Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Gamera Super Monster

Turtle Recall

Gamera Super Monster
aka Uchu kaijû Gamera
Japan 1980
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
and Shigeo Tanaka  
Daiei/Arrow Films Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Spoilers but... you’re probably
not going to care either way with this movie.

Gamera Super Monster is considered both the last of the Showa era Gamera films and, also, the last kaiju movie of the Showa era. Out of the films I’ve watched so far in Arrow’s truly superb Gamera - The Complete Collection Blu Ray box (which is now in its second edition but split down into two, smaller boxes), both this one and the last one have been quite disappointing, following on from a load of truly bizarre and wonderfully surreal monster movies.

Now, 1980 is a bit late for people to be talking of it in terms of the Showa era, as far as I’m concerned but, I can certainly understand why, now that I’ve finally seen this. The most disappointing thing about this truly low budget, attempted revival of everyone’s favourite giant-sized flying turtle, which was not a success and failed to save the new, resurrected and bought out version of Daiei Studios (which filed for bankruptcy shortly after), is the fact that every single monster fight scene in the film is culled from previous Gamera movies! There are very few original kaiju themed special effects shots in this film apart from a couple of new Gamera fly-bys. So you will see him battle almost all of the monsters from the previous films, as spliced in footage highlights making up the total of the kaiju confrontations in this movie and, it’s only the supporting alien and human content which is original to this version.

Oh, wait. Did I say original. Sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking because the remaining, newly shot content is far from original.

So the film starts off with a definition of what a galaxy is and tells us that the ‘Zanon’ spaceship has conquered various planets... showing us a few static illustrations of space battles since the producers really didn’t have the budget to shoot those kinds of scenes at this point. From here on it basically parodies a bunch of American movies which were big in Japan from the last five or so years. Remember, this film is nine years after the previous entry and was released in 1980. So what do we have here?

Well, following on from the two illustrations of space combat, we have a starship which, apart from a couple of oversized fins, looks exactly like the Imperial Star Destroyers from the original Star Wars. So much so that the first moving shot of the film is an almost exact copy of the first shot of the 1977 original, as we watch the impossibly huge (but now quite quick) belly of the ship pass above the camera in space. Seriously, it’s almost the same shot dropped in.

The we meet the three adult stars, Kilara (played by Mach Fumiake), Marsha (played by Yaeko Kojima) and Mitan (played by Yoko Komatsu). All these gals have to do is go through a silly choreography of arm and leg movements and they shed their Earth bound alter egos, transforming into their superhero, space alien selves... with cloaks and costumes to match as they fly around in the sky like Superman. However, because of the big invading starship, they have to be careful about revealing their super powered selves to other people. Then we meet their friend, the child hero of the movie Keichi (played by Koichi Maeda) and also the evil alien woman Giruge (played by Keiko Kudo). Giruge is here to oversee the releasing of the monsters in the evil alien’s plan to invade and destroy the Earth by unleashing stock footage Gamera fights from previous movies at us! Shenanigans ensue including a hazy, bizarre reappearance of Gamera as Earth’s protector in somewhat muddy and questionable circumstances.

After that, the film becomes a rush of scattered ideas as the various players do the bidding of their script writers and rush around to various locations in an attempt to explain why the various kaiju battles are taking place all around the globe, with mismatching Gamera suits and a complete disregard for cars and fashions from the 1960s and early 1970s juxtaposed with new footage of 1980s environments.

Lots of ideas are shoe horned in here including a bizarre scene where the fins of one of the monsters are swimming around the ocean as the cast suddenly seem to be in a Jaws movie for a minute or two... very strange. It’s like the writers were trying to throw everything from a mid to late 1970s American blockbuster into the melting pot to see if some regurgitated idea might capture the attention of the audience. I mean, the alien gals are seen controlling their futuristic technology with musical notes whenever Keichi is around and having a close encounter with them, so to speak.

There are also some real bizarre moments when various famous Japanese anime shots are inserted, sometimes with Gamera superimposed over them. I recognised Space Battleship Yamato when Gamera was bizarrely in front of the cartoon image but another one is from something I don’t know of but which was apparently well known in Japan. About the only interesting reference is when a poster board of a monster, which is obviously supposed to be advertising a Godzilla movie (referred to here as Dojira, although not to be confused with the real Dojira from Ultraman, I guess), is toppled in Gamera’s wake as a kind of poke in the eye to Toho (who would make a big comeback with the first in their second wave of Godzilla films only four years later).

Also, while the music is reminiscent of both John Barry and Barry Grey in a few places, it’s really not very good (and the new Gamera Song is really awful) and I would say inappropriate to the film, not only not functioning to support the scenes it’s underscoring but actually dampening the potency of most of the scenes. It’s amazing how the exciting and humourously grotesque, surrealistic monster fights from previous, much better Gamera films can seem real drudgery when they’re rescored with this new stuff. It’s a bit of a hard watch, if I’m honest. Although, oh joys, that blasted ricochet sound effect is back in one scene... and I didn’t miss it one bit.

At the end, Gamera sacrifices himself to save the Earth but it’s not the moving moment it should be and, it’s then diluted by the three surviving space gals taking the youngster on a fly by of the city at night... just like the Superman and Lois flight scene from Superman The Movie... while the credits roll.

Arrow’s transfer is pretty good I suspect but, as is very apparent from the opening credits, this is a terrible print... if it is taken from a print. It looks, especially at the start, like a really good transfer of an old VHS tape print, which is to say... very fuzzy and almost unwatchable. Things perk up as the movie progresses but, you’ve also got the problems of different footage from different movies derived from different quality prints also fighting each other in the mind and so, the look of this particular one in the box seems inconsistent throughout.

Okay, I’ve nothing much more to say about Gamera Super Monster other than... I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are a die hard fan of the kaiju in question. I’ve only got four more Gamera films to watch left in this boxed edition now but I’m hearing they get very good again, very fast... the first of these being shot some 15 years later and I shall, as always, let you know.  

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