Gamera vs. Zigra (Gamera tai Shinkai kaijû Jigura)
Japan (1971) Dir. Noriaki Yuasa
It seems protecting the earth from recently awoken dormant monsters or alien invaders is a never ending job for Gamera, the giant flying, fire breathing turtle – or at least it is an annual thing judged by the films in this classic Kaiju series being released on a yearly basis.
An alien race called the Zigra looking for a new planet to inhabit arrives on earth, landing their spaceship in the waters of Japan. It is spotted by marine biologist Yosuke Ishikawa (Isamu Saeki), his son Kenichi (Yasushi Sakagami), his friend Helen (Gloria Zoellner) and her father Tom (Kōji Fujiyama) who are on a fishing boat. Via a teleportation beam, they are transported to the space ship by the lone female passenger (Eiko Yanami).
She explains why the Zigra are on earth and demonstrates their destructive power. The men challenge her so she hypnotises them, putting them into a deep sleep. The kids remain conscious and manage to escape the spaceship, with the woman in pursuit having been instructed to kill them. While this is going on, Gamera arrives and destroys the spaceship, unleashing a giant metal shark.
Well I say “shark” – it cuts a swathe through the water like one but has a pointed metal crest on its head like a bird, has multiple fins on its back like a lizard, and somehow is capable of standing on two feet despite having a fish tail! But since when has a Kaiju film ever made sense, let alone a Gamera one aimed at kids?
The motives of Zigra might be purely selfish yet are ecologically sound – as aquatic beings, they are searching for a water-based planet, which is why they attacked the Japanese base when they scouted the mob at the start of the film. They think the earth would be perfect since it is 70% water, but to their disgust they find our oceans are too polluted, and feeling humans can’t be trusted to keep them clean, decide to wipe out the human race and restore the water’s cleanliness.
No doubt this plan would get the thumbs up from a lot of modern day eco-warriors, but the real fascinating aspect is how this was considered a major enough concern that it was decided to inculcate an anti-pollution message to young children 49 years ago. Or maybe it is sadder that this is still a prevalent issue 49 years later. But if a giant metal alien fish can’t persuade you to keep the oceans clean, what can?
Betwixt the environmental concerns, the marine motif is run into the ground with the central hub of activity being the sea world park doctors Ishikawa and Wallace work at. For good measure killer whales, some seals and a dolphin are on hand to entertain the crowds (although budget restraints meant no actual crowds are shown) to complete the set up.
Obviously, had this film been made today, it is more likely the moral didacticism would extend to opposing these mammals being kept in captivity as well as the pollution issue, but who is to say Zigra wouldn’t want to eat the other fish and mammals and keep the undersea kingdom to themselves? I’m using the plural despite only one Zigra appearing because there is a small plot twist I’d rather not reveal.
Essentially, we are left to assume this Zigra is representing an entire race, and this chap and his female companion are merely scouts. If this is so, why is one of them a fish and the other human? Actually, that is the spoiler I’m avoiding – let’s say appearances can be deceptive, although having the power of hypnosis through flashing eyes is a compelling argument to assume she is an alien.
Plus, it would seem the dads in the audience are being rewarded for their patience of sitting through these films with their transfixed kids via some light fan service. Already looking foxy in her tight fitting one piece space costume, the lady realises she needs to fit in with the humans and accosts the first women she finds to pinch their clothes, who just happen to have walked off the beach in their bikinis. Don’t worry she changes again into something more appropriate shortly after.
Like the previous films, the kids are at the forefront of the action, out thinking the adults and acting as a cheer squad for Gamera. Another continued facet is having gaijin among them, this time explained by Dr. Wallace having an American wife, otherwise the only explanation I can muster is they were there to make these films internationally friendly. That’s fine but at least get kids who can act!
I do have to mention one amusing scene after the kids escape the spaceship and have to find help for their comatose fathers. They meet a hobo walking on the beach and are so bewildered by his appearance, they assume they have travelled back in time! This is the only time the kids over think a situation across the series thus far, confirming that they are just kids after all, and not super precocious progeny.
As the Zigra is a weird fish-bird-metal construct able of speech, there is more comedy during the fights then before, the apex being Gamera bashing out this theme song with a rock, using Zigra’s fins as a xylophone mid battle! It seems the physics of underwater movement weren’t considered for these scenes given how both monsters appear to fly instead of swim when below the surface.
Gamera vs. Zigra would be the last film in the original series for nine years, which was probably a good thing in hindsight; Daiei’s bankruptcy a year later saw the production of Gamera vs. Garasharp abandoned in what could be considered a mercy killing. It’s not a terrible film all things considered, but isn’t as inspired as some of the previous entries despite a central message that is remarkably progressive for 1971, but sadly still relevant in 2020.