Not just a turtle, but a very large turtle that can fly and spit fire, Gamera has always had a reputation problem. Created by competing studio Daiei to ride the same radioactive wave kicked up by Toho’s Godzilla, the monster lacked poetry right from the start. The downing of a nuclear bomber releases him from his Arctic freeze; one character whom we’re supposed to take seriously says the beast once roamed free on Atlantis. Gamera’s roar is more screech than rumble. It all feels a little desperate.
Still, Shout! Factory’s release of 1965’s Gamera: The Giant Monster—here restored to its original subtitled Japanese and free of foreign alterations—represents a lovable impulse to preserve a sci-fi artifact that’s meaningful to fans. Even without the grandeur of the Godzilla movies, Gamera reveals the cracked anxieties of a once-bombed nation. (Here, the military officers responsible are unambiguously American.) Moreover, you can’t really appreciate the giant-monster phenomenon until you see how the formula plays out in inferior copies. Besides the crisp transfer, the disc contains a thorough treatment of the legend: an extensive publicity gallery, a documentary about the unlikely Gamera franchise and a feature-length commentary track loaded with factoids about the production.—Joshua Rothkopf
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