Gamera vs. Zigra didn't single-handedly drive Daiei Film to bankruptcy; but as one of the last handful of movies that company released before it did temporarily wink out of existence in December, 1971, it's a rather clear example of what was going on at the studio that forced such a drastic step. It's a dreadful movie, almost totally unwatchable in every way; if I were going to hunt around desperately, looking for something to say in its praise, I might fumble my way around to "it's not nearly as technically inept or painful to slog through as 1969's Gamera vs. Guiron, the film-before-last in the series", and if I really had to scrape the bottom of the praise-barrel, I'd add that it's remarkably better in its original Japanese cut than the Sandy Frank-produced VHS release from the '80s which remains the version best-known in America, owing largely to how much information the anamorphic widescreen film lost in the conversion to pan-and-scan, but also because some of Frank's dubbed lines needlessly obscured things which made at least some kind of sense in the original script. But that's not even really a defense, only an admission that based on my heretofore exclusive experience with the English dub, I was expecting a shit sandwich, and while a shit sandwich is exactly what I got, at least the bread was toasted.

For this seventh and final entry in the initial wave of Gamera pictures, we get the plot of the second through sixth again, slightly reworked and with a villainous daikaiju antagonist who I must concede to be one of the most unusual of the whole subgenre. But we'll get there only after a long, directionless, life-stealing amble through a plot that just never, ever starts to make sense. We start on a Japanese moonbase, and while the American dub quietly skips us ahead to 1985 ("ahead", whatever), the original film reflexively sets us down in 1971, as we'll find out in dialogue eventually. So a 1971 film, set in 1971, with moonbases. And Japanese moonbases, at that. This particular moonbase is attacked by what looks, initially, like a jester's hat made out of gumballs, and then we naturally cut to Kamogawa Sea World, where a peppy young boy named Kenichi (Sakagami Yasushi) tells us how his dad works there. And then we get to meet dad (Saeki Isamu), and dad's nominally American co-worker Tom Wallace (Fujiyama Koji, who isn't even wearing the pretense of whiteface). Kenichi and Dr. Wallace's daughter Helen (Gloria Zoellner) are best friends, and when their dads head off to do some investigating of Christ knows what in the open ocean, the children tag along. But don't get too excited about how quickly the movie is clipping along, because this only happens after, like, a half of a reel of Sea World footage, and chatter about the recent Magnitude 12 earthquakes that hit on precisely opposite sides of the Earth, which somehow has remained intact despite being subjected, twice, to quakes that requirs more energy than exists on the planet.

Anyway, the four travelers are at exactly the wrong place at the wrong time, and end up in the path of a teleportation beam from that same bizarre-ass gumball spaceship. Here they meet a gorgeous but obviously evil woman (Yanami Eiko), who doesn't even bother pretending to have anything but the most wicked plans in mind: she claims to be the representative of Zigra, which functions as the name of a planet, a population, the spaceship, and the enormous toothy creature perched over the ship's bridge watching the human prisoners. The Zigrans managed to poison their own oceans to the point that their civilisation was on the brink of death, and so they went out into the wide universe looking for the one planet that would perfectly serve as a new colony. Guess which one they've picked. Of course, you can't have an alien invasion movie without the aliens having a proper reason to invade Earth, but that's the second time the Gamera franchise has hauled out that exact scenario, almost down to the wording, in... how many films? Since Gamera vs. Viras, I think. This franchise has a tendency to blur together in a way that even the most generic of Godzilla pictures never figured out how to do (incidentally, 1971's entry in that franchise Godzilla vs. Hedorah, also adopted a completely blunt "take care of your fuckin' oceans, already" message, though it contrived to do so without recourse to minute upon endless minute of Sea World B-roll).

The evil woman is able to put the two adults into a standing coma, but the kids outwit her, and after a deadening low-speed chase around the bridge, they've turned her magic coma powers back against her and spirited their dads off the ship, to tell the whole world their story of terror, in darling, malapropism-heavy kiddie style. This escape pisses the living hell out of Zigra, who tasks the woman to head to Japan to stop them using any means including - especially! - murder. But leave the rest of the people she meets alone, because Zigra is looking forward to having all of humanity for its food supply, and losing the entire population of Japan in one sweep of a death ray would start things off at a deficit. Unsurprisingly, the harder she chases, the more of an inept bungler she turns out to be.

Somewhere in all this, an enormous flying, fire-breathing turtle shows up, but it's plain from the way this happens that screenwriter Takahashi Nisan hadn't really worked out why.

Beyond question, the most distinctive and interesting thing about Gamera vs. Zigra is Zigra itself, and not just because you need a flowchart to determine which of several distinct entities that name refers to at any given point. I am referring to Zigra the daikaiju, who transforms out of the ship into a being shaped something like a metallic goblin shark, and then finds that thanks to the lower pressure of Earth's oceans, it suddenly grows to enormous size, even larger than Gamera himself. Zigra stands out from the crowd for at least two reasons: one is that it spends virtually all of its time "underwater", though this particular film's ability to create a plausible aquatic environment through the means of some diffused shadows is rather unimpressive, particularly when Gamera starts breathing fire while standing at the bottom of the deep blue sea; the other is that Zigra talks. Which, for all the plot's aggravating boilerplate (oh, another pair of Japanese and American kids are the only ones who know what's going on when aliens try to destroy Earth with a giant monster, and are alone able to call up Gamera, friend to all children, to save the day? Well, did you evah!), is actually pretty cool, and serves to make the film feel unique, or anyway close enough to unique that I don't feel like I'm doing anything too vicious to the word by using it in this context. Zigra is more of a concrete, well-defined threat than any Gamera villain since at least Gyaos, almost solely because of the added personality that comes from hearing it speak in the menacing, merciless tones of Noda Keiichi.

That is, perhaps, the only way that Zigra is more threatening or in any way superior to the average Gamera villain, though I am obliged to admit that the monster design is rather more effective than perhaps any other monster in the series: the action the suit and models are put through tend to to a good job of hiding the limited articulation, one of the most reliable shortcomings of the Gamera monsters. This is the only remotely nice thing I can say about the fight choreography, which is absolutely dismal throughout, rather clumsily stitched-together shots of the monsters not even obviously "fighting" put over without any illusion of impact, mass, or momentum. And even the limpest moment in either of the big monster fights is preferable to Gamera's finishing move, when he plays Zigra's dorsal spines like a fucking xylophone, plunking out his theme song in lieu of actually taking care of business.

In the lengthy passages when it's not focused on the monsters, Gamera vs. Zigra grinds through scene after scene of tedious non-plot, culminating in an infamous protracted sequence where a Sea World employee and a hotelier argue over who gets to purchase the last fish being sold at market during the Zigra crisis, a conflict that Takahashi and director Yuasa Noriaki find so important that they divide it between two scenes. And the momentum is further compromised by the most absolutely ridiculous score, composed by Kikuchi Shunsuke in a capery tone resembling Henry Mancini at his least imaginative. While none of it is emphatically bad in the horrible way that Gamera vs. Guiron was bad, it's almost certainly more boring and directionless, the actors uniformly uninteresting in their execution of stock characters, and the human activity onscreen as arbitrarily divorced from the kaiju sequences as I can think of in any such film I have seen. It's more visually attractive than the baseline for the Gamera franchise, I guess, and there are a few scenes where the filmmaker stage the Zigra ship as a dominant threat in ways that are even kind of exciting (I am chiefly thinking of a sequence where it briefly stalks the characters like a shark). So it is surely not the worst of the series. But it is also not, by any means, a strong argument that, as of 1971, that franchise's temporary shuttering was any kind of loss to cinema generally, or to daikaiju eiga fans specifically.