Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Random Movie Report #63: Gamera, Super Monster

Cover of the Elvira Movie Macabre DVD 2-set featuring Gamera, and Amazon link
It’s a sign of my kaiju addiction that I buy DVDs of films in this genre that I don’t even expect to be any good. GAMERA, SUPER MONSTER was made by Daiei in 1980 at their lowest ebb; the Japanese film industry was still in bad shape and the company was facing substantial debt. To try and raise money quickly, they made the first Gamera film in 8 years, while spending as little money as possible on it. The bulk of this film is simply clips from other Gamera movies, arranged around a plot that steals as many elements from recent blockbusters as it can. It doesn’t work: the movie is only of interest as a morbid curiosity, a threadbare production drenched in desperation and attempting to reach an audience despite having nothing to offer.

A series of still images informs us that the evil and apparently sentient spaceship Zanon (which in no way resembles an Imperial Star Destroyer) is on its way to attack Earth. It’s apparently chasing after three superpowered spacewomen, who have blended into the normal population. Despite their powers, they’re unwilling to confront the evil spaceship directly, and can’t even turn into their super selves without alerting the ship to their presence. So, Zanon starts sending monsters to destroy the Earth, starting with the bat creature Gaos. Fortunately, through what seem to be the whims of a precocious monster-loving child named Keiichi (Koichi Maeda), Gamera appears out of nowhere to battle these monsters and save the day. In the meantime, Zanon sends a female agent to befriend Keiichi and track down the spacewomen, all while monster fights ensue.

All of the footage of the evil space monsters, and their battles with Gamera, are culled from previous Gamera movies. (They even manage to fit in some material from the black and white original by showing it as TV news footage.) New music has been slapped on, but this is basically a clip show. Some new footage of Gamera himself was shot, but it seems like they didn’t bother to build a full suit- instead, the monster is a stiff prop, always seen in the same flying position and only capable of moving its jaw. He resembles nothing so much as a prop for a theme park ride, and the evil spaceship fares little better, seen only a few times, never in much detail. One also suspects that the superwomen aren’t using their powers because that would cost too much.

It’s almost amusing how little effort this movie makes in cribbing from the hits. You’ve got a STAR WARS-type spaceship and three super-people two years after the SUPERMAN movie, the spacewomen rely frequently on a three-note chime that sounds suspiciously like the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS music, and when the sharklike Zigra’s fin cuts across the water, music a lot like the JAWS theme starts up. On top of this, Keiichi has two separate dream sequences in which he envisions Gamera flying through space alongside the Space Cruiser Yamato and the Galaxy Express 999- both scenes simply have the monster superimposed in front of shots from the relevant anime series, and it goes without saying that this has nothing to do with anything else in the movie. There’s even a plug for Shonen Jump and what looks like the M.U.S.C.L.E. franchise. It’s a genuine surprise when something happens that can’t immediately be identified as a steal from something else.

Of course, it would help if what was left weren’t so unmemorable. The characters are never established in much detail, except for Keiichi, who, among the Gamera series’ various monster-loving children, may be the most insistent and irritating of all. He holds the film hostage twice with his organ rendition of the Gamera march (not the same as the one from the Sixties films), insists that everything he dreams about Gamera will come true, walks through the entire film with the most maddening grin plastered on his face. To call the plot episodic would be charitable- you can basically tell things are winding down when they run out of monsters, and while the climax makes a game attempt at drama, the fact that it takes place in an abandoned playground kind of kills the mood.

The reason this film’s not a complete failure is that, even out of context, the older footage is still somewhat entertaining. A monster fight is a monster fight, after all, and while you may have seen these scenes before, it’s not bad as a greatest hits package. This doesn’t really excuse the movie, but it makes it almost painless as a viewing experience.

GAMERA, SUPER MONSTER is a curio, a career low for the super turtle but an interesting portrait of a studio trying something they had neither the resources nor the public interest to pull off. Only completists should bother.

Written, in a sense, by Nisan Takahashi
Directed, after a fashion, by Noriaki Yuasa

Grade: D+

No comments: