The Gamera series always had a bit of a split personality. On the surface, it delivered the building-stomping kaiju eiga goods. Under the surface, there were often surprisingly heartfelt themes about how children are ignored by adults and how we lose the ability to dream or think in imaginative terms as we get older. The latter angle became more pronounced as the series moved into its fourth and fifth films, Gamera Vs. Viras and Gamera Vs. Guiron. Unfortunately, this element ended up overwhelming main attraction Gamera, often reducing him to a mascot-like supporting performer in his own star vehicles.
Thankfully, the uneven nature of this mixture balances out in the sixth film, Gamera Vs. Jiger. This time, the monster-stomping and the odes to childish charm work hand in hand. The story takes place against the backdrop of Expo ’70, a real international festival in which all nations are invited to show off their latest technology. However, the participants unknowingly endanger themselves when they import a statue from one of the Pacific Islands over the warning of the natives. It is revealed that this statue was used to keep Jiger, a nasty triceratops-like beast, buried beneath the earth. He follows the unearthed statue and thus threatens to destroy the Expo and Japan’s national pride.
Thankfully, Gamera is on the scene. In fact, he tries to warn the humans away from the statue but gets shot at for his troubles. After an initial skirmish with Jiger leaves Gamera wounded, he flies to the expo to resume the fight and makes friends with Hiroshi (Tsutome Takakuma) and Tommy (Kelly Varis), an intrepid pair of pre-teens who act as his earthly allies. However, Jiger is a foe with a number of unique characteristics that make him lethal and Gamera has to work with the kids to figure out a way to vanquish their ancient foe.
The end result is the best of the post-Gamera Vs. Barugon entries in the original series. The kaiju eiga and kiddie aspects are blended together in an effective way, with writer Nisan Takahashi devising clever ways to temporarily take Gamera out of the action so the kids can help out but never allowing the kiddie part of the plot to overwhelm the monster-movie thrills and their attendant sense of danger. The kid heroes are also smarter and more decisive in their actions than the kids from past films: in fact, one of the highlights is a sequence where the duo bravely undertakes a Fantastic Voyage-inspired journey inside Gamera to take care of a Jiger-induced ailment.
It also helps that Gamera Vs. Jiger obviously had a bigger budget than the prior two Gamera films, which allows for more monster-stomping spectacle (it was also smart to use the real Expo ’70 as a backdrop because it gives the production value a big shot in the arm). Director Noriaki Yuasa handles the rubber-suit action with an old pro’s skill, with the mini-sub scenes and the final battle being standout moments. He also has a great affinity for the series’ “respect the kids” message and weaves it nicely into the film, even having a character directly promote this philosophy in the closing narration.
Ultimately, the blend of surrealistic monster movie effects and heart-on-sleeve kid-flick craziness may not be for everybody (including kaiju-eiga enthusiasts) but Gamera Vs. Jiger has a shaggy-dog charm that is likely to win over open-minded schlock enthusiasts. Along with the first two films, it represents the best of what this series has to offer and brings its eccentric mélange of preoccupations full circle.