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Cult Movies: 'Gamera vs Jiger' (1970) Part Two

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Giant turtle, Miami Zoo

Hiroshi explains to his family that Jiger wants to destroy the statue as the Wester Islanders used it to keep the monster subdued (bursts of exposition from precocious kids are another keynote of Japanese monster films). A tank division from toytown attempt to slow down Jiger’s rampage; the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force also show up, and Jiger downs their jet fighters with quills (try explaining that back at base). I’ve heard traditional Japanese homes have paper walls, but Osaka seems entirely constructed from paper, such is the flimsiness of its architecture. Jiger destroys entire blocks with “superviolet ultra rays” which turns people into skeletons, and adorable poppet Susie whines that she isn’t allowed to go and watch this wanton destruction and loss of life.

Back on Wester Island, Gamera is given extra incentive to remove himself from his spiky predicament when the ‘Gamera theme’ strikes up again, and so clutching an outcrop with his tail, Gamera forces out the quills and flies to Osaka. The renewed battle takes a slapstick turn as first Gamera defends himself from Jiger’s quills with a broken-off chimney tower, which is then stuck over his opponent’s horned snout. Jiger responds by propelling Gamera skywards using an iron girder as a see-saw. Hiroshi, Tommy and Susie cheer as Gamera belly slams Jiger, but this helps her to deploy its most damaging maneuver yet, piercing Gamera’s plastron (that’s his under-shell, son) with its spiked tail, injecting a substance into the turtle’s flesh.

Gamera mournfully retreats, crashing into a few more tower blocks before he flops into what looks uncomfortably like the drainage canal of a sewage outlet. As the extremities of the inert turtle turn white, the children get a bit grumpy now the fun’s over. “Aw, he’s dead,’ says Susie. “That thing did it,” she adds, as Jiger cheerfully plays with some live electrical pylons. Miwako arrives: “Gamera is dead,’ she states, matter-of-factly. “You want that thing to murder you?” Lady, a few thousand people just died in the most bizarre circumstances imaginable pretty much next to where you’re stood, at least try to look concerned. Or impressed. Or even turned on a little, just show some emotion!

Next day, and there’s a big meeting at the Expo site which, according to the calculations of Dr Suzuki (Akira Natsuki, who starred in four other Gamera films) absolutely no-one is going to visit, what with half the city in ruins and a giant leather-bound laser-spewing corgi galumphing across the rubble. As is common in Japanese monster films, the children have complete run of any top-level industrial or military complex, and come up with a plan to save the day, so Hiroshi pipes up to suggest the Wester Island statue is the source of the sickening noise, which also pains Jiger. A Stupid Official Guy mocks the idea, but Dr Suzuki wonders if Jiger isn’t somehow numbed by the “poisonous sound” of the statue. Too late, it seems, for using her suction powers, Jiger throws the statue far out to sea.

Archelon skeleton
Dr Suzuki bravely suggests giving up and letting Jiger destroy the entire world very, very slowly, but the children call a steward’s inquiry on Gamera, who isn’t dead, but in an extreme state of not getting better. Helicopters take a X-ray of Gamera (you can spray X-rays from helicopters, right? Well, the screenwriter thinks you can) and this reveals a black spot on one of Gamera’s lungs. Dr Matsui suggests cancer, and the jacket he’s wearing hints Matsui he knows cancer when he sees it, “but then I thought again and came to a strange conclusion.” The good doctor illustrates his hypothesis using some seriously icky cine footage of an elephant with a blocked trunk, making it look like a cartoon snake that’s swallowed a pie. A scalpel cuts open the (one hopes) prosthetic trunk which oozes what looks like a pound of cooked spaghetti, but which the doctor explains is parasitic larvae. Over the sounds of puking, crying and pleas for mercy, Dr Matsui theorizes the ‘black spot’ is an egg laid in Gamera by Jiger; if so, Gamera is pregnant and a soon-to-be mother/father. The Stupid Official Guy, the only person left standing after the larvae footage, scoffs at the doctor’s theory. I’ll spoil this right away; the Boring Official Guy doesn’t get killed at the end, but I know we can pull through this together.

But hey, remember that dumb-looking miniature yellow submarine from earlier? Tommy and Hiroshi do and they remember watching Fantastic Voyage (1966) as well, and they sail the mini-sub into Gamera’s gaping mouth and down his wind-pipe. Lame comedy Dad apologizes for Hiroshi’s actions, but Dr Williams is more philosophical: “We shouldn’t be worried about those two. They’ve shown more initiative than we did,” rather underplaying the insanely dangerous position his son is in, while Mrs Williams goes to the other extreme, praying “please receive Tommy as one of your blessed sheep in Heaven.” Maybe Mrs Williams meant ‘lamb,’ but got confused with all the crazy zoology going down in Osaka today.

The adults guide the two boys using the X-ray of Gamera, helping them to avoid a wrong turn into Gamera’s tummy. The boys land at a conveniently solid-looking dock near the affected lung and disembark for a look around. What are they looking for? “For anything strange, I guess.” And a good guess it is, Hiroshi. The boys soon find a baby Jiger, around the size of a bear, feeding off Gamera’s blood. The bonny beast chases the boys, squirting a gluey goo which sticks Hiroshi’s feet to the floor, but Tommy pulls him free. Attempting the launch the sub, the boys suffer another glue attack, and this coats their portable radio receiver. Panicking, Hiroshi throws the radio at Baby Jiger and it sticks to his head. We all know how annoying it is when someone at work refuses to change frequencies from their lame classic rock station, and so Baby Jiger flips out until he dies from an overdose of Nickleback, i.e., any Nickleback.

Having just killed an innocent unborn beast, there is much celebrating at the harbor when the boys return from their expedition. Dr Suzuki believes lower radio frequencies are lethal to Jiger, while Dr Matsui realizes the statue emits a special tone when a breeze blows through it, numbing Jiger. As for Gamera, Dr Matsui advises a “transport of energy...converting electric current to heat,” although I think he’s just winging it now. The Stupid Official Guy refuses to do anything to help Gamera, so the two boys sail back into the sub, and into Gamera, to hook up cables from the local power station to the old turtle’s ticker, as obviously no-one else qualifies or the job.

The scheme works, the color returns to Gamera’s gills and off he flies. The power station overloads, and the speakers projecting low-frequency waves at Jiger, and keeping her a big old sleepyhead, fail; she awakens as Gamera belly flops another building to create another prime location development opportunity. Everyone becomes concerned the monsters will damage the Expo site: “Don’t let it go onto the Expo site!” cries Susie. “Gamera doesn’t know how important Expo is,” says Hiroshi, and it’s fair comment I’d say, given the average turtle’s knowledge of global economics and trading conditions.

The two monsters show down, but Gamera is wise to Jiger’s tricks, ducking her quill attacks

Diamondback Turtle
and deflecting her heat ray with his carapace. Jiger, the hussy, tries to get Gamera pregnant again, but the turtle stamps on her tail, popping out the impregnating spike. The children tell Gamera to drop Jiger from the sky and this he does, her horn embedding into the ground, as Gamera retrieves the statue from the sea. Removing herself, Jiger attacks - dear Lord, no! - an Expo pavilion, but Gamera lures her away with the statue. Jiger leaps clumsily up in the air as Gamera flies around with the statue, out of reach. Gamera puts a definite end to this capering by hurling the statue like a javelin at Jiger’s head, killing the monster in mid-air.

Even the baby-killing children are momentarily shocked by this brutal death, before cheering Gamera’s victory. Dr Williams decides to make an imitation statue for the Expo, which would have saved a lot of bother earlier on, while Gamera the Considerate flies off with the deceased Jiger, to return her body to Wester Island. Stupid Official Guy laughs at life's absurdity as fickle Susie cries “Thank you a lot, Gamera!” in rather a stilted fashion.

“And so Expo ’70 opened on schedule,” explains Kizuki in a touching final voice-over, as he spouts off about children’s ability to have hope, faith, imagination and complex medical and maritime engineering skills.

Gamera vs Jiger is actually one of the better Gamera films, with the novel location (filming took place at the real Expo ’70 in Osaka) and the mini-sub adventures inside Gamera’s body lifting the somewhat worn material. The following film in the series however, Gamera vs Zigra (1971), is arguably the weakest of the series, with Daiei Studios declared bankrupt soon afterwards, brought Gamera’s adventures to a sorry close. Gamera returned for three films in the late 1990s made by the resurgent Daiei, and a reboot film appeared in 2006, Gamera the Brave, from Kadokawa Pictures. While the original Gamera series never became as technically accomplished as the Godzilla films of the same time, they are often just as entertaining, and Gamera vs Jiger earns its place in the endearing, daft and irreplaceable canon of kaiju eiga.  

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