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Gamera:  Guardian of the Universe
(Version 2)
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Box Front
Japanese Title: Gamera Daikaiju Kuchu Kessen (“Gamera Giant Monster Mid-Air Showdown”)
Director: Shusuke Kaneko (Gamera 2:  Attack of Legion; Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah:  Giant Monsters All-Out Attack)
Original Release Year: 1995
Running Time: 96 minutes

DVD Released By: ADV Films
Video: Widescreen (the box is labeled 16:9, but it’s NOT anamorphic)
Audio: Japanese 2.0, English 5.1
Extras: Interview with the director of special effects, press conference, theatrical trailers and TV spots; behind-the-scenes, festival premiere, and opening day footage; ADV previews
Subtitles: English
Closed Captions: None
Region: 1
Format: NTSC
Chapters: 9
Packaging: Keepcase
MSRP: $19.98 (2-pack)
UPC #: N/A
Catalog #: DGM/001
Status: Available, in a 2-pack with Destroy All Monsters.  (Was originally included in the Gamera Complete DVD Collection Limited Edition Box Set, which is now out of print.)


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The Film: A ship carrying a cargo of plutonium runs aground on an atoll in the open ocean.  It becomes apparent that something very unusual is going on, as the atoll moves away under its own power.  Meanwhile, the human population of a small island is wiped out by flying carnivorous creatures.  The authorities plan to capture the airborne predators, which are called Gyaos.  However, the operation goes awry when the atoll lands on the Japanese mainland.  The turtle-like monster Gamera has arrived, seemingly in pursuit of the Gyaos.  Destruction ensues, the Gyaos escape, and Gamera is mistakenly labeled a menace.

However, an artifact recovered from the atoll has given a young girl (played by Ayako Fujitani,
Steven Seagal’s daughter) a psychic connection with Gamera.  She believes that Gamera was created by an ancient civilization to protect the world from Gyaos.  As the ravenous Gyaos grow to monstrous proportions, the benevolent Gamera is caught between his ancient enemy and the Japanese military.  Which monster will triumph, and how will humanity deal with the survivor?

Given the success of the Heisei Godzilla series at Japanese theaters, Daiei decided to revive their own monster star after a long absence.  More than the updating that Godzilla got, this film is a complete rebirth for Gamera. 
Gamera:  Guardian of the Universe is a very well made kaiju film with a serious, adult tone (and just enough of a sense of humor to keep the enjoyment level consistently high).  While the Showa films were aimed squarely at a kiddie audience, this film makes the kaiju threat believable by placing the monsters in a world that seems very real.  In this world, the presence of giant monsters is shown to have real political and economic impact.  People’s everyday lives are drastically changed.

This film is the first in a trilogy of Gamera adventures directed by Shusuke Kaneko (
GMK), with special effects by Shinji Higuchi (Sakuya:  The Slayer of Demons), written by Kazunori Ito (Ghost in the Shell), and scored by Ko Otani (GMK).  The character of Gamera would continue to grow and evolve throughout the series.  Kaneko’s visual style and Higuchi’s attention to detail would elevate these films above Toho’s contemporary efforts, making the Heisei Gamera trilogy the best kaiju eiga since the “golden age” of the 1960s.  Grade:  A

Video: Gamera:  GOTU is presented in widescreen.  There is very little visible print damage.  There are a few specks and minor scratches.  The transfer is mostly clear and sharp, with natural colors and occasional grain.  Some darker scenes are a little murky and lacking in detail.  The biggest problem with the transfer is that it’s not anamorphic.  That’s doubly disappointing, since this an updated version of a previously released discGrade:  B-

Audio: The biggest difference between this disc and the older version is the audio.  Both Japanese and English language tracks are included.  The Japanese is still presented in 2.0, while the English dub track has been upgraded to 5.1.  Both sound good; the sound effects, Ko Otani’s memorable score, and the dialogue are all clear and well-reproduced.  The 5.1 audio is noticeably louder and fuller-sounding.  Even ADV’s English dub is surprisingly well done.  It’s superior to the dubbing of the Heisei Godzilla films.  That helps make it easier to accept that ADV updated just the English track, but not the Japanese (or both).  Grade:  B+

Extras / Menus: The extras remain unchanged.  Except for some of the ADV previews, all the extras are presented in Japanese with optional English subtitles.  First up is a 31-minute interview with Shinji Higuchi, the film’s director of special effects.  This is actually only one part of a very extensive interview.  (The second part is included on ADV’s Gamera 2:  Attack of Legion DVD, and the third and final part is on Gamera 3:  Revenge of Iris.)  The interview is conducted by Hirokatsu Kihara, a writer and former production manager for Studio Ghibli.  The interview covers all three films in the series, and ADV thoughtfully prefaces it with a spoiler warning.  The main topics covered are conceptualizing and executing the flight of various monsters, and the increasing role of CGI in kaiju films.  A lot of insight is given in the interview, and the interplay between the two participants is itself entertaining to watch.  Kihara is obviously a big fan of Higuchi’s work, and Higuchi is often amused by the things that Kihara reads into it.

Next up is 5 minutes of footage from the press conference held to announce the production of the film.  There is also a selection of original
Gamera:  GOTU Japanese theatrical trailers and television spots.  Three trailers are included.  The first one is especially amusing.  It’s an advance teaser, obviously made before the film had really begun to take shape.  This is evidenced by the stiff, rubbery Gamera costume used, and the proclamation that Gamera is still “friend to children!”  Six TV spots are included, some of which are so early that they use footage from the Showa films!

Next comes a 4-minute montage of behind-the-scenes footage, set to the song “Gamera Always Wins.”  Also included is footage of two important events:  The film’s premiere at the Yubari Fantasy Film Festival, and its opening day in Japanese theaters.  The Yubari segment runs 6 minutes.  It includes statements by director Shusuke Kaneko, SPFX director Shinji Higuchi, and young star Ayako Fujitani (who also takes a walk in the snow with Gamera himself!).  The “opening day” segment takes place at a Japanese theater where the film’s premiere includes onstage appearances by several cast and crew members.  The ADV previews gallery includes promos for several ADV releases, including the
Sci-Fi Channel series Farscape, Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, and two anime series, Noir and RahXephon.  Of particular interest to kaiju fans are the promos for The Princess Blade and Gamera 2:  Attack of Legion.  Unfortunately, the G2 clip presents the film as a joke.  ADV peppered it with clips of cheesy dubbed dialogue, and set it to some very goofy music.  The Princess Blade includes a couple of faces familiar to kaiju fans:  Shiro Sano (Godzilla 2000 and GMK), and Yumiko Shaku (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla).

Most of the menus are still images with background music.  The chapter select and ADV preview screens have animated film clips in the selection windows.  Everything is laid out well and is easy to navigate.  Most of the extras are from the region 2 Gamera DVDs, and ADV deserves applause for subtitling them and including them on their region 1 releases. 
Grade:  A

Final Analysis: ADV’s previous Gamera:  GOTU disc has been tweaked for re-release.  In addition to the improved English audio, the method for translating Japanese text has been changed.  On the original disc, large video graphics with English text were overlaid on the Japanese credits and place names, and the film was given an English title card.  Now, the Japanese title screen has been reinstated, and the credits and other text are translated via subtitles.  This method is less obtrusive and more natural-looking.  While these improvements are appreciated, it’s too bad ADV didn’t fix the main deficiency of the previous disc by providing a new anamorphic transfer.  Final Grade:  B+
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