Tuesday, June 11, 2013

GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER (1980) movie review

Gamera: Super Monster (1980) d. Yuasa, Noriaki (Japan)

The original Showa series ground to a halt with this cheapjack revival of the heroic flying flamethrower on the half-shell, one in which 95% of the monster action comes courtesy of footage swiped from the previous seven features. By the late ’70s, Gamera’s home studio of Daiei was bankruptcy bound; in a last ditch effort to keep home fires burning, screenwriter Nisan Takahashi conjured a rickety story that focuses on a trio of Space Women (Mach Fumiake, Yaeko Kojima, Yoko Komatsu) charged with saving the Earth from an ill-mannered band of marauding aliens looking to set up camp - heavy on the camp.

Said interlopers are seen trekking around in a poorly animated knock-off Imperial Star Destroyer (seriously, did you guys just steal the opening shot of Star Wars? I think you did.) and their master plan of conquest seems to boil down to sending a different giant monster (via aforementioned stock footage) every 20 minutes, only to be stymied by Ol’ Gammy.

Totally not a Star Wars toy.

These orders are communicated via a male voice heard only by the Space Women or the evil scout Giruge (Keiko Kudo), who has been sent ahead to clear the way. Yes, that’s right – no one else is aware of the alien attacks or the monster battles or, well, anything.

Um, now, what did you want me to do again?

Oh, and there’s our requisite obnoxious male child Koichi Maeda who looooooooves him some Gamera, to the point of writing a new “Gamera March” with which to mercilessly and relentlessly assail our eardrums.

Takahashi’s script is lazy to the point of catatonia (although I suspect the creator of Toho’s best known kaiju rival only took the screen credit after delegating screenwriting duties to a group of five-year-olds). The Space Women (Really? That’s the best name you could come up with, Nisan???) have the ability to teleport, fly, turn their nifty van into an oblong ball of orange light, shrink themselves, and wear snug form-fitting silver outfits which provoked some very post-pubescent thoughts from this particular viewer. They manage most of these stunts by doing a choreographed arm-waving routine (which never quite gets synchronized between the three – no rehearsal or retakes here) while others come courtesy of Casio keyboards installed on the dashboard or in the den.

Yuasa, who holds the dubious honor of helming all the Showa-era Gamera flicks save 1966’s Gamera vs. Barugon , can’t even be bothered to come up with interesting locations on which to shoot. All of the non-monster action plays out in the slick-haired Fumiake’s pad, Maeda’s room, a random beach locale, and a children’s playground. (One has to chuckle at the mental picture of some confused kids standing just out of frame, having been bullied off the monkey bars by this group of “professionals.”)

We also occasionally wander out into space during Maeda’s dream sequences (yes, there are freaking dream sequences) which have Gamera’s head composited over animated shots of trains flying through space and the like.

It’s all just cheap and terrible. Then again, this is a Gamera film aimed squarely at the young ‘uns and on that level…it’s still pretty cheap and terrible. But it’s also like watching a greatest hits video as our tusked hero (re)tangles with screen foes Gyaos, Jiger, Barugon, Viras, Zigra, and Guiron, and the sheer WTF factor of the wraparound story is engaging enough to keep our attentions until the next big roaring rumble which is never too far away.

The dubbing is atrocious and you’ll want to clobber Maeda with a large mallet before cresting the half hour mark, but these are givens in the genre and, dare I say, part of the charm. Plus, there’s a lively catfight between Fumiake and Kudo in which the latter rips off her sassy red leather skirt to reveal...black leather hot pants. Fun for the whole family!

This shot.  Just because.

Ultimately, it’s a crappy cash-grab from a desperate sinking studio, but on pure Cinematic Turkey Terms, it probably provides a higher entertainment bang/buck ratio than any single non-Shuseke Kaneko Gamera flick out there.

For even more detailed Gamera fun, check out Thomas T. Sueyres' awesome GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER write-up over at Video Junkie Strikes Back from Beyond the Grave .

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