Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)


For some reason, I’ve been anticipating a decline in quality of the Gamera films, but it doesn’t arrive (yet) with Gamera vs. Zigra (1971.) I may like it slightly less than its predecessor; however, that’s a personal preference. In general, it maintains the level that I’ve come to expect, and I have yet to be disappointed.

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In fact, I think there are some things this chapter, the seventh in this series, does better. For example, some of the forced perspective shots are terrific. We see a building in the foreground on the left side of the screen in clear focus, perhaps as if we’re actually there. Then we see Gamera, the giant turtle, slowly walking toward his foe, slightly out of focus because, well, he’s in the distance.

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I also continue to be impressed by the miniatures. Historically, the Daiei kaiju films don’t match the detail of Toho where demolishing buildings are concerned. However, the flying machines (airplanes, helicopters, flying saucers) look great. They’re just cartoony enough to be artistic, but not so much so that they distract from the presentation of the action.

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The biggest flaw of Gamera vs. Zigra, and the reason I rate it slightly lower, is that the aforementioned foe doesn’t appear until over halfway through the movie. Zigra technically appears earlier as either a passenger on the spaceship, or the spaceship itself, but it’s an explosion that either releases the monster or transforms the spaceship into the monster.

Aesthetically, both Jiger and Zigra are more detailed creatures than Guiron or Viras, even, dare I say, more realistic. They’re less simple in construction with more “features.” Here, a razor-sharp fin slopes into an equally pointed snout that rests upon what I would call a “beak.” Zigra’s back is like an exposed ribcage, upon which Gamera can play xylophone with a rock.

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That is just one specifically zany, entirely entertaining, little scene in the movie. Another is when an alien-possessed geologist pursues two children who previously escaped the spaceship, they’re able to slow her by throwing stuffed animals at her. No other feat or man or nature had been able to do that up to that point.

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Yet, there are some decidedly adult moments, as well, not the least of which is the woman’s purpose for pursuing the children: to kill them. Also, someone at the department of countermeasures asks, “Has the U.N. thought about H-bombs?” And, there’s discussion about dissecting a dead dolphin lying on a table in full view.

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Gamera vs. Zigra is a return to space for the series… sort of. It begins on a moon base that the spaceship, with either gumballs or Trix cereal for its dome, destroys. However, after that, it’s Earthbound. Zigra (the spaceship, the alien race, the monster… they’re all called, “Zigra”) wants to rule Earth him/her/itself. The motive, though, is a little fuzzy…

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Zigra comes from a planet that destroyed its oceans with pollution. Why does he/she/it want to occupy ours? It’s a different approach than Godzilla vs. Hedorah took the very same year, but the lesson is the same: give a hoot, don’t pollute. Maybe Zigra is really a benevolent and wants to prevent the same thing from happening to us.

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That’s unlikely since he/she/it also starts global earthquakes that set Tokyo on fire. I’ll end with another example of how Daiei, on the verge of bankruptcy, maximized its lack of budget. We see Tokyo on fire only from televisions. In that way, it is perhaps a more intimate Kaiju film, keeping the action confined to only a handful of locations. This makes no difference in its impact. I loved it.

 

Original Japanese Version Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga

Released July 17, 1971 (Japan)

RT 87 min.

Written by Niisan Takahashi

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa

Starring Koji Fuhiyama, Daigo Inoue, Reiko Kasahara

Rating 7 possessed children (out of 10)

Home Video Blu-ray (Arrow Video, Gamera: The Complete Collection)


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