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DVD Review: Gamera the Brave

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Gamera the Brave opens with a spectacular nighttime battle in which an obviously aged Gamera battles his villain Gaos, prehistoric birds that were prevalent in the previous Heisei Gamera series.

While spectacular in terms of visuals, seemingly a nod to Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris where the series left off (The Brave is a new story), it is important in establishing the creatures from the start. Gone are the needed and incredibly clichéd scenes of people looking in awe that giant monsters exist. Japan is aware, and they are ready.

Gamera the Brave is a throwback to the original series, where the monster is a friend to children. However, this concept is done properly, not a simply means to put kids on screen to draw ticket sales.

Gamera has a mythology as it exists to save humanity from monster attacks. While it is never made clear why, the creature’s instincts are to fight back. The design here is undoubtedly friendly, with bulging eyes and soft face. It is a departure from the Shusuke Kaneko Gamera, which had a rigid sharp shell, giant tusks, and dark exterior.

The tone of Gamera the Brave is kinder and gentler, with a lovely score by Yoko Ueno. This is a children’s film, only with less fantasy than rival Toho’s modern Mothra series. In fact, The Brave tackles some tough issues. Young Toru (Ryo Tomioka) is living a rough life, distanced from his father and dealing with his mother's passing.

He takes hold of a small tortoise he finds, going against his father’s wishes of having pets in the home. He connects with the turtle in a way that insinuates a deeper connection, almost as if finding Gamera (with Toru names Toto) is his destiny.

Gamera grows quickly, and in a way that is completely inoffensive. Scenes of the small tortoise parading through the kitchen are cute, vastly different from the camp of previous attempts to keep the giant monster genre aimed at the younger set. It is not that dissimilar from Water Horse, or any other film in which a lonely child befriends a lovable creature bound to grow to large to care for.

Action scenes are spectacular, and the monsters themselves are smaller than normal, leaving room for massive and detailed miniature works shot from impressive angles. In fact, much of the film is beautifully photographed, including Toru and a growing Gamera sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea prior to Gamera’s first fight. It is a somber and touching moment, incredibly rare for a film in this genre.

The monster foe in this entry is Zedus, a unique kaiju which does eat humans, a rare aspect of Japanese giant creatures. The design includes a number of floppy spines and fins that create wonderful motion as the monster moves. While the creature lacks a back story, it makes the abrupt appearance surprising and devastating as it marches through Japan, if lacking in the story.

Yukari Tatsui crafts a fine script, particularly in the case of its child characters. This leaves a hole in the adult plot, that of a “Giant Monster Council” being disbanded prior the appearance of Zedus. It is contrived and has no bearing on the story. His script also avoids the scenes of the military trying to defend the city, a cliché that makes sense being deleted. The Japanese are aware Gamera is there to save them, even if his roar is now culled from King Kong 1976.

Those who fault the film for aiming young dismiss a number of beautiful scenes that build the Gamera legend. Late in the film, Gamera is being beaten by Zedus, and children begin passing along a jewel through the city streets that could save the creature. Every child instantly knows its purpose as they are handed the item, and begin a dangerous trek towards their goal.

Admittedly, it is a plot point that can be questioned, but it could easily be explained as Gamera’s destiny being fulfilled. Children know and love Gamera, and his friendly disposition here only makes it easier to believe. Saving him, even if it means taking a glowing jewel into the middle of a monster mash to do it, makes sense because Gamera is the friend of all children as he always has.

Media Blasters delivers a fair looking DVD presentation. Compression and artifacting are controlled well. Much of the film carries a yellow tint, and the same goes for a region 3 DVD release, undoubtedly making it an intentional choice on the part of director Ryuta Tazaki.

The image is somewhat flat, lacking depth and detail, one of those transfers that appears bland without much reason to. The contrast is fine and black levels are within reason. The encode is slightly soft, but acceptable. If you imported the region 3 disc, this is a marked improvement, although still a bit of a disappointment.

That said, the 5.1 sound mix is awesome. The opening scene of the old, dying Gamera fighting off the flying Gaos is wonderful. The birds circle the sound field, roars are placed in the proper channels, bass is generated from their footsteps, and when the camera moves, so does the audio.

Later scenes of destruction are incredible, with debris littering the sound field. Helicopters move into all channels, and rain wonderfully fills each speaker. Bass is powerful and mixed nicely.

The meat of the extras is a 37-minute lecture from director Ryuta Tazaki speaking to a class of film students about the process of making a film. Inserted are a variety of behind-the-scenes clips, although special effects scenes are sadly brief. Some trailers for other films in the Tokyo Shock label (and Gamera the Brave) remain.

There are two homages to the original Gamera series. In one, a knife that looks eerily similar to the creature Guiron Gamera fought in 1969 falls in front of the baby tortoise. Also, Zedus has an extended tongue he uses as a weapon, an ability of Gamera’s former foe Barugon.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.