Another year, another Gamera movie. 1969 saw the Daiei studio continuing to haemorrhage funds as Japanese audiences abandoned the cinemas for television and imported American product. Were it not for their lucrative Gamera and Zatoichi franchises, the company would have already been insolvent. As it was, a rapidly tightening corporate belt saw the budget for the fifth Gamera feature slashed even further than before. Pity poor Noriaki Yuasa, unfairly rewarded each year for making profitable family entertainment on the smell of an oily rag, only to be lumbered once again with undertaking the process all over again – only this time there is just a whiff left, the rags having become unaffordable.
Gamera vs Guiron introduces another pair of wild young boys – one Japanese, the other American due to contractual arrangements – whisked off the planet Earth and into an interplanetary adventure. It is a rather modest adventure, featuring two alien women in go-go boots, the giant space turtle Gamera, and the brief return of the bat-like Gyaos. One assumes their return saved on costume costs. The alien planet setting removes the expense of getting the Japanese Defence Force involved in the story, as well as scenes of civilians and authority figures. It is the sparsest and, it must be said, weakest Gamera film thus far.
What it loses in quality, it more than gains in unintentional camp appeal. Despite its child-centric focus, this is a strangely bloody affair involving decapitation, dismemberment, gouts of alien blood, and attempts at eating the young protagonists’ brains. It is all performed very earnestly by its cast, save for poor Christopher Murphy as the American boy Tom; he does not seem to emote at all.
There is a new giant monster for Gamera to fight: after defeating the likes of rainbow-excreting lizards, laser-spitting bat people, and a suspicious-looking giant squid, Gamera now faces Guiron – effectively a rubber bulldog with a knife for a head. Their battle is a strikingly cheap affair, including an unprecedented amount of puppetry rather than performers in suits, and is so laughable as to elicit genuine laughs. It is no coincidence that Gamera vs Guiron featured on cult television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 not once but twice during its run. This is the sort of ultra-cheap, enormously silly nonsense for which such comedies were devised.
Gamera appears to have finally settled on a formula as well, which differentiates it from most other Japanese kaiju films of the time. Children fall into peril, and Gamera rushes to their rescue. Civilian casualties and property destruction are mostly kept to a minimum. The formula appeared to continue keeping Daiei afloat, but the films are really declining in quality and value as they go. This is one kaiju film worth recommending to the hard-core only.