Review Date: October 10, 2005
Released by: Daiei Video/Toshiba
Release date: 11/23/2001
MSRP: 4935 yen (OOP)
Region 2, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Some time ago, after hearing me mention his movies on several occasions, my girlfriend finally got about to asking me who or what Gamera actually was. The answer I gave her was something like the following: "Well, Gamera is a giant prehistoric turtle, and he stars in his own series of Japanese movies by a company that was competing with the company who created Godzilla. Gamera is known as the friend of all children, and often saves them from marauding giant monsters. He can also breathe fire and fly through the air."
Her response to this was to roll her eyes and say, "Only you, my love." But however much she may believe me a crackpot, I'm not alone in liking Gamera. Despite their obvious cheapness, despite their silliness and immaturity, the movies starring Gamera the flying turtle are almost always ridiculously fun, and those who are still kids at heart can enjoy them as such.
Gamera vs. Zigra
takes place on beautiful Niyemon Island, home to the Kamagowa Sea World, a tourist attraction where visitors are treated to spectacular shows by trained dolphins, seals and killer whales. But the park is also a serious research center dedicated to studying marine life. One day scientists Dr. Wallace (Koji Fujiyama
) and Dr. Ishikawa (Isamu Saeki
) are out in a motor boat collecting specimens when they discover that their children Kenichi (Yasushi Sakagami
) and Helen (Gloria Zoellner
) have stowed away. They are in the process of scolding their offspring when, off in the distance, what appears to be a spacecraft of some kind is seen diving into the sea. Concerned, they decide to investigate. As they approach the spot in their boat they are zapped with a strange yellow ray and disappear into thin air.
The four suddenly find themselves inside of a giant spaceship where a mysterious space woman (Eiko Yanami
) introduces herself as a representative from the planet Zigra, an aquatic world whose inhabitants are now intent upon conquering Earth because their home world has been ruined by pollution. She announces that recent massive earthquakes in Peru and Arabia were their handiwork, and that their next step will be to cause a massive earthquake that will destroy Tokyo. She goes through with her threat and when the two men voice their horror they are promptly hypnotized by her. Nonetheless, Kenichi and Helen are able to outwit her. They reverse the effects of the beam weapon and send their boat, with all four of them in it, back out onto the ocean. The Zigran spaceship pursues, but just in the nick of time Gamera swoops down out of the sky and rescues the humans by picking up their boat and flying to land.
In response to the presence of the Zigran spaceship the Japanese government rushes troops to Niyemon Island and the U.N. orders a massive air strike on the area of the ocean where the ship is, but the planes are all blasted out of the sky. Gamera shows up and does battle with the ship and manages to destroy it, only to have the ruler of the Zigran civilization himself (named, appropriately enough, Zigra) emerge. Zigra, who looks very much like a giant shark, zaps Gamera with a ray that appears to kill him, and he winds up floating upside down in the sea. Will nothing be able to stop the extraterrestrial sea beast?
The Gamera series began in 1965 with the film Giant Monster Gamera
(known initially as Gammera the Invincible
in the U.S., then later as simply Gamera
), produced by Daiei Studios and directed by upstart Noriaki Yuasa. The film proved successful enough that it was followed by six sequels, all of which were also directed by Yuasa. Most of the sequels were snatched up by American International Pictures and distributed through their TV arm. In the 1980's a number of the films were bought again, this time by the Sandy Frank Company, a distributor of syndicated programming. They were promptly re-dubbed and thrown out onto TV anew, as well as onto videotape and laserdisc. In another twist in their convoluted distribution history, all the Sandy Frank versions eventually found their way onto Mystery Science Theater 3000
This cycle of release, dub, recut and re-dub, combined with the mocking from the MST3K crew, did nothing to help the reputation of the big flying turtle. In fact, Gamera is frequently dismissed as a second or third-rate Godzilla imitation. An imitation he may be, but unlike other imitation creatures such as Gappa the Triphibian Monster
and X From Outer Space
, Gamera has a distinct identity and personality. While the later films in the original Godzilla series were often low-brow and foolish, only 1969's Godzilla's Revenge
was actually childish. The Gamera films, in contrast, often revel in such immaturity. The reason for the movies to do so was legitimate: according to Noriaki Yuasa in the book Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!
, market research on the first two films in the series (both of which were of a far more serious nature than the ones that followed) indicated that the young child demographic they were marketed towards got bored during the mature "adult" scenes. Consequently, the series got more and more juvenile as time went on.
The final film in the original series, Gamera vs. Zigra
is regarded by most as the absolute rock-bottom of the turtle's screen career (though it has some stiff competition). It's silly, cheap and stupid. Though Zigra is meant to be seen as a sinister creature capable of conquering the world, once he is out of his spaceship he does little except swim about in a limited area, periodically causing trouble or issuing ridiculous ultimatums to humanity. As a result he doesn't even come across as much of a threat to the residents of Niyemon Island, let alone to the rest of the world. The fact that everyone from the scientists to the military men to the government officials wrings their hands over the hopelessness of the situation and how nothing can stop Zigra just makes them look incompetent.
That money was tight on this production is evident (Daiei, long burdened with financial problems, finally went bankrupt not long after the film's release). Though there are a significant number of special effects, there is very little of the kind of intricate model work that is associated with the best of the Japanese monster films. Much of the model work that is there, such as the fighter jets that are shot down or a ship that is destroyed, are obviously fake. Most of the matte shots combining the special effects and human characters don't work either.
But do these things truly matter? The answer is no, not at all. Watching a movie like this is pointless unless it is approached with the appropriate sense of humor, otherwise it will just cause unnecessary pain and suffering. Everything about it is so dumb, so irresistibly wacky that nobody who truly loves bad movies should pass up the opportunity to see it. I know that I've never regretted doing so.
Gamera vs. Zigra
is presented in its original widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the results are astonishing. The 16x9 enhanced transfer appears to have been struck from near flawless elements, with the result being practically no damage of any kind in sight. Not only are scratches, grime and vertical lines almost completely absent, but even speckling is at a bare minimum. The image is wonderfully crisp and detailed.
The only real complaint over the image would concern the color quality. Though colors are sometimes strong (and can even be vivid, such as the multi-colored interior of the Zigran spaceship), they more often than not take on a slightly dull or faded appearance that is most noticeable in exterior shots.
The film is presented with its original Japanese soundtrack in Dolby 2.0 Mono. Though it's always nice to see a film like this in its original language, in this particular case having it available adds nothing to the film. The English dubbing on the Sandy Frank version was so badly done that it served to heighten the wackiness and make it more palatable as an entertaining bad movie.
The soundtrack itself sounds quite good for a low budget film of this vintage, with no background noise or audible distortion. It does sound a bit tinny and compressed in spots, but otherwise it's a solid listening experience.
Optional English subtitles are included. For the most part, the subtitles are well done, with very few spelling or grammatical errors to mar the presentation. The subtitles also translate (albeit not very gracefully) Gamera's trademark theme song, something fans have been wondering about for a long time.
The only two supplements of note on this release are a letterboxed theatrical trailer and a two-minute interview clip with Noriaki Yuasa. Neither comes with English subtitles.
Gamera vs. Zigra
has an innocent charm to it that is appealing. It is an awful but endearing film, though also one that will only appeal to a limited number of fans. But despite the great-looking video transfer featured on this release, its hefty price tag and sparse supplements (which would still be negligible even if they were given subtitles) will make it a low priority title for all but the most dedicated or financially secure collectors.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – A-
Sound – B
Supplements – C+
- Running Time - 1 hour 28 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Japanese 2.0 Mono
- English subtitles
- Theatrical trailer
- Noriaki Yuasa interview (Japanese only)