Gamera the Brave opens on a nighttime battle between Japan’s giant turtle icon battling Gyaos, as relevant a villain to the Gamera universe as Joker is to Batman. Flames ignite, beams shred, and Gamera sacrifices all to save the people.
There is no relation to the previous trilogy of giant monster Gamera films, although the introduction, set in 1973, would say otherwise. The Brave is a stand alone, unique in its tone and purpose. Gamera is not linked to any ancient civilization or mutation; he just is, a metaphor for the will of children, miles away from the corny, kooky ’60s entries in this series.
As a hatchling, Gamera is taken in by Toru (Ryo Tomioka), a lonely young boy mourning the loss of his mother from a car accident. He names his new pet Toro, and keeps it against his fathers wishes. They bond via antics suited to a film aiming itself at the child demographic, Toro flying to the disbelief of the neighborhood, and growing to substantial size as nights pass.
The Brave never loses that human element, even as the kaiju element comes full circle. Toro/Gamera is experiencing a growth spurt for a reason: Zedus is due in town any day. A warted monster and impressive suit creation, the beast breaks the genre norms and begins munching on the populace, somewhat graphically considering the goal of reaching kids. It is a monster hungry for more as it exists a tiny village and heads for the mainland.
Perspective is everything, and the camera lens keeps itself low to better establish the anger, frustration and fear of Toru as his pet battles or is injured. Zedus, like Gamera, has no backstory. Sequences of scientists explaining the monsters are non-existent, and government officials are portrayed as little more than bumbling fools in a plot thread that goes nowhere.
Angles require an inordinate attention to detail within the miniatures, shot close up and performing beautifully. Unlike Godzilla or even the Gamera of old, these monsters are hardly enormous. Their battle carries scale, although one better suited to the tinier landscape where in this monster war kicks off. This is a softer, gentler Gamera that would not make sense were he towering above skyscrapers. The energetic finale sees the monsters climbing the landscape more akin to King Kong, ironic since Gamera’s roar is now cheaply pulled from the 1976 remake of the classic gorilla flick. Gamera the Brave is easily identifiable as a unique, stand alone vision regardless.
Kadokawa Pictures produced Gamera the Brave after purchasing the needed assets from original owners Daiei, and unfortunately, the buyout wasn’t worth the effort. Audiences were clearly clamoring for darker, fantastic themes than this which is a smaller, tighter production. Response from from ticket sales faltered, and the series – as of now – is laid to rest. It’s a shame too because underneath the eccentric monsters lies a children’s movie with a heart that has a wide appeal. This one is too much fun to simply write off as a loss.
Media Blasters pushes the film onto Blu-ray with some time between the DVD release, the results showing age and some limited resolution. The grain structure is whittled down, leaving imagery with a digital appearance. On a BD-25 with four different DTS-HD mixes, space and bitrate become a concern. The typically glossy, low texture visual quality here is the result of those disc space symptoms.
Gamera the Brave carries a heavy warm tint, making it inviting and comforting. The color timing will sap some of the energy, with tinted whites never reaching a peak where the contrast can work. Likewise, black levels fail to reach par, succumbing to the classic case of incorrect IRE levels. The number of Japanese imports that can be associated with the issue are numerous. For whatever reason, the proper correction is never made. We’re looking at you Destroy All Monsters.
Dealing with what looks like an aging master means scrunching down the definition. While a handful of close-ups will produce the texture expected of a relatively recent effort, most of the film struggles to carry itself visually above the DVD. The best work comes from the monster sequences, heavy detailing allowing for plentiful opportunities to appreciate the work. Short of insert shots that place the monsters on real backgrounds, the effects hold up.
Aside from what is either light filtering or low bitrates, Gamera the Brave hits Blu-ray without additional hurdles. Despite the possibility, there are no signs of aliasing, extreme compression, or other gaffes caused by the transfer process. The source print is likely shared by the DVD edition, so that means a total lack of damage to worry about. Not bad, but still disappointing for something this new.
Excusing the dullness of the English dub (2.0 or 5.1, your choice), the audio mix is quite spectacular via the original Japanese language. Immediately, the opening shots of panic, flying creatures, and dozens of beams will jet through the surrounds with beautiful precision. Rumbling as monsters stomp around or meet their flaming demise is generous, and produced with balance.
The mix never misses a chance to impress. From something as simple as a running vacuum cleaner in the right rear (21:20) to a superlative rain simulation before the final battle, this a constantly active 5.1 mix. Fidelity is superb, especially with the often moving score.
These rank as the best sonic giant monster battles on Blu-ray (without question), fully realizing the space and using the full extension of the subwoofer. Powerful steps and crumbling buildings are weighted deep into the LFE, selling the scale of this (comparably) pint-sized scuffle. Traveling debris further serves to sell the idea of a city collapsing in the midst of combat.
Ported from the DVD, Director’s Lecture on How to Make a Gamera Film runs through the process of a production from beginning to end in a way that a child could understand it. At 37-minutes, enough detail is passed through to be of interest to anyone however. Media Blasters adds trailers, including one for their “we’re still waiting for this” Godzilla vs. Megalon release. Why do you tease us like that, MB?