Gamera: Super Monster (Uchu kaijû Gamera)
Japan (1980) Dir. Noriaki Yuasa
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Daiei Film studios went bankrupt in 1971 but managed to be revived again in 1974 as producers only. By 1980, they were in dire straits again and felt the only way to turn their fortunes around was to resurrect their biggest star – Gamera!
Earth is currently under the protection of the three superhero Spacewomen – Kilara (Mach Fumiake), Marsha (Yaeko Kojima), and Mitan (Yoko Kumatsu)- who are tested when aliens known as Zanon try to enslave the earth. The Zanon send an agent, Giruge (Keiko Kudo), disguised as a human woman to prevent the Spacewomen from rising up against them.
However, help is at hand from Gamera, after a young boy and mad Gamera fan Keiichi (Koichi Maeda), forms a connection with him believing his pet turtle is Gamera. The Zanon recruit a number of monsters to destroy Gamera but fall short every time, leaving Giruge with one option left – to kidnap Keiichi.
If you are wondering how Daiei could afford to make a new Gamera movie with no money, the answer is they cheated. Whilst the material involving Keiichi, Giruge, and the Spacewomen was new, 99% of the footage featuring Gamera was lifted from the original films from a decade plus earlier. In other words, Gamera: Super Monster is a greatest hits compilation posing as new film.
Worse still, the trailer enthusiastically tries to sell this film as an experience of a lifetime, bragging about the thrilling action, “super” special effects (more on this later) and even the incongruous cross over with two anime shows as if this was a deal breaker for those on the fence. It really is shameless in that respect, but through being so lamentably hokey, it is something of a cult entry in the Gamera canon.
But, being Japanese everyone involved displays total commitment to the project, though I doubt many worked again after this. The three Spacewomen go through a risibly daft transformation routine from their human guise to their superhero outfits (white body suits and red capes), yet they often are forced to change back again seconds later for fear of being tracked by Giruge.
They are quite possibly the least effective heroes ever seen in cinema, since Kilara does all the fighting and action stuff, and the other two just stand back and watch. Then again, Mach Fumiake was a former wrestler and the other two weren’t so it made sense, except for the big fight against Giruge near the end, both actresses were replaced by male(!) stuntmen in the wide shots, but still obvious.
Similarly kitsch was how the Spacewomen ran their control centre (Kilara’s back room) via a keyboard, playing three chords to open a video screen, send messages to each other, or activate their magic powers. These include being to fly, shrink themselves, and erm, well that’s it really. Probably just as well as the budget for the effects looks to be about 50 yen so they had to play safe.
Kilara runs a pet shop which Keiichi visits regularly after his pet turtle dies, which he is convinced has become Gamera. Despite being intergalactic heroes, the Spacewomen had never heard of Gamera until Keiichi told them about how he defends the earth. Keiichi is such a fan he even composed the Gamera March, which in fact was the same cheesy theme song that accompanied the earlier films.
As if it wasn’t bad enough they recycled old footage, they even recycled the plots too! As part of the Zanon’s ongoing endeavour to destroy Gamera, they try to brainwash Gamera and have him go on the rampage on their behalf, which was the plot of Gamera vs. Viras! The only difference is they shot new sequences for when Gamera is freed from the mind control device with Kilara saving the day.
Yet the most egregious insert in the entire film would be those of two popular anime shows, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato. In a surreal dream sequence, Gamera flies through space and encounters both animated properties, though Gamera isn’t animated, just super imposed over the footage for a clumsy interaction that just doesn’t work at all.
Unfortunately, this is indicative of the visual effects as a whole, that would have looked laughably cheap a decade earlier, even more so in the post-Star Wars world. With the flying scenes involving the Spacewomen, it was a case of why bother as the lazy green screen effect had been superseded by Superman The Movie two years earlier, dating these back to the 1940s. And the less said about the laser beams the better.
Can it get any worse? Well, yes it can. Not all of the footage featuring Gamera was from the archives as mentioned earlier. He was needed for the new story but they couldn’t afford to make a new suit or film with the old one, so they used a promotional model for premiere’s and such, which didn’t move except for its mouth. This is why Gamera is limited to close-up flying scenes only.
Gamera may have been able to save the earth on multiple occasions but he couldn’t save Daiei Films as this film was a flop, and they once again filed for bankruptcy. If they were surprised by this at the time we certainly aren’t today, but we can at least look at it as a curio that falls into the category of “So bad it is…. well, not good, but watchable in a perverse way”. This film would also end the famed Showa Era of the Kaiju film until Godzilla was revived in 1984.
Of all the lessons to be learned from Gamera: Super Monster, it would be “never try to cheat the public”. If this were a TV special then fine but it wasn’t. Watch it purely for the cheese/cringe factor and nothing else, then lament at how it took until 1995 before they finally got Gamera right.