Gamera vs. Zigra / Gamera Super Monster
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Starring: Kôji Fujiyama, Daigo Inoue and Reiko Kasahara / Mach Fumiake, Yaeko Kojima and Yoko Komatsu
Depending on who you are and what your past Gamera experience is like, Gamera Super Monster could be the single greatest giant monster epic ever. How could it not be? Gamera challenges six foes, goes on his own rampage, and saves the planet from something that looks like, but is certainly not due to legal issues, a Star Destroyer.
The true Gamera fans are groaning though, knowing that nearly every single clip from the film is stock footage from of the previous Gamera outings, and the new footage is so cheaply done, it’s to the point of unwatchable. Fast forwarding past the sheer nonsense that is presented here as narrative, (filled with so many glaring plot holes, logic gaps, and absurdities to the point of ridiculousness), you can catch up on an entire franchise in a mere hour or so.
Gamera Super Monster is truly shameless, a color film that somehow makes a sad excuse to insert footage from the black & white original on someone’s TV set, this despite having the tech to create color screens on their living room walls. None of this is the fault of longtime series director Noriaki Yuasa, but the heads of slowly crumbling studio Daei, the higher-ups going in with the belief this would save them from bankruptcy. It didn’t.
Super Monster landed nine years after what appeared to be the final in a growing line of Daei kaiju epics, Gamera vs. Zigra. While not quite on the same shoestring budget, Zigra remains a sorely lacking affair, concerned more with being a giant promotion for Sea World than anything else.
Shout! Factory is stuck with extraordinarily bad timing for this release, Zigra dealing with an alien race that comes to Earth, showing their strength by leveling Tokyo with an earthquake. The movie even takes time out to explain the magnitude of an earthquake and how it’s measured. Ouch.
When it comes to the minimalist giant monster action, Gamera begins facing off with an overgrown shark/fish thing that miraculously grows legs so it can stand up on land (and then they disappear again in the water). Zigra himself can even talk, his worst feature being an ever-growing ego, stating that he is beautiful, and humans are ugly. Jerk.
The studio was obviously suffering from massive financial difficulties in 1971; the differences between Zigra and Jiger just a year before are glaring. Rear projection screens suffer the same tears, lines, and dirt splotches from the previous year, only worse. The funds apparently didn’t allow for a cleaning staff. Zigra’s reused Gamera suit shows obvious tearing in the legs due to overuse. Monster action is trimmed down and shuffled underwater, where little attempt has been made to actually make it look like, well, water.
At the very least, this final stand-alone versus affair of the original series has a few laughs to offer, such as Gamera going stealthily to rescue a submarine with some of the lead characters. He casually walks off, almost gleefully, when he succeeds. Gamera even shows his musical talents, playing the back spines of Zigra like a xylophone. You can’t make this stuff up.
Shout! Factory has been consistent with their Gamera releases, paying due respect to a series of films many giant monster-loving kids grew up with… until now. There are some serious fundamental problems with Zigra’s video (which carry over to a lesser extent in Super Monster), beginning with pixelization. It’s hard to say what happened, but as the first shots show a moon base, the screen is made up of incredibly obvious blocks instead of a crisp, natural image. Fine lines break down into a flurry of aliasing, and any shots of a city or wide angle of the miniscule monster fights can be barely recognizable.
Compression is also a shared issue between the two films since these two final pieces of the original series share a single disc. Walls erupt with artifacts, and the lackluster blacks are not hiding much of the digital presentation. Colors look on par with the previous films in this line-up, somewhat faded with little attempt to jazz them up. That’s fine, as the chosen film stocks of the era from Japan share the same qualities, or at least they have across all of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s <em>Godzilla</em> and <em>Gamera</em> DVD releases. The prints themselves are meticulous in their condition, hardly a speck, scratch, or blotch aside from obvious stock footage. On a final video-related note, Super Monster is presented in the standard Academy ratio while all other films in the series are 2.35:1.
Super Monster’s mono-centric English dub is a disaster, and there’s no other way to put it. Dialogue is so muffled, unbalanced, and poorly preserved it’s almost unintelligible most of the time. It’s doubtful there’s a great source out there to work from though either. Zigra’s English fare is far better, carrying the usual dub qualities, such as elevated, brighter dialogue than the natural qualities of the original language.
In terms of the Japanese tracks, both film’s exist on almost equal ground, music sticking in the mid-range. Some of Super Monster’s peaks collapse due to the lack of fidelity. There are no significant artifacts between them, all clear of pops, static, or crackling. Monster roars and explosions lack punch, the compressed mono doing all it can to keep the elements in check.
Each of the films is given at least one gallery, the promo material for Super Monster priceless as it takes original publicity stills and super-imposes the new actors on the frame. Zigra has a few behind-the-scenes stills, but otherwise it’s all publicity. — Matt P.