Space Amoeba (Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû)
Japan (1970) Dir. Ishiro Honda
Where is Sir David Attenborough when you need him? He’d be a much greater help to the protagonists of this later entry from the classic era of Kaiju movies from Japan than the so-called expert assigned to the role here. What – Attenborough isn’t known for his knowledge of space creatures you say? The allow me to elucidate…
An unmanned space probe Helios 7 is launched to undertake an observational mission to Jupiter but it never reaches its destination, when malicious space parasites called Astro Quasers commandeer the probe and return to Earth. The probe is declared missing yet photographer Taro Kudo (Akira Kubo) happened to see the escape pods landing in the South Pacific whilst on a flight to Japan.
Having failed to convince anyone of what he saw, Kudo is recruited to join a party to a remote island in the region where the pods dropped, including hotel locations rep Ayako Hoshino (Atsuko Takahashi), rival agent Makoto Obata (Kenji Sahara) and scientist Dr. Kyouichi Miya (Yoshio Tsuchiya). When they arrive, they are told of stories by the natives of a giant squid like creature called Gezora that attacks humans.
It’s fair to say that the Kaiju genre was running out of steam by 1970, by which point Godzilla was 16 years-old and with a huge catalogue of films to his name, whilst a whole slew of imitators and also-rans appeared with varying degrees of success, somewhat over-saturating the market. So, we could question if we really needed more giant space monsters terrorising the earth but Toho clearly thought so.
One thing about Space Amoeba – aka Yog: Monster From Space – to stand out is seeing director Ishiro Honda in the driving seat, having started the whole ball rolling with Gojira back in 1954. One would assume his involvement guarantees a sure fire bet, but instead it reveals the importance of a decent script over a quickly knocked up composite of every other Kaiju/sci-fi yarn that preceded it.
Things begin well enough with stock footage of the probe being launch into space and competent-for-the time SFX of it in flight, before a blue florescent cloud writhing with jittery particles envelopes the probe and seeps inside it. Things then veer towards the precipice of contrivance starting with Kudo being on the plane just as the pods land.
Next is the expedition to the island comprised of the gruff scientist, self-absorbed dodgy dealer and token totty but before they arrive, the Astro Quasers have to possess the squid that becomes Gezora and attacks a poor boatman, as witnessed by a scout for a tourist firm looking to set up a hotel on the island. As a result, the islanders fear this beast, claiming he is angry with the mainlanders for encroaching on his turf.
Later in the film when Gezora attacks the village (ignoring the physical implausibility of a tentacled creature being able to move on land), they notice it is susceptible to fire but, gosh darn it, the petrol is back in the huts (the island was once a former US army base during World War II). Suddenly a group of islanders appear with the petrol because… sorry, I’ve got nothing.
Sartorially, the natives are a curious mix, as if the wardrobe department either received two different instructions or the budget ran out – some sport contemporary garb, others are in “traditional” attire, notably the island chief and the women. None of them are able to speak in anything other than broken sentences either and appear simple and naïve, especially young lovers Saki (Yukiko Kobayashi) and Rico (Noritake Saito) who decide to hold their wedding knowing full well there are monsters on the loose!
Ishiro Honda tries his best with this script but one can sense even he has had enough with this film by the end of it. We already know the monsters will be men in large rubber suits but they usually do a better job of making them look less rubbery than they do here, especially with Gezora. Legendary Kaiju effects master Eiji Tsuburaya died in early 1970 and as the first film not to benefit from his involvement it shows unfortunately.
Once our giant mollusc antagonist is dealt with, the titular aliens mutate a crab (that doesn’t move sideways) named Ganime, and rock turtle called Kamoeba, (not Gamera) to terrorise the island, eventually ending up in a big fight for the film’s climax. You may have noticed the poster above shows Gezora involved in the fight but this doesn’t happen in the film as Gezora and Ganime were both played by the same actor Haruo Nakajima.
The script suffers from trying to juggle too many ideas inside 83 minutes; ten minutes from the end someone remembers we still didn’t have a reason for the aliens invading earth, so one is hastily added, which could have made the story much more interesting had it occurred sooner. In its defence, at least it avoids the cliché of the monsters rampaging through Tokyo but the island alternative is also overused by this point, as is the central alien invader premise.
Also unfortunate is how clunky the dialogue is – although this is based on the predictably diabolical US dub – in its lack of subtly and heavy reliance on exposition for the bleeding obvious, whilst the Attenborough reference at the start of this review is in response to Dr. Miya seemingly knowing less about the earth animals than Kudo who is the one who figures out the natural methods to defeat the monsters.
Whatever ambition there was for Space Amoeba it isn’t fully realised on the screen for a number of reasons, but there are elements of the plot that had they been explored that would have lifted it above the status of “average” Kaiju film it has to settle for. One for devotees of the genre to tick off their list, but not substantial enough to consider a genuine treasure.