidaigeki fantasies and chanbara actioners, and directed by studio veteran Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Daimajin plays for the most part as a straight period drama, albeit with an important fantasy twist. The vile Samanosuke, a drifter taken in and made chamberlain by the kind Lord Hanabusa, rises up against his master and takes the feudal lands of Yamanaka Castle as his own. The elder Hanabusa and the majority of his confidants are murdered, but household samurai Kogenta escapes with the lord’s two young children – daughter Kozasa and son Tadafumi – and takes shelter with his aunt, a priestess of the local mountain god. With Samanosuke ever vigilant the priestess leads the usurped to the only safe haven around, the forbidden holy mountain of her god, where the surviving Hanabusa’s rest uneasily, praying for a day when they might reclaim their kingdom.

In the meanwhile Samanosuke consolidates his power, striking bargains with surrounding warlords and raising an army with which he hopes to conquer Edo. His citizens are forced into slave labor building a monstrous fortress and taxed to the point of starvation and homelessness. Gatherings are forbidden, and much to the priestess’ horror the local faith falls by the wayside. In ancient times it is said that the mountain god did battle with the evil spirit Arakatsuma, whom he defeated and imprisoned in a giant statue of his own likeness – a great stone warrior. With gatherings banned the rituals to appease the mountain god and keep Arakatsuma, the dreaded giant Majin, at bay go undone, and as the years pass the god grows very, very angry.

Things come to a head in the tenth year of Samanosuke’s reign, when Kogenta and young lord Tadafumi are captured in their attempt to infiltrate Castle Yamanaka and slated for crucifixion. As though that weren’t bad enough, Samonosuke also murders the mountain god’s priestess and orders the guardian statue – now known as a Hanabusa safe haven and a rallying point for local rebellion – destroyed. But there are consequences for inviting the wrath of a god. Just as any hope for peace in the territory seems abolished the angered deity takes action, loosing the devilish, unstoppable Arakatsuma against Samanosuke’s fortress…

There was a decidedly DeMille-ian influence upon Daiei’s upper echelon productions in the ’60s, courtesy of that director’s recent VistaVision smash The Ten Commandments, and nowhere (except Kenji Misumi’s monstrous 1961 production Shaka, Daiei’s most direct answer to Western epics and Japan’s first 70mm film) is that influence more obvious than in the Daimajin trilogy. Indeed, strip away its distinctly Japanese sensibilities and the first Daimajin feels a lot like a thematic retread of DeMille’s swan song, complete with peasant-oppressing iron-fisted overlord, ill-advised heresy, and a climactic third act loaded for bear with Old Testament-style divine intervention (and for anyone doubting the DeMille influence, just wait for Daimajin part two!). In terms of dollars the end result was much what Daiei had hoped – a whopping success home, even if the international impact left something to be desired. Stateside Daimajin went unseen theatrically, and was instead integrated into American International Pictures’ television syndication packages as Majin, Monster of Terror.

Inspiration for the giant Majin himself, identified here for the only time in the series as Arakatsuma, came from Julian Duvivier’s 1936 film Golem (another retelling of that oft-filmed folktale), memories of which Hisashi Okuda carried with him until he became production director for Daiei Kyoto. In stark contrast to his simplified portrayal in successive films the giant Majin here is quite morally ambiguous, unleashing his monstrous vengeance not just against Samanosuke, but the oppressed villagers as well. Even his one demonstrably heroic act, the saving of lord Tadafumi from crucifixion, has a malign undercurrent, giving the impression that the Majin would just as soon have killed him, too. It’s a poetic device, not any personal sense of “mission accomplished”, that eventually ends Majin’s rampage and sends him on his way. Moved by the tearful pleas of young Kozasa, whose prayers raised the devil in the first place, the Majin’s spirit speeds off in a ball of light, leaving its physical form to crumble back into the earth.

Though well produced in terms of its drama the human element here is pretty formulaic, and ultimately just a narrative means-to-an-end to draw audiences in to the real star of the show – its ace special effects production (advertising proudly proclaimed Daimajin as “Japan’s first full-scale special effects samurai spectacular!”). So important was the effects production deemed that director Yasuda is billed alongside special effects director Yoshiyuki Kuroda in the opening credits. Even today the effects for Daimajin are captivating, not only in their superior execution but in their considerable style as well. The Majin’s arrival is heralded by grim clouds and blood-red skies, and his reduced stature (around 20 feet) in comparison to the usual kaiju combines with a sense of vengeful purpose (and some tremendous large-scale model work) to lend his attack a potent immediacy. Contemporary critics took note, and the film’s standard-setting effects photography earned cinematographer Fujiro* Morita the Miura Prize from the J.S.C. in 1966.

*The supplemental subtitles for this release say “Fujio”, and I’ve no idea which is accurate. Online translators are unhelpful, though amusingly so, translating the name as “Shiro Moritani wealth”.

Daimajin has been available in America before, but never like this. Original television airings were predictably pan-and-scanned from the original ‘Scope ratio, and dubbed into English besides. ADV (now defunct) went a long way towards remedying both problems with VHS and later DVD releases of the film, sourced initially from the Japanese laserdisc masters and later from those prepared for remastered DVD editions. Though better, these releases were still imperfect, with unreliable translations and image quality that just doesn’t hold up to contemporary standards. Since the folding of ADV bargain-bin proprietor Mill Creek have taken up their stead, and contrary to what some might have expected they’ve done a hell of a job bringing Daimajin to Blu-ray.

Daimajin arrives in great form, sourced from the latest HD masters and progressive at the original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. Rather than just ordinary 35mm anamorphic ‘Scope Daimajin was photographed using the same large-format VistaVision equipment that had earlier been put to use for Daiei’s epic Shaka, and the resulting image is of terrific quality. Detail is very strong where the photography allows, as in the close-up that follows this paragraph, and the filmic quality of the original elements is blessedly retained courtesy of a fine, unobtrusive layer of unbastardized film grain. Unlike rival Toho’s recent HD restorations of their tokusatsu properties, which can look quite pale and over-bright (more on that in our upcoming review of Destroy All Monsters), Daimajin presents with contrast and color that are each at lovely, natural levels. I’m unsure of what degree of restorative work was undertaken here but I noted no damage beyond a few wayward specks and scratches and the usual grit associated with the film’s practical effects techniques – in motion this makes for a wonderful presentation.

Where Mill Creek have been found lacking in the technical department on earlier releases (like their single-layered double features from a couple of years back) they leave nothing to complain about here. Daimajin is paired with its sequel Daimajin Ikaru (The Giant Majin Grows Angry, under the title Return of Daimajin) on a dual layer BD50, and while the encode is only single layer (the same is true of the Japanese Blu-ray releases) the support is more than substantial enough. Daimajin receives an average video encode in Mpeg-4 AVC at an average bitrate of 20.6 Mbps, but artifacts are kept well at bay and the fine grain is well maintained throughout. Audio is provided in two flavors of DTS-HD MA 2.0, one being the original Japanese and the other being the same English dub that graced the Majin, Monster of Terror TV version. The original Japanese sounds precisely as it should, notably flat in comparison to modern mixes but significantly more robust than in past iterations – the lows of Akira Ifukube’s score (very similar to, if less bombastic than, his work on War of the Gargantuas the same year) have punch hitherto unheard. The big news, however, may be the quality of the English dub which, despite some additional flatness, sounds practically pristine. Optional English subtitles are included and, with the exception of some unintended humorous moments (“Gasp!”), are very well translated. Aside from its two co-features Daimajin Ikaru and Daimajin GyakushuDaimajin arrives on domestic Blu-ray accompanied by an interview / SFX discussion with cinematographer Fuji(r?)o Morita (28 minutes) and the original Japanese theatrical trailer, both in HD. The two-disc release (2x BD50) comes housed in standard side-lock Blu-ray case and fancy slipcover, and retails for $24.98.

I came into this Daimajin triple feature Blu-ray fully expecting to find the plethora of minor faults that have plagued many of Mill Creek’s past Blu-ray editions, and to have to defend those faults with a low price tag. Instead I find one of the best genre releases of the year hiding in plain sight, offering domestic fans the same kind of quality the Japanese are charged six times more for. This isn’t just a recommended release, it’s unskippable stuff, and the best deal to arrive on the Blu-ray shelf in ages. I literally cannot recommend it highly enough.

Daimajin is available now at Amazon.com

Daimajin is available now at Amazon.com

Daimajin Trilogy on Blu-ray from Mill Creek in September

Fans of giant monsters and jidaigeki alike should mark your calendars for September 18th, as that’s the date Mill Creek will unleash Daiei’s inimitable Daimajin trilogy on domestic Blu-ray. Those who want a primer on the films should check out our article here. Each and every of them is a long-time favorite of mine, and needless to say, I’m excited.

Quoting from Mill Creek:

In 1966, the Daiei Motion Picture Company – the studio behind Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON and the Gamera series – released a trilogy of films that combined elements of the popular daikaiju (giant monster) and jidaigeki (period drama) genres.  Set during Japan’s “Warring States” era, the Daimajin movies told the story of Majin, a giant statue of an angry god that would come to life in times of desperation to punish evildoers. But when Majin’s rage was unleashed, it could be directed at both the wicked and innocent, alike.

Acclaimed for their serious tone and spectacular special effects, DAIMAJIN, RETURN OF DAIMAJINand the rarely-seen DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN present a unique take on a monster who is both savior and devil.

CONTENTS:

1. DAIMAJIN 
2. RETURN OF DAIMAJIN
3. DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN

Bonus Features – All New English language track for DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN

Mill Creek’s Daimajin 2-disc Blu-ray collection streets September 18th with a retail price of $24.98, and is currently available for pre-order through Amazon.com.

The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly

a.k.a.: Tomei Ningen To Hae Otoko
Year:
1957  Runtime: 96′  Director: Mitsuo Murayama
Writer: Hajime Takaiwa   Cinematography: Hiroshi Murai   Music: Tokujiro Okubo
Cast: Yoshiro Kitahara, Ryuji Shinagawa, Junko Kanau, Ikuko Mori

A strange and increasingly violent series of burglaries and murders shakes Japan. The murder victims are usually found stabbed in the back, and killed in tightly controlled or completely locked places. Or on an airplane toilet. Additionally, nobody ever sees or hears any sign of the perpetrator or perpetrators. Why, you could think the killer is invisible! That’s at least what the lead investigator of the case, well-respected young cop Wakabayashi, says in a moment of weakness.

When the policeman utters this rather absurd theory while interviewing some scientists he is friendly with about the airplane toilet business one of them witnessed, they aren’t laughing about his flights of fancy. Ironically, the men are working on some scientific ray stuff whose by-product is invisibility, or, as they prefer it to be called, imperceptibility. They haven’t tested it on a human being yet, though, out of fear that it might be dangerous.

Apart from putting the idea of an invisible copper into his brain, this isn’t getting Wakabayashi anywhere right now. Fortunately, the continuing murder spree gives our hero and his team a lot to distract them. The last few victims have been pointing in the air and swatting at something during their last moments, and witnesses heard the buzzing of a fly. Why, you could think the killer can turn into a fly! Which is nearly, but not quite what is happening. In truth, the killer is using an experimental reagent made during the war to facilitate his escapes. This reagent, you see, can shrink down a man until he is not quite as small as a fly. As SCIENCE(!) teaches, all small creatures are able to float through the air while making the buzzing noise of a fly, so that’s the explanation for the noises the witnesses heard.

About half of the murders are connected by this reagent too, because the victims have all been part in the war crimes committed during its creation, though none of them have been punished for them. This part of the killing spree is vengeance for and by the only man who did get punished, and is now using a rather mad gentleman with an addiction to the reagent to commit the murders. The other half of the killings has something to do with the madman’s obsession with a nightclub singer on whom he likes to perv when he is shrunk down, but let’s not go there.

Obviously, this is the sort of case that can only be cracked if someone is willing to take the risk of becoming an invisible man.

  
  
  

Even though this plot description sounds as awesome as it is dumb, Daiei’s IM vs HF is not quite as awe-inspiring as I would have liked it to be. The film has two major problems it is only just able to conquer to my satisfaction. The first one is scriptwriter Hajime Takaiwa’s peculiar decision to frame much of the movie’s first two thirds as a slightly weird police procedural, with many scenes of earnest looking men doing earnest police business that are only from time to time broken up by the insanity that waits in the plot’s background. The second problem is also one belonging to the script. Takaiwa seems hell-bent to stuff Human Fly as full of elements of the police procedural, the slightly sleazy exploitationer and the mad science horror film as possible. This, however, leaves even the more patient viewer (like me) with a film full of ideas and plot-threads that are never really explored nor explained and in the end more often than not just stop with a hand-waving gesture when Takaiwa is getting bored of them.

Characterization-wise, there’s never a clear through-line for why people act like they do. Just to take some obvious examples, why does the film’s villain suddenly turn from a man out for vengeance and a bit of money into the sort of bad guy more fitting into an issue of The Spider? What does he need the invisibility ray for when he already can turn into a flying, buzzing little man? And, while I’m at it, why doesn’t he just steal it (he is the Human Fly, after all) instead of going for a semi-apocalyptic blackmail plan? And why does the elder scientist’s daughter decide that the invisible scientist already at work isn’t enough and turns into the invisible woman?

I sure could make up some reasons for the characters’ behaviour, and some of the film’s obvious plot holes, but I do think that’s the responsibility of the script, not the audience. Especially the film’s last third gives the impression of Takaiwa giving up and just making stuff up as it goes along without any thought for coherence or sense. Come to think of it, hero pulps like The Spider with their usually heated and sloppily constructed narratives seem like an excellent point of comparison to what Taikawa does here writing-wise.

Comparable to many of the hero pulps, the writing flaws that hinder IM vs HF from becoming the goodSF/crime/horror hybrid movie with a subtextual line about the violence committed by war-touched people in post-war Japan it could have been, are also making it enjoyably nutty and near impossible to dislike for viewers like me who can get excited about a film that’s just full of silly stuff for no good reason other than the clear awesomeness of all silly stuff. This is, after all a film that doesn’t want to realize that flies have wings for a reason, a film that also makes up some nonsense about face and hands of an invisible person getting visible quite fast again because of the rays of the sun while the rest of it doesn’t (no nudity for Japanese people who want to turn visible again, it seems), only to then forget that for the rest of its running time. It also presents turning back from an invisibility by means of SCIENCE(!) as very dangerous, until it’s time to wrap everything up, when it’s not only possible to turn visible again and live, but to seemingly go from one state to the other at will. It’s all very dumb, and reeks of lazy writing as much any modern blockbuster I’ve seen, but it sure is fun to watch what nonsense Takaiwa is going to come up with next.

The film’s other big plus point is Mitsuo Murayama’s (whom I know as one of the Japanese directors who’d go on to work a bit for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers) direction. For my taste, Murayama isn’t a very consistent stylist, but he is the kind of director always going for the most interesting angle from which to shoot the more boring police procedural scenes, making the parts of IM vs HF most in need of not looking square and boring look much weirder than their actual content and context deserve; if you’re the generous type, you might even suggest Murayama is hinting at the strangeness surrounding his square policemen right from the beginning by way of his stylistic tics. Be that as it may, Murayama’s often peculiarly cramped, close-up and Dutch angle heavy visual style keeps the movie’s rather slow beginning interesting, and helps the mess that is its script stay a mess that is fun to watch even in its worst moments.

The Horror!? is a weekly cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, an aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe / Attack of the Legion

Company: Mill Creek Ent.   Video: 1080p Mpeg-4 AVC   Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Japanese, DD 5.1 English   Subtitles: English (optional)   Disc: single layer BD25   Release Date: 10/12/2010
Product link: Amazon.com

I’ve been sick for the past week and more, which has caused my already irregular posting to become even more infrequent.  I was already behind on my screener reviews before the month even began, and a sinus infection coupled with preparations for a trip to North Carolina that will have me out of town for over a week and a half (23rd of this month until the 4th of November) are only exacerbating the situation.  Still, I’ve been looking forward to this budget-priced double feature Blu-ray from Mill Creek for the better part of two months.  While I will be covering the films individually in the near future, I thought I’d at least take the time to let people know whether or not this disc is even worth buying.  The answer to that, I’m happy to say, is an unequivocal Yes!

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1990′s Gamera Double Feature Blu-ray detailed

Details for this double feature of Shusuke Kaneko-directed Gamera films have been updated at the Mill Creek Entertainment site and, frankly, I’m excited.  I’ll have a review of the disc posted here at Wtf-Film as soon as our copy arrives.

According to Mill Creek, the Gamera: Guardian of the Universe / Gamera: Attack of Legion will feature 1080p transfers of both films in their intended 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Audio is to be presented in both English dubbed and original Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, as well as uncompressed DTS Master HD 5.1 in the original Japanese only.  English subtitles are, naturally, included.

No word on extras, but at a retail price of just $14.98 (with Amazon taking preorders at just $11.99 as of this writing) I can honestly say that I don’t care.  These are two of the best giant monster films to be released in decades, and I’m hoping that the third in the trilogy isn’t too far off.

The Gamera: Guardian of the Universe / Gamera: Attack of Legion double feature streets on October 12th, and can currently be preordered at considerable savings from Amazon.com.

Gamera vs. Guiron

film rating:
disc rating:
a.k.a. Gamera tai Daiakuju Giron
(lit. Gamera against Giant Devil Beast Guiron)
Attack of the Monsters
company: Daiei Motion Picture Co.
year: 1969
runtime: 82′
director: Noriaki Yuasa
cast: Nobuhiro Kajima, Christopher Murphy,
Miyuki Akiyama, Kon Omura,
Reiko Kasahara, Kai Hiroko,
Yuko Hamada, Edith Hanson
writer: Nisan Takahashi
cinematography: Akira Kitazaki
music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory, LLC.
Pre-order this film from Amazon.com

The Gamera vs. Guiron / Gamera vs. Jiger double feature DVD is due out on September 21st from Shout! Factory, day and date with their double feature DVD of Gamera vs. Gyaos / Gamera vs. Viras. Both discs can currently be pre-ordered through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

Following firmly in Gamera vs. Viras’ juvenile footsteps 1969’s Gamera vs. Guiron is generally cited as a primary example of just how low Daiei’s favorite monster franchise could stoop in terms of overall quality, but while films like Gamera vs. Zigra and Gamera: Super Monster are genuinely dreadful (if endearing in their own quirky ways) I’ve always been a devoted supporter for the guardian of the universe’s final pre-’70s outing. Director Noriaki Yuasa accomplishes amazing feats given his considerable financial limitations, crafting a fantastical science fiction adventure on a budget just as compromised as that for the previous outing (just a third that of 1967’s hit Gamera vs. Gyaos).

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Gamera vs. Jiger

film rating:
disc rating:
a.k.a. Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga
(lit. Gamera against Demon Beast Jiger)
Gamera vs. Monster X
company: Daiei Motion Picture Co.
year: 1970
runtime: 83′
director: Noriaki Yuasa
cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis,
Katherine Murphy, Kon Omura,
Ryo Hayami, Junko Yashiro,
Franz Gruber, Akira Hayami
writer: Nisan Takahashi
cinematography: Akira Kitazaki
music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory, LLC.
Pre-order this film from Amazon.com

Click here for Gamera vs. Guiron

1970’s Gamera vs. Jiger continues Gamera vs. Guiron’s trend towards fantastic children’s entertainment and throws in a hefty dollop of utter insanity for good measure. The film would be the last great hurrah for the Gamera series, and Noriaki Yuasa was granted a few extra bucks to beef up the special effects production. Though followed by what is arguably the absolute worst of the series, Gamera vs. Jiger remains a fine example of large-scale anti-Toho monster mayhem.

Set around Expo ‘70, a World’s Fair held in Osaka, the film concerns a mysterious artifact – the Devil’s Whistle – which is discovered on an isolated Pacific island and brought back to the Expo for scientific examination. The removal of the artifact unleashes the prehistoric monster Jiger, a jet-propelled ceratopsian that shoots lethal quills from its tusks and emits a destructive sonic heat ray. Gamera quickly intervenes, but is taken down for the count when Jiger, a mother, implants him with her parasitic young. It’s up to Hiroshi (Tsutomu Takakuwa) and Tommy (Kelly Varis) and their aptitude for handling miniature submarines to save the despondent titan from his seemingly imminent death.

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Gamera vs. Gyaos

film rating:
disc rating:
a.k.a. Daikaiju Kuchusen: Gamera tai Gyaosu
(lit. Giant Monster Dogfight: Gamera against Gyaos)
Return of the Giant Monster, Gamera vs. Gaos
company: Daiei Motion Picture Co.
year: 1967
runtime: 87′
director: Noriaki Yuasa
cast: Kojiro Hongo, Kichijiro Ueda,
Reiko Kasahara, Naoyuki Abe,
Taro Marui, Yukitaro Hotaru,
Yoshiro Kitahara, Akira Natsuki
writer: Nisan Takahashi
cinematography: Akira Uehara
music: Tadashi Yamauchi
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Shout! Factory, LLC.
Pre-order this film from Amazon.com

The Gamera vs. Gyaos / Gamera vs. Viras double feature DVD is due out on September 21st from Shout! Factory, day and date with their double feature DVD of Gamera vs. Guiron / Gamera vs. Jiger. Both discs can currently be pre-ordered through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

The end of the turbulent ‘60s was equally the best of times and the worst of times for Daiei Co.’s increasingly successful Gamera franchise, whose germinal entry had proven successful enough to warrant an A-budget color successor in 1966. 1967’s Gamera vs. Gyaos exemplifies the best of the best, an A-list product accomplished under B-budget limitations and a pitch perfect amalgamation of the adult-oriented plot of Gamera vs. Barugon and the adolescent hi-jinks that would dominate later entries. Penned by series regular Nisan Takahashi and directed by Gamera, The Giant Monster’s Noriaki Yuasa, the film offers an easily digestible moral in a manner that younger audience members were (and I’d wager still are) sure to relish – wrapped with loads of giant monster action.

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