I practically grew up with Godzilla as my second Daddy and he taught me many things- like how to destroy cities, breathe atomic beams and murdertheunbornchildrenofyourfallenfoes. But even though my obsession with his franchise was intense, I was never interested in his lesser rival, Gamera. I have some memories of trying to watch Gamera battling a giant swordfish, yet do you know what I can recall the most out of that experience? Me getting bored and changing the TV station. The strange thing is…despite not being familiar with the works of Gamera, I was always familiar with Gamera himself. I knew that he breathed fire, despite just being a giant turtle and could retract his limbs into his shell and fly, also despite the fact that he’s just a giant turtle. I also knew that he was a giant turtle. I knew he was ‘the friend of all children’ and I was even aware of his infamous reputation of appearing in garbage films. Yet I have no idea where this knowledge came from. Could I have watched his movies and just forgot about them? Could one of my friends have watched the movies and warned me about them? Did I read about Gamera in a magazine? I’m not sure. Maybe knowledge of all the giant monsters is automatically installed into your memory when you watch the Godzilla franchise. Either way, I didn’t make a conscious decision to watch a Gamera film until Shusuke Kaneko revived the character for his heisei trilogy, which has a much different kind of reputation than the Showa era of Gamera. Yet that will have its own sequel ‘Compulsive Franchise Disorder’ page and will only be referenced in passing here. This writing will be dedicated to the Gamera flicks produced between 1965 and 1980, the years that would make him an icon…for possibly of all the wrong reasons. This is all new territory for me, so I guess…I am…excited? Or maybe that’s fear I’m feeling…
GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER (1965)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Yoshiro Uchida and Junichirô Yamashiko)
A nuclear bomb accidentally detonates in the arctic, awakening the giant monster known as Gamera, who promptly terrorizes Japan. The world must unite to put a stop to this threat, but can humanity overcome such a monstrosity when all of its technologies fail? “Gamera” is a blatant rip-off of the original “Godzilla” and pales in comparison to its bigger, better brother, but the director wisely embraced a few stylistic differences, giving “Gamera” its own identity…somewhat…I want to stress that these contrasts between “Godzilla” and “Gamera” should not necessarily be interpreted as ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’, but just as…different. Because the filmmakers couldn’t afford the elaborate cityscape miniatures of “Godzilla“, they focused all of their resources into producing a handful of smaller scale set-pieces. Gamera might not have as many structures to destroy, but this gives the SFX crew more time and money to improve their (fewer) miniatures. The rural areas also seem to fit Gamera snugly, whereas Godzilla belongs in the middle of a burning city. The camera is required to capture the destruction at a closer angle, giving us an intimate view of Gamera’s rampage. “Godzilla”, on the other hand, favored wide shots that allowed us to see the extent of his mayhem. Furthermore, humans were beneath Godzilla’s notice, unless they were piloting tanks, jets or anything that could potentially harm him. But Gamera pays close attention to our species, with one grisly scene in particular having him tear open the roof of a building so he can roast everyone inside. Yet contrasting this is a scene where he consciously rescues a little boy from plummeting to his doom. I like the implication that Gamera is not just a beast, but is in fact a wise creature driven insane by nuclear materials. Godzilla was a force of nature, but Gamera is a character and that leads to a problem I have with his debut.
There are some missed opportunities here, as my interpretation of Gamera is that he (in a moment of clarity) spared Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida) because he understood the innocence of children. It’s us war happy adults who piss him off. I wish the characters acknowledged this, perhaps realizing that they need to learn a thing or two from the boy…and hopefully, only a thing or two because this kid was f@cking awful. I saw the potential for Toshio to have a compelling character arc, as his obsession with Gamera leads to him vehemently opposing any attempt to stop the giant turtle. He endangers himself and others in his quest to save Gamera and prove that he’s a ‘good turtle’. Maybe as the adults learn to be more innocent like children, the child should’ve been confronted with the death and destruction caused by Gamera, becoming more of an adult. I hated Toshio because of his loud, reckless stupidity, but I also found myself condemning the adults for failing to make Toshio understand that Gamera was killing people…Everyone needed a good smack in the mouth. Later sequels would do their best to ignore Gamera’s reign of terror, instead presenting him as ‘the friend of all children’, whereas Godzilla had to develop into an ally for humanity. On another note, since this paragraph has become dedicated to the flaws, they never really reveal the identity of the pilot who is responsible for everything…Considering how much they built up that mystery, the lack of pay-off was very distracting. Also, is it just me or does this genre love the ‘scientist, reporter, female‘ trio of protagonists? I could’ve sworn these were the same characters from “Mothra Vs Godzilla“. They are that generic and before anyone accuses me of sexism for referring to the female by her gender and not her occupation, keep in mind that the film itself decides she doesn’t need a job…she needs a man…Unfortunately, in these kinds of movies, men are characterized based on their occupation or passion and women are characterized based on their sex appeal. For what it’s worth though, everyone here is equally boring, man or woman. Except Toshio, but only because he’s annoying.
I did like how imaginative Gamera’s design is, as he’s a fire-breathing turtle who…in a bizarre twist, can…fly…Honestly, that almost seems mundane compared to what we would get in subsequent entries. The suit looks cool, ignoring those few shots which show the flame thrower in his mouth. The miniature work is solid and there is a decent amount of variety in the sets. The lighter cinematography might not be as effective as “Godzilla”’s gloomier, darker visual style, but at least we can see everything in detail. While eventually running out of steam near the ending, “Gamera” is surprisingly action packed. The monster is revealed within the first 10 minutes and he never goes away for too long. It was also refreshing seeing the scientists and military get along harmoniously, united in their desire to either capture or destroy Gamera. Whereas most Kaiju flicks tended to be more tragic and cynical, “Gamera” is shockingly optimistic. “Gamera” might be borrowing a lot from “Godzilla“, but I do respect the filmmakers for experimenting with some new ideas. While the military sends in jets and tanks after Gamera, their attempts fail immediately and they learn from their mistakes. Most Kaiju flicks emphasizes the escalation of fire power, but after the initial failure, everyone starts thinking outside of the box and coming up with creative strategies that don’t involve wasted ammo. This was interesting to me, especially when Gamera outsmarts them by revealing his own bag of tricks. Gamera definitely seems to be one of the craftier Kaiju out there…“Gamera: The Giant Monster” might’ve eventually become a joke amongst Kaiju fans, but his debut was solid, if rough around the edges.
GAMERA VS BARUGON (1966)
(Directed by Shigeo Tanaka)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Kôjirô Hongô, Kôji Fujiyama and Kyôko Enami)
Three men journey to an island in the South Pacific in order to retrieve a massive Opal that can make them all very wealthy, but it turns out that the Opal is really an egg…which hatches a deadly monster whom the locals refer to as Barugon. Can Japans’ best scientists, military leaders and the atoning Keisuke Hirata (Kôjirô Hongô)- one of the men who stole the egg- stop its mayhem? Oh yeah, Gamera returns to Earth for an extended cameo…in his own f@cking movie. Say what you will about the mediocre “Godzilla Raids Again”, which “Gamera Vs Barugon” is obviously borrowing a lot from, but at least Godzilla remained the primary threat. Gamera gets two short scenes before returning for the finale, in which he participates in a laughably horrible, slow paced, awkward battle with Barugon. This…isn’t very good, even though there is some good stuff here. The transition to color provides some interesting visuals, such as the purple blood and I do like how emotionally involved our human hero becomes as things get increasingly dire. He knows he’s responsible for this mess and you can tell that every single death leaves an impact on him, so this is one of the few “Gamera” flicks where I connected with the characters and appreciated the cast playing them. Much like its predecessor, you can’t deny how imaginative these creature designs are. A monster who shoots an ice beam from its tongue, which can also…punch…things? And he can fire destructive rainbows??? Suddenly, Gamera- the flying, fire breathing turtle- seems a little mundane now… also appreciate how these monsters are characters, complete with personalities and emotions. I liked how the actors in the monster suits conveyed pain, like when Barugon is injured and starts rolling around in agony. Maybe it’s over-the-top, but it’s a side to Kaiju you don’t see too often. Finally, even though this was also something I praised about the first film, I still enjoy the tactics humanity uses to combat Barugon. Once their weaponry fails, they’re forced to come up with some strange and creative strategies, which is shockingly rare within the genre. This is only because the filmmakers couldn’t afford too many miniature planes or tanks, but they make up for the budget limitations by thinking outside of the box…and that is cool!
Unfortunately, the transition to color also draws a lot more attention to the cheapness of the special effects. At no point did the miniatures ever convince me they were anything but models, nor did Barugon resemble anything but a man in a suit. The skin always looked rubbery, but it was the eyes that kept stealing my attention, for they look like they should be plucked out and sewn onto a stuffed animal. Strangely, Godzilla’s first form in “Shin Godzilla” had similar doll-like eyes and it would be amazing to learn if a Gamera villain served as an inspiration for a Godzilla, considering Gamera’s own origins. The Gamera suit looks better and at least his eyes convey ‘something’, even if it’s just grumpiness, but the filmmakers did a piss poor job at maintaining the illusion that Gamera was actually looking ‘at’ Barugon. It always seemed like he was glaring at something behind Barugon, as his gaze was just too high and that was incredibly distracting. Gamera’s absence throughout most of the running-time is probably the films’ biggest problem though. I was beginning to think that Barugon was becoming the center piece of the franchise and part of me almost wanted that…Barugon has a cutesy design, while Gamera looks a lot more menacing and Barugon felt more like the underdog throughout their struggle, making him easier to root for. But Gamera is supposed to be the good one, even if Barugon looks too adorable to hate or fear, so that was odd in a bad way. The script is pretty poor in general, with impossible contrivances and abnormally stupid character decisions. The human protagonists vanish for a long periods of time, but it also feels like you have to wait a awhile to get to the monster action. Sometimes the story just jumps with minimal warning, probably due to budget and time restrictions, but the time skips could not have been more glaring. “Gamera Vs Barugon” has a mixed reputation amongst fans, with many viewing it to be the best of the Showa sequels and many forgetting it exists because it is technically the best of the sequels. From a production standpoint, it’s adequate, but outside of a really cool set piece where Barugon is using buildings as a cover against Gameras’ fire, the special effects are neither bad enough to make fun of or good enough to be worthy of praise. The following sequels would get a lot worse, but they’re zanier, funnier and a lot more memorable than this one was in all of its mediocrity. They would be the ones that forged Gamera’s legacy, for better or worse. This was that awkward point in the franchise where Gamera was still finding his legs and the end result is a movie too loopy to function as another Godzilla knock-off, but not loopy enough to step out of Godzilla’s shadow.
GAMERA VS GYAOS (1967)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Kôjirô Hongô, Kichijirô Ueda and Reiko Kasahara)
A giant bat monster…that fires lasers out of its mouth and releases a mysterious toxin from its…nipples…terrorizes the mountainside, looking for humans and blood to feed upon. Humanity begins to refer to it as Gyaos, but unfortunately for the beast, Earth is Gamera’s planet and Gamera is a flying, fire breathing f@cking Turtle who…likes kids…Oh yeah, there is also a subplot about a company trying to build a road through a village, but it’s really boring and your mind will likely phase it out because you really want the good stuff…or depending on your perspective, the bad stuff…”Gamera Vs Gyaos” definitely took some budget cuts, looking significantly cheaper than “Gamera Vs Barugon“, which was already pretty cheap looking. But the horrible special effects ended up being a little better than I was expecting, with not…entirely terrible… miniature work. The filmmakers even get a little creative with the destruction of vehicles, as the laser beam attacks will slice them in two instead of causing a conventional explosion. This leads to some weird visuals, while strange music plays in the background, but that is a large part of the appeal of the Gamera franchise. These movies might be low budgeted, but at least they’re consistently weird. Gyaos has a pretty cool and menacing design, although both of the monster suits look rather stiff and awkward. The flying shots of Gyaos are especially hilarious, because its mouth never closes, making it resemble a toy- which it probably was. I do love how Gyaos specifically targets humans, even attempting to eat the token boy in its debuting scene. When the monster uses its wing span to wreck havoc, the gimmick is reminiscent of Rodan, but we actually see people getting blown away. I like these kinds of human interactions, as they add some suspense to the spectacle.
“Gamera Vs Gyaos” is the movie that turned Gamera into the friend of all children and the target audience shifted to a younger demographic because of this, much to the ire of adults who will find the content a bit too silly for their liking. Personally, I was too busy marveling at how violent this was for a kids film, so I wasn’t bothered by the goofy tone. Even the kid didn’t really annoy me, as unlike the little shit from the first movie, he contributes to the conflict in a positive way. Plus, this Gamera doesn’t tear the roofs off of buildings to incinerate everyone inside, so I can get behind the hero worship. Unfortunately, there are some serous pacing problems, as the human storyline and the characters who inhabit it are incredibly dull. Unlike its predecessors, the human story doesn’t have anything to do with the monster mash, so it’s obviously designed to pad out the running-time. The monster fights are A LOT better than the tedious clashes from “Gamera Vs Borugon“, but they’re still leagues away from being comparable to Godzilla’s battles. The budget is obviously too small and the suits too heavy to really do anything elaborate or exciting. I do appreciate the use of strategy though, both from the humans and Gamera. The plan to make Gyaos dizzy made me laugh and that sums up the entire movie. It’s pretty bad, but I think the filmmakers knew that they could not make a respectable film with their minuscule budget, so aimed to make their content as weird and easy to make fun of as possible. This is my personal favorite Gamera movie of the Showa Era, even if it’s technically inferior to both of its predecessors. Rating the film was difficult, as it qualifies as a ‘bad movie’, but I also liked it…Will there ever be more of a discrepancy in my ratings system?
GAMERA VS SPACE MONSTER VIRAS (1968)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Tôru Takatsuka, Carl Craig and Kôjirô Hongô)
Masao (Tôru Takatsuka) and Jim (Carl Craig) are two young, trouble-making boy scouts whose adoration of the reformed Gamera leads to them being abducted by aliens. The invaders want to conquer Earth, but they’re afraid of Gamera, so use the kids as hostages to manipulate the giant, flying, fire breathing turtle monster into doing their evil bidding. Can Gamera save the kids and successfully defend the Earth from these mysterious beings? “Gamera Vs Viras” perfects the formula that was forged in “Gamera Vs Gyaos” and I mean ‘perfects’ in the same way that Osama Bin Laden perfected his plot to destroy the World Trade Center after first attempting to do so in 1993…Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an extreme comparison…and “Gamera Vs Viras” is only embracing its target audience, as the filmmakers had discovered that kids had more use for their series than the adults did. But was this a good thing? It gave the studios an excuse to cut costs, as kids have low standards and this would cause some serious damage to the franchise. The tone is significantly campier, filled with cheesy effects, silly monster battles and a script that is so ridiculous it almost becomes impossible to criticize. The best way to approach “Gamera Vs Viras” is to view the story from the perspective of a child, as Masao and Jim are both the definitive protagonists and clearly avatars for any kid who views this. They don’t want to see adults going into the scientific details of a monster, they want to catch the attention of Gamera and even play with the beast. You can argue how baffling it is that the entirety of Earth is willing to surrender to the aliens, just to spare these kids from being killed, or you can whine about how easy it is for the kids to outsmart the aliens, but…why? If I was a kid, I would’ve loved this, because who wouldn’t want to have a goofy race with Gamera? Who wouldn’t want to be the center of attention and assist your hero in saving the day? “Gamera Vs Viras” is appealing to the fantasies of its demographic, with even the colorful spaceship designs and the creepy appearances of the aliens feeling like the products of the overactive imaginations of children. I think the proof comes from the scene where the scout leaders and scientists allow two kids to take a mini-submarine out on their own, without any training whatsoever. Children would love to be in that situation, where they can screw around in an underwater vehicle without the supervision of their elders, so the filmmakers roll with that. Even the climactic battle between Gamera and Viras is intended to be more fun than intense, with Gamera riding Viras like a jet ski while light hearted music plays in the background. Of course, there is one twisted scene where Viras impales Gamera, but even that is reminiscent of the darker side of a childs’ imagination. Yeah, we tend to forget that at a young age, we tore the heads off of barbies and obsessed over gross stuff, so even the violence was probably designed for the twisted impulses of its target audience. We see Gamera’s stomach actually penetrated, but what begins as horrifying almost adopts a gruesomely comical edge when Viras continues to stab Gamera over and over again, eventually getting stuck in the process. This sounds pretty brutal and it kind of is, but the effect is so cheesy and bad that it’s difficult to take seriously. So “Gamera Vs Viras” is very weird and very silly, but it’s for kids and will satisfy them.
That doesn’t make it any less f@cking annoying for their parents…
Okay, Okay, I’m not going to pretend that “Gamera Vs Viras” didn’t tap into my inner child. I enjoyed a lot about this film and I didn’t even mind two brats functioning as our protagonists, even if they’re very noisy. At least they’re pro-active, solve their own problems and are willing to sacrifice their lives for humanity- in contrast to f@cking Toshio from the first film, who presumably grew up into a Gamera cultist who sacrificed babies in the turtle’s name. Masao and Jim were surprisingly likable, despite being pranksters and I had no problem following them throughout their ordeal. The effects might look very cheap, but at least they’re still pretty creative and I had a good time laughing at them. Even the worst of Godzilla flicks had superior production values than this, but they’re more sad than amusing, as they desperately try (and fail) to cover up their minimal budgets. Gamera embraces its cheapness and has fun with it, so I can have fun with the cheapness as well. But what I can’t forgive is the reliance on stock footage from the previous movies. They try to justify this by claiming that the aliens are researching Gamera, but not only is it a lame excuse, they force us to revisit the boring battles between Gamera and Barugon. The ‘research’ clips really slowed the movie down to a crawl for me, but at least that segment ends and…They start using stock footage AGAIN when the aliens brainwash Gamera into attacking cities. This time, the filmmakers don’t even try to excuse their penny pinching tactics, but I will admit that I laughed when they resorted to using clips of the original film. Just as they embraced the crappy effects, it’s as if they adopted that same mentality towards the use of stock footage, because…”Gamera: The Giant Monster” was filmed in black-and-white…All of the sequels have been shot in color…Movie, you’re not going to be able to trick ANYONE- even little kids- into thinking they’re watching new content. Even I would’ve seen through this and I didn’t even realize “Godzilla’s Revenge” was a clip show when I was little! Even though they had to use about 20 minutes of recycled material, I’d still say “Gamera Vs Viras” is leagues superior to the likes of “Puppet Master: Legacy“, “The Howling VII: New Moon Rising” and…well, most other clip shows because at least the new content is lively and fun. Unfortunately, I found Viras to be a rather lame villain. He’s just a giant squid and other than his pointy head, he lacks the strange assortment of bizarre abilities boasted by his predecessors. The design is standard and he doesn’t even showcase a real personality, nor does he appear to be a genuine threat to Gamera. Whereas Gyaos was supposed to scare the children, Viras seems like he’s the one they’re supposed to laugh at. His fight with Gamera is filled with sight gags, mostly at his expense. It’s cathartic to see Gamera finally overcome the representation of our nightmares (Gyaos), but it’s fun seeing him pummel on Viras. I’m also not entirely sure I understood what Viras even was. He’s imprisoned and tries to get the kids to rescue him, leading them to believe that he was abducted by the aliens as well, but then it’s revealed that he was the aliens’ boss all along? Huh? What did I miss here? While I didn’t like Viras, I did find Gamera to be charming and I would argue that this is the movie where he fully developed his own personality. He also gets a bad-ass title screen introduction that probably deserved to be put in a better film. So even though “Gamera Vs Space Monster Viras” is definitely a silly, shoddy kids flick, it can provide some amusement if you’re in the right mindset. But like this or not, there’s no disputing that it put the Gamera franchise on a path to self destruction…
GAMERA VS GUIRON (1969)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Nobuhiro Kajima, Christopher Murphy and Kon Ohmura)
Akio (Nobuhiro) and Tom (Christopher Murphy) are two kids fascinated by space, so are thrilled when a spaceship lands nearby. They discover that the vessel is empty, so they screw around and accidentally fly off into the stars. They crash into a mysterious planet on the other end of the solar system, where two alien babes are constantly under siege by a pack of Gyaos. They have a giant monster named Guiron under their control though and it easily dispatches all of its foes. Unfortunately for the kids, these alien babes have dastardly plans for them. Unfortunately for the alien babes, these kids were followed by a certain giant, flying, fire breathing turtle who has a fondness for children…and possibly has his own dastardly plans for them, if my pedo-radar is correct…The monsters clash, but has Gamera met his match? “Gamera Vs Guiron” sucks…I know that’s probably not my most refined observation, especially as these last few sequels had been dancing with suckitude themselves and I was able to write about them, but at least they were fun to laugh at. They embraced the badness with enthusiasm, making up for the budgetary shortcomings with their wild imaginations. “Gamera Vs Guiron” is just going through the motions, pillaging “Gamera Vs Viras” for ideas while continuing the trend of goofy shenanigans and deteriorating production values. The special effects are terrible…again…The rear-projection shots are awkward because you can see scratches and stains on the screen, even more clearly than the effects themselves. The monster suits look saggy, while the toy models and miniatures look cheap by Gamera standards, even though there are only like two locations used for the monster mashes throughout the entire movie…and one is just outer-space. “Gamera Vs Viras” might have similarly been a Z-grade production, but at least that film had vibrant art design and absurd visuals. The sets here are colorless and uninteresting to look at, although I initially found the costuming to be pretty amusing. Eventually though, even those hokey space suits start blending into the lackluster color scheme and become just as dull as everything else. “Gamera Vs Guiron” does try to make you laugh at its expense, but most of its sight gags were watered down versions of what we already saw in “Gamera Vs Viras“- such as a rehash of the impalement scene. I guess the movie does have its moments, such as when Gamera does some gymnastics or shows off his dance moves, but mostly it’s just covering the same shit that we’ve seen before…and I’m not even talking about the use of stock footage, another idea lifted from “Gamera Vs Viras“…At least the clipshow doesn’t go on for as long this time, even if it’s purpose is to be filler. Honestly, the funniest part about “Gamera Vs Guiron” is that this time around, Gamera is the space invader. From a certain perspective, you can argue that Guiron is just defending his home planet. You might think that Guiron is still the evil one because he sports a sadistic laugh as he dices up Space Gyaos, but is that really any different from Gamera playing a tune off of the fallen Zigra’s spines in “Gamera Vs Zigra“? Gamera himself has ruthlessly slaughtered some of his past foes, so it’s an amusing parallel that I don’t think the filmmakers had intended.
Guiron’s design is cool, being simple yet memorable. His mouth vaguely resembles the jaws of a shark and his snout is shaped like a knife, which it uses to shop up his opponents. It also fires shuriken out from its nostrils, which is ridiculous even by Gamera standards, although at least that’s…new…Unfortunately, the droopy facial features always makes it look kind of sleepy and much like Viras, has little in terms of characterization. Its appearance and methods might be vicious, but I didn’t find Guiron to be as menacing as Gyaos, nor as interesting as Barugon. Gamera has his usual design and Space Gyaos is just a spray painted Gyaos, with fewer abilities. Apparently they had planned on making a new monster but lacked the funds, so just dusted off the Gyaos suit and changed its color into silver. The monster battles are sluggishly paced, with all of their movements being deliberate and repetitive. The editing leads to some glaring continuity errors (where did that ocean come from?) and confusing gaps in the narrative. There are plenty of awkward visuals where the monsters are stationary (because they’ve changed from suits to models) and nearly every shot is held for too long. The movie itself is pretty short, but yikes, it felt so much longer. I have to give the filmmakers credit though…”Gamera Vs Guiron” is shockingly violent. Guiron dismembers Space Gyaos into pieces in the films’ most notorious scene and I was taken aback whenever large chunks of debris would fall on the kids. It’s a good thing that the fortress was apparently made out of Styrofoam, or they could’ve died! Occasionally the filmmakers wake up from their creative slumber and deliver the craptastic content we expect out of our Gamera flicks. Gamera shoves an active missile into a monsters nose, which explodes and blasts the monster in half…with its face left completely unscathed…Or what about when Gamera repairs a f@cking spaceship, which is somehow ridiculous even by ‘shark monster firing shuriken out of its nostrils’ standards? “Gamera Vs Guiron” occasionally made me snicker, but mostly it’s just dull. The acting is not only bad, but the cast don’t even seem like they’re enjoying themselves this time. The narrative is kind of aimless, with the scenes taking place on Earth being unnecessary and boring. The villains are bland and their downfall lacked a satisfying pay-off. One is trapped under rubble and even though the actress had accidentally freed herself because said rubble was made of Styrofoam, her partner ruthlessly slays her. This would normally earn her a gruesome death, but her subsequent demise is treated as an afterthought…because the filmmakers did not give a shit about either of them. They just needed something to pad out the time and didn’t care about this project enough to think of anything better. “Gamera Vs Guiron” is maybe 75% bad, 25% entertainingly bad and the quality of the Gamera series continues its descent into hell.
GAMERA VS JIGER (1970)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis and Kon Ohmura)
I remember when I first saw “I Spit on Your Grave” and my immediate thought was: “Why don’t they make rape-and-revenge movies…FOR KIDS?!“. You might think that’s a f@cking weird thought to have, but if I had seen “Gamera Vs Jiger” at that time, I wouldn’t have had to think that…because I’d be thinking about “Gamera Vs Jiger and that a little less f@cking weird…I think? The (real life) Expo ’70 World Fair is coming up and when a mysterious statue is discovered on an island, the festival hosts decide they want to excavate it and turn it into a major attraction. Unfortunately, the statue was keeping a vicious monster known as Jiger in hibernation and it might even be more powerful than Gamera. Jiger stabs Gamera with his phallic weapon, impregnating the giant turtle with a miniature version of itself and putting Gamera into a coma. Two young teenagers (Tsutomu Takakuwa and Kelly Varis) take it upon themselves to save the ‘friend of all children’ by hijacking a mini-submarine and entering Gamera’s body to perform an abortion, but not before the infant tries to spray them with its sticky white liquid…Ew…Don’t worry though, because Gamera gets his revenge by ‘castrating’ Jiger and penetrating him with a foreign object of his own…Yup, definitely a rape-and-revenge movie…FOR KIDS! “Gamera Vs Jiger” is still supposed to be for children, but it is darker to the point of being inappropriate and I’m not just referring to the the sticky white liquid, forced male impregnation or abortions being performed by kids…There is one scene where the characters watch graphic stock footage of an elephant having parasitic worms removed from its trunk and that was just gross and unnecessary. This is definitely one of the more violent entries of the Showa Era, with a lot more death, destruction and monster blood. Most parents will probably find this to be too disturbing for their children, although said children will probably love it even more, as kids love gross stuff. The darker content and the silliness might alienate most adults, but kids don’t know what ‘tone’ is and might embrace the mixing of these wildly different flavors. While a lot of this content sounds ludicrous, I actually thought “Gamera Vs Jiger” was somewhat tame on the weirdness scale, at least compared to the other sequels. As someone who was drawn to this series based on the weaponized rainbows, shuriken snot and other ideas that were presumably concocted while under the influence of marijuana, I was a little disappointed. Maybe this was an intentional attempt to give Gamera some mainstream credibility, as they also boosted the production values. The special effects are actually passable, or at least are an improvement over its predecessors, for what that’s worth. But the suits, miniatures, green screens and post production effects still look crude compared to Gamera’s competitors, but not crude enough to be laughable, so I’m not sure if the increased competence should be praised or criticized. You can either think that this is the best of the Showa era, or at least one of the better sequels, because it’s technically superior than the majority of them. Or you can think it’s among the worst because the ‘so bad, it’s good’ elements and the strangeness have been toned down, losing a lot of its warped entertainment value. Ultimately, it’s up to your preferences.
I’ve heard some complaints about the plot being absurd, as if the Gamera movies have ever been grounded in reality. For those who whine about the kids coming up with all of the intelligent ideas and not any of these scientists, engineers or military strategists or how farfetched their “Fantastic Voyage“-esque adventure really is, you obviously don’t realize that this entire franchise is rooted in ‘wish-fulfillment’ for its target audience. As a child, I probably thought it would be awesome to drive a submarine inside Gamera’s body. I doubt I would’ve considered how scientifically implausible it would be. So none of that bothered me, although I was annoyed with their tendency to ask stupid questions, such as when Gamera gets stabbed and they yell “Gamera, what happened!?“. Um, HE GOT STABBED WITH THE F@CKING TAIL, YOU STUPID LITTLE SHITS! That happens A LOT, so I can’t excuse that as wish fulfillment, although I’m sure there must be some kid who has always dreamed of yelling out redundant questions to giant monsters. The protagonists are just watered down versions of the equivalents from “Gamera Vs Viras“, so they were pretty dull. Gamera has more personality than any of the humans and the performer in the suit make good use of body language. You can see his frustration when the humans aren’t taking heed of his warnings. Jiger is grumpy and horny, not having the most dynamic characterization of Gamera’s rogues gallery. The design isn’t quite as wild as the likes of Gyaos or Guiron, but I liked its menacing features. Its gimmicks include spines, its rape tail, jet propeller ears (!) and a sound beam that turns people into skeletons (!!), so it’s still reasonably bizarre. The problem is that the Jiger suit is really stiff and limited in terms of what it can do and how much it can move, which becomes really apparent during the clunky battle scenes. I’m willing to suspend disbelief quite a bit, but there were a lot of times when Jiger’s immobility took me out of the experience, as he looks so much like a prop. I suppose I shoudn’t complain though, as the increased budget means more miniature cities, something we haven’t seen since “Gamera Vs Gyaos“. They aren’t especially great…in fact, they’re pretty mediocre, but the cinematographer manages to capture some great shots using the subpar miniatures. This does admittedly lead to another flaw though, as the pacing is incredibly choppy. When Gamera is stumbling towards the ocean (after being metaphorically raped), the camera smoothly glides around the set and Gamera is framed through holes within the buildings, smoldering ashes, etc. It’s a cool visual, but it goes on for too long. Strangely, there are other times when they cut away too early, such as when Gamera drops Jiger onto the ground from the air and the next shot is of him gliding in the water…It was disorienting! There is stock footage, but most of it is reserved for the opening credits, so I could forgive that. This was a difficult movie to process, because it’s sort of a middling entry in every way. More sophisticated than most of the sequels, but not really sophisticated. It’s goofy and ridiculous, but not AS goofy and ridiculous as the last three entries. Is it the most tolerable of the sequels? Or the blandest? I’d say it’s probably a little bit of both, but I prefer my Gamera movies to be hilariously terrible instead of just average. Still, Gamera does get impregnated and has a monster abortion, so at least I have that memory nesting within my head…and that is why I watch movies.
GAMERA VS ZIGRA (1971)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Eiko Yanami, Yasushi Sakagami and Gloria Zoellner)
“Gamera Vs Zigra” is…bad…and while Gamera is certainly no stranger to bad movies, this is the first time when the badness lacked the enthusiasm or eccentricities which made some of the previous bad entries kind of…well, good…or at least tolerable…I didn’t find “Gamera Vs Guiron” or “Gamera Vs Viras” to be entertaining enough to ‘like’, but they were odd enough to mostly keep my interest. I think the main problem is that “Gamera Vs Zigra” never really strays from the formula, which had already grown stale. Once again, two kids (one Asian, one Caucasian) accidentally wander into an alien plot to take over the world and Gamera must save the day. Even the various dilemmas and conflicts are very reminiscent of the past, such as when the aliens take some kids captive, forcing Earth into the ultimatum of ‘surrender or they die’. Gamera is left in a coma after his first bout with the new enemy, but some plot device will inevitably wake him up in time for the climax. Do all of these movies share the same ‘planning room’ set, where the scientists deliver all of the exposition? Because they all look the same and a lot of time is spent there! “Gamera Vs Zigra” uses so many cliches established in the previous flicks that the narrative starts to feel like it’s entirely cobbled together from the previous flicks…which is ironic, as “Gamera Vs Zigra” is one of the few sequels to not use stock footage. So we’re ultimately being fed the same stale meal, but there isn’t much else to grab our attention. The effects are crappy, but the movie seems ashamed of its minimal production values, as there is less action on display. “Gamera Vs Viras” and “Gamera Vs Guiron” were equally terrible in the effects department, but the filmmakers concocted some ridiculous visuals that made them amusing. This one doesn’t sport many miniatures and even minimizes the rear projection shots, which still look awful, but I miss the days when the filmmakers would flaunt those scratched up screens and toys masquerading as vehicles…But what about the battles between Zigra and Gamera? Zigra swims around Gamera a lot…and that’s the bulk of their fight scenes…Lots of posturing, but little physicality. It immediately gets boring and the bad SFX never distracted me from the tedium. Speaking of which- “Gamera Vs Zigra” is very slow paced, with most of the action being dedicated to the alien woman (Eiko Yanami) pursuing the children. Admittedly, the marriage of Eiko Yanami’s intense performance and the embarrassing situations her character is put through was a little endearing. The actress is far too good for this movie, but I always admire effort, especially when it seems like no one else is trying anymore. There is a lot of filler that goes nowhere, such as when the kids encounter a homeless man and assume they went back in time, or when two characters are arguing about who gets to buy fish while the town is being evacuated. Do these scenes lead anywhere? No and most of these characters never appear again, while the one who does return only has about 1-2 more minutes of screen-time left. These pointless divergences only clog up the narrative, slowing everything down.
It’s unfortunate that this movie sucks, as I thought Zigra was a pretty stellar villain. He has a cool design, a somewhat complex motivation, an above average intelligence and is one of the few Kaiju who can communicate with humans using their own language. Unfortunately, his suit is even more rubbery than the norm, but it’s not like Gamera’s suit looks any more realistic these days. In fact, the only part of Gamera that seems to move consistently is his (bloodshot) eyes, which dart back and forth so frequently that I like to theorize he’s on cocaine. He’s also kind of a dick, as he seems to be bullying Zigra during their first encounter, only to go out like a bitch when Zigra finally counterattacks. During their rematch, Gamera humiliates his opponent by playing his theme song on Zigra’s spines and dancing to the music…and then he burns Zigra alive…There is an anti-pollution message somewhere in here, but one has to wonder if the filmmakers were expressing their disdain for the tree huggers and environmentalists. When Godzilla slew the Smog Monster, he was destroying an incarnation of pollution. But Zigra is an Oceanic creature who hates humans because they’re polluting the Ocean, so why should we cheer for his death? It should be presented as tragic! The filmmakers clearly do not understand how anti-pollution messages work. “Gamera Vs Zigra” isn’t necessarily any more incompetent or cheaper than its predecessors, but it feels routine by this point, as if the movie was only made to fulfill contractual obligations. Could the filmmakers have gotten bored of the giant, flying, fire breathing turtle? Probably, as other than “Gamera Vs Barugon“, these films share the same writer and director, with even a lot of the cast and crew members consistently returning. Inspiration is not a bottomless well, especially when it’s being channeled into a single franchise, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the filmmakers had become creatively exhausted by the 6th sequel. I don’t know how well this did at the box office, but Daiei Pictures declared bankruptcy shortly after its release, effectively ending the Gamera saga at the time.
GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER (1980)
(Directed by Noriaki Yuasa)
(Written by Niisan Takahashi)
(Starring Mach Fumiake, Koichi Maeda and Keiko Kudo)
In 1974, Daiei Pictures was purchased by Tokuma Shoten, who eventually decided they wanted to resurrect the Gamera franchise…by shitting out a film so insanely terrible that the director was left with no choice but to kill Gamera off…which has to be the most baffling strategy for reviving a franchise of all time…”Gamera: Super Monster” was an enlightening experience, as it revealed how little I knew about the universe I live in. In a way, it’s so bad that it almost goes full circle and becomes absurdly wonderful, for I have spent far too much brain power trying to understand it…and my brain is losing. I think this is supposed to be a reboot of the Gamera series, as no one seems to believe that a giant, flying, fire breathing turtle exists before he makes his big reveal, but no one seems all that surprised about his existence either. The plot is similar to the original “Gamera“, except it has space babes, Star Destroyers, animated trains…in space…and lots of stock footage. Keichi (Koichi Maeda) loves turtles and he loves them so much that he seems to have wet dreams about them, but he’s in a committed relationship to one turtle in particular…who talks to him…Earth is attacked by an alien called Zanon, who appears to be a living spaceship…and its design is such a shameless rip-off of “Star Wars” that it’s…a f@cking Star Destroyer…Seriously, it’s an identical copy! At first, I thought the filmmakers were using stock footage of “Star Wars“, as they even replicated the iconic introductory shot, but then I noticed the lack of quality and realized that the footage was technically ‘original’. How were these filmmakers not sued for plagiarism??? Zanon wants to conquer Earth, so unleashes Gyaos, Zigra, Viras, Jiger, Guiron and Barugon. Luckily for our planet, a trio of sexy, space babes are there to protect us…by continuously lamenting about how they must protect us instead of actually doing anything to protect us…Keichi is forced to release his turtle into the wild and shortly afterwards, Gamera arrives to save the day, while the Space Babes cheer him on. Is Gamera the pet turtle? Who the f@ck cares? I want to know what the f@ck was even going on! The aliens demand that Earth surrenders in the opening scene, but NO ONE SEEMS TO GIVE A SHIT! Everybody goes about their daily business, so did Zanon forget to transmit his message? When Gamera arrives, only the main characters seem to notice, even though we see him flying over cities…fighting monsters in cities…destroying cities himself…Yet no one reacts to his presence! Why did Zanon send one monster at a time to face Gamera? Why did Gamera travel to the monster planet to battle Guiron, when Barugon was still rampaging on Earth? Why is Zanon so obsessed with having the Space Babes killed when they seem unable to do anything to him? Why did the Space Babes suit up and fly into their…Space…Van (?) to discuss the threat, only to…just…return to their normal attire? Couldn’t they have had the same conversation at the pet-shop, in their human clothing? Why does Zanon blame his agent for Viras being defeated when the agent had nothing to do with that battle? Zanon was the one who sent the squid monster to face Gamera, not her! Why is Gamera being super-imposed onto anime, which appears to be “Galaxy Express 999“? Why is Gamera chasing the ‘space train’? Is he on drugs? Is Keichi on drugs? Am I on drugs? Am I the drugs? I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW!
From a production standpoint, “Super Monster” even embarrasses its predecessors, which were already probably pretty damn embarrassed to exist themselves. The budget was so small that the vast majority of the Gamera footage is…*sigh*…stock footage lifted from the other films. I want to remind you that the previous Gamera flick, “Gamera Vs Zigra” came out in 1971 and this was made in 1980…Did they really think that 9-14 year old special effects that were already pretty crappy would improve with age? The funny thing is that they actually did shoot some new Gamera footage AND IT SOMEHOW LOOKS F@CKING WORSE THAN THE EFFECTS THAT WERE ALREADY SHITTY THROUGHOUT THE 1960’S AND 1970’S! HOW DO YOU DO THAT!? There is some silver lining though, because the cheap, minimal sets, tacky costumes and optical visuals are so awful looking that they become kind of hilarious. Because so much stock footage is used, the continuity is already going to be all over the place, but somehow…it’s even more difficult to follow than it normally would be. They don’t just re-use footage from “Gamera Vs Gyaos“, “Gamera Vs Barugon“, “Gamura Vs Viras“, “Gamera Vs Jiger” and “Gamera Vs Zigra“, they re-edit all of the battle scenes. The good news is that most of these monster brawls were slow paced and awkward in their original films, so the changes actually helped speed things along. The bad news is that they’re combining separate scenes into a single one, so the background seems to change on a shot-to-shot basis. It is VERY disorienting, but I can’t deny how grateful I was that Gamera and Zigra’s dance of death didn’t nearly put me to sleep this time- even if “Super Monster” did eventually start tempting my eyes to shut…The use of stock footage does occasionally backfire on the narrative. It really doesn’t make sense when Gamera takes off to another planet to face Guiron, who seemed content to sleep in his layer, when Barugon is presumably causing havoc on Earth. The editor also doesn’t seem to know how transitions will work, as sometimes the story jumps to random places without warning and sometimes it cuts to the most surreal aspects of the film. Gamera and Gyaos fight and it ends in a draw, so the next scene has the villain telling the kid that Gamera will lose in the rematch, only for there to be a jump cut to said rematch…Lazy…The first anime scene is framed within the context of the kid dreaming, but the second immediately follows Gamera’s battle with Guiron. Even though the following scene is of the kid sleeping, the focus is on another character, so I…I don’t know what was going on. If I can give this movie credit for anything, it’s that the cast seems to be trying their hardest. Mach Fumiake in particular is way too committed to the material, but I kind of love her for it. Even the kid looks like he’s having a lot of fun, which I feel should be a requirement for this series. The acting is very campy and the Super Sentai influences (lots of cheesy poses and posturing) are either going to amuse or repulse you. But “Gamera: Super Monster” is on the same level of bad that “Puppet Master X: Legacy” and “Howling VII: New Moon Rising” are, even if I thought this film showcased a little more effort, color and unintentional hilarity. I was amused for awhile, but never to the point where I felt this movie was worth it and the stock footage diminished its ‘entertainment value’ until I started to get bored. “Gamera: Super Monster” is important though, because the director- who had directed all but one of these movies- does provide a concrete ending for Gamera. Somehow, the image of a giant, flying, fire breathing turtle committing suicide by crashing into a Star Destroyer, just feels right…
The strangest thing about Gamera is that his debut movie…the best in the Showa Era…has also become his most irrelevant. Sure, it may have introduced all of the elements which have become integral to his identity, but he was still very much a Godzilla clone and I’m sure the filmmakers regretted having scenes of ‘the friend of all children’ roasting people alive. “Gamera Vs Barugon” took its titular monster in another, darker direction, but it failed at the box office, although I don’t think this had a lot to do with the quality of the film. In 1966, the genre was already becoming over-saturated and even Toho was resorting to developing a shared universe amongst its star monsters- Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, etc. Yet Gamera’s makers noticed that kids made up for the majority of the ticket sales, so decided to change the formula into something campier, cheaper and child friendly, developing the personality of both Gamera and his franchise in the process. You might not like the giant, flying, fire breathing turtle or the movies he appeared in, but do you know what? The reasons you don’t like him or his films are probably the same reasons you remember him and his films, because these attributes helped differentiate Gamera from the pack. Personally, these movies might suck and trust me…they definitely are crappy, but they boast this colorful strangeness that I don’t know if I can find anywhere else, so I enjoyed watching them. I liked how weird they were and even the badness held a certain charm for me. Some have actually speculated that as the genre gradually fell out of favor with the masses, Godzilla began to draw influence from Gamera, targeting a younger audience, slashing the budgets and being goofy as well. It’s hard to say, as Godzilla had already began adopting campier tones and experimenting with more child friendly content by the time Gamera had begun doing so. Yet Godzilla wouldn’t commit to these changes until 1969, when Gamera was already into its 3rd kids movie. The difference between the two is that Gamera never reached the high points of Godzilla, but at least made its low points a little more entertaining. The ‘so bad, it’s good’ approach has helped Gamera’s legacy endure over the years, especially in the west, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000- which hosted the majority of these movies. Interestingly, the American distributors were even more shameless about cashing in on Godzilla’s success, changing the titles into the likes of “Destroy all Planets” and “Gamera Vs Monster X”…”Gamera Vs Viras” was the movie that became “Destroy all Planets”, but were any planets destroyed? I seem to remember them wanting to conquer Earth, not destroy it! Even the title changes make me laugh, so I adore the Showa Era of Gamera, even if these movies do technically suck. Should you watch them? Gamera is…definitely an acquired taste…You have to seriously consider what has been said about each film and the franchise as a whole and decide for yourself whether this sounds like something you’ll enjoy. But how could I dislike a series that had death rainbows, toxic nipples, space babes, monster abortions and giant, flying, fire breathing turtles staring down Star Destroyers? That shit is amazing, even if it’s still shit! Yet Gamera’s story isn’t finished, for In 1995, the franchise was revived and introduced the most absurd concept for a Gamera film yet- even moreso than Gamera playing his theme song on the spines of a fallen foe or encountering a monster who wields shuriken snot…
Gamera would appear in…a good f@cking movie…and then another one…and then another one…