Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 9, 2020)
With 1970’s Gamera vs. Jiger, the venerable monster franchise entered a new decade. It wouldn’t last long, as the series would go into suspended animation after 1971’s Gamera vs. Zigra.
I’ll worry about that when I get to it. For now, we’ll deal with Jiger, the series’ sixth movie in six years.
As Japan prepares for a massive international fair called “Expo ‘70”, artifacts from all over the world arrive. During these operations, authorities remove an ancient statue from a South Pacific island so it can go on display.
This turns out to be a bad idea, as not only does this event seem to curse the workers who move the statue, but also it releases a dinosaur-like creature named Jiger. When heroic giant turtle Gamera gets wind of this, he does battle.
Alas, Gamera loses the first fight – and ends up “impregnated” with Jiger’s parasitic offspring. This means scientists need to work to remove the alien organisms so Gamera can come back to fight Jiger.
After two movies that involved aliens, Jiger remains firmly Earth-bound, and that choice pleases me. While the extraterrestrials of Gamera vs. Viras and Gamera vs. Guiron offered a change of pace, that sci-fi theme threatened to get old quickly.
Not that Jiger follows a reality-based approach, of course, as no one expects anything serious from a flick about giant monsters who fight. Still, a third alien-based movie in a row would seem like at least one too many.
Jiger also brings a good foe. Okay, Jiger doesn’t match up with the sadistic knife-headed Guiron, but she packs a punch and also allows the series to return to its roots as she wages destruction on Japanese cities.
I do appreciate the broadening of horizons, for an endless series of movies in which monsters terrorize towns would grow stale. Still, I like the way Jiger manages to evoke this staple of the genre, as it feels oddly fresh after so many other adventures that avoided this trope.
The subplot with the statue’s curse seems unnecessary, though. It evokes 1966’s Gamera vs. Barugon - the most mature of the franchise to date – but it doesn’t serve a lot of purpose here.
It feels like the curse should become an important plot element, but it essentially goes by the wayside for long portions of the film, as more specific components related to Gamera and/or Jiger dominate. And that’s as it should be, since the movie is entitled Gamera vs. Jiger.
Nonetheless, the scenes related to the curse come across as filler. They add little to the plot and could be excised without damage to the project.
I could also live without the movie’s emphasis on kids. As mentioned in prior reviews, Barugon became the only entry that focused on adults, and that gave it a more mature impression the rest lack.
That said, I get that Daiei sold the films for kids, as that’s why they worked overtime to paint Gamera as the “friend to all children”. At least Jiger panders less than its predecessors, so even with youngsters as prominent characters, the film doesn’t dumb itself down for the kiddie crowd like the last few did.
While not as good as the work done for Barugon, the effects of Jiger feel like a step up over the last three flicks as well. I expected these to fare worse just because I assumed budgets got tighter as the franchise progressed, but perhaps the fact the filmmakers had so many Gamera adventures under their belts allowed them to take advantage of that experience.
Of course, these effects can’t really be called good, not even by 1970 standards. Nonetheless, they look solid compared to most of the other Gamera flicks, so I feel happy to see this step up in quality.
Throw in some pretty spiffy battles and Jiger becomes one of the better Gamera movies. I can’t call it an objectively good movie, but it offers some monster-oriented fun.