Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
Hello folks, Nate here to guide you back across the Pacific to the neon and ramen capital of the world for yet another wisely forgotten Kaiju “classic“. It seems there are an endless supply of these, and a quick look at the list shows that MMT still has a couple dozen Japanese Giant Monster movies left to do (yay?).
Gamera vs. Jiger had the (mis)fortune to come out during a rare off-year for the competing Godzilla franchise, there being a restructuring gap between 1969’s goofyass Godzilla’s Revenge and 1971’s hippylovefest G vs. Hedorah. By 1970, generally speaking, all the big Japanese kaiju franchises had purposely degenerated into kids’ movies designed solely to sell toys and annoy older siblings who would rather be watching ninja movies. Gamera vs. Jiger is first and foremost a movie written, directed, and marketed to 8-year old boys and their parents’ wallets. Not to say that’s a bad thing in any way, there will always be a place for that sort of rapacious consumerism in every form of art, but it is a sad chapter in the overall Kaiju story, one that started with the dark and violent original Godzilla in 1954, had a few great years until the mid 1960s, and then fell into the rabbit hole of merchandising licenses in the 1970s before stringing together a remarkable run of high-quality city-stomping flicks in the Heisei Era (both Godzilla and Gamera excelled in this time). One can only pray and rage on geek forums that the next generation of Kaiju movies going into the late 20teens will stay true to their roots and avoid the Transformer/Star Wars-esque sell-outs to the toy companies. I’m less than hopeful.
I approve of cross-overs.
Anyway, so our movie is not just a celebration of all things that can be easily marketed to children, it’s also a paid promotional video for the real life World’s Fair Expo ’70 that was held in Osaka, Japan. A great deal of running time is devoted to thinly-veiled corporate propaganda and prideful nationalism as Japan geared up to host the World’s Fair back in a time when such things still mattered. All of our main characters are working for the Expo construction team, a good chunk of the action takes place on the grounds of the Expo, and we are often hammered with the resounding message that the Expo will be totally awesome and you should bring all your kids and spend all your money here (giant monsters notwithstanding). This annoys me greatly, though I understand the reasoning (and the money) behind it. I’d be much happier if this was just a kid’s movie.
Got to pay the bills somehow.
And as anyone who has watched any Kaiju from the 1960s/70s can tell you, if you are going to appeal to the booger-eating elementary school kids then you need to have a “Kenny” in your film. Preferably a smarmy, puckish little brat with chubby cheeks and tousled hair who knows vastly more than any adult in the movie and is a master at the sort of open-mouthed gaping adoration of the giant monsters that you are trying to cultivate in your toy-buying demographic. Gamera vs. Jiger has a Kenny and you will hate him.
But wait, there’s more! Because by this time the Japanese movie industry was exploding in the overseas market (ie America), the producers wisely tossed in a White Kenny to appeal to all the kids named Billy and Jimmy who were going to watch this movie in drive-ins across the Bible Belt. This goes back a few years, of course, most notably with 1968’s abominable Destroy all Planets, which featured one of the worst Asian Kenny/White Kenny pairings of all time. You will also hate our movie’s White Kenny before the first act is over, despite his cornbread wholesomeness and blandly inoffensive haircut, mostly because he has the screen charisma of a sheet of plywood and all his lines are ADR‘d by a 40-year old guy in his sweatpants.
BUT WAIT, OH THERE’S EVEN MORE!!! Girls like toys, right? And girls have parents who have wallets, right? Hey, lets add a Girl Kenny to our movie! Let’s put her in tights and a jaunty beret and give her a horrible fake British accent and have her stand around and say absolutely adorable things at inappropriate times, that would be great! Oh I hate Girl Kenny most of all.
Girl Kenny, White Kenny, Asian Kenny.
Of course there’s some adult characters here and there, though if you step a few paces back you can see they are just cardboard cut-out placeholders for broad character traits more than anything. There’s the Quirky Inventor, the Peter Tork-haired Hipster Guy who saves the day, there’s the Insanely Hot Older Sister in the short skirt, plus a few Noble Scientists and Stalwart Generals, all the usual characters that inhabit these sorts of movies. None of them really do much more than stand around in the background and toss a few lines out here and there before fading away as the little kids take over and run the show. As with all these Kaiju movies, there’s about 50% too many named characters with lines, all taking time and attention away from what we all came here for (giant monsters!). They could have completely cut out the Hot Sister’s character and combined several of the scientists into one person, but actors’ gotta eat and even bit parts pay well so I guess we‘ll just have to live with the pointlessly huge cast for now.
Some of them wear pith helmets, too.
So the basic plot is that the organizers of the Expo ‘70 fair have found this impressively evil-looking statue on a primitive island far out in the Pacific and want to plop it down in an exhibit hall, wrap it in sparklers and strobe lights, and sell t-shirts with its image on it to German tourists. The natives on the island, even thought they are the standard superstitious savages, have for some reason (money) agreed to “loan” their sacred totem pole to Japan for the fair. So they hire a scale model freighter and rent some stock footage helicopters and head off to the matte painting island where they set up a back projected base camp to yank that statue out of the ground and haul it away.
OMG that’s the worst matte painting ever.
It’s about here that Gamera shows up to buzz around the worksite and make a general nuisance of himself. While no mention is ever made of any of the past creatures that Gamera has fought over the years, Gamera himself is very well known in this universe and everyone has his name down pat. Oddly, the general opinion of this nuclear-fueled flying turtle is that he’s like a stray dog in the neighborhood that just wont go away, just keeps showing up to nip at the mailman and poop in Mister Johnson‘s yard again. The adults keep trying to shoo it away, even taking some ill-advised rifle shots at it, but all the simpleminded kids just say “Awww what a cute puppy!”. By this point no one even cares where he came from, or what is motivation is, or even what benefit he can bring to the world, he’s just that flying turtle that lives around here somewhere and occasionally comes out to knock over some buildings and inspire children to write songs about him.
Some better matte work here.
Blah blah the statue makes it back to Osaka where it’s noted that it gives off a strange whistling hum at times, a noise that seems to drive some people batshit insane (picked randomly out of a crowd). Add to this evil portents and attached curses and you really hope that the Expo guys will do the smart thing and give the statue back to the islanders and just walk away. But, of course, they don’t and you just know that’s going to be the death of them. So, dear Pam, you know that in these movies every Pacific island has a monster that protects its people and is worshiped as a god (Mothra, Ebriah, Barugon, King Ceaser, etc etc). Kindly tell us what sort of beastie has been awoken from its slumber beneath the tropical sands, we’re all dying to know.
Who will be Gamera’s next opponent?
To be perfectly honest, Nate, I'm not sure. It might be some kind of dinosaur, maybe a relative of Triceratops, because it's got horns, scales, and a fin along its back. Whatever it is, it looks very cross, and there's something about it that makes me think it's a female – an old, ugly, vile-tempered female. Think of the standard caricature of a mother-in-law. You just know she has a faint moustache and never shaves her legs. The legs, in fact, might be something that's making her so grouchy, because it's obvious Nature meant her to walk on her hind legs but instead she's crawling on all fours, almost as if there's actually a stuntman inside that scaly skin. (Oh, boy, I just crack myself up!)
Someone finds her beautiful.
Am I perhaps being unfair? Does a kind heart beat within that repulsive exterior? Um, no. Gamera decides to land for a closer look, and Jiger immediately snarls at him. Of course, Gamera isn't making any effort to be friendly, either, and before you can say “kaiju,” the two are fighting. (Have they fought before and now recognize each other as enemies?) This is largely an aerial battle, because it seems that Jiger is also jet-propelled. Delicacy forbids me from saying where the jet is located, but I'm sure the kids in the audience noticed and found it too funny for words. Gamera seems to be getting the best of it, when Jiger reveals an unexpected talent: she can shoot darts out of her horns. They aren't that big and in fact don't seem to hurt Gamera that much, but they do knock him over on his back, and we all know that a turtle on his back is helpless, don't we? So Jiger jet-propels herself off through the water, leaving poor Gamera squirming helplessly.
Well, let's see. Any guesses where she's going? Yes, she's following that ugly statue. Come to think of it, they look something alike. She's not going to let anything stop her, either, and she plows straight through a ship that was in her path. Just before he and his ship are pulverized, the captain mentions that she's traveling at 160 knots. This is about 184 miles per hour for all us non-sailors, so that jet must be quite powerful. Lots of beans in Jiger's diet, possibly.
That’s not nice.
Jiger catches up with the statue just as the helicopters are lifting it off the ship (and it doesn't look big enough to be so heavy you'd need a helicopter to lift it, but never mind), and she tries to hit the statue, but her aim seems to be a little off. Instead she plows into the ground, demolishing a couple of apartment buildings and causing a fire. By the way, the model work here is just horrible, the buildings are clearly nothing more than hollow shells, and whoever did the special effects couldn't be bothered to add in some cars and people moving around. So we've got Jiger following the statue to the Expo site where it's been taken, crashing through Osaka and causing destruction wherever she goes, but not death because there still are no people on the streets or in the buildings she smashes. Planes and tanks are sent to stop her (will the Japanese never learn that this is a waste of time when you have giant monsters around?), but she shoots down the planes with the darts from her horns and dematerializes the tanks with some sort of orange ray she shoots from I can't see where. The Kennies and their associated stock footage friends and relations are making their way posthaste to the Expo site, somehow just knowing that that's where Jiger is headed, and all the time wondering why Gamera isn't there to save the city.
Doomed air attack.
Meanwhile, poor Gamera is struggling desperately to pull the darts out and to right himself. However, he's got the same opposable thumbs he had in Gammera the Invincible, so I'm confident he'll find a way. And of course he does, and flies off to Japan, accompanied by an upbeat song sung by squeaky-voiced children. The song wasn't dubbed, so I don't know what the children are singing, but it's probably something like “Hooray for Gamera, he's the best!” The darts don't seem to have done him any damage.
Godzilla never had this problem…
Either there was an error in dubbing or something was cut out, because suddenly the Kennies and company aren't heading to the Expo site, they're in Asian Kenny's house, packing to evacuate the city. Girl Kenny seems to be the whiny timid sort and she's eager to leave (Girls! Sheesh!), but Asian and White Kennies, being Real Men if only in embryo, want to stay and see Gamera arrive. Their faith in him is touching and not misplaced, because Gamera does indeed show up to face down Jiger.
Spinning shell flame power!
Their faith in Gamera must indeed be great, because the Kennies and their buddies all flock to see the big fight. Considering that entire buildings have been reduced to rubble and multiple fires are raging, prudent people would choose to head the other way, but not our heroes. They range themselves ringside (in some shots it looks like they're maybe 20 feet away from the fighting), and stand there groaning or cheering, as appropriate, heedless of the fires burning and the debris flying in their vicinity. At first it looks as though Gamera's winning, but Jiger has yet another trick up her sleeve: she uses some sort of suction to pull Gamera to her, then grasps a dart in her tail and drives it deep into Gamera's side.
This just might be the end of Gamera, and he staggers toward the water, accompanied by dirgelike music, then just as he sticks his feet into the water, he slowly turns snow-white. The Three Kennies have followed him (and their parents have let them go off by themselves, despite the massive unstable heaps of rubble and the fires everywhere) and they beg Gamera not to die. This must have been meant to be a sad, touching scene, but the kids aren't very good actors, and although the stuntman did his best, it's hard to produce really convincing death agonies when you're sealed up inside a stiff fabric suit. Besides, I've watched enough Gamera movies to know that he always seems to be dead after the first real battle, but he always comes back to save the day. Yawn.
He just needs a little nap.
But things are looking very bad for Japan. People are canceling their reservations for Expo! What is the devastation of a large portion of Osaka compared to that? (Hey, maybe they can even use Jiger's path of destruction from the sea to the Expo site to build a highway so more people can come.) Jiger delenda est! But Gamera's dead, what can Japan do?! Help us out, Nate!
Hope she bought a ticket!
What can the nation of Japan as a whole do, Pam? Nothing. What can two Kennies and an eye-stabbingly annoying third-grade girl do? Save the planet, of course! Having gained entrance to the adults’ command HQ by donning their Cloaks of Invisibility, the Kennies are able to convince them that the statue was used by the ancient Mu Empire to contain Jiger and their only hope is to somehow bring Gamera back to health to defeat the beast. And because this is a Kaiju movie from 1970, the grownups suddenly stop being responsible adults with college degrees and military commissions and drop everything to follow the Kennies’ every whim and suggestion, thereby encouraging an entire generation of movie-watching children across the world to question authority, flaunt establishment rules, talk back to their parents, and invent disco. Thanks a lot, Japan.
Shouldn’t you two be in school?
Everything else grinds to a halt and Jiger helpfully takes a knee for a few days as all attention is focused on Gamera and his poor health. X-Rays are taken, tests are run, brows are furrowed, and smart guys in tweed suits and bow ties stand in front of projector screens and point at things. Some (gross) stock footage of an elephant with a larvae infestation in its trunk (seriously, barf) is shown, and the intellectuals in the room believe that Jiger went all Alien face-hugger on Gamera and laid her egg inside him via that stabbing tail spike. What to do, what to do? Scientists pace, knobs are twisted, but no one has a solution.
You all suck at your jobs.
While the adults dither and blather as all adults do, the Kennies decide to go off on their own to save Gamera. This involves hijacking a tiny submarine that Asian Kenny’s father was building for the Expo (yes, yet another minisub, just like in Destroy all Planets). The kids cruise out into the bay, which is strangely empty of warships and submarines defending the homeland, and head towards the shoreline where Gamera is frozen in place with his head half underwater. So they motor right into Gamera’s open mouth and into his body, as if they had taken a page from Fantastic Voyage‘s script, set it on fire and piled cow manure on the ashes.
I hate you both.
It’s riiiiiiight about here that Gamera vs. Jiger completely comes off the rails. Up to now it has a fairly harmless, if not particularly fun, little movie about kids in high socks and the giant turtle they love, but watching the Kennies green-screen their way through Gamera’s lungs in a submarine made of spray-painted cardboard while the grownups fret and gnash over their radio link is almost too stupid to comprehend. What was the age demographic again? The Kennies are about 12 or 13, surely that’s too old for this crap, even in the simpler 1970s when I found joy in playing with rocks and sticks in the back yard. Girl Kenny is about 7, that’s probably the right age level for this movie, but there’s a bit too much violence and technobabble for your average 7-year old. Now that I think of it, Gamera vs. Jiger’s demographic is probably a 55-year old movie executive imagining what kids would like without ever having seen a child before in his life.
Stay inside, kid.
Anyway, the Kennies find a Baby Jiger inside Gamera’s lung and kill it after some chasing and drama and stuff. It’s interesting to speculate that the Baby Jiger suit used in this scene is actually the full-size suit that’s also used in all the bigger scenes with Gamera, just without the forced perspective effect of the miniature buildings in the foreground. This might be the first time I’ve ever seen the main kaiju suit used in two different scales in the same film.
Close-ups help the illusion.
They learn that the recorded noise of the statue hurts/kills Jiger type monsters. Or something like that, maybe it’s just white noise from tape recorders, I can’t be bothered to rewind this garbage to check. So they have to build a machine to amplify the noise to a level that the slide-rule guys say will keep Jiger sleeping peacefully for a while. This machine is set up by three luckless soldiers, the sole military presence seen since Jiger smacked around those four tanks and three planes a couple days ago. As with all Kaiju movies, the military gives it one single gung-ho college try and then runs and hides behind the couch for the rest of the movie while the snotty kids carry the flag.
No one ever leaves their desk.
Meanwhile, Gamera still lies half-dead at the docks and since he gets top billing he’s got to get back in the fight somehow. It’s up to the Kennies, as it should be, this time being trusted to re-enter Gamera’s body via the submarine trick again. Once inside they, and I totally mean this, have to hook up jumper cables to the beast’s heart to “shock him back to life”. Because two asshat 12-year olds are clearly the best way to do that, despite the fact that a full grown man, perhaps even one with some experience in electrical engineering, could easily fit inside that sub. The sub is not, however, big enough to carry the two miles of heavy duty electrical cables needed to make this work, but look at Asian Kenny’s hair, ha!
None of you adults want to step up?
The plan works, of course, Gamera lives! Unfortunately, they overloaded the city’s grid and pop goes the power, including the power to the sound machines that were keeping Jiger napping. Jiger is now really, really pissed off at something and starts stomping around and breaking things. Why he’s even still here is a mystery as the source of his original irritation (the statue) is gone and everyone around here keeps trying to kill him. Gamera’s motivation also seems suspect, it’s never explained why exactly he feels the need to protect Japan when for much of his life the puny humans on these isles have been pounding on him with tanks and rockets. You’d think he’d be ok with letting Jiger trash the place, just to get back at us. Plus, he’s a reptile, shouldn’t he have relocated to somewhere warmer, like Alabama?
He’s an enigma, that turtle.
And they fight. Of course they do, sigh. And it’s a really, really bad fight with lame visuals, inept sound recording, uninventive sets and effects, recycled footage run backwards, and some of the most wooden, unemotional suitmation work you will ever see in this genre. Never before has a knock-down drag-out fight between a eyelidless turtle and a horned dog thing been so damned boring. You know, I get that Daiei Studios couldn’t put a tenth of the yen into a Gamera movie that Toho could pour into any given Godzilla project, but even with a small budget you would expect them to at least try and not be so shitty. Was their thinking that they could just slap together any old scraps of moldy crap and fling it at the screen, just as long as they stuck Gamera in there somewhere and hired a couple bratty kids? Did it work, how much profit did this movie make? A lot, I bet, their overhead was clearly not that big.
Careful, that’s hot!
So Gamera jams telephone poles in his ears to block out Jiger’s sonic weapon and then straight-up murders her by slamming the spike end of the statue into her forehead in a gush of blood. Roll credits. Gamera always vanquishes his foes in his movies, often killing them off, but this still seemed pretty cold-blooded, even for a giant radioactive flying turtle with comically outsized canines. Pam, am I wrong, didn’t that final death scene seem a bit excessive for a kids‘ movie?
I know, Asian Kenny’s voice is terrible.
Yes, that battle did seem to be too violent for a kids' movie. If you look closely when the statue penetrated Jiger's head, even the Kennies looked a little disturbed, although for most of the fight, both Gamera and Jiger moved so stiffly and unnaturally, and the surroundings were so clearly models, that I doubt if even a seven-year-old would be able to suspend disbelief enough to think it was anything other than stuntmen pretending to fight. In fact, it looks as though most of the time it wasn't even stuntmen in suits - it was clay models suspended from wires. I think you were right, this movie was aimed at seven-year-olds by men who had no idea what children that age like.
Worse, the people who made this movie clearly had no respect at all for their audience. The "science" seemed to have been made up as the movie went along, and as I've said before, I hate it when a movie thinks it's safe to do that because its audience will be too ignorant to notice. The Kennies were too obviously written to pander to children's fantasies of being powerful and important, sacrificing all credibility and making those Kennies so annoying that at times when they had a lot of dialogue, I wanted to throw something at the computer screen. I thought Destroy all Planets was bad, but Gamera vs. Jiger is much, much worse. Destroy all Planets had at least a few original moments, but Gamera vs. Jiger is carboard characters stumbling their was through a cardboard plot on (sometimes lierally) a cardboard set. In fact, the only thing more irritating than the Kennies was the constant references to the Expo. Hmm, I wonder if the Expo committee didn't kick in some money to fund this movie. I wouldn't be at all surprised. Daiei Films went bankrupt soon after this movie was released, and I'm not surprised, if this is the kind of movie they were turning out by 1970. I don't recommend this movie at all. Even if you have seven-year-olds to entertain, there are many movies out there (in fact, most of the movies out there) that will do a better job and won't make you want to hammer your head against a wall until the blood blocks your view of the screen.
In case you were wondering, I hate this movie.
Written in October 2013 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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