Saturday, April 12, 2014
Series Report Card: Gamera (1970)
Gamera vs. Jiger
Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga /
Gamera vs. Monster X
The Gamera movies were cranked out so quickly that I’m not sure if the Daiei executives in charge even had time to take the previous film’s reaction to heart before working on the next one. In the unlikely scenario that they did, it’s easy to see “Gamera vs. Jiger” as a reaction to the sci-fi goofiness of the last two movies. Yes, for his sixth film, Gamera comes back down to Earth. Which isn’t to say the movie’s sane. There’s still crazy monsters jumping around and all that shit. But it’s slightly more reserved then the last few outings.
Set during the construction of the real world 1970 Worlds Fair at Osaka, the story follows two plot lines. The first involves Hiroshi, a Japanese kid around ten, and his best friend, you guessed it, an American boy named Tommy. Both boys have sibling, Hiroshi's bratty older sister and Tommy's high-pitched younger sister. Hiroshi’s dad, an unnamed scientist with - I’m not kidding - a Hitler mustache, has built a hi-tech new submarine for the fair. This will be important later. Tommy’s dad, and the starting point for the second plot, is an archeologist determined to remove a strange ancient artifact called the Devil’s Whistle from the exotic Wester Island. Sensing this is bad news, Gamera shows up to scare the scientists off. They don’t listen, removing the stone spire from the ground and heli-carrying it to Osaka for the Fair. They should have listened to the fire-belching turtle. The tower was holding back a giant monster, the horned, needle-spitting, parasite-implanting Jiger. The monster sets about wrecking havoc on Expo ’70, Gamera forced once again to save the day. When Jiger’s bag of tricks puts the turtle down, the kids have stand up and save their enormous reptilian friend.
“Gamera vs. Jiger” is strictly formula. The film follows roughly the same outline that the series has been using for a while now. For the third time in a row, the kid heroes are a Japanese boy and his American best friend. Like the radio-watches in “Viras” or the perfect aiming skills in “Guiron,” a minor plot element introduce early on helps the characters out of a jam later on. The submarine is reminiscent of a similar vehicle used in “Gamera vs. Viras.” As in every entry since “Gamera vs. Gyaos,” our turtle hero has several fights with the villainous monster. The first battle takes Gamera out of the story for a while, allowing the evil monster to wreck some havoc and for the human heroes to take the center stage. “Gamera vs. Jiger” actually does this twice, Jiger having two special abilities it can deploy. Rescued by his human friends, Gamera returns to gorily dispatch his enemy. Rinse, repeat.
Mu, the Devil’s Whistle being the sole remaining artifact. What was with Japan and lost civilizations in the early seventies? Atlantis popped up in all sorts of shit, “Ataragon” also featured Mu while “Godzilla vs. Megalon” featured Lemuria. Wester Island is clearly a stand-in for Easter Island, a connection “Megalon” would also make. The movie doesn’t even feature a contrived, ridiculous way to kill the monster. When Jiger’s weakness is revealed, it turns out to be high-pitched sounds, a rather mundane reveal. The Devil’s Whistle being a literal whistle is a clever move but Jiger’s weakness isn’t utilized much. By dialing back the craziness, Daiei made a very typical, middle-of-the-road kaiju movie without anything new to offer the audience.
Well, mostly anything new. Jiger is not the most outrageous of Gamera’s enemies but she is one of the best designed. First emerging from the ground, the creature gives the impression of a triceratops. Unlike the ungainly Barugon or the deliberately goofy Guiron, Jiger seems like something that could actually exist. The creature’s movement is lumbering but plausible, moving like a living animal. The horns on its heads and fin down its back make it look like a misplaced dinosaur. As realistic as Jiger looks and behaves, it wouldn’t be a Gamera monster unless it had some unlikely power. Jiger can actually fly, via compressed air jets shot on its back. It has three offensive weapons. Stabbing barbs shoot from the animal’s horn. A red ray projects from the center of it head, sending out a burning ring of energy. Finally, the monster can implant its offspring into other animals through a stinger on the end of its tails. Naturally, each of these powers is displayed in the movie. Jiger isn’t a flashy or over-the-top design but it is a very well executed one.
By this point, the Gamera series is a delivery system for ridiculous giant monster antics. The sixth film backs away from that a little bit, seemingly trying to recapture some sense of realism. Yet it wouldn’t be Gamera without some wackiness. The first battle between Gamera and Jiger is fairly straight-forward, the turtle slamming the reptilian monster around by the horns. The tide turns when Jiger impales Gamera’s limbs with the projectile barbs, preventing the turtle from pulling his arms into his shell. Suddenly, Gamera is a normal turtle, rolled onto his back, unable to right himself. He rolls around, swinging his arms and legs, eventually wrapping his tail around a rock. When he finally frees his legs and rockets into the air, a triumphant reprise of the Gamera song plays. As he sails over the sea, he pulls the spikes from his hands. Fuck yeah, Gamera!
The scientist exposition crew immediately figures out what’s happen, with some help from a giant, satellite-hosted x-ray machine. In order to illustrate the situation, the scientist shows some disturbing, real footage of an elephant, its trunk slit open to reveal masses of parasites. Stealing their dad’s submarine, Hiroshi and Tommy go under the ocean. The kids pilot the sub into Gamera’s mouth, entering the monster’s body. After wandering around Gamera’s insides for a while, they encounter the little baby Jiger. The small Jiger can shoot a glue-like substance and the boys, rather accidentally, discover that the monster is weak to radio waves. The monster twitching and dying from a walkie-talkie glued to its head is amusing. However, the sound weakness doesn’t come up again, only lulling the giant monster to sleep.
Healed again, Gamera enters the final fight. There are only a few highlights from this battle, set among the Expo buildings. Gamera smashes Jiger’s tail with a piece of wreckage, tearing off its stinger. Jiger’s heat ray proves ineffectual against Gamera’s shell. The best moment comes when the terrific terrapin shoves two telephone poles into his ears in order to block the enemy’s noise. That’s pretty funny. Typical, the evil monster is finished off in a surprisingly grisly way. Gamera retrieves the Devil’s Whistle and, as the two monsters fly towards each other, the heroic turtle stabs Jiger in the head with the stone structure. Ouch. To add insult to injury, Gamera carries the dead body off, returning it to its island home. Good job, you wacky giant turtle.
Attempting to bring the series back down to Earth was an interesting tactic. The Godzilla series had, from time to time, some success with darker reinventions of the character. Even at his most serious though, Gamera is still a giant turtle that flies by farting fire. Backing away from the silly science fiction elements actually lessens the fun. Though still featuring some great moments, “Gamera vs. Jiger” is one of the more average entries in the series. [Grade: C]