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Retromedia presents
Gamera: Return of the Giant Monsters (Gamera tai Gyaosu) & The Magic Serpent (Kairyu daikessen) (1967 / 1966)

"I sure wish Gamera was here!"
- Eiichi (Naoyuki Abe)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 07, 2004

Stars: Kojiro Hongo, Kichijiro Ueda, Naoyuki Abe, Reiko Kasahara
Other Stars: Bin Amatsu, Seizo Fukumoto, Nobuo Kaneko, Hiroki Matsukata, Tomko Ogawa, Ryutaro Otomo
Director: Noriaki Yuasa, Tetsua Yamauchi

Manufacturer: Fat Cat Post
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (giant monster mayhem, violence, decapitations)
Run Time: 02h:48m:44s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 014381242423
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+DD+ F

DVD Review

Gamera, the giant flying fire-breathing turtle was Daiei's answer to Toho Studios' immensely popular Godzilla series. By the time of the second sequel, presented as the first half of this double feature, the series was already beginning to show signs of lapsing into self-parody.

Return of the Giant Monsters doesn't waste any time starting off, immediately launching into a volcanic eruption that draws the attention of Gamera. Tsutsumi (Kojiro Hongo), the head of a roadbuilding crew, has apparently disturbed the sleep of the monster Gyaos, a bloodthirsty winged creature with a triangular head that fires an ultrasonic death ray. Gamera tangles with Gyaos and comes out worse for wear, leaving the humans to their own devices. Learning from little Eiichi (Naoyuuki Abe, credited onscreen as Hisoyuki Abe) that Gyaos cannot stand light, the best minds of Japan come up with the natural solution: a merry-go-round full of synthetic blood that will draw Gyaos attention and, um, make him dizzy so he won't notice the sun's coming up. Somehow, I'm not reassured by the quality of Japanese movie scientists.

While there's an undeniable air of silliness about the whole thing, and some ridiculous effects, there's also a more serious subplot underlying the usual kaiju eiga mayhem. There's some resistance among the locals to selling their lands for the highway to be built, and some political intrigue as the villagers suddenly turn on their leaders when Gyaos renders their property worthless. But the effects are generally even more poor than usual, with the Gyaos costume one of the most unconvincing in the notoriously oddball field. The use of young Eiichi, however, isn't yet as ludicrous as the kid element would become in later installments. Here he acts as a go-between for Gamera and the scientists but is neither an improbable genius nor a complete nuisance. So it's an adequate installment, mostly worth watching for its sheer goofiness.

Much more interesting is the martial arts fantasy The Magic Serpent. It may be one of the first instances of ninjas and wirework combat being brought into the Western mainstream through its 1960s showings in the AIP Television package. Yuki Daijo (Bin Amatsu) murders Lord Ogata but Ogata's young son manages to escape a magical dragon, which is in fact the renegade wizard Orukimaru (Ryutaro Otomo). Ten years later, we find the prince, Ikazukimaru, has grown up under the tutelage of a kindly wizard who has not only taught him magic but extensive combat skills for reclaiming his throne. But Orukimaru was also a student of the wizard, and kills him before Ikazukimaru can make his move. The young man is unfazed, however, and sets out after Yuki Daijo, who assaults him with all manner of ninja attacks. Orukimaru, no fool, decides that now that people are aware that there is an heir to Ogata, that his best plan may be to let Ikazukimaru kill Yuki Daijo, then assume the young man's identity himself and rule in masquerade.

While I found the wirework of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be silly and contrived, since it purported to be set in the real world, The Magic Serpent uses the same gimmick well primarily because it is unabashedly a fantasy. There are some disturbing moments, such as a decapitation of Ikazukimaru that leaves him none the worse for wear, that may be a bit much for younger and sensitive viewers. There's also a nightmarish segment where the walls of a small hut magically attack the prince that is quite well done. The climactic battle between the dragon and Ikazukimaru in the form of, well, a giant fire-breathing horned toad is plenty bizarre and jaw-dropping. It's much more involving than the lead feature, and by itself worth the purchase price for lovers of fantasy adventures.

One can also see in this second film numerous elements that eventually made their way into Star Wars: the young man with the mysterious past trained by the aged wizard; the mentor who's killed by a renegade former student, who schemes to take the place of his master; the company of a woman who doesn't know her true father; the use of mind-clouding tricks to evade detection by the enemy's minions; astonishing leaps amidst swordfights, etc., etc., etc. Some of this is obvious Joseph Campbell territory, but the similarities are too many to doubt that George Lucas may have seen this picture more than once.

Both films are transferred from old AIP-TV prints. The Gamera film is missing about 2m:09s of footage from its full Japanese 1h:26m:16s length, while The Magic Serpent fares a bit better, losing only 46s off its original 1h:25m:23s running time, which can probably be chalked up to sloppy splicing and reel-end damage rather than any actual censorship or recutting.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Since these are 1960s-vintage television prints, the sides of the original 2.35:1 films are mercilessly lopped off. This chopping works better with The Magic Serpent, since the Gamera film doesn't even bother with panning and scannihg; it just deletes the sides, no matter what is happening onscreen and where. Since much of the action comes at the edges, that makes portions of the combats difficult to follow when the monsters wander offscreen.

As one could anticipate from the use of 16mm TV prints, these have seen better days. They're soft and scratched, with poor color on Magic Serpent, though Return of the Giant Monsters actually fares pretty well in terms of both color and black levels. The transfer's not too bad, although there is noticeable edge enhancement apparently added in a misguided effort to deal with the softness of the source prints.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The source prints are pretty poor in the audio department too, with a ton of hiss and noise throughout. Magic Serpent also features a low electronic buzz throughout. The English dubbing is serviceable, and it's generally easy enough to understand through all the extraneous racket. But don't expect any sort of sonic revelation here.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 13m:09s of Serpent

Extras Review: As usual for Retromedia, there are no extras. Chaptering is a mighty thin 12 stops for nearly 3 hours of programming.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

A fun, though not always intentionally so, entry in the Gamera series, teamed with a classic of Japanese fantasy makes this an entertaining double feature. The down side is no original Japanese track and the use of pan-and-scan, which often gives perplexing results. Worth a rental in any event.


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