Tag Gamera

Gamera (1965)

Gamera (1965)

An unnamed jet carrying a nuclear bomb is shot down over the Arctic, exploding upon impact and melting the ice. In doing so, it releases the giant monster Gamera from an icy tomb and it proceeds to head straight for Japan to destroy it. A team of scientists and military personnel must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

 

After Godzilla‘s monstrous success, It was only a matter of time before another Asian studio decided to try and ride the coat tails by producing their own giant monster movie. Toho had dominated the kaiju market with their array of giant monster movies conquering the cinemas including Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. Not to be outdone, Daiei Studios gave the world Gamera. Bizarrely enough, Gamera found a fan base in Japan and become a hotly-contested rival to Godzilla’s crown. Gamera eventually went on to star in his own series of films both back in the 60s and early 70s and then in the more recent 90s and 00s. The recent revival gave Godzilla a big run for his money.

I’ve already mentioned Godzilla a few times already. You see, It’s hard not to make the comparisons between Gamera and Godzilla since Gamera only exists due to the other’s success. Both consequences of atomic radiation (though Gamera was awakened by it, not created by it), both reptilian monsters than can spew deadly breath, both head to Tokyo for a spot of city-smashing, both seem impervious to the army’s attempts to stop them and both are seemingly killed off only to re-emerge a few years later in the sequel. But whilst Toho aimed their franchise towards the adult market, Gamera is solely directed towards the kids.

Later in the series, Gamera would always become friends with a little human Japanese boy who would call on him for help whenever another monster arrived to take over. There are few signs of this infantile approach in Gamera but likewise there are no signs that this was geared towards a more mature audience. There are no pretensions about atomic testing here. Godzilla had been there, done that and was now Japan’s protector rather than his destroyer. Gamera has some thinly-veiled messages to fire off about the Cold War between America and Russia but they seem forcibly added to the film to give it some more gravitas.

Gamera is an interesting design but not in a positive sense. He’s not just a giant turtle but one with a jet-powered shell that can make him fly. He can retract his limbs just like an ordinary turtle but then blasts fire out of each hole, sending him rocketing through the sky like a UFO.  Not only does Gamera look daft but he acts daft too. He’s not the primal force of nature that Godzilla was but rather a dorkier monster with a goofy face. The scenes of him smashing up the miniature cities are average at best, made worse by the ridiculousness of the monster suit.

For budgetary reasons, Gamera was filmed in black and white and whilst this does cover over a lot of the obvious cracks in the special effects, it proves to be a feeble contrast when you look at other films released the same year. Over at Toho in 1965, Godzilla and Rodan were doing battle with King Ghidorah in glorious colour in Invasion of the Astro Monsters. Gamera’s quaint black and white approach pales in comparison and gives it a much older look – you’d quite happily buy into it being a mid 50s sci-fi film. The step-down in quality from the Godzilla films is amazing and whilst the crew who worked on Gamera weren’t as experienced at producing miniatures, the gulf in class is amazing. They don’t vary the scenes of destruction and it gets tiresome watching Gamera pummel the same buildings over and over again. On the plus side, Gamera might just well be the first kaiju film to show humans being incinerated by the giant monster.

The human characters don’t add anything to the story either. All they do is stand around in between monster attacks and discuss what they can to stop Gamera. It’s a good job that there are plenty of attacks because they’d run out of conversation pretty quickly otherwise. There’s a fair selection of stock characters on offer but you’ll never remember who half of them are by the time the film finishes. Their eventual solution to the Gamera problem, trapping him and launching him into space, must rank as one of the most idiotic ways of all time to dispatch a giant monster. Better off launching the film reel with him.

 

It is the only real Asian rival to Godzilla but unfortunately Gamera doesn’t even come close to beating Toho’s all-conquering radioactive monster. Gamera arrived at the monster party ten years too late and is out-gunned by his kaiju counterparts in every aspect.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Barugon (1966)

Gamera Vs Barugon (1966)

An expedition to retrieve a huge opal goes wrong when it is revealed that the opal is in fact the egg of a giant monster called Barugon. This beastly brute has a deadly tongue and a rainbow beam and begins to destroy Japan. Only Gamera, the giant turtle with flame breath and rockets in his shell can save the day.

 

Gamera has always been seen as a poor man’s Godzilla (at least during the original series of Gamera films, not the more recent 1990s versions which kicked ass) and you can see why. With the same sort of ideas as the Godzilla series but clearly with one half of the budget and talent behind the camera, the Daiei studio made these films look like knock-off versions made by kids. As with the Godzilla series, heck any monster series, there’s only so many monster versus human plots you can do before people get tired of it. Universal started the trend in the 30s when they began pairing off Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman to try and revive interest once their individual series began to wane. Toho did it with Godzilla. So Daiei took the same route and gave Gamera an opponent to fight instead of just having him smash up Tokyo.

Gamera Vs Barugon is a pretty feeble effort to say that it’s only Gamera’s second cinematic outing and they looked to have run out of creative ideas already. Barugon looks pathetic – like a lizard/dog hybrid. He crawls on all fours and therefore doesn’t physically interact with Gamera as a two-legged opponent would during the fight scenes. His tongue-weapon is so terrible that it has to be seen to be believed. How can the studio get away with this as a special effect? Despite sharing the name with one of the monsters that inhabit the Godzilla films, this Barugon is a totally different monster – except it isn’t. The name wasn’t copyrighted so Daiei seem to have created exactly the same monster to trick people into thinking it is.

Back in the good old days of low budget films, the cheap monsters were usually kept off the screen as long as they could be because they look rubbish. Yet Barugon is on screen a lot. In fact I think he has more screen time in this one than he did in the entire Godzilla series. As for Gamera, we see very little of him and therefore hardly any giant monster battles ensue. The idea of a jet-propelled flying turtle with flame breath doesn’t lend itself to credibility but Gamera lives up to the ridiculousness of it. The battles that do commence are short and quite uninspiring. The level of fighting in these Daiei films compared to their Toho rivals is extremely disappointing. At least the Toho monsters with Godzilla and co. got down and dirty monster of the time. These monsters look like they’d disintegrate if they made contact with each other.

In fact the best fights in this film are between the human actors. There are two decent fight scenes and although they are ruined by some truly woeful dubbing, they are still the highlight of the film (pretty sad considering the film is about giant monsters fighting each other). As always the human sub-plot is equally uninteresting. This time we are given a moral story about getting greedy….blah blah. If the studio had cut out some of the unnecessary characters they could have spent more money on the monsters. But alas this did not happen and as a result we are left with a very poor kaiju film.

The Gamera films also lacked a decent music score. Akira Ifukube scored most of the Godzilla films before his death and he created some awesome signature music for Godzilla and some of the other monsters. The fight music was always rousing and Ifukube’s talent always seemed to be wasted doing these films when he could have been scoring serious films. Here the music is lacklustre and doesn’t add to the ambiance at all. It’s not exciting and its blandness adds to the dull, uninspiring affair that the rest of the film tries to maintain.

 

Gamera Vs Barugon is a lot worse than some of Godzilla’s lesser attempts and he saw some pretty dark days. With this only being the second instalment in the series, it was obvious things were about to get worse! Avoid unless you are a total Gamera nutcase.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Viras (1968)

Gamera Vs Viras (1968)

Gamera falls under the influence of aliens using a mind control device and they order him to destroy Earth. Two young boys manage to stop the aliens and Gamera then has to fight the aliens’ leader, Viras, a giant squid.

 

Gamera, the poor relation to Godzilla (the dominant statesman of kaiju films) sees his prospects slump to a new low in Gamera Vs Viras. Released in America as Destroy All Planets, the film was no doubt re-titled to cash in on Godzilla’s highly memorable Destroy All Monsters. Calling this whatever else it wants makes no difference because Gamera Vs Viras is disappointing. It’s worse than disappointing though, it’s appalling. The Gamera series was always aimed more at the younger demographic, featuring a couple of Japanese school kids in the lead roles and being the ones to help Gamera save the Earth. As a result the films come off more juvenile and cartoony than they should and certainly dafter than the majority of Godzilla films. But I guess with this being aimed towards kids, the goofier the better, right?

The other Gamera films never had much of a budget in the first place but this entry seems to have no budget at all. Instead of using new footage to show some of the things that the plot has Gamera do, they’ve simply cut bits out of the previous films and used the stock footage. This leads to all manner of terrible continuity issues as one moment Gamera destroys a dam in glorious Technicolour and then a moment later he’s smashing up Tokyo in black and white footage. Not least there’s the problem of the minor changes to the suits in between Gamera films. And no one is supposed to notice? It’s only kids watching remember – surely they won’t fall for the oldest trick in the book to keep costs down?

The ‘aliens trying to conquer Earth’ theme is the staple diet of a kaiju film – this time they dress like surgeons and wear berets. Their ship is a couple of painted-over plastic bottle tops stuck together. Their control systems look like kaleidoscopes. And of course, they’re all Japanese-looking aliens. But again, no one is supposed to notice. It’s for kids! They are pampered by overly cutesy dialogue, the fact that the lead school kids are boy scouts and one of the most awfully ear-splitting songs ever made, the ‘fight song’ that the kids sing.

Gamera looks quite cheap again and his opponent, Viras, looks awful. The giant squid doesn’t have much movement despite the numerous tentacles. The fight scene at the end between him and Gamera isn’t bad but with limited movement from both parties, the action mainly consists of static dummies being thrown through the air. They fight on land and underwater and it’s the sort of daft entertainment that one should be getting from the Gamera films, not kids in tight shorts fending off Japanese aliens in surgeon outfits. The main problem is that Viras just doesn’t get enough screen time. Yes the suit looks awful but like all special effects, their initial effect wears off over time as the audience becomes accustomed to it. If we’d have seen a lot more of the monster, we wouldn’t have been too bothered about seeing the zipper because we’d be too focused on the monsters duking it out.

 

Gamera Vs Viras is a mess of a monster flick. Too much stock footage. Too many silly goings on. And not enough monster action. I think even the kids that this is aimed at would see right through the empty shell of this sorry kaiju.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Jiger (1970)

Gamera Vs Jiger (1970)

An ancient statue is uncovered in Japan and taken away from the mountain to be displayed in a World Expo. This causes Jiger, a giant monster, to awaken and go hunting for the statue. It’s only a matter of time before Jiger starts destroying Japan and it’s up to Gamera to stop him. During a battle between the monsters, Gamera is injected with Jiger’s larva and a human-manned miniature submarine must go into Gamera’s body and kill the infant monster before it kills him from the inside.

 

Gamera was always a poor man’s Godzilla until the 90s came along with a kick ass reboot. Back in his heyday, Gamera starred in some of the single most appalling monster movies ever made. The Gamera films were always more child-orientated, with most of the films starring a couple of smarmy Japanese kids who would know everything and help Gamera beat whatever the monster of the moment was. Less serious, less plot-driven and more in line with a bigger budgeted kids TV show, Gamera battled some of the most ridiculously-conceived monsters ever to grace cinema in some of the most confusing, most immature and most delirious plots created. This sixth entry into the Gamera series must be about as far away from his original conception that anyone could imagine.

Gamera Vs Jiger surely has been made by some Japanese guys who were experimenting with illegal drugs at the time. There’s no other reason why the film is so weird. From the traditional city-stomping kaiju eiga antics, to colourful Jiger’s design, right down to the Fantastic Voyage-like sub plot about the mission to go inside Gamera and commit an abortion, the film continually bombards the viewer with the unexpected. There’s even a stop to the World’s Fair/Expo from 1970 complete with its unique visions of the future. Two kids form the basis of the human plot and the presence of this couple of annoying brats in the lead roles is like a kick to the nuts. These children are super-gifted and super-mature for their age.  It’s ironic that in these Gamera films, it’s not the scientists who come up with the better ideas and theories behind the evil monsters but the children. Quite why these two kids are present at ever major world meeting isn’t really important and even more so the reasoning behind two kids being entrusted with the mission to go inside Gamera and kill Jiger’s spawn.

Gamera looks the same as he did in the previous films which is to say, not very believable. The monster suit never really convinced anyone that this was a dangerous monster from the get-go and the silly sequels have done nothing to dispel that myth. It’s got a limited range of movement thanks to the physical limitations of turtles which means Gamera tends to do the same things over and over again. This means that the fight scenes are very repetitive and whilst there are some decent battles here, it’s literally the same sequence of combat. Jiger looks a lot like Barugon from the previous films only with a few more horns stuck in his head and a different colour of body paint. It has the ability to fire arrows from its head and has small rockets behind its ears which it uses to travel through the air. And yes, all of this does look as silly as it sounds. Jiger is a terrible monster but for a terrible film, what were you expecting? However Jiger’s violent demise is somewhat disturbing for such an innocent children’s movie and Gamera takes a massive beating leading to the loss of a lot of green blood.

 

Gamera Vs Jiger is yet another terrible entry into the Gamera series. I’m a fan of kaiju films but I was even struggling to get through these horrendous Gamera outings. Rightfully most of them have been shot-to-pieces on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Gyaos (1967)

Gamera Vs Gyaos (1967)

A mysterious giant bat-like creature is awakened by an erupting volcano and proceeds to go on a violent rampage throughout Japan. A young boy with an emotional link with Gamera summons the giant turtle to come to their rescue.

 

Formulaic springs to mind. As with the Godzilla films, once Gamera had worn out his shelf-life (which was worn out considerably after only the first film!), it was just a case of finding new monsters for him to fight. I mean, what else can you really do with a giant monster? It’s not like you can write gripping dramas or rom-coms about them falling in love with fellow giant monsters or holding down 9-5 office jobs. Come to think of it, there’s an idea someone needs to do. But anyway, the only thing that giant monsters do better than destroy Japan is to smash each other to pieces. As is the case with the majority of the kaiju films of the 50s, 60s and 70s, our heroic monster is called in to save the day when a new monster shows up and tries to take over. It didn’t matter whether it was Godzilla or Gamera, the formula was the same. Rinse and repeat.

Gamera Vs Gyaos follows the same routine. A new monster shows up, does some damage across Japan and looks to be a menace. Gamera shows up and the two monsters fight. Gamera loses the first round and retreats whilst the new monster continues its rampage and the humans step in, feebly attempting to stop the monster with tanks and planes. Then its time for the big finale where Gamera makes a spectacular comeback, fights the monster and defeats it, thus saving the day for Japan. As always, the unnecessary human sub-plots get in the way of the two monsters duking it out. Here we have some villagers trying to get more money from a new road being built on their land. Plus the ‘annoying Japanese kid who is best friends with Gamera’ makes his unwelcome debut to the series. For each Gamera film after this, there would always be a Japanese kid who was friends with Gamera. Don’t ask me why a monstrous turtle would befriend a fat Japanese schoolboy, it’s just one of those mysteries.

The obvious lack of budget in the Gamera films is reflected in the rather pitiful-looking monster suits. At least the Godzilla films had monsters which looked real (to a reasonable degree!) – the Gamera monsters always looked more like sock puppets fighting than guys-in-suits. Gyaos looks a bit cheap and has a weird angular head but I suppose once they start fighting with each other, that doesn’t really matter. He’s one of the nastiest kaijus on record and looks pretty mean, even managing to chomp down on a few humans.

Thankfully there is a lot more monster action in this film: the fights are over quick but there are plenty of them. Gyaos tends to just sit back and use his laser beam weapon (don’t ask!) which is a bit boring as prefer my monsters to duke it out and get down and dirty with the fisticuffs.  He’s arguably Gamera’s most famous foe and made a far better showing of himself in Gamera, Guardian of the Universe in the 90s reboot of the series. Gamera looks as daft as ever, with tiny hands and the rocket jets built into his shell. Conveniently, the monsters usually do battle in the middle of nowhere as opposed to the middle of the cities. The miniature sets look like Lego buildings so it’s probably a good job that they didn’t fight there as landing awkwardly may hurt!

 

Gamera Vs Gyaos is a half-decent Japanese kaiju flick and a lot better than some of Godzilla’s worst outings (Godzilla’s Revenge and Son of Godzilla for instance). Its too family friendly to be entertaining to adults wanting a kick out of giant monsters smashing Japan to bits but younger viewers may be interested in watching a giant turtle with built-in jet propulsion do mortal battle with a flying bat with a laser beams. Definitely the best of the original Gamera films.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Guiron (1969)

Gamera Vs Guiron (1969)

Two young boys see a UFO land and sneak inside, only for it to take off back to the aliens’ home planet. The boys find out that the planet is facing destruction and the aliens intend to devour their brains to absorb their knowledge before they invade Earth. Thankfully for the boys, Gamera is here to save the day but he must do battle with the alien monster, Guiron.

 

If you’re planning an invasion of an alien world, would you really want to absorb the knowledge of two school children who dream about milk and donuts and no nothing of the Earth’s defensive capability? You’d want to kidnap some heads of state wouldn’t you? Common sense seems to have deserted this series a long time ago, if it ever had any. However, it’s all too easy to totally hammer Gamera Vs Guiron. It’s quite possibly one of the worst films ever made and has been ripped to pieces on things like Mystery Science Theater 3000 so it’s not like I’m the only one who thinks it’s a total dud. I’ll try and look on the positive side although that’s about optimistic as a lobster in a restaurant tank.

The Gamera series never had the sort of budgets that Toho gave the earlier Godzilla films but come on, they had to find something better than this! Guiron is a complete and utter joke of a giant monster. He looks pathetic and his head is so cumbersome that he can’t even stand up properly. He has to walk around on all fours. Gamera himself looks really cheap and his eyes constantly roll backwards and forwards like he’s having some sort of fit. To be fair the fights between the monsters aren’t the worst you’re going to see in this series but because the monsters themselves look so contrived, the whole thing looks like two guys in fancy dress having an argument. Gamera also pauses during a fight to have a go on some parallel bars, swings around numerous times before returning to the battle. These monsters certainly pull off some acrobatic moves during their confrontations.

Gamera Vs Guiron does contain one of the most brutal moments in kaiju history as Guiron actually chops off the legs, wings and head of the monster Gyaos before cutting up the rest of his body with his huge sword-like head. It’s not gory (although there splashes of purple blood!) and looks rather silly now but the intent is still there and it’s shocking to see these scenes in what is technically a kid’s film.

This series was aimed at a younger audience than the Godzilla films and thus the main stars of the film are a bunch of whiny little kids who wear way-too-small shorts and seem to hit it off with giant monsters. To be fair that’s the stereotypical image of Japanese kids that these kaiju films depict, be they Gamera or Godzilla but it’s rather off-putting! If there’s no sign of Gamera on the screen then these little brats are the main focus, wandering around the alien planet and gawping and laughing at everything they see. The dubbing jobs on all of the actors are pretty ear-wrecking but the kids get the worst. Not just content with destroying your sense of hearing with awful dubbing, Gamera also has annoying theme song which is played a lot during the film and will no doubt provoke some suicidal tendencies.

 

Without a shadow of a doubt Gamera Vs Guiron is one of the worst kaiju films I’ve ever seen. It’s not even ‘so bad it’s good’ and no amount of people retorting with ‘oh it’s only a kid’s film’ will make me change my mind. Even kids aren’t as idiotic to love something as appalling as this.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Zigra (1971)

Gamera Vs Zigra (1971)

Space aliens arrive on Earth with their giant shark-like monster Zigra and intend to take over the planet with it. But first they must destroy Earth’s protector, Gamera.

 

By the 70s, Japan was suffering from a recession and the studio behind the Gamera films, Daiei, was in big financial trouble. Seeing their popular child-friendly monster Gamera as the only way out of the black hole they were in, Daiei hope that their newest instalment in the franchise would ease their woes. I’m guessing none of the big wigs on the top floor executive suite actually saw this film because resting hopes on the success of Gamera Vs Zigra would be like praying that a chocolate spaceship would make it out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Basically the last ‘creative’ Gamera film of the original run of films (since the following sequel Super Monster Gamera was simply a highlight reel of the previous films with brief new footage to link it all together), Gamera Vs Zigra personifies just why this franchise never hit the lofty peaks of the Godzilla series and has been the source of movie mockery for years. The words goofy, campy and nonsensical would not really do this film justice. The target audience of children (and as a bonus, anyone doing illegal drugs) are the only people who could make any sense of this mess. The film panders to the sort of elements that kids would no doubt love about this type of film: simplistic action scenes, characters they can relate to (i.e. more children in the lead roles), cheesy and campy comedy moments and of course, giant monsters smashing each other to bits. The last couple of films were bad but this one tries to outdo the stupidity of the rest by including even more silliness.

The film is largely set at a sea world in Japan and thus the film acts as a marketing tool to attract visitors, showing off plenty of stock footage of whales entertaining guests at the park. This is also a nice ploy to pad out the running time with unrelated material. This is a kaiju film after all and the monsters are sorely lacking in screen time.

Gamera is hardly anywhere to be seen throughout the film and only makes the odd cameo role to duke it out with Zigra. The fights look atrocious as Gamera never really got into his fights in the physical manner that Godzilla did. There was never the rough and tumble style of fighting that Godzilla used to have with Gigan, Megalon and King Ghidorah where all parties would roll around on the floor, punching and kicking the crap out of each other. For a start, the Gamera costume looks like it would drop to pieces if anything remotely physical happened to it. And the suit just never had the mobility that the Godzilla suit did. I mean turtles aren’t known for their agility, are they? Zigra could well be the worst movie monster since the Giant Claw ran rough shed over the skies of America in the 50s. He’s got a couple of beam weapons which only highlight that the ‘special’ effects were not the highest priority for the crew. Even the miniature sets and model planes look like papier-mâché remnants from a Saturday morning kids TV show.

The eventual battle between the monsters is nothing to write home about and definitely not worth sitting through the rest of the film to catch. Yet again the focus of the film is on two children who hold the key to saving the day. Good for kids watching but no so good for the grown-up scientist and military characters in the film who come off looking like complete retards by having to rely on these children to help them.

 

Gamera Vs Zigra is the worst Gamera film from the original run and that takes some beating considering the quality of some of the previous instalments. At least when he was brought back in the 90s, he was given the money and production skills he needed to be a major success. Gamera should not be putting this on his résumé any time soon – possibly the ultimate rock bottom of kaiju films.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆