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  • Ravi Swami

"Gamera Super Monster" - Dir: Noriaki Yuasa, 1980

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

A big, actually giant, monster film about a giant turtle, and a jet-propelled turtle at that, requires a suitably big poster image, right ..?

Apple TV offers streaming for a number of other services like Mubi and BFI Player which is quite convenient when you discover that you don't then have to sign up or in all over again each time to browse their content using the respective app on a digital TV.

Another discovery is that it also streams content from Arrow Films' extensive library of films, which tend to be of the low-budget horror and drive-in fodder variety, not a genre I'm particularly interested in.

Tucked away in amongst these I found several films featuring "Gamera" that instantly caught my eye since the Japanese giant monster genre is quite interesting - I settled on "Gamera Super Monster" for no other reason than having a memory of my sister - no giant rubber monster fan - a few years after she moved to the U.S in the early 80's mentioning that a boyfriend had watched the film on one of the many mushrooming late-night cable TV stations of that era - from her tone of voice over the phone I detected an element of gentle mockery, but then, she was a lot younger then and you can be sure that watching a film like this would be the furthest thing from her mind nowadays.

"Gamera" did not originate from Toho Studios, more well-known due to the runaway success of its own giant monster on the rampage, "Godzilla", but the Daiei Motion Picture Company, however, the formula is essentially the same, both in terms of plots and visual effects, utilizing the so-called "Suit-mation" process, ie a man in a latex outfit designed to look like a monster or "Kaiju" and filmed in a scaled-down set.

These films - of which the most successful, like "Godzilla", evolved into series - tend to be referred to according to an era in the Japanese imperial calendar, starting with "Showa" covering the years 1958-89 to the current "Heisei" era, so "Gamera Super Monster" is referred to as a Showa era film, with the first film, "Gamera, The Giant Monster" released in 1965.

There's definitely a quality about these films that suits the insomniac or sleepy late-night viewer although many were aimed squarely at a younger audience after initially being aimed at adult audiences - plodding interludes involving the human characters are intercut with the real reason for watching the films - the titanic face-offs between monsters that invariably result in the routine trashing of Tokyo, and "Gamera Super Monster" is no different.

To a Western-oriented viewer, there's a constant element of fascination about where a lot the ideas stem from, and while many are pure invention others have a basis in Japanese folk mythology and a fascination with the forms of the natural world - besides simply being a giant mutant turtle - the result of nuclear radiation - Gamera can fly by means of jets that replace his retractable rear legs, emit fireballs from his mouth and can even fly in outer space, all depending upon serving the needs of the often outlandish plots that feature alien invaders or some other threat to humanity and in Gamera's case, small children.

By 1980, the year of the films' release, there is a marked deterioration in the quality of production and it appears that the film was thrown together from clips from earlier films mixed in with newly shot material, with the "stock" comprising earlier visual effects footage, since the Daiei company was in financial difficulties at the time and visual effects were the most costly part of these films to make, and especially because Toho, their main rival, was constantly raising the bar in this area, although if you are new to the genre you may not be aware that this is the case.

The 80's era and technological "innovations" of the period such as video compositing, are also very much in evidence in the film in scenes involving the human characters, here featuring a trio of female undercover aliens whose job it is to fend off alien attacks and obviously owes a lot to the late 70's U.S TV series "Wonder Woman" - as a result, scenes where we see them flying for example, or using their amazing flying, invisible van, lack the charm of earlier film optical effects and just look a little, well, cheap.

Other details that date the film are the giant alien starship that opens the film and can be seen in the poster image above, clearly inspired by the "Star Destroyer" from "Star Wars" and not just in the design - there is also an almost identical over-the-camera track out as it pursues an Earth spacecraft before destroying it.

There is an undeniable wackiness to the whole concept, which is its' main USP and any inconsistencies in the human drama would certainly be overlooked by a younger audience and skimmed past by an adult audience in order the watch monsters battling it out, in this case, Gamera versus Gyaos, a giant pterodactyl-like creature originating from an erupting volcano - and don't expect the reasons for Gamera's giant size to be consistent either since these tend to be re-imagined from film to film.

So, is "Gamera Super Monster" the perfect antidote to lockdown film ennui and a surfeit of the best European and World cinema ? - true, it's not the high point of the "Gamera" films or the "Kaiju" genre in general and it may even put you off these films forever, but there's a lot to enjoy in them all the same, from the miniature photography, wacky storylines, and endlessly inventive monster designs...yes, a giant, jet-propelled flying turtle...

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