This, the sixth Gamera film, (released in the U.S. as Gamera vs. Monster X) is really the third part in a Pentalogy that ends the series, all following the same basic outline. A New Monster arises, Gamera loses his first fight, and spends half the movie down for the count as the Military/Scientific/Industrial Complex fails to combat the latest kaiju threat. A pair of Annoying Kids (one Japanese, on Token Anglo), Designated as Our Duel Protagonists, take it upon themselves to deal with a human-sized problem, and their plucky spirits rouse Gamera, Friend to All Children, from his mid-movie stupor. He wins the Climactic Battle as the Kids watch from Minimum Safe Distance, ruining the fun for everyone with their high-pitched color commentary. Cue credits.
With this one, I can’t even escape the opening credits without deducting points for stock-footage. Someone’s mom obviously told them to “put their best foot forward,” but I doubt “reuse fight scenes from the previous five films” is what she really meant. In fairness, the is the last we’ll see of previous battles…though not, as I’ll discuss later, the last time we’ll see stock footage. However, Gamera vs. Jiger can still boast the least amount of stock footage in any Gamera film since Gamera vs. Gaos. Marvel at that for a moment. It’s almost as if Team Gamera enjoyed a budget increase after their success with vs. Viras and vs. Guiron. If so, it only accelerated Daiei Studios collapse into bankruptcy. But we’ve one more film before that happens.
In this film, our Annoying Designated Protagonists are Hiroshi (Tsutomu Takakuwa) and Tommy (Kelly Varis). Hiroshi’s dad is a mechanic, building another one of those tiny, two-person submarines that played such a major part in Gamera vs. Viras. This one’s a custom job, built for the upcoming “Expoland.” What is “Expoland” you ask? Why, it’s one part of the 1970 Osaka International Trade Expo – a massive chance for over seventy countries to show off the best “their industries and culture” have to offer at “over a hundred specially-built pavilions.” One can only assume Yoshimitsu Banno’s AV presentation The Birth of the Japanese Islands will be playing at the Mitsubishi booth, and someone from Toho Studios is going to see it and just love it. So much so that, within a year, a Banno-directed Godzilla movie will hit theaters, thoroughly trouncing Gamera’s next movie in every way that matters.
But back in Gamera vs. Jiger, Hiroshi’s uncle is still talking up the Expo: “All the industrial progress of mankind is shown here. The same knowledge that advanced us into the Space Age…the theme of the World Exposition is Progress and World Harmony.” And you’d expect the whole Expo complex to be royally fucked up by the end of this movie. After all, they built at least one part of “Expoland” in miniature and set their monsters loose upon it. Yet, in just one of the many ways this film disappoints, Expoland escapes without becoming a conflagration.
This film also disappoints by recycling the plots of previous Gamera movies. Once again, a team of filthy Moderns unearths an ancient, South Sea Island monster, despite the warnings of local legend (and visits from local dignitaries with warnings of Impending Doom). Unlike back in Gamera vs. Barugon, these are legit treasure hunters – a.k.a. “archaeologists” – with access to, not just one, but two Gamera-loving children: Tommy, and his little sister (whose dub actress has the tweeist, most annoying, faux-English accent I have ever seen a child try, and fail, to adopt). Yet, when Gamera shows up to prevent the adults from pulling a giant stone idol – the Devil’s Whistle – out of the ground, the adults ignore their children and open fire on the several-times-over-Saviour of All Mankind. With rifles. Only a handy volcanic eruption and the emergence of Jiger stop Gamera from char-broiling these death-mongering interlopers for their criminal stupidity.
Later on, just to keep things inconsistent, Hiroshi’s dad will allow his kids to wander around outside during a giant monster fight, in the middle of Osaka. In the middle of the night. Because “Gamera’s here now.” And you can tell I’ve watched all Gamera’s previous films, because hearing an adult implicitly trust Gamera feels…downright weird to me. Hasn’t he trashed Tokyo at least twice now? Granted, once was under duress…and I certainly trust Gamera… but I don’t have to live with him violating my country’s airspace, or wrecking its hydroelectric dams, or fighting monsters near its International Trade Expos. But by this point, even adults are climbing aboard the Gamera train, treating him as a national mascot. Let that be a lesson to all you wannabe heroes out there – save the day four or more times, and you’ll be absolved of all past sins.
Speaking of Osaka – that’s another element they reused from vs. Barugon. I’m amazed we don’t see Osaka Castle again…but that would’ve probably called for a new model, given how thoroughly the earlier one got trashed, and how long most special effects hold together in storage (not very well, if at all). I’m not saying they scrimped – all the money’s on screen here, making this an improvement over its predecessors in almost every way. We’re back on Earth, so the miniature builders can’t cut corners by designing some sci-fi landscape, and the last two monster fights take place in relatively built-up areas that actually pass for a real city…at least in wide shots.
Good thing, too, because, with the exception of one sequence I’m about to get to, the monster fights are the only things Gamera vs. Jiger has going for it. Even those are soured by Tommy and Hiroshi’s constantly running mouths. United, these two are a blight on every perfectly good action scene they gratuitously narrate. Thanks to editing, they also appear, on more than one occasion, to be giving Gamera instructions, as if he needs their puny, human help killing off an ancient, South Sea Demon. Shit, by this point, this is a typical Tuesday for him. (A “Top Turtle Tuesday,” one might say, if one remembered the old Sci-Fi Channel.) If Jiger hadn’t injected its larva into Gamera’s lung, he could’ve wrapped this up by the half-hour mark, and I could’ve gotten back to editing the Winter Soldier review that much sooner.
Instead, Jiger jabs Gamera with its tail, turning Our Monstrous Hero chalky white and giving him an excuse to fall into the sea (again). The humans figure Gamera’s picked up a Jiger infection, illustrating the scientific basis of this plot twist with stock footage from a zoo. Said footage features an elephant with a genuinely grotesque trunk-infection…and (in the movie’s most second-most infamous scene) the surgical operation that cured it. Tommy and Hiroshi are around to see this little bit of Cronenbergian Body Horror and decide to steal Hiroshi’s dad’s sub. They plan to swim down Gamera’s throat and, despite their complete lack of guns, medical training, or even the faintest idea of what the hell they’re doing, clear up his infection all by themselves. Through the sheer, random chance that inevitably favors kids in fantasy movies, they succeed. Obviously.
This (the movie’s most infamous sequence) will probably remind a majority of my audience of Innerspace, despite preceding Innerspace by a good seventeen years. After a small detour down the wrong tube (almost leading them to Gamera’s stomach) Our Heroes find the baby Jiger. It pursues them back to their sub, spraying them with a viscus, white fluid that shorts out their radio (Freud would have a field day with this…as would Adorno, and the other Frankfurters). Ironically, this allows Our Heroes to discover Jiger’s One Weakness – good, ol’ fashioned radio static – when they kill the baby Jiger by throwing their broken radio at its head.
There’s a micron of a fragment of a molecule of a good idea in here: a monster that navigates through high-frequency EM waves, naturally compelled to attack anything that interferes with them. That would put most of modern, consumer society’s Objects on its Shit List and provide the perfect motivation to smash them, smash them all! Twenty-six years later, Shūsuke Kaneko et. al. would give basically the same biological MO to the sub-titular monster of their second Gamera film, Attack/Advent of Legion. You should just watch that instead.
Gamera vs. Jiger, on the other hand, is not as terrible as Gamera vs. Guiron…but that almost makes things worse. It’s not as easy to point at laugh at Gamera vs. Jiger for it’s enthusiastic excesses because…there truly aren’t that many. Gamera started the 1970s with a throwback to the early-60s, playing it safe after two turns flirting with space-based adventures. And as we all know by now, playing it safe never wins friends or influences people. Which is probably why Gamera would field only one more film before his original series came to a close…
…and, yes, I see you, in the back, raising your hand. Technically, there are two more Showa Era Gameras to go. But Super Monster Gamera is not a film: it’s a clip show that makes Godzilla’s Revenge look like the Modernist Commentary on Life it’s creators thought they were making.