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Space Amoeba (Honda Ishiro 1970)


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Space Amoeba
[Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaiju]

aka "Yog Monster from Space"

Genre: Alien-Spawned Giant Seafood!

review in one breath

An unmanned space flight to Jupiter mysteriously changes route and crashes near a remote pacific Island, bringing with it a mind-controlling alien parasite. But before it can realize its plan to take over Earth, it will have to move up the food chain, starting with squid, crabs and turtles, all the size of skyscrapers and hell-bent on munching the local population. This is the last non-Godzilla film by the Grand-Daddy of Kaiju, director Ishiro Honda!



intro

This 1970 film marks the end of an era within the class Japanese Kaiju (BIG monster!) genre. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Japanese film studio Toho introduced audiences to an exploding array of weird and formidable monsters who invariably tromped around populated areas wreaking havoc and turning cities to rubble. Some of these became infamously popular, with the kaiju character of Godzilla undoubtedly taking the lead. (IMDB lists a mere 51 films dedicated to the beloved and destructive fellow.). Other exceptionally popular kaiju included the massive moth Mothra, the flying, fire-breathing turtle Gamera and Daimajin the massive stone warrior.

By 1970, Japanese audiences seemed to have exceeded their fill of an unending stream of new monsters and focused more on those they had grown more familiar with. Thus with this film, the preeminent kaiju director Honda Ishiro offered the last of his "new kaiju" films and hereafter turned exclusively toward Godzilla films. Despite its location on this cusp of transition, the film Space Amoeba clearly falls within the prior era and introduces three new monsters to the kaiju cosmology: Gezora the monumental walking squid, Ganime the succulent crab, and Kameba the killer turtle. The Japanese title for the film is Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaiju which lists the three prominently. The rest of the title can be translated "Death match of the Southern Sea Kaiju!", referring to the fact that the tale takes place on a remote Pacific island and that yes, they fight to the death!

The English title Space Amoeba emphasizes the sci-fi aspect of the tale wherein a malevolent space alien/amoeba with mind-controlling powers is orchestrating the kaiju attacks. (Yowza!). The film also has the alternative English title Yog Monster from Space due to someone's belief that the space alien depicted here was a knock-off of H. P. Lovecraft's Yog-Sothoth of the Cthulhu Mythos which takes the form of a cloud of luminescent bubbles. That and the fact that Gezora is a large tentacled monster not unlike Lovecraft's own Chthulu apparently justified this Lovecraft-based alternative title. (But I doubt there is any intentional reliance of the film on Lovecraft's writings.)

In terms of film history, Space Amoeba is also significant for its production crew. In addition to director Ishiro Honda, the producer is Tomoyuki Tanaka and the composer is Akira Ifukube. Although he passed away months just months prior to its release, Eiji Tsuburaya was still head of Toho Studio's special effects division during the film's planning stages. These four are revered as the "Four Fathers of Godzilla". Thus Space Amoeba is their last collaborative film and marks the end of what had come to be known as the "Honda/Tsuburaya Golden Duo".

story

On its unmanned travel to Jupiter, Japan's Helios 7 space probe is intercepted by a glowing cloud of alien matter and turned back to Earth. Although the Science HQ believes the probe to have simply disappeared, Kudo, a keen-eyed news photographer sees the craft fall somewhere into the Pacific Ocean. Thinking it the scoop of a lifetime, Kudo presses his new bureau to investigate but is instead assigned to photograph the development of a new resort on a remote Pacific Island. Amazingly enough (!!), he finds that the Helios 7 had practically fallen on that exact spot.

But his excitement is all too quickly interrupted when a large walking squid emerges from the ocean and starts pulverizing anything in its path. THEN comes a giant foam-spitting crab, followed by a jagged-toothed turtle! While Kudo and his small band of friends battle for their lives against the massive sea creatures, the malevolent alien goo quietly infiltrates the cranium of one of his party with the intent of overthrowing their attempts and boastfully divulging its diabolical plan of world domination.

Will Kudo and his hip 1970s compadres be able to fend off the Giant Seafood AND the smirking alien who now wears a pink shirt and white loafers?

WHO KNOWS!!?

verdict

If you are a Kaiju fan and/or are interested in the history of the genre, this is well worth seeing, not only for its place in the transition I mentioned above but also for the crew and cast appearing here, all of whom appear prominently in other kaiju films. The monsters are also impressive, in that large-rubber-suit-with-wires sort of way. One simply stands in awe that so much time and effort went into the idea of a walking squid!

For un-fans of the kaiju genre, think of this as a Gilligan's Island episode on space-infested steroids. In addition to Kudo you've got your two cute girls, a serious braniac, a slightly retarded guy and a whole lotta running sound an island. But you also get large sea monsters stomping, clamping and flinging poor humans all over the place.

The DVD (via Tokyo Shock) has an excellent commentary track featuring the recent comments of producer Fumio Tanaka and a far more subdued science/zoological documentary on the (actual) sea animals behind the monsters in the film (which I fast-forwarded through).

Version reviewed:

Region 1 DVD (from Tokyo Shock / MediaBlasters) with optional English subtitles. This is available in all mainstream venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
In terms of its place in the history of the Kaiju genre and the production crew, this is truly one to be aware of. Plenty of tentacled and flung humans, and even more house sized slabs of sushi when al is said and done. And the bats, THOSE POOR CRISPY BATS! Despite some of the questionable positions our fighting Crab and Turtle find themselves in, I'll have to say there is no sex. (Though one can argue there is indeed one foamy money shot!) Yes, a walking squid a rather strange! So is a forty-story crab and a man-eating turtle battling atop a volcano. One might also ask why a superior alien being would choose a remote pacific island and a Cephalopod to take over the world. I mean you MIGHT ask that.

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