For about the past week, I have been away on a much-needed vacation. For a pasty nerd of my particular variety, “vacation” means that I spent a week watching shitty movies at a beach-adjacent location while drinking fruity things. Hey, it works for me.
Anyway, the specific goal of this trip was to watch through the entire Gamera franchise with some friends, which proved to be quite a task. By the end of the trip, we had cut our way through all 8 Showa-era Gamera films, but elected to give a pass on the Heisei-era features (for now).
I have mentioned before that I grew up on Showa-era Toho kaiju features (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, et al). Being a little kaiju snob as a kid, I never gave the knock-off Daiei-produced Gamera flicks a second glance outside of the realm of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Honestly, now that I have watched all 8 original Showa Gamera flicks, I kind of regret that position.
Most of the Gamera movies are abysmally paced and crammed with crappy child actors, but the actual kaiju fighting is all amazingly over-the-top. I laughed my ass off when Gamera started playing his theme song on Zigra’s back spines after defeating him, heartily chuckled at his gymnastic stunts in Gamera vs Guiron, and sang along every time that damned catchy theme song came on.
Speaking of which, that theme song is pure, uncut magic.
So, let’s break it down the original 8-feature Gamera series by film, shall we?
To my surprise, this was poorly paced and incredibly boring to sit through. It was clearly trying too hard to knock-off Godzilla, and the filmmakers weren’t having any fun with their ridiculous creature. I did like the slow “revelation” of Gamera’s flying abilities, and the beginning of the “friend of all children” concept. I personally enjoy the dubbed version better than the subtitled version, if for no other reason than the abysmal work done for Kenny, the central child character. It really is quite astounding. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff of this one is an absolute must-see.
Gamera vs. Barugon
This one is still more grounded (read: less fun) than the later entries, and not quite to the level of a pure kid’s movie. That said, I like the monster design of Barugon: as an ice-elemental beast, he makes for an interesting foil to Gamera. I also kind of like that a good number of the Gamera adversaries are quadropeds, a trend started by Barugon. It is a nice distinction from the by-and-large bipedal Toho monsters. Also, Barugon has that lovely rainbow. You just have to love that.
Gamera vs. Gyaos
I do love me some Gyaos. My favorite monster in the Toho universe is Rodan, and I feel like Gyaos is the closest analog for the Daiei troupe. He is kind of like a paper mache Rodan with some extra powers to make up for the inconvenience. Unfortunately, one of those powers involves armpit gas ducts. It is also kind of interesting to see a kaiju aerial battle, something else that isn’t seen much in Toho. Even Rodan and Ghidorah did most of their scuffling on the ground. This is a pretty fun Gamera flick, but the series doesn’t really hit its stride until Viras if you ask me. I honestly don’t recall much about the plot from this movie, which should speak volumes for its quality.
Gamera vs Viras
The version of Gamera vs Viras I saw included a fantastic clip show of the previous movies that essentially boiled them down to the most entertaining parts. That significantly contributed to this being one of the most watchable and ridiculous of the Gamera movies. The aliens under Viras kidnap children, blackmail Gamera, and eventually take over Gamera’s mind using vague alien science, before having their plot ultimately foiled by meddling kids. The eventual Viras fight is pretty memorable in its own right due to Gamera using the squid monster like a Jet Ski, and eventually killing him with a bizarre spinning top attack. I can’t recommend this one highly enough, honestly.
Gamera vs Guiron
Gamera goes to space to fight a space-shark with a giant Bowie knife for a head. That’s should be all you need to know about this brilliant work of cinema, but in case you need some extra motivation, check out Gamera’s mad gymnastics skills. You know what? Just note everything that happens in this clip.
Did you catch the Gamera athletics? The dancing? Guiron’s head shurikens? This movie is pure glory.
Also, Guiron may have the best kaiju death ever. Gamera literally shoves a missile through his head. I’m a little surprised that he didn’t blow into spaceshark chunks, but I suppose this is technically a children’s film.
Last but not least, “Gamera vs. Guiron” brings us the Gamera theme song from space, which inspired the legendary MST3k lampooning. I would actually go so far as to say that the riff of this movie is one of the best in the entire MST3k catalog, and is a must-see for fans.
Gamera vs Jiger
Boy, is this a weird one. First off, this is one of the strangest advertisements of all time. Essentially, a good chunk of this movie is dedicated to promoting the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka. For the life of me, I have no idea why anyone thought a kaiju movie would be an appropriate venue for doing that.
Adding further to the weirdness of this film is an extensive segment in which children take a submarine inside Gamera to save him from a parasite, “The Fantastic Voyage” style. The entire ordeal is quite surreal, but winds up slowing down the movie too much if you ask me.
When Gamera is actually conscious, the fights with Jiger are only ok. Jiger has some odd nuclear attacks that are poorly explained, as well as spear like projectiles that are used to impale Gamera on a number of occasions.
Once Gamera recovers from the Jiger parasite though, he pretty quickly stabs Jiger prime in the head with a magical talisman thing. That part is pretty awesome, but overall the movie is definitely a lesser Gamera entry.
Gamera vs Zigra
This movie, like “Gamera vs Jiger”, has yet another unprecedented real world tie in, and with a message to boot! Sea World is featured prominently throughout this movie, a whole 12 years before the organization made the even worse cinematic decision of getting in bed with “Jaws 3-D”, and 42 years before it was eviscerated by the documentary film “Blackfish”. Sea World should probably just avoid movies in general in the future (if it has one).
Anyway, this movie has a very strong environmental, save-the-oceans message that feels pretty shoehorned into the story. The evil aliens under Zigra are expert aquatic predators who hunt land animals in the same way that we fish, and intend to capture and consume Earth’s entire human population. So, I guess that means the lesson is that we should take care of the oceans, or else they will eat us in retribution.
Zigra himself is actually one of the better adversaries that Gamera faces. He is the intelligent overlord of the invading aliens instead of a simple wild beast, which I found pretty cool. Unfortunately, lighting issues make all of the underwater battles unintelligible, which is a real shame, because that means that nearly all of the fighting in the movie is visual nonsense. Once the fight does move to land and the audience finally gets a good look at Zigra’s beaked, sturgeon-shark form, the battle is all but over. At least the fight ends with Gamera playing the first six notes of his theme song on Zigra’s spine, which is one of the best moments of the franchise if you ask me. For that alone, this is a recommend for me. Be warned: the rest of the movie is very slow and child-heavy, though.
Gamera: Super Monster
“Gamera: Super Monster” is barely a movie. Made in 1980, a mighty 9 years stood between “Gamera vs. Zigra” and this film. During that time, Daiei Films went bankrupt, causing the series to go dormant. “Gamera: Super Monster” is thus a loosely thrown-together clip show of the previous Gamera movies, with no new Gamera footage at all. Basically, this was a way for publishing company Tokuma Shoten to make a quick buck off of the acquired property of Gamera.
What “Gamera: Super Monster” does have is a team of magical superwomen from outer space, and a cobbled together plot that makes negative sense. Also, the movie commits two grave sacrileges: 1) It replaces the Gamera theme with a far less amazing Gamera march, and 2) Gamera dies by crashing into a Star Destroyer from “Star Wars”.
You might think that a clip show of all of the monster fights of the previous films would be a great way to conclude the Showa-era Gamera series, and that a heroic sacrifice by our beloved jet-powered turtle monster is a perfect cherry on top. Well, that might be true if it were done with any kind of competence. However, this being Gamera, that wasn’t the case. The clip show from “Gamera vs Viras” was way better than any of the weirdly placed, re-purposed battles in this film. Even worse, because there is no new Gamera footage, our hero is killed off by an implied collision and a cheap, shitty explosion special effect. That is not good enough. Not at all.
One potential positive of this movie is that it cleared the way for the later Gamera Heisei series of films. Though, honestly, I see this movie as more akin to the Paul McGann Doctor Who TV Movie: it was an attempt to reach a new audience with an old property, but it came at the wrong time and from the wrong direction.
So, that is it for the Showa-era Gamera movies. It was an absolute blast to burn through them all, even though it slowed down dramatically at times. Overall, it is something that I can recommend to any bad movie fanatics or general kaiju fans. I know that I have found a new appreciation for that ridiculous giant turtle beast from the experience.
Gamera is really neat
Gamera is filled with meat
We all love you Gamera