The Gamera Saga
Keith SewellwithGuy Mariner Tucker
(Originally published in G-FAN Issue #14 March/April 1995)
ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1969)
U. S. re-release title: Gamera vs Guiron
Japanese title: Gamera tai Daikaiju Guiron
Two young Earth boys, named Akio and Tom, are looking at the sky through Akio’s telescope. To the disbelief of Akio’s mother and sister, they see a spaceship descend among some trees nearby. The next morning the boys and Akio’s sister Tomoko go hunting for the ship and find it in a clearing. Akio and Tom board the ship to play at “controlling” it; the ship responds by shutting its door and coasting into space. The boys don’t seem to find their situation very troubling, but danger arises in the form of an oncoming meteor, which the ship’s autopilot somehow fails to dodge. Fortunately Gamera is in the neighborhood. He smashes the meteor in two and befriends the boys, engaging in a little space race with them. The ship (or its controller) disapproves; the ship speeds up and out distances the distraught fire turtle.
As the boys pull themselves out of the ship, crash landed on a barren and icy planet, they observe the monster Gyaos, or at least a silver-skinned member of the species. Just as it starts wrecking the futuristic looking buildings, a nearby river starts running backwards and the ground beneath it parts. Out crawls the brutish Guiron, which deflects Gyaos’ attacking ray with a simple turn of its head. The ray bounces off Guiron’s knifelike forehead and is reflected back at Gyaos, whose leg is severed. Gyaos attempts to escape, but Guiron leaps into the air and slices one of its wings off. Wobbling on the ground like a damaged plane, Gyaos must suffer Guiron’s chopping up the rest of its body; its head sails through the air and its eyes go dull.
Guiron seems to catch sight of the boys, who try to escape by leaping into a cone shaped construction which disassembles their molecules and sends them to another such structure elsewhere in the empty city. Akio and Tom enter one of the buildings, finding and riding a moving corridor, which speeds them into the hands of the planet’s only human looking inhabitants, Japanese girls to our eyes. The “girls” fix collars around their own necks, which translate their alien gibberish into a comprehensible language. They are Flovera (meaning “pretty as a flower” in their lingo) and Barbella (“sweet as a little bird”). They explain that their ship has brought the boys to the tenth planet of the solar system, one occupying the exact place Earth does, directly on the other side of the sun; but the science of their planet, Tera, is far more developed than the Earth’s. However, Tera’s populace has been wiped out by that science, by an accidental explosion of a nuclear reactor that has brought about a perpetual Ice Age. Dozens of Gyaos-like monsters roam the surface now, and the girls’ only defense is their “watchdog” Guiron.
The trusting boys are lured to a chamber and frozen into trances whereupon the aliens probe Akio’s brain to learn about Earth. Akio is mainly interested in getting something to eat, as are the girls: they plan to devour the boys’ brains raw in order to absorb their knowledge about Earth, then use their bodies for “rations” during the trip over. Probing Akio’s brain, they learn of the problematic Gamera, the only obstacle in their path toward conquering the Earth. With a snazzy, electric space clipper, the aliens shave Akio’s head in preparation for opening his skull, but are distracted by Gamera’s arrival. Guiron is called to battle; after using his razor sharp head to gash Gamera’s shell, he shoots deadly star-shaped, shuriken-like objects from his forehead, narrowly missing Gamera’s eyes. The hapless turtle gathers handfuls of snow to press against the painful wounds but the pain is too overwhelming. Gamera collapses and sinks to the bottom of the nearby lake.
The boys, almost forgotten, awaken and escape from their plight, but are recaptured after a chase through the city’s teleportation system. Shut up in a cage now, they are even more helpless as Guiron breaks free and goes wild, tearing up the city and even slicing his mistresses’ spaceship in half as it attempts to flee. Flovera draws a weapon and zaps the injured Barbella, explaining, “On our planet, useless people must die.” Guiron challenges Gamera underwater, but Gamera’s jets soon have them both sailing through the air as he rams Guiron head first into the ground, trapping him flailing upside down. The boys, who have been manipulating a distant control board with a plastic dart gun, activate a missile which Gamera catches and hurls through Guiron’s skull, fInishing the beast. A second explosion kills the evil Flovera.
Gamera fixes the spaceship with his flaming breath, welding its sides together. After putting the boys inside he carries the ship back to Earth, where little sister Tomoko is fInally vindicated, having spent the whole day trying to convince everyone that her brother had been kidnapped by a UFO. Akio and Tom have learned their lesson, telling the authorities that mankind should forget about the other planets and concentrate on all eviating wars and traffic accidents on Earth. Everyone waves happily as Gamera returns to the skies.
Actor Eiji Funakoshi, the first film’s Doctor Hidaka, returns to the series in the small role of Doctor Shiga. Actress Reiko KaSahara is also back for the second time, but instead of the kindly sister Smniko from Rectum of the Giant Monsters she plays the evil alien Flovera. Also deserving note is Edith Hanson, who plays Tom’s mother Elsa. This is her only Gamera film, but she is no stranger to the genre, having played the photographer Liz on the TV series Maguma Taisho (Space Giants on North American TV). Comic relief is supplied for the first, but not the last time by actor Kon Omura, playing the local constable Kondo.
As with the previous movie, the aliens are sometimes glimpsed in near darkness, their eyes blinking on and off in synchronically with the syllables they speak in their personal tongue. As well, the sets are cold enough that once again we can see the actors’ breath as they talk. These movies were usually filmed in the dead of winter and released in March of each year. Guiron is probably the most ghastly looking of all the Gamera villains, a walking guillotine blade with perfectly round chameleon eyes and teeth like a piranha. (When his body is detonated by the Gamera-flung missile, it looks rather like a discarded cowboy boot tossed high in the air).
In the AIP- TV version of the movie, Gyaos’ beheading and prior unwinging were censored; Gyaos is said in the narration to be “running” after I the loss of its leg. Sandy Frank restored the original scene in all its gory glory, really rather mild in the face of much of what is shown on TV nowadays. Despite the meddling, the AIP-TV version deserves credit for preserving the original main title sequence and for far superior voice actors in the English dubbing. Strangely, the Sandy Frank version also uses the original credit sequence instead of the usual shot of the waves in the sea, but the footage (of lava flowing underground) has been inexplicably magnified and slowed down. The score was composed by Shunsuke Kikuchi, who would also score the next three entries in the Gamera series as well as other Daiei movies directed by Noriaki Yuasa. Kenjiro Hirose’s “Gamera March” however is again the central theme in Attack of the Monsters
GAMERA VS MONSTER X (1970)
Japanese title: Gamera tai Daimaju Jiger
An envoy from the South Pacific territory Wester Island is upset by plans at Osaka’s Expo ’70 to uproot one of his island’s ancient statues. Gamera joins in his protest by visiting the island and bedeviling the excavation crew there. Disregarding his kids’ protests, crew chief Doctor Williams orders rifles to be fired at Gamera, who is promptly (and probably fortunately) distracted by the convenient eruption of a nearby volcano. Gamera returns later though, as soon as a nasty-looking monster crawls out of the Earth where the statue had been. It fires arrows from its head through Gamera’s limbs and topples the poor beast helpless on its back.
A Japanese man, Keisuke, and his Western friends (Doctor Williams’ son and daughter) watch as the Nankai Maru, carrying the statue, prepares to bring it to the Expo. The crew of the ship are suddenly struck with a mysterious illness, and as if that weren’t enough, Jiger turns up and plows through the boat. The statue is retrieved and sent ahead by helicopter to the Expo. Meanwhile Jiger destroys Osaka with its arrows and various skeletonizing rays (which produce a devastating effect similar to Barugon’s rainbow). Showing a steely determination, Gamera tears the immobilizing spears from his limbs and flies to Osaka to challenge Jiger. He jams industrial smokestacks into Jiger’s spear silos and then singes the devil beast with his fiery breath. Jiger responds by producing a needle from the tip of its tail and plunging it into Gamera’s neck, apparently poisoning him. Gamera turns from the fight and staggers away, making it as far as Osaka Bay where he collapses on the shore.
The boys Hiroshi and Tommy steal Hiroshi’s father’s mini-sub (left over from Destroy All Planets) and enter Gamera’s mouth, which is submerged in the bay. The grown-ups watch in awe as the boys travel through Gamera’s paralyzed system, finding dry ground in one of his lungs. Also there is a little Jiger, just a baby but still man-sized and hungry for meat. As it attacks the boys they accidentally kill it with the static from one of their transceivers. The little Jiger must have been planted there through big Jiger’s tail. Scientists observe that Jiger has been pursuing the Wester Island statue, probably to destroy it: it was the static noise it gave off that kept Jiger imprisoned for thousands of years. They immobilize Jiger with low frequency sound while simultaneously reviving Gamera with electricity. Jiger breaks free of the trap and heads for the Expo site on a path of destruction while Gamera retrieves the statue. Evading Jiger’s needle tail and overcoming its skeletonizing ray, Gamera rams the deadly obelisk into Jiger’s skull, killing the devil beast, and then returning its body to Wester Island, freed from the threat of Jiger.
For the first time, at least technically, Gamera faces an obviously female opponent. And for the second time since Destroy All Planets, Gamera requires the help of the children more than vice versa. Story wise, the movie tends to drag. The effects are weird and uninteresting (Jiger flies by means of jet gills and shoots solid saliva missiles), and the Shunsuke Kikuchi score is pretty much a retread of Attack of the Monsters. The opening sequence is a good montage of Gamera’s previous adversaries. (in the AIP-TV version, only the Barugon and Guiron scenes were used.) Comic actor Kon Omura returns, playing Hirosbi’s inventor father. Junko Yashiro, the older sister in Destroy All Planets, plays Hiroshi’s older sister. Their names were changed in the US version (the AIP-TV version; there is no Sandy Frank version as yet). The U.S. title Gamera vs Monster X is also rather unimaginative. There’s one immortal line in the American version, spoken by one of the dockhands who is unafraid of contracting the statue’s disease: “You can depend on me! Because I’ve been sick all my life, so this statue can’t do any worse!”
GAMERA vs. ZIGRA (1971)
Japanese title: Gamera tai Shinkai Kaiju Zigra
A mysterious spacecraft attacks Earth’s base on the moon, showering it with destructive red rays. A lone survivor attempts to flee in a moon rover, but is caught in a green beam and disappears. The craft then moves on toward Earth. A dolphin is being examined at Sea World, killed, scientists are sure, by water pollution. The scientists Ishikawa and Tom search the coastline for signs of pollution, distracted fIrst by their children Kenichi and Helen, who are playing stowaway, and then by a flying alien craft, which is playing space invader. They are beamed aboard it, without so much as a “by-your-leave”.
On board, the humans are confronted by what looks like a beautiful woman, but who claims to be X-l, the representative of the people of Zigra. The Zigrans come from a water planet which is over polluted, and need to find a planet with a good supply of clean water. Not inconsequentially, Earth too is suffering from pollution and needs to be saved from the human perpetrators, who will eventually serve as a food source for the coming Zigra invaders. Zigra shows off by leveling Tokyo in an earthquake (off screen). The kids, brighter by far than their scientist fathers, outwit X-I and all four escape back to the surface, though the adults are in a trance like state. Gamera turns up and engages the spaceship, which finally explodes to reveal the Zigra commander, a strange alien shark which quickly balloons to eighty meters in length because of Earth’s inferior water pressure.
Meanwhile, the spacewoman has been sent to dry land to search for the escaped children who “know too much”. Stripping an unfortunate Earth woman of her bikini, X-l doffs her alien garb and, disguised as an ordinary human (with an incredible body), resumes her search for the runaways. After their intense underwater battle moves onto land, Zigra begins to weaken, flopping about like a fish out of water. Summoning its last ounce of strength, Zigra stands to confront his foe, bathing him in a ray that stops all cell activity. Eyes dark, Gamera collapses into the surf and Zigra returns to the watery depths.
X-I catches the children and is attempting to feed them to the killer whales at Sea World when she is stunned by the same sonic device used to free Ishikawa and Tom from their trances. X-I turns out to be the Earth scientist who was kidnapped from the moonbase and subsequently brainwashed by Zigra. Ishikawa and Tom use a bathysphere in an attempt to revive the fallen Gamera. Their sonic probes only manage to attract Zigra, who snatches the vessel and imperils the occupants (Kenichi and Helen had naturally stowed away in the bowels of the craft). Fortunately, a bolt of lightning strikes Gamera’s foot protruding from the water, reviving the super turtle and kindling his desire for revenge. While Zigra snoozes, Gamera tiptoes by and spirits away the bathysphere, then returns for the final showdown.
Zigra swims around Gamera at high speed, slicing at him with razor sharp fins. Once again Gamera manages to move the battle onto land where he regains the upper hand, beating on Zigra’s spinal prominence with a rock (tapping out the tune of the Gamera March!) and finally burning the piscatorial alien to a crisp.
Gamera vs Zigra is the genre’s first ecological monster movie, beating Godzilla vs the Smog Monster onto the screen by a couple of months. The resemblance ends there. Daiei was undergoing great financial problems at the time Zigra was produced. A merger with Dainichi Studios bought Daiei a little extra time, during which Zigra was produced. Japanese actor Koji Fujiyama plays the Western scientist Tom, his fourth role in a Gamera film. Third-timer Reiko Kasahara plays the student sister of Doctor Ishikawa, a minor role compared to Sumiko or Flovera. Much more fun to watch is Eiko Yanami, who rates a 10″ for both acting and beauty in her role as the scientist turned spacewoman. Special effects are more problematic than ever: a terrible prop for the dead dolphin (no better than a beach balloon). Gamera’s face has been smoothed down and teeth shortened. The eyes are glassy and there’s too much light bouncing off his head in close-ups. He never pulls in all four limbs to fly like a frisbee; all are done with just the jets where his legs should be. The movie was announced in American magazines like Famous Monsters, but did not appear Stateside until Sandy Frank purchased the series.
More changes were made to this film than on the others, mainly where names are concerned. Dr. Ishikawa was renamed Henry, Kenichi became Kenny, and space beauty X-I’s Earth name (Chikako Sugawara) became Laura lee Wara. The American cut opens with a scene of Gamera fighting Zigra, then segues into the usual main title shot of waves in the ocean, backed not by the Gamera March, but by music from X-I’s prolonged chase of the kids through Sea World late in the picture. The little girl Helen seems obsessed with Coca Cola, and there are also plenty of gratuitous plugs for Sea World, but these revenue generating moves didn’t help: the company went bankrupt in November of 1971 and for a while it seemed like the series was finished for good.
SUPER MONSTER GAMERA (1980)
Japanese title: Uchu Kaiju Gamera
A malevolent warship enters Earth’s orbit, dispatching wicked female envoy Gilage. Her mission is to find and destroy the three good spacewomen who protect the Earth: Kilara, Marsha and Mitan, whom everyone else thinks are regular people (Kilara owns a pet shop, Marsha works for a Mazda dealer and Mitan teaches elementary school). Meanwhile a little boy named Keiichi, who is obsessed with turtles, is given one by Kilara, and forced to set it free by his mother. When the warship Zanon sends Gyaos to destroy the world, he sees Gamera appear and is convinced that it is his own turtle, reborn as the friend to Earth and children. Gamera promptly wipes Gyaos out. The spacewomen would have faced Gyaos, but every time they change to their super incarnations, an alarm goes off on Gilage’s wrist and Zanon fires on their location. As long as they remain in their Earthly guises they’re safe, but unable to come defend the planet.
Gilage kidnaps Keiichi in the hopes that he will lure them into a trap. They watch Gamera fight Zigra. Keiichi observes that Gilage (whom he also knows to be a spacewoman) doesn’t look happy each time Gamera wins, and deduces that she is evil. Kilara locates him and beams him off the beach and into her home, admitting to him that she and her friends also are from space. Keiichi plays his Gamera song on Kilara’s organ. Gamera fights Viras and Jiger.
Gilage, running out of plots and Zanon’s patience, finally fights Kilara hand-to-hand in a Tokyo park. Defeated, she attempts suicide, but instead is brought to Keiichi’s home, where his mother welcomes the human-looking alien as a sister surrogate for the wandering, turtle-fixated boy. Gamera defeats first Guiron, then Barugon, Zanon’s last two monsters. Gilage is ordered to expose the whereabouts of the spacewomen. Rather than betray her new friends, Gilage transforms into her own space outfit and Zanon fires on her. Gamera also sacrifices himself, colliding head on with the Zanon ship (off camera) and immolating them both. Keiichi is made an honorary spaceperson, and all fly happily over the skies of Tokyo.
Daiei returned to production, albeit on a limited scale, in 1978. The much hyped return of Gamera after nearly ten years’ absence from the screen proved disappointing, despite the return of series writer Nizo Takahashi, director Noriaki Yuasa and composer Shunsuke Kikuchi. If all the stock footage hadn’t returned as well, maybe the movie would have been more interesting. Gamera fights all his old foes, but only in scenes from the older movies; fully thirty three minutes of the movie is taken up with it, and there is almost no new footage of Gamera. There’s probably more footage of cartoon animation (surprise dream sequence appearances by Galaxy Express 999 and the Yamato) than there is of the new Gamera! (The prop looks awful anyway; its lower jaw moves, but the eyes don’t. Its presence is thankfully brief.
The new footage is mostly given over to limp parodies of then recent American science fiction movies, beginning with the first sight of the spaceship Zanon as an exaggeration of the opening shot of Star Wars. The alien spacewomen are treated as parodies of Superman, and the scene of Zigra’s dorsal fin cutting through the water is scored like Jaws. Even Godzilla gets a poke in the side: as Gamera walks through Osaka and upsets a poster which topples over, the camera zooms in to reveal it reads “Gojira” in Japanese writing. The final scene of Gamera flying towards Zanon with little Keiichi shrieking at him to return feels like “Come back, Shane!”
Outside of Keiichi and his mother, little of humanity is glimpsed, and the mother even seems unaware of the threat of Zanon or indeed, whether the monsters actually exist! The spacewomen come off the best by far, especially Mach Fumiake as Kilara. This charismatic pro wrestler made her debut in the ring in 1974, and her star rose further the following year when she
began her singing career. She began acting in films and TV at Toei, and most recently she was seen as the title character’s assistant in the Taxing Woman movies. Shunsuke Kikuchi’s music bears no resemblance to any other scores in the series, sounding more like animation movie music. He also provides a new Gamera March unrelated to Kenjiro Hirose’s. The song, “Ai wa Mirai e” (Future Love), is performed in the film by Mach Fumiake. The U.S. version, distributed by Filmways, is horribly dubbed but, for what it’s worth, not cut a frame. Far more extensive English language credits are provided, both at beginning and end, than for any other Gamera movie.
Sincere thanks to the following people: FRANK S. TROM for the inspiration JEFF THOMPSON for the drive, and MIKE TEMPLE for the research material. Domo arigato, Tambourine Man!
Article © 1995 Keith Sewell. Reprinted with permission of the author.