Ahhhh, Gamera: Super Monster, we meet at last! I had never seen the 1980 entry in the Gamera series until
this last month. Its reputation might lead you to believe I was avoiding it, but come on, you know me better than that! I was saving this heaping helping of stock-footage fueled weirdness for a rainy (or Michigan-humid) day!
This is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that I had a lot of fun finally cracking this nut–I basically gifted myself a ridiculous cinematic dessert. The bad thing is that by the time I snuggled in to watch Super Monster, I had already found out most of its best/strangest details. In case you’ve never seen this thing and want to ensure you have the maximum WTF experience, I won’t spoil it by listing out all the madness here. All you really need to know going in is that Super Monster was a blatantly desperate attempt to pump funds into the dying (now long-dead) Daiei studio and it was made on the shoestringiest of budgets (even by Gamera standards).
So fire up your electric organ, fly your magic van someplace safe, and start talkin’ to your watch, because we’re diving in to Gamera: Super Monster!
I usually kick reviews off with a look at the original theatrical trailer…. but I couldn’t find one for Super Monster. That’s a pretty good indicator for where this movie sits in the popular consciousness, but it’s still a bummer. I’d love to see how Daiei tried to sell this flick.
…And now I can thanks to a hot tip from friend of the blog, Ted Johnson! Feast your eyes on the original Japanese trailer for Gamera: Super Monster (and all the other Showa Gamera trailers if you feel like rewinding)!
The trailer focuses on non-stop action: Gamera’s foes come out and wreck shit, he comes out and wrecks their shit, there are transforming super ladies, a suspiciously familiar evil spaceship, a random cop holding a comic book (???)…. It’s completely bonkers, which makes it a really fair, honest approximation of the movie its selling.
I had an easier time grabbing some samples of Super Monster’s score, so let’s have a listen! Here’s a fan-made music video of the opening theme followed by the end credits music. The video itself is stitched-together clips from the movie, so spoiler alert? I guess?
The opening theme is a fun, disco-y superhero ballad and the end credits music is a mellow mirror of that tune. That’s maybe an odd choice for the thundering chaos of a Gamera movie, but it’s a perfect fit for a charmingly corny, low-budget, kid’s superhero flick. Gamera: Super Monster is both, so it checks out! Check out the “Gamera vs. Barugon” theme below!
It’s funky as fuck! There are only a few pieces to the Super Monster soundtrack, but I never got tired of hearing this! Make sure to at least listen long enough to hear the “wikkita-wikkita” guitars come churning in! That shit rules. Shunsuke Kikuchi put the score together and even though I didn’t know his name, I definitely know (some of) his work!
His body of work is mostly anime and tokusatsu scores, which also includes Dragon Ball Z, Kamen Rider, and OH YEAH THREE OTHER GAMERA MOVIES. So by the time Super Monster came out he had already worked several times with series director Noriaki Yuasa and series scribe Niisan Takahashi. Fun fact, Noriaki Yuasa was a child star in his younger days! He also directed a flick called The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch and it looks BUCK WILD:
Gamera: Super Monster opens with credits rushing backwards into a glittery star-field… which… kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
All right, cat’s out of the bag. It’s 1980, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were so rad they made everybody jizz their brains out their buttholes and 1978’s Superman was no slouch either. Daiei needed a slam dunk, so I don’t fault them for trying to bash their Gamera-shaped peg through a Star Wars and/or Superman -shaped hole. When the credits finish, we’re treated to matte paintings of some spacey vistas and the narrator kicks off his expository spiel. He waxes philosophical about the vastness of space before telling us about Zanon, a pirate spaceship “bent on murder and destruction” (at this point also depicted via paintings). It is “the messenger of death” and it’s next mission is to attack Earth.
Luckily for us Earth is the foster home of three refugee Space Women who lost their homeworld to the vicious Zanon. It’s unclear if Zanon is a single being on the ship, the alien race in charge of the ship, the ship itself, or all three. It’s a cool as fuck name though, so let’s roll with it. Kilara, the leader of the Space Women, senses space trouble a-brewin’ and signals the other two to meet up with her.
Mitan and Marsha (Marsha, what a weird, spacey name!) ditch on their day jobs (at a car dealership and an elementary school) to meet up with Kilara. These initial superhero transformations are achieved with simple but effective jump-cut camera tricks, followed by some decent if chintzy-looking blue screen flying:
But Kilara’s routine is way more fun. First, she puts on a bitchin’ leather jacket and hops in her adorable pet store van:
The she plays her dashboard-mounted space casio:
Which makes her van do/look like this:
Now that Kilara’s van is a flying orange glob, she waits for Marsha and Mitan to be horribly absorbed by it, which of course they do quickly and willingly.
Once they’re all inside the space splotch, Zanon warns them not to interfere with his/their colonization of Earth. If they do, Zanon will slaughter humans instead of just colonizing their world.
They know that Zanon can track them whenever they’re in their true (Space Woman) form, so they do a crazy dance to transform back into their human disguises and land the van on a nearby parking structure.
Zanon’s got a Space Woman on his side though, the dastardly Giruge! Giruge’s deployed to Earth and sets about “clear[ing] all obstacles” for the pending colonization.
It’s a little bit Terminator and it gets a little bit Ghostbusters a moment later! Specifically, Louis Tully possessed by Vinz Clortho. Here’s Giruge’s reaction to getting hit on by a random sleazebag:
This is followed by a smash cut to a suburban house with what sounds like a circus organ playing “Camptown Races.” It’s an odd thing to jump to, but it’s the introduction of Super Monster’s kid-lead Keiichi!
Keiichi finishes playing his (innocent-sounding but actually fucking gross and dehumanizing) lesson and he runs off to hang out with his little buddies. What follows is a minor filler scene, but one I never got a good handle on. Keiichi’s friends are flipping through a comic book and one of them says that Gamera’s in it! Keiichi is ga-ga for Gamera (#relatable) so he rushes over to check it out. It’s kinda weird and kinda meta, but let’s have a look!
I watched the dubbed and subtitled version of this scene to try and figure it out. In the subtitles one of the kids says (or reads) that the turtle is spinning like Gamera in that last panel. WAY TO LIE TO US KID. I opt for dubs when I’m reviewing because I like taking screenshots without subtitles in the shot, 60s dubs are actually really good, and dubs from other eras have their own unique cornball charm (even though quality-wise they don’t touch those 60s dubs). All that said, the dub on Shout Factory’s DVD (I love unofficial fan edits/reconstructions, but for reviews I try to opt for a version that’s commercially available) is weirdly muffled, so if I totally whiff on a line of dialogue or miss some expository detail, you know why! This is also one of those weird dubs where everybody calls Gamera “Guh-mare-uh” instead of “Gam-er-uh” (like “camera”)… I find myself getting a little nostalgic for wonky dub quirks like this. Dub-a-dub-dubs aside, the filler continues when one of the kids says that Muscleman is better and we look at his comic for a sec.
This is about when the filler starts to feel like product placement for this comic book (which based on the inclusion of Kinnikuman it must be Weekly Shōnen Jump?). Then they decide they’re going to find the the cop from the regular turtle not Gamera comic? AND THEN THEY FUCKING DO
This is the weirdest part of the movie, and we just saw a lady turn her van into a flying blob by playing a keyboard. The cop is played by Yûzô Hayakawa, who was Kawajiri in Gamera vs. Barugon. That doesn’t really explain any of this though. Is the comic based on this cop? Why? Is he a famous cop? I’m really lost on this. Hayakawa was a prolific actor, also showing up in Warning from Space, but none of that really sheds any light on this random police officer who is the star of a comic. He even starts the conversation with the kids by vehemently denying that he’s the cop from the comic, like he has to explain this to people all the time. I watched this scene dubbed and subtitled and literally understand nothing about it.
Kilara strikes up convo with Keiichi and lets him have a turtle for free. Kilara is…. really really great.
Kilara’s Zanon sense goes off, so she sends Keiichi home with a new free turtle in tow. Zanon declares that he/their first strike is to make Mt. Fuji erupt
via stock footage. It does!
A team of scientists are sent to survey the recent eruption by helicopter, and anybody that’s seen Gamera vs. Gyaos might recognize the ill-fated chopper in question:
That’s right gang, now we’re really getting into stock footage country. With the exception of a minute or two of new footage of Gamera drowsily flying around and stomping past a sign, every single monster scene is pulled from a previous entry in the franchise. Godzilla’s Revenge did a smarter, more satisfying job of leaning on reused scenes, but it doesn’t bother me all that much here either. It’s fun reliving Gammy’s old battles in a (slightly) different context. Super Monster functions both as a Gamera sampler platter for new fans and a love letter to the entire Showa series (albeit a weird and lazy one) for series veterans. But anyway, the chopper’s gonna be fine right? They’re just checking on the aftermath of a volcano, so it’s not like–
This (and the next few special effects sequences) are re-purposed from Gamera vs. Gyaos, but other than some suspiciously anachronistic-looking fashion, it all holds up really well. With the chopper fucked in half, the Japan Self Defense Force deploy a squadron of fighter jets and well–
Pretty exciting stuff! Pretty intense, right? So naturally our next shot is–
We rejoin Keiichi, who’s now playing a Gamera march he composed to his new pet turtle. If the fact that he composed his own Gamera tribute ballad isn’t enough to establish Keiichi’s super monster super fandom, we also cut to a stack of Gam-mags in his room too.
Keiichi’s mom crashes his gam-jam with maximum Mom-Face:
Thankfully she’s not just there to tell Keiichi to cool it the fuck out with his Gamera March (though I’m sure that figured in somewhere). She’s also not there just to holler at Keiichi for bringing home a random-ass turtle. Instead, she has a really sweet talk with him about how the turtle would surely be happier out in its natural habitat. Keiichi thinks hard about it, realizes she’s right, and cuts the little guy loose.
SMASH CUT BACK TO GYAOS MURDERING EVERYBODY
The effects work for Gyaos aren’t quite up to the standard of what Toho was putting out at the time (which in this case is actually 1967 instead of 1980), but they’re ambitious, dynamic, and are super fun to watch! Since Yuasa and co. are able to cherry-pick their best past work, it all ends up looking pretty rad! Jumping back to the streets of 1980 isn’t quite seamless though:
Either Marsha or Mitan (I always mix up the non-Kilara Space Women) is stuck in traffic trying to meet up with her compatriots so they can go kick Gyaos’ ayaoss. Running out of time, she makes a REAL BOLD choice and goes full superhero in the middle of the street, then teleports her entire fucking car.
Zanon can spot them from orbit every time the Space Women space out, so Marsha (or Mitan) isn’t just putting herself in danger, but her fellow Space Women as well! Her Mazda pays the ultimate price!
So that’s it! If the Space Women transform, Zanon will nuke their glittery asses off the face of the Earth! They can’t possibly defeat Gyaos as a trio of regular-ass broads, so they have to just lay low for now.
Keiichi swings by Kilara’s pet shop the next day to apologize for releasing the turtle, ends up scoping out Kilara’s big-ass electric organ (continuous product placement for electric organs/tiny keyboards?) , and plays his nerdy little Gamera ballad for them.
Kilara and the other Space Women vow to find Gamera, and on a more serious note, Marsha and Mitan vouch for their willingness to put their lives on the line to save their adopted homeworld and all the dweeby little kids like Keiichi that they share it with. Keichi agrees to watch the shop for Kilara and co. while they step out
The Spa-Dubs transform back and forth, drawing and confusing Zanon’s orbital laser strikes and… this summons Gamera? I think? Maybe Keiichi’s song played a part? This is another moment I couldn’t quite crack, subs and dubs alike. But who gives a shit Gamera is here! And he’s FUCKING HUGE AND BEAUTIFUL AND LOOMING OVER THE ENTIRE CITY!
Keiichi of course loses his goddamn mind when he sees this, cementing Keiichi as perhaps the single most relatable film protagonist of all time. Keiichi’s so psyched up that he gets caught off-guard by Giruge, who strong-arms him into going for “a walk.”
So with Gamera in the movie, we jump to another scene from Gamera vs. Gyaos! It actually sounds more crazy and abrupt in writing than it actually is in the movie. It’s easy to ignore the jarring-ness when it’s the scene where Gyaos splits a car in half like the fucking climax of The Love Bug:
ALSO LOVE BUG WAS ’68 AND GYAOS WAS ’67 EXPLAIN YOURSELF DI$NEY!
Before Gyaos can chow on any terrified motorists, Gammy spins into the scene! And some SUPER funky “wikkita-wikkita” guitar plays while these two titans tangle! They chase each other through the sky, come crashing down into the churning sea, and finally Gyaos has to laser his own foot off to get free from Gamera’s determined maw.
It fucking rules. It was a smart call to start with the Gyaos battles, because they are crazy fun to watch. Giruge rolls up to Keiichi’s school the next day to mean mug and tell him that there’s no way Gamera will win. This of course, is a bugfuck insane thing for an adult woman to do.
BACK TO THE FIGHT (that night)! Gamera and Gyaos face off again near the terrible pteranodon’s mountain lair and it’s a total blast. Gamera parries some of Gyaos’ lasers, gets sliced by the rest, Gyaos air-drops Gamera, they bite, they sweep the leg, they do all kinds of crazy, awesome shit. This fight is packed with fun gags, but one of my favorites has to be when Gamera lobs a glob into Gyaos’ gob:
Gyaos puts up a good fight, but after being gobsmacked, Gamera’s able to airlift him into sunlight, then drag his ass into the nearby volcano. It’s pretty fucking metal.
The space ladies were watching it on space pay-per-view, and they muse that Keiichi will also have seen the fight in his dreams. They probably mean it metaphorically, but if they mean it literally I am REALLY curious about the extent of their powers.
Zanon’s pretty pissed about Gyaos getting dumped into a volcano so he/they/it tells Giruge to learn about Gamera and just straight up kidnap Keiichi. Keiichi knows from a dream that Zanon will strike from the sea next. Is he psychic? Did the Space Women send him this vision in addition to
season one of GLOW the Gamera vs. Gyaos pay per view? Is it pure coincidence? Whatever it is, Keiichi’s mom is sick to death of hearing about monster shit, so Keiichi runs off to go tell Kilara instead.
Keiichi runs into somebody else who wants to hear all about his kaiju shit, the dastardly Giruge! If Keiichi has ANY stranger danger recognition skills, Giruge easily gets around them by offering to “take you out for hamburgerlunch!”
Stuff like “hamburgerlunch” is a major part of why I watch these wacky old dubs. It’s a hilarious delivery of an incredibly mundane idea and I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life. After hamburgerlunch, Giruge bombards Keiichi with red flags that he doesn’t notice. “If you want to see Gamera you must do as I say” she tells Keiichi as she leads him into an alley. She tells him to close his eyes, and thankfully just uses her watch to teleport him to the beach instead of anything more sinister.
Keiichi excitedly exclaims that Giruge must be a Space Woman, but before Giruge can confirm or deny that, Zigra surfaces and fucks ship up! That Jaws-lite music comes back and makes WAY more sense accompanying Zigra. Gamera comes screaming in right away and tangles with Zigra in the murky depths.
Zigra goes for another Gamera-gash, but Gammy grabs him and rockets out of the water triumphantly, then launches him like the big shitty lawn dart he is!
Zigra morphs into a more humanoid shape and tries to tussle with the Gamster on land, but it ends with Gamera practicing his marimba and Zigra bursting into flames.
Keiichi finally starts to pick up on Giruge’s predatory vibe and tries to bail, but Giruge won’t let him! Keiichi’s Mom is starting to worry about her missing son and checks in with Kilara…. but she hasn’t seen him in a while herself. When mom bounces, Kilara pulls Keiichi up on her bitching futuristic flat-screen, then plays some more keyboard to create an extra-dimensional escape hatch for him to flop through!
Safe from Giruge and (temporarily) monster-free, Kilara and Keiichi chill for a sec. Kilara explains that she and the other Space Women don’t live in this… living room or whatever behind the pet store, but rather “we sleep in the car at night.” They are a trio of space faring, super powered Matt Foleys.
Kilara gets the alert that Viras has appeared, and she reluctantly agrees to bring Keiichi to watch the carnage. Which is a good thing because that means we get to watch the carnage too!
Gamera and Viras grapple, Gamera drags him onto dry land, Viras chucks Gamera, there’s some ambitious but goofy wirework, and some straight-up cartoon physics regarding some thrown boulders:
It’s a ridiculously fun gag, but the most iconic moment of the fight (and one of the best sight gags of the entire franchise) comes after it! Viras horrifyingly impales his head into Gammy’s sweet shelled tummy, but Gam pulls through and turns it around on Viras spectacularly:
Viras like disintegrates on splash down and Giruge gets chewed out by her space boss(es). Giruge tells Zanon that going after Keiichi was a fuck up on her part. From now on, she’s gunning for the Space Women. Keiichi gets home in time for bed and #relatable continues:
Or at least, I thought they were both Gamera books. They’re not, and that VERY small detail is the only thing that makes the next sequence make any sense. The next sequence, of course, is Gamera flying through the stars and looking at a cartoon space-boat.
That last shot is how I pieced this “mystery” together. See the pattern of the rockets on the back of the ship? If you scroll up, you’ll see the same pattern on the dark blue book next to Keiichi. Keiichi instigated this weird mash-up dream by making two of his favorite books bunkmates. It’s adorable kid-logic and I wish it worked in real life. The anime and book in question are Space Battleship Yamato, one of the most influential and beloved pieces of Japanese sci-fi. Getting some clarity through context is nice, but that’s still some nutty-ass filler. Bravo!
While Keiichi is safely snuggled up and dreaming of his favorite IPs looking at each other Giruge gets up to no good! She finds the Space Women’s van and disintegrates it!
Luckily she didn’t know about their weird Beetlejuice sleep box, leaving Keiichi to safely recover it the next day!
Their sleep box shields them from Zanon’s scanners (scanons? zanners?), and was rad enough to survive the disintegration. Keiichi scoops it up to take the Space Women back to their ad hoc HQ behind Kilara’s pet shop. Of course, creepers gonna creep:
What’s Giruge got up her sleeve? Who’s Gamera gonna slam-era next? What the fuck are the Space Women’s super powers, exactly? Will Gamera weirdly look upon any other anime clips? Find out in part 2 of this review, coming soon!