REVIEW: Gamera vs Zigra (1971)

Over the course of the Gamera film series, the individual films continued to make a profit while the studio that made them, Daiei Film, sank closer and closer towards bankruptcy. It was shortly after the completion of this seventh Gamera that Daiei’s finances finally broke. The studio entered bankruptcy, and Gamera vs Zigra was ultimately distributed by Dainichi Eihai. It was a sorry end to Daiei’s annual run of Gamera pictures: cheaply made, unenthused, and practically moribund.

In line with the more recent Gamera films, the focus was very much on being children’s entertainment, with another pair of bright-eyed young protagonists saving the day with the help of the titular giant space turtle. In this case Yasushi Sakagami and Gloria Zoellner played Kenichi and Helen, two children whose parents work around the Kamogawa Sea World resort. When Earth comes under attack from the aquatic Zigrans, they find themselves on the run from a hypnotising alien disguised as a beautiful woman (Eiko Yanami), while Gamera battles a huge alien fish off the coast of Japan.

Gamera vs Zigra feels exhausted. Whatever enthusiasm drove the earlier Gamera features has evaporated, and there is a strong sense than director Noriaki Yuasa has simply lost any sense of joy in making giant monster movies. Rather tellingly, Zigra feels drawn out and boring despite a running time of less that 90 minutes. After Zigra‘s release, there would not be another film in series for nine years. It is the end of an era, and it is ending on the proverbial whimper.

Perhaps the film’s worst story choice – and likely a budget-driven one – is that Gamera is sidelined remarkably early, and remains absent for much of the picture. The remainder of the film seems more dedicated to showcasing the Kamogawa aquatic park than telling a science fiction story. Specifically it foregrounds the park’s captive orca, which may have been exciting for children in 1971 but in a post-Blackfish world where we all know the damage orca suffer in captivity it problematic to say the least. There is also a bizarre amount of time spent on the alien woman chasing the children around the park grounds. It takes on a dreadful resemblance to British comedian Benny Hill, whose sex farce sketch comedy routines would regularly end with similar pointless chases.

This is the least accomplished Gamera feature ever produced. The story is not just weak but messy. The production values are so critically low that the interfere with the suspension of disbelief. It is a Gamera feature with hardly any Gamera in it. The collapse of Daiei ultimately did what no alien titan could previously do: it killed Gamera and dragged him from the screen. While the best for this friend of all children was yet to come, Gamera vs Zigra remains a sorry end to an era.

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