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Gamera the Brave (Region 3)
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Box Front Japanese Title: Chiisaki Yushatachi - Gamera (“The Little Heroes - Gamera”)
Director: Ryuta Tasaki (Masked Rider 555:  Paradise Lost, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon:  Act Zero)
Original Release Year: 2006
Running Time: 97 minutes

DVD Released By: Universe Laser & Video (Hong Kong)
Video: Anamorphic widescreen, 2.35:1 (OAR)
Audio: Japanese 5.1, Cantonese 5.1
Extras: Trailer, photo gallery
Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
Closed Captions: None
Region: 3
Format: NTSC
Chapters: 8
Packaging: Keepcase (clear), in a cardboard slipcover w/ identical box art
MSRP: $130 HK
UPC #: 4895024950426
Catalog #: 6772
Status: Available


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The Film: In 1973, the fishing village of Shima was the scene of a titanic battle between Gamera and a quartet of Gyaos.  Overwhelmed by the flying carnivores, Gamera made the ultimate sacrifice.  In a great burst of energy, Gamera vaporized both himself and his foes.

Fast-forward to 2006.  For young Toru Aizawa, this will be his first summer without his mother, who died the previous year.  While still saddened by the loss, life is returning to normal for Toru and his father (who, it is worth noting, witnessed Gamera’s final battle when he was just a boy).  As his father re-opens his diner, Toru spends his days playing with his friends.

One day, Toru spots a strange flashing light coming from a nearby island.  Little does he know, the island was the site of Gamera’s last stand.  Swimming out to investigate, he finds an egg nestled atop a glowing red stone.  The egg hatches in Toru’s hand, revealing an adorable baby turtle!  Toru takes the diminutive reptile home and names him Toto (a nickname originally given to Toru by his mom).

Meanwhile, reports of missing ships appear in the news, but Japan’s “Unusual Organism Task Force” has been disbanded.  Under Toru's care, Toto grows at an alarming rate.  Not only does he exhibit unusual intelligence and a deep emotional bond with Toru, the little turtle can also fly!  Even though Mai, the girl next door who is like an older sister to Toru, warns that Toto is somehow related to the giant monster Gamera, Toru is unfazed.  When Toto grows too big for Toru to hide in his room, he moves Toto to an outdoor shed.  When Mai checks into the hospital for a heart operation, Toru gives her Toto’s red stone as a good-luck charm.  While flotsam from the missing ships is recovered from the sea, Toto seems to sense…
something.  Soon thereafter, the strange turtle disappears.

The culprit behind the shipping disasters is revealed when a huge,
hungry monster, like a giant frilled dinosaur, attacks the village!  When Toru and his friends are in danger, a giant turtle appears to challenge the lizard-like creature, named Zedus.  While his father sees the turtle as Gamera, Toru recognizes him as Toto!  After repelling the much larger Zedus, the injured Toto / Gamera is transported to Nagoya by the military.  However, it isn’t long before Zedus surfaces in Nagoya harbor, spoiling for a rematch!  Can the heroic young Gamera stand up to the vicious predator again?  What is the secret of the red stone that may tip the balance of power to Gamera the Brave?

Gamera the Brave is the titanic terrapin’s 40th anniversary movie, and number twelve in the series.  It establishes its own continuity, and is not a continuation of either the Showa series, or the acclaimed 1990s trilogy.  It is, however, a return to form in that Gamera is firmly re-established as “friend to children.”  Please don’t sell the film short before seeing it, though.  Many viewers may be skeptical of its kid-centric tone (especially after the dark and mature Heisei trilogy), but it is a very effective combination of the children's POV of the Showa series, and the realism and visual impact of the Heisei films.

The special effects are excellent.  (Yes, up to Heisei standards!)  In a series known for its outrageously bizarre monsters, Zedus is Gamera’s most realistic foe to date.  Though its body type is similar to Godzilla’s, Zedus is very slender, with authentic reptilian features.  Neither it nor Gamera move awkwardly.  Worthy of particular note here is the prologue.  It’s a trend in recent kaiju eiga to feature exciting, knockout “money shot” sequences (Mothra’s appearance in
Godzilla:  Tokyo SOS comes to mind), and this is one of the best.  The old Gamera is a battle-hardened warrior, and the CGI Gyaos are expertly realized.

The miniature work is very well done, and there is great attention to visual detail throughout.  (Gamera now makes spiraling vapor trails as he flies).  The performances are sincere and believable (especially from the young leads).  There is a cute and funny nod to the Showa series, where little Toto faces off against Mr. Aizawa’s butcher knife.  Even the “kiddie” scenes (such as the procession of children who relay the red stone to Gamera) are well done enough to avoid cheesiness.  The one glaring misstep in the film is Toru pausing to lecture Gamera at a very inopportune moment.  Unlike
Rebirth of Mothra II, this isn’t just a kid’s movie; it’s a family film anyone can enjoy.  It would also be an excellent start to a new Gamera series.  Grade:  A-

Video: The anamorphic widescreen image is sharp and clear.  Flesh tones are natural, the image is free of grain, and nothing looks too dark.  The box front is labeled “HD,” so this may have been downconverted from a hi-def source.  A region 1 transfer would probably be a bit more vivid (they usually are), but the picture here looks natural.  As far as Universe Laser R3 DVDs go, this transfer is superior to any of their Millennium Godzilla releases.  I haven’t compared it to their more recent Heisei Godzilla discs, but it probably holds true, since those films are older and some of the discs aren’t even anamorphic.  Grade:  A-

Audio: The film’s original Japanese language track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.  It sounds very good.  The dialogue is clear and natural.  There are some nice “punchy” sound effects (such as the whoosh of old Gamera’s fireball obliterating a Gyaos), and they’re well reproduced.  For reasons unknown, Gamera’s distinctive roar has been replaced in this film with one that sounds like the 1976 version of King Kong.  The music is unusual for a kaiju film.  It has some “traditional Japanese” style, and includes quite a bit of light choral work.  It isn’t as memorable as a strong, Ifukube-style kaiju score, but it works fine in the movie.

The Cantonese dub track is recorded slightly lower than the Japanese.  Some of the sound effects have less impact.  The dubbing is okay, but some of the kids’ dubbed voices sound fakey.  They sound like the kids in some of the ‘70s Godzilla dubs, except their dialogue is in Cantonese.  It doesn’t matter much, as most viewers will no doubt listen exclusively to the original Japanese track. 
Grade:  A-

Extras / Menus: There are two extras on the disc.  First up, is the film’s 90-second theatrical trailer.  It’s presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and Japanese with non-removable subtitles in English and Chinese.  Secondly, there is a photo gallery consisting of 12 images from the film.  Considering the clear freeze-frame capabilities of DVD, including film stills on the disc is redundant.

All of the menus are fullscreen still images, with no sound or music.  The chapter select menu has animated film clips in the selection windows.  Everything is labeled in both English and Chinese. 
Grade:  C-

Final Analysis: The latest Gamera film looks and sounds great on this affordable (under $20 U.S.) DVD.  Don’t be put off by the Engrish synopsis on the back of the box.  The subtitles are good; they’re similar (if not the same) as the version screened at G-Fest and a few other U.S. venues in 2006.  (The back of the box says, “subtitles based on Japanese version,” presumably so we know these aren’t dubtitles derived from Chinese).  Highly recommended!  Final Grade:  A-
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