Daiei’s original Gamera franchise limped on into the 1970s, with a much-needed increase in the production budget but a general lack of enthusiasm that sours the experience. This sixth adventure for the giant space turtle and ‘friend to all children’ did not even score a US theatrical release like its predecessors, going direct to American television instead. There were obviously hopes at least for an international release, because once again the human cast of the film focuses on two boys – one Japanese, one American.
In Gamera vs Jiger, preparations for the Osaka World Expo are thrown into disarray when a large stone statue is relocated from an island in the South Pacific to Japan. Initial attempts to take the statue are hindered first by Gamera themselves, then by a local giant reptile – Jiger – that emerges from underground. When Jiger pursues the statue to the Osaka Expo site, Gamera is forced to follow in pursuit to keep the humans safe.
After a significant push towards the science fiction end of Gamera’s film adventures – the last film actually relocated to a different planet – there is resurgence in Gamera vs Jiger towards a more fantastical approach. The mysterious statue at the film’s appears genuinely cursed – it summons monsters once removed, and the entire crew of the ship assigned to deliver it to Osaka are struck with an unexplained crippling illness. The narrative of a giant monster found on a remote island but transported to the big city are reminiscent of genre grandfather King Kong. There is also a light emphasis put on the colonialist aspects of stealing the statue from its indigenous owners; not so much that it dominates, but enough that it adds an element of subtext to an otherwise simple film.
There is a palpable lack of enthusiasm to this sixth Gamera film. The action feels perfunctory, and it really does not feel as if anyone is delivering their best work. There is still a constant charm to the film’s low-budget rubber-suit monster sequences, but the narrative feels more like a framing device for those sequences than a creative effort in its own right. It is no surprise that the franchise is starting to feel a little worn: for director Noriaki Yuasa this is his fifth Gamera film in six years. To the production’s credit things do pick up a little in the film’s second half: Gamera has been struck down by Jiger and invested with tiny parasites. The only option is for the film’s two juvenile leads Hiroshi (Tsutomu Takakuwa) and Tommy (Kelly Varis) to enter Gamera’s body in a mini-submarine and flush the parasites out from within.
The bottom line is that perfunctory Gamera is still Gamera, and as a slice of old-fashioned cult entertainment Gamera vs Jiger is still an enjoyable – if lightweight – experience. After all, if you have watched the first five films already, a sixth hardly seems an unattractive proposition.