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Friday, April 28, 2006

DVD Review: Gappa the Triphibian Monsters

Now, before we begin, I'd like to establish credentials. I am a kaiju fan. It's a curse, I'll tell ya, because it's hard to defend watching men in rubber monster suits decimate Tokyo for the millionth time. But, defend I have. I love Gamera movies (which are universally regarded as the cheesiest) and have openly professed my love for "Godzilla's Revenge" and "Godzilla vs. Megalon." However, even I have to draw the line somewhere.

Enter the Gappa.

Gappa, the Triphibian Monsters (1967) (aka Monster from the Prehistoric Planet) was a one-off kaiju film from the Nikkatsu film company who were teetering on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. Believe me, it shows in this film. The plot, as it is, is basically a mix of elements of Gorgo, King Kong, Godzilla vs. Mothra and a few others. If you've seen more than a few kaiju films, you've pretty much seen all this before (well, except for the native boy "Kenny" in blackface. That's a new one on me, anyway.)

The effects are cheap and uninteresting. At no time do you even have the slightest illusion of watching something other than a pair of guys stomping models in gryphon suits. The miniatures are undetailed and bland. The shots are uninteresting. Hell, I even noticed the top of the set in one shot!

It has been said that Gappa was intended as a parody of the genre, which is one explanation for why this film is so riddled with cliches. However, even watching the film with that in mind (and I've sat through this one three times now, god help me) it just doesn't work. Unless it got lost in translation, there just isn't enough humor for me to really see this as parody. Seems to me someone made a half-hearted kaiju film and when the results were this poor, they called it a parody to cover their asses.

As Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, Gappa is a public domain staple. But, the disc I linked to, from Tokyo Shock, is the only one you'll ever need, if you must own this one. It's a flawed disc (to be fair, it came out in 1998) but it's leagues above any other presentation of this film you're going to see in region 1.

First off, Tokyo Shock has letterboxed a decent print of the film for this disc. The public domain print is full screen and any action not happening in the center of the screen is chopped off. Though not anamorphic, just being able to see the whole picture is a big plus.

Gappa is a very dark film visually and while this print is still a big murky in places, you can actually make out detail you can't in the overly dark public domain versions. There is a bit of noise in the dark sections that make this film look like it was transferred from a very good VHS copy rather than a true digital master.

Given the presentation of the film, I think it's safe to if this wasn't taken from VHS, it was taken from the same masters Tokyo Shock used for their VHS versions of this movie. See, they put out two VHS versions of this film, one with English dubbing and one with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles. Both versions are included on this disc, but rather than giving audio and subtitle tracks, each version is included separately just like on the VHS. So it's impossible to turn the subtitles off on the Japanese version or switch between languages on the fly.

I also hate the fact that they decimated the opening credits. I'm not sure why they put their own Gappa logo in the film rather than using the real title sequence. My guess is, they had a Japanese print of the film to work from (they clearly used the same print in both versions) so the titles were probably in Japanese. It's also very distracting they way they overlaid English captions on the screen anywhere there were Japanese ones. (Note: I can cut them some slack because this is from 1998 and this type of thing was more common then. Still, I point it out because no other review I've read has.)

So, I've wasted a lot of words on the disc of a movie I don't think is all that good to begin with. In the end I'd say if you're a completist or find this cheap, go ahead and buy it. I would not, however, recommend paying the $20 list price for an out dated presentation of a poor movie unless you really must see it.

And stay far away from the public domain versions unless you want a headache.

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