My latest appreciation video is up at last. This was kind of a tricky one.
I haven’t done a full survey, but at the moment I want to call Gamera vs. Zigra the worst kaiju film to come out of either Toho or Daiei (well, Gamera Supermonster might top it from being mostly just stock-footage, but I haven’t tackled that one yet). The best that can be said is that the film itself is at least better than the chopped-down print shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as that one cuts out about half the monster action, making the movie a real slog even with Joel and the Bots.
Anyway, this movie is about one part monster movie, one part anti-pollution public service announcement, and one part promotional spot for Sea World Japan. The rest is completely pointless attempts at comedy (e.g. at one point we spend several minutes and two whole scenes on a couple of extras arguing over who gets to buy the last available fish. To quote Crow: “WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?!”).
You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not; there is a lot of sea-world stuff, including a sequence where the evil space babe (there are a surprising number of those in the Gamera films) chases the two irritating child protagonists all around the park, showing off various exhibits and rides. Then there are a couple bits where the film simply diverts entirely into showing off the live animal acts for no reason. Then there’s a lot of talk of pollution (environmental issues are a common theme in kaiju films, but became especially heavy-handed in this era) and so on, though it doesn’t really amount to much because the script is so bad: the plot is that Zigra comes from a world hundreds of lightyears away, but it became polluted, so he searched the galaxy until finding Earth, whose seas were perfect for him. Except they were becoming polluted too, so now Zigra’s decided to wipe out mankind…or maybe he wants to keep humanity to be food? His motivation keeps changing, at least as far as the subtitles relate. In any case, the message is, apparently, “don’t pollute the ocean or the evil space alien won’t have anywhere to live!”
Incidentally, the script is all over the map: the evil space babe brings the children and their fathers into the ship in order to serve as witnesses to Zigra’s power…but then when they escape, Zigra orders her to go after them and kill them because they know too much. Why bring them there then? Especially since in the very same scene the evil space babe demonstrates her ability to broadcast messages wholesale to humanity. A goodly chunk of the rest of the film is spent in her chasing after them, long after they’ve already told everything to the authorities anyway (and the actress is visibly trying to let the children stay ahead of her during the chase scenes).
Though this does involve at least one genuinely funny joke. The evil space babe comes ashore to begin her pursuit and decides to steal Earth clothes to blend in better. Only, since she comes out from the ocean, she ends up stealing clothes from a trio of bathers. Cut to her walking down a crowded street in a black bikini, sticking out like a sore thumb.
Also, at one point Zigra demands the surrender of the Earth, otherwise he’ll destroy a sub containing four people. And the humans are prepared to agree to it! That’s the kind of film we’re dealing with here.
The monster stuff is mostly fine by Gamera standards; a lot of repetitive (and sometimes outright repeated) scenes of Zigra swimming around, no city destruction scenes whatsoever apart from an off-screen earthquake that never gets mentioned again, and a few rather brief battles (one of which was entirely cut from the MST3K print. They kept the fish argument but not that?). Zigra himself has a few interesting points, among them that he’s one of the few kaiju with actual dialogue. He’s basically a giant shark with a paralysis beam and razor-sharp fins, and early on his spaceship (which looks utterly ridiculous: like a lot of gumballs glued onto a pie tin) has a laser that blows stuff up real good. He’s at least a sinister creature, and it’s revealed later in the film the that the evil space babe is actually an astronaut under his control, which is a decent idea (though kind of cribbed from Destroy All Monsters, which, unsurprisingly, did it better).
Of course, the Gamera films of that era were generally cheaper and more kid-focused than the Godzilla ones, and even at their goofiest the Godzilla flicks never approached the kind of insane cartoonish nonsense found in some of the later Gamera outings. In this one, for instance, there’s a bit where Gamera plays Zigra’s scales like a xylophone for no reason at all. At the same time, they were frequently a lot more gory, and Gamera gets some nasty cuts this time around (though this is nothing to Gamera vs. Guiron).
Some people find the goofy insanity of the Gamera films to be what gives them their charm. Me, I don’t really care for it and prefer a somewhat more grounded tone, as noted before (Gamera vs. Barugon is by far my favorite of the Showa Gamera films, and a really quite solid kaiju flick).
Anyway, long introduction aside, the sheer poor quality of the film made it a tough subject to approach. I tried a couple different songs, but they were too fast and too, well, epic. Then the mind-control angle made me hit on using Control by Halsey, and everything clicked into place. Slow enough to accommodate the relatively little screen time that Zigra has, but fitting his sinister tone and his domination of the space babe.
Once again, I think this one turned out a lot better than I was expecting. Enjoy!