Gamera vs. Jiger (Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga)
Japan (1970) Dir. Noriaki Yuasa
Long before the Mutant Ninja Turtles were labelled “heroes in a half-shell”, a reptilian fighter of justice was already kicking butt in Japan – Gamera. Created as a belated rival to Godzilla, Gamera had run of seven successful films from 1965 to 1971, with this entry being number six.
Japan is preparing for Expo ‘70 in Osaka, where scientists show off their latest inventions or discoveries. American scientist, Dr. Williams (Franz Gruber) heads a team which has found a supposed cursed statue on the Pacific Wester Island, called the Devil’s Whistle, and has it transported to Japan for the Expo. As the statue is being removed, Gamera appears in an attempt to stop them but is repelled by gunfire.
Shortly after the statue is taken away, a giant horned creature called Jiger emerges from the ground but is confronted by Gamera. Jiger bests Gamera in their fight and heads off to Japan to follow the statue. Again, Gamera tries to stop Jiger but this time Jiger leaves Gamera comatose by piercing his body and injecting a larva inside. Can humanity revive Gamera before Jiger destroys Osaka?
Despite the box office success of the Gamera series, it was always destined to be viewed as a second rate Godzilla, partly due to the noticeable difference in budget and partly because Gamera was marketed towards children. The latter meant the stories and dialogue were far less complicated to the point of being reductive, which is fine for younger audiences just looking for some Kaiju fun, whereas adults are less accommodated for.
The plot driving Gamera vs. Jiger isn’t that bad as a premise to build upon, but it is the lack of actually building upon it that is the problem. Perhaps it was different in 1970 and Japanese kid didn’t want be challenged when watching Gamera movies, but the story moves from A to Z via D, H, K, L, and T only, with little character development or cogent subplots to create extra substance.
Granted, scientific discussion might be dull for the layman, but in this context, they are necessary as a means to show understanding of the issue and dictate the characters’ actions and motives. Nothing of the sort happens here unfortunately – all brain storming session and Eureka discoveries occur off screen and action is taken there and then. And they once again seem to have all the equipment to hand to pull it off, no matter how daring the plot may be.
Worse still, the two people with the best ideas and apparent greater knowledge of the Devil’s Whisper curse are two young boys Hiroshi (Tsutomu Takakuwa) and Dr. Williams’ son Tommy (Kelly Varis). Basically, the boys tell an entire room of scientists and military brains how Jiger can be defeated based on knowledge nobody else – including Dr. Williams – has, as well as knowing more about Gamera than the others do.
Being kids, the adults dismiss their ideas except for one chap, the obligatory beard-and-glasses boffin who thinks they might have something. One thing the boys did of their own volition was to take Hiroshi’s father’s mini sub – which he was going to present at the expo – and use it to swim into Gamera’s mouth and locate the larva. Naturally, this yields results whilst the grown-ups are jabbering on about stuff, disproving the theory kids are lazy by being more proactive.
It’s all cheesy stuff because it is kids doing it, but taking in account the target audience, they are essentially empowering youngsters to take the initiative, or to inspire them to be knowledgeable enough about something to be of use in a crisis. Adults might instead read this as kids being encouraged to disobey their elders, since taking the sub without permission was not only naughty but a serious risk.
As it is unlikely any of us will find ourselves needing to help a giant comatose turtle, we should just sit back and enjoy the hokum at face value, and at 83-minutes, this film packs a lot of it in. For example, with Gamera lying prone in a water inlet, they take x-ray photos with a “super camera” via helicopter of his body, producing an incredibly detailed image of his insides, which somebody on the art department probably spent an hour drawing.
Yet, who cares – it’s about the chaps in the rubber suits chucking themselves around a scale model of Osaka for our entertainment, and we are treated to three fights between Gamera and Jiger. The latter is able to shoot spike from his tusks, a paralysing ray from the horn in his forehead, and a spike in his tail. Jiger can also fly despite his body not being very aerodynamic making for a hilarious visual, more so than a turtle with rockets shooting out of its feet.
Even with the film series being a success, the budgets were never commensurate to that profit, which is exposed here. Us oldies will again find ourselves making comparisons to the miniature special effects of Gerry Anderson – though I hate say it, his effects were better. But again, kids probably won’t care and the Kaiju genre has always been about getting a lot out of nothing, so it gets a pass for pulling off such ambitious fare with such little funds.
Five years have passed since Gamera’s first appearance and this film, yet the formula is pretty much the same, right down to the young boy believing in Gamera and knowing better the adults, declared to be the film’s moral message in the closing moments. As this is my second Gamera film, one obvious change is his bespoke theme song, sung by kids (natch), with naff lyrics about him being a rainbow against evil or something.
Regardless, Gamera vs. Jiger is Kaiju at its silliest and most earnest, which is why it is so hard to be dismissive or wholly negative about its weaker points. Great fun as ever!