Gamera, The Showa Era - Part 2

Gamera, The Showa Era - Part 1

The legend continues! We return with the back half of Gamera films in the Showa era. While I mentioned last time that Gyaos would be the one to see if you had time for only one film, it's in hot contention with all of these films (yes, even THAT one). These last four are filled to the brim with craziness and imagination as only the Gamera series can truly bring us. It was at this point I was watching one Gamera movie a day. It became a ritual for me. Wake up, love my kitty cat, have breakfast, and settle in for the next Gamera adventure. My heart would ache when this was over, but more on that soon...

Gamera vs Guiron (ガメラ対大悪獣ギロン, 1969)

When two boys climb aboard an alien spaceship and accidentally hurl themselves towards its origin planet, they're in for a whole other world of adventure! It's up to Gamera to stop the evil space monster Guiron and save the boys, who themselves must escape the wrath of two evil lady aliens who want to eat their brains. Yes, really. I can't help but write about the movie in that "back of the box" style. Everything about the story is just so perfectly suited for that kind of thing.

Guiron has a lot of the same space alien adventure themes as before, but goes farther with them than Viras, despite a similar budget and production timeframe. Guiron, again features just a small handful of sets, but this time the monster stage for the alien planet is a pretty cool one. I find it strangely interesting looking, with its bodies of water, little alien houses and spires of rocks. Long, long ago, like when I was ten years old, I saw a clip of this movie and wondered "Where the hell is this?". The boys still walk around the alien's base that mostly seems like one or two rooms redecorated, but who cares at this point? This movie is not boring in the slightest.

There's simply more happening in the movie than Viras, including a bonus monster fight. The only one in the series that doesn't feature Gamera himself, Guiron's first match is actually against a "Space Gyaos". A silver repaint of the original Gyaos costume. This scene is hilariously violent, certainly the most violent scene in the series! And there's certainly competition for that honorable spot! This is also where I must again recommend you try to watch these in the highest possible quality. Some of the compositing is really bad and strings are visible sometimes. I want you to see that. It's beautiful. It speaks to the craft. They were making these movies however they could at this point, and it's wonderful.

They still couldn't help themselves from using stock footage, but this time it's an amusing three minutes instead of ten. A big improvement. This time, the aliens hypnotize the boy and look through his memories and knowledge of Gamera. They even show a scene from Viras! If you've been watching the whole series up until this point, you've seen Gamera fight Gyaos three times in three consecutive movies! Still, with a slightly better framing device, things like black-and-white footage don't stick out quite as bad as pretending it's happening now.

Guiron himself is a somewhat simplistic monster compared to others. I mean, he's basically a big knife with legs, but he makes up for it in brute strength and being a huge asshole. The two aliens, Florbella and Barbella, have much more personality and character than the Virians did. It helps that there are only two of them, but there's a more fleshed-out backstory about who they are and what the deal with Guiron and the planet is. Eating the boy's brains doesn't neatly tie into their larger-scale plan, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun if it did!

The movie doesn't entirely take place on the alien planet, either. There's a surprisingly amusing subplot on Earth with everyone trying to figure out where the hell the boys went. It works to help break up the action, and actor Kon Omura does an endearing job of putting some down-to-earth humor in the film.

Vs Guiron might be my personal favorite in the series. It's hard to say. It's non-stop fun, I'd watch it again at the drop of a hat. I've not nearly spoiled every fun surprise in the movie, so if what I've told you is all you know, you're still in for a treat!

Gamera vs Jiger (大怪獣決闘 ガメラ対バルゴン, 1970)

It was at this point in the marathon that I thought "I'm going to throw up if there's aliens a third time". Thankfully, I didn't have to run out and buy any Dramamine. Vs Jiger puts our jet-powered friend back on Earth for a terrestrial adventure. I suppose it's obvious, but the Gamera series has stopped evolving, for now. A formula has been established, but even as you catch onto that, you never really know what's gonna happen at any given moment in this series.

Vs Jiger features a lot of similar plot elements from Vs Barugon. Jiger and Barugon also sort of look alike. They're both brown quadrupeds with a death ray and some kind of extensible body part. Before we get to that though, the movie opens with an awesome new shot of Gamera in front of an erupting volcano as the title card comes up. No time wasted. Then, over the credits, they roll clips from fights with Barugon, Gyaos, Viras and Guiron! Yes, it's stock footage, but they play the Gamera March over it. It's a TV style intro before the latest adventure of Gamera! I love this so much. It totally worked on me, despite the fact I have now seen Gyaos in four consecutive movies. In this context, it's completely heartwarming and sweet. It makes you think about how heroic (and brutal) Gamera is, I get wrapped right up in the celebratory feelings. It's just like your favorite anime opening that you can watch on a loop.

As the world prepares for the 1970 World's Fair to be held in Osaka, Japan (which it was, in real life, that the movie features some footage of!), an envoy from an island vehemently warns to not move the statue from his island. Well, you'll never guess what happens. Can we stop fucking moving sacred objects around? One thing that's great about this though is that the envoy, named Gibo, really gives them hell at the Fair office. Like, he's visibly screaming at them and throwing his arms around. That's what I'm talking about! You may think it would be reasonable to assume that cursed objects aren't real, but all these movies are in continuity. Barugon was definitely real, and killed a ton of people because someone moved a rock out of a cave. To make matters worse, Gamera shows up to try and stop the crew from moving the damn thing! This pits him against the humans for a minute, something we haven't seen in a long time. Of course, Gamera's a sweetie and doesn't hurt anyone.

That very same night it seems, Jiger awakens from beneath the Earth. Jiger has quite the selection of powers, with the return of a proper ray weapon that seemingly erases anything. It can also turn people into skeletons, like the pumpkin bombs in Sam Rami's 2002 Spider-Man. She's also equipped with spiky missiles and magnetic powers in her little monster paws. The first battle with Gamera has Jiger victorious, but it's not too bad. The second battle starts off promising (and there are a ton of explosions!) but takes a turn for the bizarre.

Jiger pokes Gamera with a needle, ouch! Afterwards, Gamera weakly crawls away and turns a chalky, translucent white color, and is seemingly paralyzed. What gives? Well, Jiger implanted a baby parasite Jiger inside of poor Gamera, and its sucking his blood. This is explained to everyone through real documentary footage where they slice open an elephant's trunk that was infected with some kind of larvae. It's black-and-white footage, but graphic all the same! To put it in a fun way, Gamera has been impregnated.

This could be the strangest Gamera moment of all time, but it also provides a great remix to the now standard scene of kids exploring some space. This time, they adventure inside Gamera's body, and even fight off the hatched baby Jiger. Meanwhile, the adults try to find a way to stop Jiger, who's still on the loose. It's a great little return to form, echoing Gyaos and Barugon in style, but having the anything-goes nature of Viras and Guiron.

Where all of this places Vs Jiger on your personal power ranking of Gamera films is something you'll have to find out for yourself. Going back to a slightly more traditional kaiju framework could be seen as a step back, either into convention or into good filming. I love all of these movies, but I have to give extra kudos to Vs Jiger for making it all work at this point without aliens. Not that there's anything wrong with aliens, but it was starting to wear out with back-to-back spaceships.

Gamera vs Zigra (ガメラ対深海怪獣ジグラ, 1971)

In the late twentieth century (so says the narration, characters in the movie still say it's 1971), mankind has successfully colonized the moon. A UFO stops by and blows up the Japanese settlement on the moon. That's right, we're back! Yes, the sea-monster movie starts with explosions on the moon.

The movie cuts back to Earth, and the Gamera March plays again as the intro. It's not at all like the awesome Jiger intro, but if you're not smiling at the song by movie seven, I'm not sure how you made it this far! Two scientists who work at the not-ficticious Kamogawa Sea World bring their kids along for a little expedition. It's cute how the series has been involving then modern Japanese elements, we had the World Fair in Jiger, and this Sea World opened in 1970. Unfortunately, everyone is abducted by the UFO, where a lady alien named X1 takes orders from a dusty shark head on the wall. Why is it so damned dirty when the rest of the ship is fine?

X1 explains, and broadcasts the speech, that they are from the planet Zigra and have scientific capabilities far beyond Earth's. Their waters of Zigra were ruined by pollution, and they've been scanning the galaxy for another planet with an inhabitable ocean. Not only are aliens back, but so are environmental themes! This comes out as a someone simplistic message, but not a shallow one, so I highly approve. At the end of the movie, they'll quip "Earth's ocean is so beautiful, even aliens want it!". That's perfect, how could we sum it up better?

The kids manage to escape, and the shark head (who is also named Zigra) orders X1 to capture and destroy the kids. The children know too much and could compromise the plan to take over Earth! The very plan you broadcast to everyone in Japan?

So many weird and silly things happen afterwards, I could gladly recap the entire movie like that. Zigra has an honest-to-god Scooby-Doo chase scene in it around Kamogawa Sea World. X1 runs around in a bikini hypnotizing everyone to chase down the kids. Those kids also meet some kind of old wizard on an island after they're saved by Gamera. I watched this scene three and still have no idea what that was about. It goes on and on like this, the film has a more comedic sensibility, and I believe it's not an accident. How could it be?

Let's talk about Zigra himself. First off, it's been a while since Gamera had an opponent that can stand upright. That's pretty neat. But Zigra also has telepathic powers, often speaking directly to the people of Earth. This is fairly unique for the genre (as far as I know, not having encyclopedic knowledge of say, every Ultraman monster), Zigra shows a high level of intelligence and cunning. He also just bumps into Gamera a lot in water-shark mode, so, hm. Zigra's also got an orange beam attack. According to Wikizilla it's a Cell Activity Suspension Beam. This beam paralyzes Gamera, who is left underwater and upside down for a while. Being upside down and underwater are the two exact things that should not bother Gamera in the slightest, so I guess that beam is pretty strong!

Vs Zigra, in fight scenes, there's more attempt to make the monsters look large again, with some low-angle shots and cool miniature work built around the suit actors. It seems like they were learning to do more with less as this era went on. It's also got the greatest Gamera ass-kicking moment ever when Zigra is down for the count, where he plays Zigra like a xylophone. Again, the film has that fresher emphasis on humor that plays pretty well. Vs Zigra is another strong entry, while it does make a return to some tropes that have gotten stale, calling it boring would be a bald-faced lie on my part.

Sadly, this would be the last Gamera movie made before Daiei closed down, having gone bankrupt. I could have watched seven more of these, if they had gotten to make them throughout the rest of the 1970's. I'm not sure if the Gamera films specifically played into that at bankruptcy all, but the Japanese film industry in general was experiencing a downturn at this time. Even big-money man Godzilla was resorting to using plenty of stock footage (something that Zigra did not use, noticeably!) and limiting the scope of the stories a bit. There were plans for an eighth Gamera movie at this time, but it had to get canned. Daiei would be bought up by Tokuma Shoten, a major media publisher, to try and get things back on track and profitable. Things would be turbulent for the rest of the 70's.

Gamera would return in 1980, with a new film to try and help get Daiei (now Daiei Film, under Tokuma Shoten), out of the red. Could Gamera save the day, just as he had done in 1965? Noriyaki Yuasa was back to direct once again, as was Niisan Takahashi, who has written every Gamera film up to this point. The stage seems set for an awesome revival, and Godzilla was still on hiatus as well. Gamera...go!

Gamera Super Monster (宇宙怪獣ガメラ, 1980)

Gamera Super Monster could probably have its own article, and I'm not taking that off the table. Someday, I will know everything about this movie. It seems often suggested that this movie can, or should, be skipped. It features almost no new footage of Gamera, so would you be missing much by not seeing it? The answer is yes, you would be missing a stunning, amazing film. You are not allowed to skip Super Monster.

This movie is crazy. I mean it this time. It's almost incomprehensible. It's so child-like, whimsical, and kinda sweet. It's a travesty of a production. Gamera scenes are 98% stock footage. You could look at this in two ways, and I'm being wholly sincere here. If Gamera is about making the most out of low budgets, using stock footage, and having a zany story for the young and young at heart, this is surely peak Gamera! If you feel the concept and character were done injustice and that most of the Showa movies are crappy, cheap nonsense, this is way more of a catastrophe than ever before. Either way, it is certainly a notable film! I would go as far as to call it a treasure.

In space, an evil alien (could it be anything else?) spaceship called Zanon is making its way towards Earth, planning to destroy and enslave the human population. It's not entirely clear who or what Zanon is. Is he a sentient spaceship? You never see the inside or any crew members. That's what I like to think, that he is the ship. The only thing standing in Zanon's way are Earth's superheroes, the Spacewomen, and a boy, Keiichi, who enlists the help of Gamera to defend Earth.

Defend Earth from what exactly? Well, Zanon has a bunch of monsters under his control to unleash on Earth, a bunch meaning every monster Gamera has ever fought. Yep, it's a big all-star monster party! Gyaos, Guiron, Barugon, Jiger, Zigra, and Viras are all here! It would be a brawl worth celebrating, except that all footage of previous opponents is just that, clips from previous films. Hope you're ready to see Gamera fight Gyaos for the 4th time! They did also find a way to re-use black-and-white footage again. Yes, in 1980! There's an effort to disguise it this time, so it's still not as bad as Viras. Could anyone have imagined that original movie would be getting clipped fifteen years later?

Now, they are edited slightly differently, and the movie features a nice, fresh score from Shunsuke Kikuchi. Yes, that Kikuchi, the Dragon Ball composer, six years before that anime would begin. The music does add a sense of newness and originality, but can't save you from the sense you're watching a highlight reel in fight scenes.

Speaking of music, the Gamera March is absent from the film, but there's a fun new song, "Love For Future", which I have listened to about 200 times across the writing of this series. I love that song.

This usage of stock footage is usually what causes the movie to get a skip recommendation. I would like to point out there are new shots of Gamera, there was one new suit and one new prop made. And they look terrible. Well, the props are fine, but they seem to have been shot on video. This is 1980, about as early as they could have done this kind of thing, and boy does it show. The green-screening is just as bad as any of the compositing in the earlier films. The new suit gets used in exactly one scene, and it's a legendarily funny scene. You'll see the suit, it sticks out like a sore thumb with the old footage. Godzilla, I'm so sorry Gamera dissed you like that. Can't we all get along?

It's a shame too, stuff like that is really funny. If we already had the suit made, I wish we could have used it in more than literally one shot!

Oh, also, Gamera follows the Space Battleship Yamato through space to go fight Guiron, who is obviously on another planet and we can't make new scenes of him on Earth. Yes, the Yamato from the anime series. They even play the fucking theme song!!!!! He also takes the Galaxy Express home. Yes, the- you get it. I'm so serious. The movie in general has a bit of a manga theme going for it. Early on in the movie, Keiichi and friends are clearly reading Shonen Jump, reading a thrilling chapter of Kinnikuman which gets a shoutout by name. Nice! The movie feels like a child made up a bunch of awesome things for Gamera to do, like Keiichi got all his toys together and this was the narrative for playtime. It's kind of sweet when you think of it that way.

It would be incorrect to assume Super Monster is just a clip show. Much of the film is the story of Keiichi and the Spacewomen superheroes in the fight against Zanon and his agent, Giruge. You wouldn't believe me if I described everything. The Spacewomen have a transforming van that they use as their home base, which appears to be an empty room with white sheets. Zanon tries to attack them by directly shooting them from space when they transform. There are weird effects everywhere. They have a keyboard that can open portals to other places. I did not make any of this up, and there's so much more.

It's an absolute mess, but I think it would be wrong to say this killed the series. The series as it was was dead at the original Daiei's closure. I see this movie as a bonus, and a tribute to a lovable film hero's roots.

Well, I think it would be a tribute, if not for the only thing that truly bugs me about Super Monster. Spoiler Alert: Gamera actually dies at the end of this film. Yeah, he dies! What the fuck! You can't kill Gamera! I was genuinely very upset by this. Now, supposedly the reason he sacrifices himself at the end is because Yuasa and company were extremely disappointed in the limited budget and resources given to them. Knowing how the film was going, it was written so that Gamera would die, so that no more films could be made with the character.

I can't find a precise source for this story, but it would seem to line up with how it happens on screen. Gamera and Zanon simply disappear, and Gamera's sacrifice is given a mention in one line before a happy ending results. I'm not happy though! Gamera can't die!

Super Monster is a great movie. I'm not getting granular about that. I love it so much, if the excited tone of this section didn't give it away. The film was, as you might expect, a bomb at the box office. I would do ANYTHING to see this at a theater. Gamera, our hero, once again took some time off...

That's where the story of the Showa era of Gamera ends. I would say it went out with a bang, but by all conventional measures of success, it was a dud beyond all others. Gamera would return in 1995, rebooted and reimagined for the Heisei era. As I write this, I just finished the "Gamera Trilogy" by Shusuke Kaneko. I enjoyed them, but I'm not planning an article for those yet. As of now, Gamera's last feature film was 2006's Gamera the Brave. And just last year in 2023, Gamera -Rebirth-, an anime series, brought the character back for the Reiwa era.

For me, these eight movies were a nigh-unbeatable experience of fun, bewilderment, shock and awe. Becoming a Gamera super-fan in about a week and a half is something I'll take pride in for a while. It is now my life mission to expose more and more people to the films and the character. The tokusatsu legend of Gamera now lies with me, and having inherited it, I say this legend must continue to succeeding generations of monster fans. I hope you are among the next to experience falling in love with Gamera.

See you next time!

- James