Hope you had a good (or at least not-shitty) Varantimes Day! I always like to try and tie my reviews to something current-ish, so this month I went hunting for a little giant monster romance! Last year worked out great with Rodan‘s star-crossed terror-dactyls. This year… let’s just say kaiju generally aren’t lovey-dovey creatures.
Gamera gets pragnent in this one! Implies a little hanky-panky, yeah? Except Gamera is a boy and there’s no sex, just a (non-erotic) shanking. Also two kids abort the murderous monster-baby. Hahaha, hoo boy. This is truly one of the craziest, most fun entries in the classic Gamera series, and that’s saying a lot considering we got shit like this in a previous installment.
So light some candles, put on some slow jams, and check yourself for ancient curses and/or monstrous parasites, because we’re talking about 1970’s Gamera vs. Jiger!
In Japan, Gamera vs. Jiger was also called Gamera versus Giant Demon Beast Jiger. The film debuted on American TV the same year as Gamera vs. Monster X, and it was released internationally as Monsters Invade Expo ’70. That’s right, World’s Fair fans! The majority of Jiger takes place in and around Expo ’70 held in Osaka.
The trailer makes sure to kick off with some glamour shots of Expo ’70, gives a little spotlight to the charmingly dweeby comic relief dad character, and spoils pretty much every cool special effects bit in the movie, including Gamera’s shocking, climactic kill shot.
The score by series veteran Shunsuke Kikuchi is solid, but not super memorable. I must not be the only one that feels that way, because I can’t even find a way to listen to it online! In addition to scoring the majority of the classic Gamera films, Kikuchi’s scored a bunch of other films and TV shows, including Dragon Ball Z, and one of his pieces turned up in Kill Bill Vol 2. The real musical standout is of course, Gamera’s iconic theme song, scream-sung by jubilant children:
The movie opens with that greatest hits reel of Gamera trashing evil monsters, and it does a perfect job of setting the stage for the triumphant, ludicrous kaiju adventure that follows. Jiger was directed by Noriaki Yuasa, and written by Nisan Takahashi. These dudes have a lot of experience with the franchise and truly get what makes classic-era Gamera movies work, so it’s no surprise that Jiger stands as one of the most entertaining entries in the series.
After that opening montage dedicated to Gamera gloriously busting skulls, we meet our human leads. The main
brattyspunky kid Hiroshi is hanging out with his goofy dad, waiting for his sister’s cool boyfriend Keisuke to take him to see Expo ’70 before it opens to the public. Hiroshi’s dad has been commissioned to build mini-subs for Expo ’70, because in the ’70s a couple competent mechanics was all the staff you needed to build a fleet of functioning submarines for the general public.
The nerdy dad is played by Kon Ohmura, who’s been prolific in Japanese film and television right up until 2014. While IMDB says he’s pretty well known for being in something called Edo Porn (ಠ_ಠ), I know him best as the dorky neighborhood cop Cornjob (seriously they call him that in one of the dubs) in Gamera vs. Guiron.
In both movies he has a unique role: a kid at heart himself, he’s the only adult to immediately believe what the kids say about Gamera and to totally trust the titanic turtle. In a world otherwise populated by disapproving moms and no-nonsense generals, he’s a breath of fresh air. Cool as he is, he has a small part in the story so Keisuke shows up and drives Hiroshi to Expo ’70.
Keisuke actually works for Expo ’70, which is why he can sneak Hiroshi into it before it opens. It’s also why he lovingly narrates an in-depth montage highlighting the event’s exhibits, mission statement, location, and operating hours. It’s really blatant product placement, but when it’s for a product that doesn’t exist anymore, it stops being crass commercialism and turns into a fascinating mini-time capsule.
I was all ready to wax sentimental/philosophical about how they should bring back World’s Fairs: the celebratory exchange of culture seems like the best way to crush xenophobia and boost economies. Thing is, they totally still do World’s Fairs. They just had one last year in Milan. The fact that the World’s Fair is an-going event that you never hear about is somehow more depressing than it just disappearing alongside Space Age optimism. But I think I’m getting lost on a tangent, and we have more important matters to discuss.
Anyway, Keisuke lets us know that Expo ’70 will include exhibits from over 70 countries, including ancient artifacts. Artifacts like the “Devil’s Whistle” statue from Wester Island. Hiroshi and Keisuke head to the Expo ’70 HQ to deal with an ambassador from Wester Island. The ambassador is super pissed about the statue being moved, and insists that doing so will unleash a terrible curse. As far as black characters from island nations in kaiju movies go, he’s handled okay. He’s actually played by a real live black actor instead of a Japanese actor in blackface, and he’s not a half-naked witch doctor or anything, so that’s good. But he yells all of his lines in what sounds like gibberish, which is not good. Still, I’ve seen worse depictions, and it’s not like Hollywood movies are necessarily a beacon of racial respect.
Keisuke tries to defuse the situation with a rad slideshow explaining the scientific and historical significance of displaying the statue at Expo ’70… and that it might help provide evidence for the lost continent of Mu. Mu pops up a lot in Japanese monster movies, and a lot of times it’s in a “hey it could happen!” sort of tone, sort of how we talk about Bigfoot or UFOs here in the States. It’s not hard to see why the story of an island nation being lost to disaster would resonate with people from an island nation regularly beset by disaster. Sometimes they use Atlantis instead (though that may be a choice made by translators), but it’s usually Mu.
Despite Keisuke’s best efforts, this doesn’t fully satisfy the Wester Island ambassador and he warns them of “Jiger” as he makes his leave. His translator doesn’t even recognize that word, so we end on an ominous note before going to the dig site on Wester Island.
We meet the Williamses here, as Dad-Williams is the lead scientist in charge of the “dig.” His kids Tommy and Susan are friends with Hiroshi back in Japan, so they’ll all get together in a little bit. For now though, everybody is (understandably) busy freaking the fuck out about the gigantic flying turtle interfering with the excavation.
Tommy and Susan try to convince their dad Gamera is here to protect them, but pops fires back with “You can’t trust a creature like that, he must be killed.” Gam and the choppers (rocket- and otherwise) scuffle for the statue for a moment, before the ballsiest excavation workers of all time roll up with rifles and start taking shots at Gamera. That last image is pulled off with what is easily the most impressive composite shot in the movie. It’s also cool that they found an in-character way to make the heroic Gamera clash with humans.
A volcano spooks off Gamera, allowing the choppers to lower the statue onto a freighter. As the statue moves through the air, it emits an odd, unearthly tone, almost like some sort of whistle used by the devil. Everybody’s a little weirded out by it, but not enough to stop what they’re doing. They can’t deny Expo ’70! No one can.
We jump ahead a bit, with Tommy and Susan visiting Hiroshi’s house. Hiroshi’s house is in a cool, kinda junky, lived-in harbor area. We only see it briefly, but the neighborhood has a ton of personality, and reminds me of the harsh-but-homey industrial zone Ichiro calls home in Godzilla’s Revenge, or even the titular address from “Sesame Street.” It seems like this was a popular setting across the board in the late 60s and 70s, before homogenized, sterile suburbs took over in the 80s and 90s.
When the Williams kids roll up telling Hiroshi that Gamera tried to kill them, he shuts them down immediately. “Naturally I trust a rampaging Atlantean super-turtle more than my best human friends,” Hiroshi doesn’t say but totally does. Hiroshi, being a genre-savvy genius, posits that Gamera must be pissed about the statue being moved. The kids then spend the afternoon pondering the curse, and the mysterious word “Jiger.” But we know what that shit means!
Monster time with a capital MONST! Back on dusty old Wester(os) Island, lightning blasts the bejeezus out of the ground, and Jiger herself comes shambling out! Jiger is dope as hell for a lot of reasons, but one standout is that the suit actually allows the actor to walk on their hands and feet, instead of hands and knees, like most quadrupedal kaiju.
Like any of us might, Jiger wakes up thirsty as fuck, so she wanders down to the beach and starts lapping up water, cleverly portrayed with a reversed shot. It’s a nice little character moment for Jiger before she has to throw down with Gamera. P.S. Guess who’s back?
The Gamster and Jigermeifter face off, and even though we’re less than 20 minutes into the movie, neither of them hold back! It’s awesome. Jiger uses her suction paws (it looks more like telekinesis) to grab and huck rocks at Gammy’s face, and then uses her face-mounted jets(!?) to fly up, strangle Gamera with her tail, and try to fling him across the island. Here, a gif is worth like a billion words:
Jiger tries this happy horseshit a second time, but Gamera wises up and tucks his head into his shell just in time. He responds by basically doing the same thing but worse to her twice, before mushing her face into the dirt while the volcano erupts behind them.
At this point it’s hard not to feel for Jiger. Sure we vaguely know that she’s connected to a cursed idol, but homegirl just woke up and Gamera breezes in starting shit. We’ll find out soon enough that Gammy was 100% justified, but for now it’s like, damn Gam. Jiger’s nobody’s bitch though:
She shoots out huge nose-needles! She ends up lancing Gamera’s arms and legs with those fucking things before knocking him onto his back with a well-placed head-butt to his Dongatello. With Gamera rendered helpless, Jiger fires up her face-jets again and delightfully skims across the surface of the sea, off into the sunset.
Just playin’. Instead, we cut back to Japan, and surprise, shit’s getting weird with the Devil’s Whistle. The harbor’s lost communication with the freighter carrying the statue, and most of the ship’s crew is way too sick to help unload their cargo. The ship’s doctor literally chalks it up to the curse and then takes a huge pull from his hip flask.
Some friendly/opportunistic dock workers agree to help unload the statue and prep it for airlifting. Once it’s airborne, it once again emits a strange tone that leaves the dock workers that touched it doubled over in agony. Hopefully Hiroshi and pals paid attention, because those are some major clues. They’re clues for Jiger too, who makes her grand entrance by blasting through two different freighters and fucking up Osaka.
It’s a good, but not great, city miniature. This is one of the more visually impressive classic Gamera movies, but they just don’t have the budget or the expertise to meet or top what Tsuburaya and his team of fucking special effects warlocks were pulling off at Toho. The kids watch the carnage on TV and loudly wonder what the fuck Gamera’s doing that’s so much more important than protecting them from a rampaging hell-beast, not knowing that he’s still struggling on his back like a goon over on Wester Island.
So the JSDF gets called in, and kind of like the Osaka city set, it looks good for old school Gamera, but a notch or so below what you’d see in a golden age Godzilla flick. There are a shit-ton of tanks positioned around Jiger, but they don’t move. It’s a little lifeless. But before you really have a chance to notice the blah staging, Jiger fucking lances fighter jets out of the sky with her projectile nose-needles.
We’ve seen her nostil-javelins in action already though. So to keep ramping up the crazy, Jiger fires off her horn beam. The bump at the base of her snout glows translucent, and then a big arcing dome of amber light does… something different every time.
And frankly, this movie is so much fun I never really gave a shit. Narratively they don’t really explain the wildly varying effects of Jiger’s beam (they are briefly described as being “super ultraviolet rays“), but you can just as easily assume that she can make it hit harder or softer as she sees fit. Like pulling a punch. When Hiroshi’s sister sees the city-smashing might of Jiger on live TV, she makes like any sane person and starts fucking packing for her whole family. Hiroshi and the Williams kids insist that evacuation isn’t necessary with Gamera hopefully on the way, and H-dog’s dad backs up that claim. Luckily we cut back to Wester Island and see Gamera… yanking the spears out of his limbs. It’s brutal, it’s bad-ass, and with Gamera’s theme blasting as he takes flight, it’s fucking triumphant.
We cut back to Osaka and see people have evacuated to fallout shelters, while Jiger goes classic Gojira and shreds a nearby TV tower, complete with screaming newscasters trapped on it. When Gamera drops in, the kids rush out, and their goofy Dad trusts that Gamera will keep them safe. It’s up to you if that’s childlike awe and wonder or criminal neglect.
But the kids were right! Gamera rolls up, ready to whup some Wester Island ayass. Gamera flies around his opponent, surveying the arena because he’s a fucking tactical genius. Jiger takes a few potshots with her booger-spears, but Gamera tears off a smokestack and uses it to deflect them. This. Shit. Is. DELIGHTFUL. The first fight whets your appetite, but this one is a junk food feast for your whole brain. Gamera chases Jiger around with his fire breath, there’s some wacky seesaw action, and Gamera shell-checks Jiger in the gut. It’s a blast, but it’s all just build up to this:
WHAM WHAM WHAM! Hahahaha! Radical. Yuk it up now while you can Gamera, because Jiger is about to go Giger on your unsuspecting ass.
Jiger knows to disorient Gamera by flipping him on his back, then holds him tight with her suction-cupped hands and feet. This buys her time to pop a spike-tail-boner, which she jabs into the incapacitated Gamera’s shoulder, pumping her awful egg into the poor guy’s lung.
This completely wrecks Gamera. The poor monster staggers off, accompanied by some truly sad music. He blunders through some impressive industrial sets (probably the best miniature city-scapes in the film), before finally collapsing at the water’s edge and turning into a white, cyrstallized hulk.
Jiger’s an interesting movie because it doubles up on the established Gamera film formula. Usually Gam challenges the villain monster, gets his shit pushed in, sleeps it off, and comes back swinging, saving the day, usually with some sort of help from plucky human kids. Gamera’s first defeat in Jiger is pretty rough, but his second is devastating. The kids watch their hero slump face-first into the water, and even his eye-lights go out. 99% of the time in these movies that means straight-up fucking dead.
So the stakes are pretty high in this one! Jiger’s victorious roar sounds an awful lot like malevolent laughter, and she stomps around Osaka ruining everybody’s day/house/place of business/ability to not die, while the Expo ’70 committee convenes to try and figure something out.
Of course Hiroshi and Tommy manage to sneak in and listen to scientists and army brass scramble for something, anything that can stop Jiger. The kids speak up and try to convince everyone that the statue and the sound it makes when air passes through it is the key, and the JSDF leaders are quick to shut it down as the imaginative ramblings of school kids. The lead scientist is a cool old dude named Dr. Suzuki who hears the kids out, but it’s no good: Jiger tracked down the statue and lobbed it into the ocean.
With the Devil’s Whistle lost at sea, the kids plead for the adults to help Gamera. The kids are pretty smart here: they argue that even if Gamera is truly dead, the body should be examined to know for sure. They give Gammy a fly-over X-ray and Dr. Suzuki and co. weigh in on the dark spot they find in Gamera’s chest cavity. At first they guessed cancer, but the nature of the wound and the use of Jiger’s stinger clues them in to a different cause of psuedo-death.
The scientists speculate that Gamera has been infected with some sort of parasite. To give us an idea of what kind of havoc parasites can wreak, they show us some fucking horrifying footage of a poor elephant’s bloated, malformed trunk getting sliced open to release the disgusting, writhing mess of maggots that had been plaguing the unfortunate animal. Here, check it out!
Just to clarify, that’s fake. Thank God. The scientists state that if this is the case for our turtle titan, he’ll need some similarly invasive work done to cure him. Tommy and Hiroshi duck out of the meeting and swipe a walkie-talkie on the way out. Being the kid-leads of a Gamera movie, they’ve already come up with a plan to save Gamera, and do a little misdirection to keep the authorities off their case while they swing into action.
The kids have decided to go full Innerspace on Gamera, and their parents aren’t even that mad when they find out. The kids pass under Gamera’s back-of-the-mouth-dangler-thing, and then laugh at Tommy’s mom when they hear her praying for Tommy’s soul over the walkie-talkie. I think we’re supposed to laugh with them, the idea being that Tommy’s mom’s perfectly rational fear for her son’s life is an overreaction, but they kinda just seem like dicks. It also just dawned on me that the whole “kids captaining a two-person mini-sub” schtick is lifted directly from an earlier entry in the series, Gamera vs. Viras.
For me though, the kids in Jiger take the radness cake with their Fantastic Voyage. After almost taking a wrong turn into Gamera’s acid-filled turtle tummy, they make it to his air-filled lung. Without a moment’s hesitation they hop out of the sub and walk around in it, non-sarcastically saying things like “Gee, this is great!” and “Oh, wonderful!” Only they’re not alone…
BABBY JIGER. It looks and moves like a slightly cuter, dweebier version of mom, but instead of launching nose-needles, it tries to trap Hiroshi and Tommy with face-fired blasts of jizz everywhere. There’s some great music as the newborn beast galumphs along after the two boys. Baby Jiger even manages to switch off their walkie-talkie with a well-placed spooge-shot!
Hiroshi reflexively throws the goo’d up walkie-talkie at BJ (heh), and it sticks to the creature’s face! Then some static comes through and baby Jiger fucking flops over dead.
Back at HQ, Dr. Suzuki speculates that the frequency of the killer static is the polar opposite of Jiger’s. That’s good enough for me, most Showa Gamera movies operate on this kind of vague, pseudo-scientific kid-logic. What’s odd are the examples Dr. Suzuki uses to explain Jiger’s audio weakness: “Just as tropical people become weak when they go toward a northern, colder climate, and Eskimos react the same way to a warmer southern climate.”
With this new intel the scientists and army rush to set up a bitchin’ sound system all around the sleeping Jiger. Sleeping Jiger is pulled off awesomely:
Everybody’s feeling pretty cool about having a lethal alarm clock set up for Jiger, but they’re also worried about the Gamster. Even after having a babyectomy, he still hasn’t come back to life. The powers that be and the kids decide they need to kickstart his heart by running wires into his actual heart and zapping it with a few billion volts of electricity. Oh yeah, and the adults in charge decide that the two kid-leads should be in charge of running the wires into Gamera’s ticker.
They plug in the ultra-defibrillator and jumpstart Gamera like an old Pontiac. They assume it’ll take a day to get him at full strength, but Gammy knows there’s no time for that, so he turbo charges himself, frying the city’s power station in the process. Unfortunatley for Osaka, but fortunately for us, this is also when Jiger wakes up, trampling the now-unpowered speakers. Hmm, maybe they’ll just calmly and quietly part ways, leaving Expo ’70 in peace.
Their climactic fight is terrific. The kids and the Expo ’70 bigwigs watch from the (debatable) safety of their HQ as Jiger and Gamera go H.A.M.era on each other. Gamera dodges nostril-javelins, rolls on his side at her, and counters Jiger’s heat ray… by stabbing telephone poles into his ear-holes.
When he pulls them out they’re slathered with his green blood. Kids, don’t be like Gamera, be careful when you use q-tips! Their battle rages on, Jiger disables Gamera’s fire-breath with a hyper-accurate boulder to his mouth, then tries to stab him with her tail-mounted baby-shooter again. Gamera says “aw hell nah” and Lorena Bobbitts the shit out of her tail with a tower until the ovipositor spike blaps out, bleeding pink everywhere.
Gamera blasts off with Jiger and drops her ass from like a mile up. While she’s zonked out, Gammy dives into the ocean and grabs the Devil’s Whistle. As the kids state, “Gamera’s smart, he knows about the sound,” and he flies around with statue, luring Jiger away from Expo ’70. You probably remember what happens next:
It’s a suitably over-the-top death for Gamera’s most insidious foe. Jiger’s lifeless husk crashes to the ground, pink blood gushing out of her forehead.
Gamera’s a responsible monster killer though. He picks up the body and hauls it off to be laid to rest at
the fucking garbage dumpWester Island. Tommy’s Dad Dr. Williams decides he’ll just build a replica of the Devil’s Whistle to display at Expo ’70 (which… maybe just do that first next time, bro), and the kids all wave cheerful goodbyes to their flying, chelonian savior. Dr. Suzuki and Hiroshi’s dad reflect on Gamera’s intentions, and what they learned from this whole turtle-impregnating/skull-stabbing ordeal. It might just be pandering to Gamera’s kid-centric audience, but I think Suzuki makes a worthwhile point: “We adults must never lose a child’s ability to imagine, and to hope, and to have faith.” It’s a simple message most of us have heard before, but I know I need that reminder every now and then.
There are two more Showa-era Gamera films after Jiger, but neither of them can beat Jiger’s narrative or technical quality. Jiger doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as other entires in the classic Gamera canon, and I’m sure that’s at least partially because the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew didn’t get around to skewering it like they did most of the classic Gamera run. It’s really a shame, because this flick easily stands alongside Gamera gems like Gamera vs. Gyaos and Gamera vs. Guiron.
Unfortunately, we never saw much more of Jiger herself after her big, splashy debut film. She made a stock footage reappearance in Gamera Super Monster, but that’s pretty much it. She’s one of the coolest, deadliest, and best-executed kaiju in Gamera’s rogue’s gallery, but I guess what they say is true: the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.