Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monstrous Mayhem: SPACE MONSTER GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER (1980)

We may not be the kind of slackers who can sit around and watch kaiju all day, waxing lyrical about the subtle nuances between Toho's Baragon and Daiei's Barugon (a big set of ears, right Aaron?) and dreaming about who would win in a fight; Gamera or Godzilla. Ok, maybe we have thought about that last one, and one of us, I'm not going to name any names, may have shelled out a whopping $50 for an unsubtitled bootleg tape of a brandspanking new Godzilla movie at one time, but even though we are not kaiju-uber-nerds, that doesn't me we don't have some serious love for Japan's rubber-suited monster epics. No siree Boburu-san!

The pinnacle of the entire genre is, in my mind, Shusuke Kaneko's re-invention of the rather cheesy series about a flying, fire-breathing turtle that is a friend to children and enemy of inhabitable objects. Massive production values and an exceptional eye for detail that had been even the cheesiest of Godzilla films cannot lay a claw on. I mean seriously, did you ever seen Godzilla show a penchant for beating their rivals with rocks? Using a gymnastics bar? Fighting a giant albino werewolf? Yeah, ok, so that's one for Godzilla. To think a mere 15 years prior, Daiei had brought the world Akira Kurosawa's RASHOMON. As much as I love Gamera, there's got to be some Daiei employee out there who weeps over this fact.

If only George Lucas would rip-off Gamera...

After the first series of seven films ran their course, Daiei had intended to keep that train rolling with another sequel for release in 1972. Sadly Daiei had some serious mismanagement issues attributed to it's long-time president Masaichi Nagata and went bankrupt in '71 leaving the long unseen GAMERA VS. GARASHARP dead in early stages of production. In 1974 a multimedia publishing company, Tokuma Shoten, bought Daiei and decided to revive (ie: cash-in on) Gamera to go head to head in theaters with what turned out to be an unproduced Godzilla film (GODZILLA VS. BAGAN or THE RESURRECTION OF GODZILLA). For some unexplained reason, the executives at the new Daiei had so little faith in the resurrection of the Gamera, that they not only produced a cheap, cobbled together mess, but decided to kill him off at the same time! "Just give us yer money and shuddap, kids!" This seriously counter-intuitive thought process is what gave us SPACE MONSTER GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER, a complete trainwreck of hacked-up footage and impoverished, slap-dash production incorporating classic battles taken from the original series with a wtf-were-they-smokin' new plot line that flails about trying to exploit any recent hit that they could think of, from STAR WARS(1977) to SUPERMAN (1978), in order to get the kids into the theater. I can think of no better way to spend 90 minutes of my life.

Opening with an amazingly long-winded prologue about how the evil Zanon space ship (which happens to be flying over the camera in a way that reminds me of something, what could it be?) is headed to Earth to destroy it. Why? Zanon is evil. What more do you need to know? The Vogon-esque announcement broadcast over the earth helps a little. A disembodied voice announces that they will be taking over earth and they have monsters. So there you are. The Zanon decide to start with Japan since it is the location of three Space Women, led by Kilara (pro wrestler Mach Fumiake) who all are disguised as Earth chicks with jobs and apartments. Apparently their world was destroyed by the Zanon, who have an entire planet of monsters that they use to conquer other planets. The Space Women communicate with audio tones that come through their earrings, at which point they drop everything, do something that looks like the Macarena and transform into their red and white superhero tights. Oh, and instead of spending their evenings at their Earthling apartments, they shrink down to doll size so that they can spend the night in a pet carrier, inside of something that looks like a chintzy version of the Mystery Machine. Also, their vehicles are installed with a small Casio keyboard that they can use to play a tune that will turn their vehicles into a flying pubic censorship dot. Seriously, I can't make this stuff up:


In the same town lives a kid named Keiichi (Koichi Maeda) who will someday be candidate for an early parole. One of his favorite things to do is play "The Camptown Ladies" on his mom's organ. When his friends show up with a comic book the size of the Atlanta telephone directory, he gets way too excited about the Gamera story, in which Gamera is in the form of a normal turtle, doing tricks to the amazement of a local policeman (we never knew how good we had it with the old movie plots, I guess). So excited is he about potentially-mutatable super-turtles, that his friend Kilara gives him one from her pet shop. Keiichi picks one that he claims can speak to him and then composes a song in it's honor, while feeling a strong sense of sadness for the lonely life of a turtle. This kid has a long road ahead of him.


Gyaos is destroying stuff! Yep, out of nowhere we get (stock footage of) Gyaos slicing stuff in half with his laser breath. At the same time we discover that the Zanon have their own Space Woman, Giruge (Keiko Kudo) except she's evil. You know this because her polyester super-suit is black and red. She's also armed with a wristwatch that lights up any time that the good Space Chicks use their space powers. As it turns out the Zanon (via disembodied voice) are afraid that the Pet Shop Girls will be able to defeat them, even though they have lots of monsters. Did I mention that they are in control of "The Planet Where Monsters Come From"? Well, they are. Perhaps there is an intergalactic treaty that states that potential planetary conquerors can only use one monster at a time, as it would seem much easier to unleash them all in a giant horde, rather than send one monster at a time, while your solitary agent tries to hunt down three girls in tights who sleep in a van. Then again, I guess I haven't had much success in conquering worlds, so what do I know? Gamera picks up the gauntlet, much to Keiichi's delight, and a ruckus ensues, as luck would have it, over an oil refinery. There go the gas prices... again!

So excited to see his favorite flying turtle is Keiichi, that he immediately composes a (or I should say the, because there is nothing else quite like it) "Gamera March" and subsequently plays it for the Space Woman in their human apartment, which may not be furnished with beds, but it does have a giant organ up against one wall. The organ is not only used for playing Keiichi's Gamera March, but it also functions as the television remote. Oh, I bet the neighbors love these girls. The Space Women draw inspiration from Keiichi's "Gamera March" and decide that the only way to deal with these alien invaders is to actively solicit Gamera's help! Never mind that he already seems to be doing that anyway. We are never shown how getting his help is actually accomplished, but it seems to involve the Space Girls being shot at by a lasers fired from the orbiting Zanon ship.

From here on out it is one monster after another invading Earth and Giruge's desperate hunt for the Space Women. Her boss is, understandably, pissed, firmly believing that if the Space Women are killed, then Gamera won't be worth squat and one of their monsters will kick his burnin' butt back into the ocean and they can take over what is left of Earth in peace. Eh, you know how bosses are. Zigra is next complete with Gamera's "rock" concert, then Viras (complete with another scene where it looks like they should get a room). After Viras is dispatched Jiger shows up, looking like he's ready for the after-party complete with a coke-tooter in each nostril. Guiron takes a turn, with everyone's favorite scenes included (kaiju gymastics). Finally Barugon, who must have struck terror into the hearts of little republicans everywhere by attacking and destroying a nations military defense arsenal with - a rainbow. Oh yeah, give that a minute to sink in. It all becomes clear now, doesn't it? All the while Kilara and company try to avoid being killed by Giruge's laser orbital air-strikes, teleportation tricks, disintegration car-bombs, mind-control saucers and seduction via what appears to be a meatless hamburger. Plus, we do get a pretty amusing fight scene between Giruge and Kilara, though for some inexplicable reason the producers felt this would be more exciting in street clothes rather than their super-suits. Maybe they were at the cleaners.


All of the monster battles are, of course, culled from the original series, with only about a minutes worth of new Gamera footage, which is essentially static shots, shot on video and composited over cheap miniatures, or more bizarrely, anime footage (WTF is SPACE CRUISER YAMATO doing in here?). All of these scenes are spliced in with less finesse than a Godfrey Ho outing and sometimes have no apparent connection to anything else in the movie. I can just see them in the editing room shouting "Hurry up and get it done! We just bought a bankrupt studio and need some cash!" That said, they obviously put some effort, no matter how misguided into the new footage, which is the bulk of the running time. During one battle the filmmakers cut in a (obviously) new shot of Gamera's tail knocking over a sandwich board advertising Godzilla. Ummm, pretty sure Gamera's superiority over Godzilla wasn't proven for another 15 years. Sloppy? Sure. Cheap? Definitely. Fun? Damn straight, and don't let the hipster, bedheads who read un-translated manga tell you otherwise.



Moments of Clarity:

3 Reactions:

  1. Oh HOLY SHINOLY. That had me laughing so hard. Seriously, that just made my day. Huzzah to you and the misguided Daiei folks for a successful collaboration. (I'm still giggling over that "jello shots" pic.)

    The biggest difference between Baragon and Barugon is the freezy tongue trick, silly boy. That and the rainbow.

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  2. Having actually seen the movie now, this was 87 times as much fun. Godzilla bless you for banging this one out.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it. I wish American studio executives got that crazy when they just want to crank out some slap-dash cheapie.

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