Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 11, 2020)
After a run of seven movies in seven years that started in 1965, 1971’s Gamera vs. Zigra appeared to conclude the franchise. Our favorite giant turtle would lie dormant for nine years, until he returned for 1980’s Gamera: Super Monster, a disaster that really killed the series – until a 1995 reboot, at least.
Both of those will act as the subjects of future reviews. For the time being, we’ll look at Zigra, the flick that appeared to finish off Gamera.
Alien entity Zigra abruptly destroys a moon base and then winds up with its spaceship submerged in the waters off Japan. Young Kenichi Ishikawa (Yasushi Sakagami), his pal Helen Wallace (Gloria Zoellner) and their fathers Dr. Yosuke Ishikawa (Isamu Saeki) and Dr. Tom Wallace (Koji Fujiyama) investigate.
This doesn’t go well, as the Zigran emissary (Eiko Yanami) abducts them and instructs them to warn the Earth of her immense powers. When the adults protest, she places them in a state of suspended animation.
Zigra lives in the water, so it wants to enslave Earth and use humans as a food supply. However, super-powered giant turtle Gamera responds to the pleas of the children and comes to do battle to save the day, as he opposes Zigra, who turns out to be a shark-like monster.
Spoiler alert? Of course not, as we know that’s how these movies work. Even without the conflict implied in the title, this still becomes a story with a predictable arc.
Zigra feels even more trite than normal, though, because it recycles so much from the prior six films. We already got alien abductions in both Viras and Guiron, so a third movie with that theme out of the last four becomes downright tedious.
Much of the plot makes no sense as well. Zigra pushes an anti-pollution message hard, and while I appreciate that concept, the way it uses this seems ham-fisted.
In addition, the flick tailors its plot to suit the theme, a factor that ensures the story seems even less organic. We get a cart before the horse situation here, as the desire to educate about environmental matters overwhelms the narrative and action.
Not that the plot really shows much potential anyway. As noted, it self-plagiarizes earlier films, and much of it makes little sense.
Whereas Jiger acted as an ad for Expo ’70, Zigra often seems to exist to promote a Japanese branch of Sea World. At least it provides a more positive view of that franchise than 1983’s Jaws 3, where the message seemed to be “come to Sea World, where a shark might eat you!”
As I’ve discussed, the Gamera franchise actively courted the character’s reputation as “Friend to All Children” as early as the third film, and later movies pushed that angle harder and harder. Zigra escalates this topic even more due to the casting of its young protagonists.
In the last few flicks, the kids seemed to be around 11 or 12, but Kenichi and Helen can’t be more than six or seven. This feels like a conscious attempt to generate ever-younger viewers, though I suspect the choice to go in that direction probably alienated older children.
Even the monster action comes up short here. We barely see Gamera until more than half the movie’s running time, and we don’t find any kind of real conflict until about 50 minutes into the story. Zigra looks like an amalgam of earlier creatures, and it doesn’t create a particularly interesting threat due to the “been there, done that” factor.
Zigra lacks punch to the monster fights. The movie seems determined to avoid these as much as possible, and we even find ourselves stuck with a long scene in which Gamera tiptoes around a snoozing Zigra to avoid detection.
Yeah, he does this to rescue a stranded submarine, but it still becomes unintentionally funny and a sign of the film’s absence of power. In addition, what should turn into the movie’s climactic battle actually features Gamera’s use of Zigra as a xylophone, and then he does a soft-shoe routine.
Effects feel shoddier than usual. When we “see” the destruction of Tokyo, it’s via TV images that clearly show sketch art.
The monster effects of Jiger worked surprisingly well, but those of Zigra regress. One might expect them to seem pretty good because the movie avoids these shots so much of the time – with so few creature elements on display, the filmmakers had more time to devote to them.
I assume Ziger comes with so few monster battles to save money, and the caliber of effects echoes that sentiment. Even by 1970s Japanese fantasy standards, the visuals feel cheap.
Well, at least Yanami offers a sexy spacebabe, and she spends a decent amount of screentime in a bikini, so that counts for something. Otherwise, this becomes a messy, dull stab at monster action.