By 1971, Daiei Motion Pictures was undergoing tough financial woes as the Japanese film market changed drastically. Imported American-made films were becoming more and more prevalent in Japan while such tried and true franchises like Toho’s Godzilla series suffered from the effects of cost-cutting and lack of enthusiasm from American distributors who at one time could not get enough of these films for exploitation in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, such lackluster Toho Company Ltd. efforts like GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972) and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973) and these final two Gamera films brought two of filmdom’s most profitable monsters to an inauspicious end. As part of the final release in Shout! Factory’s classic Gamera films (1965-1980), the company has released GAMERA VS. ZIGRA and GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER in an excellent re-mastered visual presentation of two decidedly sub-standard films.
In his seventh film, the friendly Gamera returns to battle yet another extra-terrestrial demon this time in the form of a silvery shark-like beast called Zigra. It seems this creature’s planet is dying as a result of rampant pollution and the Earth’s atmosphere is deemed perfect to support its race. Of course being a Gamera film, two excessively annoying children help the adults save the day as Gamera triumphs over this new menace.
This film marks the shift to the theme of pollution wiping out a planet as the Zigrans' motivation for launching an invasion of Earth. This was meant as a topical theme for the ecology-minded 1970s audience and a major change from the nuclear metaphors from the 1950s/1960s Japanese monster films. Toho would of course explore this concept to an even greater degree in 1971’s GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER.
The special effects in GAMERA VS. ZIGRA are decidedly poor throughout. One can easily see rips on the process screen while the miniature work is downright awful. The location photography is very good throughout as the viewers are treated to a tour of Japan’s Sea World which is meant to mirror the Expo ‘70 setting of the previous year’s GAMERA VS. JIGER.
GAMERA VS. ZIGRA also marks the first Gamera film of this era not picked up by American International Television for television syndication. In fact, this film remained elusive in America for sixteen years until Sandy Frank Film Syndication released a dubbed version in a horrible pan and scan presentation. Its “premiere” being in March of 1987 on cable’s USA Network.
Shout! Factory has presented GAMERA VS. ZIGRA in an excellent widescreen re-master from original vault elements. The image is presented in 2.35:1 with anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 televisions. The audio options feature the original Japanese language track which actually is not as sonorous as the English language track which sounds better although is terribly acted and is an absolute riot when all the Japanese main characters are dubbed with all-American-as-apple-pie names. Extras include a publicity gallery and some interesting behind-the-scenes photos.
The second feature on this disc (GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER) is a god-awful 1980 attempt to resuscitate the Gamera series which by this time was all but dead and buried (even Toho Company had stopped making Godzilla and other monster films by the late 1970s).
GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER is a decidedly depressing affair in which the GAMERA VS. VIRAS (1968) formula is repeated in which aliens threaten the world by unleashing giant monsters and hypnotizing Gamera to do their bidding. The saddest part of this fiasco of a film is that a new “story” featuring female Japanese wrestler Mach Fumake as a Wonder Woman-type super hero with two female companions teaming up with the requisite young boy is wrapped around stock footage of all of Gamera’s previous monster battles. Things get very mismatched when characters are reacting to monster battles filmed as long as fourteen years before (i.e. GAMERA VS. BARUGON in 1966). Even Gamera’s assault on Tokyo is watched by the characters via a black and white television so destruction scenes from the 1965 GAMERA THE GIANT MONSTER could be cannibalized for this film. All in all, a very sad end to Gamera’s first cycle of films.
As bad as the film is, Shout! Factory’s presentation is of their usual excellent quality. This film was the only one of Gamera’s original cycle of films to be made (at least the new scenes) in 1.85:1. The 2.35:1 stock footage of the previous monster battles is rather poorly blown up to accommodate the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The video image also features anamorphic enhancement. The Japanese audio track is clearly the better of the two available tracks. It is full and rich in sound while the English language track is very distorted (especially the first 20+ minutes) and tinny. It was also dubbed in Hong Kong by the very poor Australian-accented “actors” who also hilariously voiced such films as GODZILLA VS. MEGALON and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN. The only other extras include a publicity gallery.
As always, our friends at
Shout! Factory have given genre fans a visual treat even though the actual films
are definitely NOT Daiei Motion Pictures’ finest hours. It is hoped that
maybe Shout can get the rights to such other Daiei genre films like WARNING
FROM SPACE (1956) and the DAIMAJIN trilogy and do them justice on North American
DVD as well. (Joe Cascio)
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