Also known as Gamera vs. Jiger, the sixth entry in the Showa era Gamera series takes a different approach from the last batch of installments, combining the “serious” tone of early films like War of the Monsters with the goofy, childish atmosphere of previous movies like Attack of the Monsters. It actually strikes the balance rather well, reinstating a grander and more threatening conflict while retaining the youth-aimed “friend to children everywhere” aspect that had become a staple of the franchise.
Gamera vs. Monster X (1978)
Procuring a sacred statue from Wester Island for the 1970 World Fair in Osaka, the Fair operators accidentally awaken a sinister monster known by the natives as Jiger. Jiger carves a swath of destruction through Osaka, Hell-bent on obtaining the purloined statue. Gamera attempts to stop the behemoth, but when he is poisoned by Jiger’s parasitic larvae, only teenagers Hiroshi (Tsutomu Takakuwa) and Tommy (Kelly Varis) and their new mini-sub can hope to save the giant rocket-turtle in time!
The first two installments in the Gamera series were closer in nature to Toho’s Godzilla films, if marginally lighter, and suffered greatly by trying to take themselves too seriously. Beginning with Return of the Giant Monsters, the next three installments took a decidedly crazier and more kid-centric approach, and charming though they are, definitely narrowed the franchise’s demographic down to a very slim age group.
Gamera vs. Monster X tries to have it both ways, and at times rubs off awkwardly for it, but I felt this more balanced attempt makes it one of the strongest films in the series. The main kid protagonists are older than what we’d previously gotten; now teenagers instead of elementary school tykes. As with Destroy All Planets, the international cast is still present, giving us a mix of Japanese and this time British players to appeal to multi-ethnic audiences.
The silly humor is definitely down-played but still ever present… sometimes to the point of utter nonsense (Gamera survives Jiger’s heat ray by stuffing telephone poles in his ears. Wait, what?). And sometimes the funniest parts of the movie seem to have been completely unintentional. Example: After Gamera’s first battle with Jiger, he is defeated when he falls backward on his shell and can’t right himself. As Jiger destroys Osaka, the human characters declare with righteous certainty that Gamera will save them. The scene shifts back to Gamera, who is still wriggling on his back, helpless. As Jiger destroys more of Osaka, the characters begin wondering, “Where the Hell is Gamera?” The scene shifts back to Gamera… who is STILL trying to right himself. This goes back and forth a good three or four times.
Though Gamera is still a friend to children everywhere, the adults of Japan aren’t too fond of him and we get to see the Japanese military opening fire on the turtle for the first time since the original Gammera the Invincible. The real throwback to the earliest, more “serious” films, though, comes in the newest kaiju to throw down with Gamera: Jiger.
Jiger is described as “a devil straight from Hell” in the film and he’s certainly meaner than the last batch of villains Gamera fought. He spends most of the film napping in Osaka for some inexplicable reason (as the kids journey into Gamera’s lungs to kill the parasite inside him), but when he’s awake, he spends the film destroying skyscrapers (the first time this series has had the budget for that in a while) for what appears to be the sheer fun of it. His roar is one of my favorites of any giant monster, as it really does sound furious, menacing and evil.
Jiger’s problem comes in his completely random set of powers. He can fire a heat ray out of his mouth that disintegrates matter on an atomic level. He can shoot darts from the horns on his face. He can fly via compressed air propulsion. He can attract objects and enemies to him with suction pipes in his paws. And last but not least, he can inject enemies with parasitic larvae from a scorpion-like stinger on his tail. His powers are completely and utterly random, and while they make him a more than worthy adversary for the Friend to Children Everywhere, they just don’t make any sense.
With the larger budget and the wider demographic appeal, Gamera vs. Monster X definitely seemed like Daiei’s attempt to revitalize the series and bring in a new audience. If you’re watching the films sequentially, it comes as a welcomed breath of fresh air from the previous string of installments, which were getting cheaper and kiddier at an alarming rate.
Gamera vs. Monster X has quite a bit of monster action going on, and even when Gamera’s sick and Jiger is sleeping, the two kids spend the downtime doing battle with a man-eating Jiger-larvae invading Gamera’s lungs. So far as Gamera movies go, at least where the Showa series is concerned, I’d definitely qualify it as one of the best.