Showa Gamera Films Coming to DVD from Shout! Factory
Shout’s Cliff Macmillan Discusses the First Official Region 1 Release of the Early Gamera Movies
Author: Keith Aiken
Official Site: Shout! Factory
Special Thanks to Bob Johnson
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
The original series of Gamera movies is finally getting a licensed and authorized Region 1 DVD release, courtesy of the Los Angeles-based entertainment company Shout! Factory.
The fire-breathing flying turtle first appeared in the Daiei Motion Picture Company’s 1965 film GAMERA (Daikaiju Gamera). Directed by Noriaki Yuasa, GAMERA was a box office smash in Japan, and Daiei would go on to produce a new Gamera sequel each year through 1971…
2. GAMERA VS BARUGON (Daikaiju Ketto: Gamera tai Barugon, 1966)
3. GAMERA VS GYAOS (Daikaiju Kuchusen: Gamera tai Gyaosu, 1967)
4. GAMERA VS VIRAS (Gamera tai Uchu Kaiju Bairasu, 1968)
5. GAMERA VS GUIRON (Gamera tai Daiakuju Giron, 1969)
6. GAMERA VS JIGER (Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga, 1970)
7. GAMERA VS ZIGRA (Gamera tai Shinkai Kaiju Jigura, 1971)
While often dismissed as little more than knock-offs of Toho’s monster movies, the Gamera films quickly tread their own path by targeting younger audiences. Yuasa and his crew developed a very successful formula by featuring children in lead roles, creating bizarre and colorful stories with outlandish monsters and aliens, and displaying over-the-top, violent and bloody battles that contrasted sharply with the Toho kaiju productions of that time. At its peak the Gamera series was a strong contender for Godzilla’s crown as the box office “King of the Monsters”.
Sadly, the heroic monster was defeated by outside factors when Daiei declared bankruptcy on December 23, 1971. The following year, lawsuits in the Tokyo District Court revealed that Daiei president Masaichi Nagata and three other executives had been using company funds for illegal political contributions and other non-business activities. In 1974, Daiei was bought by Yasuyoshi Tokuma, president of the Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company, and the studio returned to limited production of new films. Nine years after ZIGRA, Gamera returned to Japanese cinemas in a (mostly) stock footage compilation that brought an end to the original series…
8. SUPER MONSTER (Uchu Kaiju Gamera, 1980)
These eight movies were produced during the Showa Era (“period of enlightened peace”), the reign of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, and are generally known today as the Showa Gamera series. Daiei and Tokuma Shoten would also produce a second series of Gamera films— GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (Gamera: Daikaiju Kuchu Kessen), GAMERA: ATTACK OF LEGION (Gamera 2: Region Shurai), and GAMERA: REVENGE OF IRIS (Gamera 3: Irisu Kakusei)— between 1995 and 1999. Following the death of Yasuyoshi Tokuma in 2000, Daiei was sold to the massive Kadokawa Publishing Company and merged into Kadokawa Pictures. In 2006, Kadokawa produced the 40th anniversary Gamera film, GAMERA THE BRAVE (Chiisaki Yusha-tachi Gamera).
Gamera in America
The early Gamera movies have had a convoluted and confusing run in the United States. Rights to the original GAMERA were first acquired by World Entertainment Corp., who dubbed the picture into English, shot new scenes starring actors Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy, and released the film theatrically as GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE (1966). The next five films were picked up by American International Pictures and syndicated directly to television by the company’s AIP-TV division. The AIP versions were English dubbed, sometimes edited for length and content, and featured titles drastically different than Daiei’s official English movie names…
2. WAR OF THE MONSTERS (1967)
3. RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (1968)
4. DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1969)
5. ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1970)
6. GAMERA VS MONSTER X (1971)
AIP did not release the 7th film, GAMERA VS ZIGRA. In 1979, the company was bought by Filmways, Inc. Filmways later picked up the 8th Gamera movie, which made it’s broadcast premiere on MTV.
8. GAMERA SUPER MONSTER (1981)
In the mid-1980s Sandy Frank Enterprises and King Features acquired distribution rights to five Gamera films, including the previously unreleased GAMERA VS ZIGRA. The Sandy Frank versions use Daiei’s English titles and were generally uncut so all the violence was included while the US-shot Dekker/Donlevy footage was not. They also featured a mix of brand new US produced dubbing and older Daiei English dubs that had not been used by AIP…
1. GAMERA (1987)
2. GAMERA VS BARUGON (1987)
3. GAMERA VS GAOS (1987)
5. GAMERA VS GUIRON (1988)
7. GAMERA VS ZIGRA (1987)
The Sandy Frank Gamera films were shown on television and also released on VHS and laserdisc. In 1991, they were shown— and mocked— on the the third season of the popular Comedy Central television series MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. The show introduced Gamera to a whole new fanbase who were previously unfamiliar with the monster or his films.
In 1998, the small indie company Neptune Media Inc. began releasing high quality, authorized videos of the Gamera films in both English and Japanese. First up was the original movie, released on VHS and laserdisc as GIANT MONSTER GAMERA (Japanese version) and on VHS as GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE (US theatrical version). GAMERA VS GUIRON (now renamed GAMERA VS GUILLON) and GAMERA VS ZIGRA followed on VHS in 1999. These videos came out just as the DVD format was taking off. Unfortunately, Neptune Media had not negotiated for DVD rights so they had to stick with VHS for their Gamera titles. After releasing the three films, the company quietly faded away early in the new millennium.
In Neptune’s absence, several budget and “public domain” video labels in the US began releasing their own unauthorized DVDs of the Showa Gamera films, most of which were of very poor quality. Once Kadokawa took over Daiei, the new owners of Gamera began taking steps to stem the flood of unlicensed DVDs and get the classic films into the hands of a reputable distributor. With the announcement of special edition DVDs from Shout! Factory, it looks like a new era has begun for Gamera in North America.
Interview: Cliff Macmillan
Supervising the new Gamera DVDs is Cliff Macmillan, Vice President of DVD Production and Acquisitions for Shout! Factory. Cliff began his video career working at a small video store in Novato, CA. “Back then you couldn’t even buy a VHS video,” he recalled. “They were for rental only.” He moved to Sacramento and joined Tower Records and Video, working first as a store clerk, then as a corporate laserdisc buyer for the chain, and finally the buyer for all stores and all formats. In the 1990s Tower became one of the first test stores for DVD.
After leaving Tower, Cliff went to Ventura Distribution as a Project Manager and was eventually given his own label, Ventura Select. During that time the company released the SONNY CHIBA COLLECTION and the TOMIE horror film series. Cliff next joined BCI Eclipse as Director of Acquisitions. “I had a nice run there acquiring ULTRAMAN and SHADOW WARRIORS and reintroducing the SONNY CHIBA COLLECTION,” he said. When BCI folded last year, he was hired by Shout! Factory.
Cliff recently answered some questions about Shout!’s plans for the classic Gamera series…
SciFi Japan: Does Shout! Factory now have rights to all eight of the original Gamera movies?
Cliff Macmillan: Yes, We have all eight Showa Gamera films.
SciFi Japan: Last year, Kadokawa Pictures USA told me that Neptune Media had the US distribution rights for the Showa Gamera films through 2013. How was Shout! able to acquire those rights?
Cliff Macmillan: I believe their rights expired.
SciFi Japan: What source material are you working with for the DVDs?
Cliff Macmillan: We are using the same high def masters used for the Japanese Blu-ray releases.
SciFi Japan: Is there much concern about the proliferation of unauthorized Gamera DVDs on the market?
Cliff Macmillan: Not really. I think a real Gamera fan would like to have the films in their original aspect ratios and in pristine quality… and these masters look amazing.
SciFi Japan: Are there any plans for Blu-ray?
Cliff Macmillan: There will not be a Blu-Ray release which might disappoint fans, but Blu-ray sales are still really low on independent titles so that doesn’t work financially due to the high cost for creating a Blu-ray. It’s more expensive to author, manufacture and has a higher minimum manufacturing run. It’s just too much of a risk.
SciFi Japan: Which movie or movies is Shout! planning to release first?
Cliff Macmillan: The films will be released in the order of their original [Japanese] release. The first film will be released on 5/18/10 as GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER.
SciFi Japan: Is there a tentative release schedule for the other Gamera films? Any plans for a box set of all the movies?
Cliff Macmillan: GAMERA VS. BARUGON will be released in July. The other titles do not have a confirmed release date yet. It is possible there will be a box set at some point.
SciFi Japan: Will the DVD release of GAMERA also include the original US version, GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE?
Cliff Macmillan: Sadly, no. It was always my intention to have it on there, but we could not find acceptable materials.
SciFi Japan: What about the English dub of GAMERA done by Sandy Frank Enterprises in the mid-1980s?
Cliff Macmillan: That hasn’t been decided yet, but we could add it and then have the subs pop up where there is no English dialogue like we did [at BCI] on ULTRAMAN.
SciFi Japan: With the exception of the opening titles, the Gamera films released by Sandy Frank were uncut. If you can get those dubs there shouldn’t be any English dialogue dropouts like you had to deal with in the materials you had for ULTRAMAN.
Cliff Macmillan: That is very possible.
SciFi Japan: The Sandy Frank releases of GAMERA VS BARUGON, GAMERA VS GYAOS, and GAMERA VS GUIRON used English dubbing provided by Daiei. Has Kadokawa offered those dubs to Shout?
Cliff Macmillan: We will have to see if they still have them.
SciFi Japan: There has been some fan talk online claiming that Kadokawa Pictures doesn’t own the rights to the American edits/dubs of the Gamera films, and won’t allow them to be used because they don’t want to be sued by anyone involved in producing those versions for AIP, Sandy Frank, etc. I asked Kadokawa about this and they replied, “Normally the English dubbed versions, even those created by a licensee, are owned by the original rights holder. For the Gamera series, we own all those English rights.” If Shout! can get elements for the American versions, would there be any legal reasons you couldn’t use them?
Cliff Macmillan: I don’t know anything about that.
SciFi Japan: Since you were looking for elements for GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE, is it safe to assume Kadokawa never said you wouldn’t be able to use the US version if you found it?
Cliff Macmillan: They had no issue with including the US version. The just didn’t have any materials for it to loan us.
SciFi Japan: The next five Gamera movies were originally released directly to television in the US by AIP. Gary Teetzel from MGM stated that the company still has some flat 16mm film materials for the AIP-TV versions, plus rare publicity black & white negatives and color transparencies for RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (AIP’s title for GAMERA VS GYAOS). Will Shout! being using any of these elements for the other films?
Cliff Macmillan: MGM doesn’t have much there. On the later titles, I think the best thing to do is sync the English dub to it… but as you can guess, it takes time and mainly patience.
SciFi Japan: Are there plans for any extra features on these discs?
Cliff Macmillan: Yes, there will be extras on the discs including [for GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER] an extensive still gallery, trailers, a 12-page booklet with an essay by director Noriaki Yuasa, and more…
SciFi Japan: That all sounds excellent. In the past, Daiei seemed to provide more extra content for Gamera DVDs than Toho did for Godzilla… the ADV versions of the 1990s Gamera films were loaded with bonus material from the Japanese DVDs. Now that Kadokawa owns Daiei, are they still willing to provide supplemental material?
Cliff Macmillan: They have given us a few things to use, but they don’t actually own all the features that were done on previous versions of the film. Those features are sometimes owned by the video label.
SciFi Japan: The five Sandy Frank Gamera movies were shown on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. It may be a long shot, but since Shout! Factory now handles both franchises is there any chance those episodes will be released on DVD?
Cliff Macmillan: At this time, you won’t be seeing the Gamera films on any MST3K releases. No one likes to have their child made fun of.
SciFi Japan: That is a shame. The Gamera episodes are some of the best MST3K ever did… the GAMERA VS GUIRON show with Officer Cornjob, the bicycle song, and the constant “Hello… thank you!” exchange is particularly hilarious.
Cliff Macmillan: You never know… things could change in the future.
GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER Press Release
Source: Shout! Factory
Special Thanks to Cliff Macmillan
Look, there’s Gamera!
GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER – SPECIAL EDITION
Featuring North American DVD Debut of the Original Japanese Version of the First Gamera Movie Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen from a Newly Restored HD Master
Roars onto DVD on May 18, 2010 from Shout! Factory
From Japan – the country that brought us such mythical movie monsters as Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah – storms Gamera, the titanic terrapin feared by adults and loved by children. On May 18, 2010, Shout! Factory will unleash GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER – SPECIAL EDITION on DVD for the first time in its unedited original version, with English subtitles — in anamorphic widescreen from an all-new HD master. The DVD includes a 12-page booklet with an essay by director Noriaki Yuasa, a photo gallery, trailers and more. The collectible GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER – SPECIAL EDITION DVD is priced to own at $19.93.
Like all classic monster movies, it is the folly of man that unleashes a ginormous beast upon the world. This time it is literal fallout from the Cold War — a Soviet bomber is shot down over U.S. airspace in the Arctic Ocean, with the massive radiation from the resultant atomic explosion awakening the ancient, gargantuan Gamera. A long-forgotten legend of the lost continent of Atlantis, the 200-foot-long, fire-eating turtle isn’t in a good mood, and proving impervious to all man-made weapons, the colossal chelonian smashes a cataclysmic swath across the globe. But when he arrives in Tokyo, a small boy forms an odd connection with him, allowing authorities to unleash “Plan Z.”
The classic GAMERA was directed Noriaki Yuasa, who helmed seven of the original Gamera entries in the Showa era series between 1965 and 1980, and stars Eiji Funakoshi (FIRES ON THE PLAIN), Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashiko and Jutaro Hojo (THE RETURN OF MAJIN). The subsequent franchise was more kid-friendly (yet ironically bloodier) than Godzilla, who became less menacing and more cuddly himself during the Sixties. The Gamera series was creative in the monstrous nemeses that it pitted against the towering turtle, the most famous being the flying, pointy-headed Gyaos, who was resurrected for the successful trio of movies in the Heisei era series between 1995 and 1999.
Created by the same company who brought Zatoichi to the screen, Daiei Studios’ titanic terrapin is the only true rival to Toho’s King Of The Monsters, able to hold his own at the box office and secure a place in the hearts of kaiju eiga (Japanese monster movie) fans around the world. The original films have woefully been underrepresented on DVD, especially a release featuring the authentic Japanese versions.
About Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory is a diversified entertainment company devoted to producing, uncovering and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos have spent their careers sharing their music, television and film faves with discerning consumers the world over. Shout! Factory’s DVD offerings serve up classic, contemporary and cult TV series, riveting sports programs, live music, animation and documentaries in lavish packages crammed with extras. The company’s audio catalogue boasts Grammy-nominated boxed sets, new releases from storied artists, lovingly assembled album reissues and indispensable “best of” compilations. These riches are the result of a creative acquisitions mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. With its fingers on the pulse of pop culture, Shout! Factory continues to impact the entertainment media landscape through acquisition of top quality programming for home entertainment releases. Shout! Factory is based in Santa Monica, California. For more on Shout! Factory, visit shoutfactory.com.