Space Amoeba (1970)
Anthony Romero
August 17, 2005
Note: review may contain spoilers

One of Ishiro Honda's last kaiju films, Space Amoeba feels like a very tired effort from the director. In fact, nearly every aspect of the production is poor, from a haphazardly constructed plot and characters, to acting which barely registers as mediocre. Even maestro Akira Ifukube's score seems to be lacking, as he borrows heavily from his previous work while the new themes are overused. However, the true blemish of the film is Teisho Arikawa's rather meager special effect work, although some consideration should be made on his behalf as this was Toho's first major monster picture following the death of Eiji Tsuburaya.

Space Amoeba's story starts with humankind's continued interest in space, as the Helio 7 rocket is launched in route to explore Jupiter. Unfortunately, the rocket stumbles across an extraterrestrial amoeba, which latches on and sends the craft back to Earth. Four months later, the rocket crashes into the sea, allowing Taro Kudo, a photographer, to see the craft briefly before it tumbles into the water. As fate would have it, Kudo is later dispatched to Selgio Island by the Asia Development Corporation to take photos for prospective investors. As it turns out, Selgio Island is located in the South Seas near where the Helio 7 rocket crashed. A small group is ferried to the isle, as Kudo is accompanied by Ayako Hoshino, an employee of the company, Kyoichi Miya, a professor, and Makoto Obata, a traveler who takes an interest in the region's culture. Unfortunately, the island is attacked right before the group's arrival by a massive cuttlefish named Gezora, which kills one of the corporate agents located on the island. Consequently, the island natives meet the incoming expedition with notable hostility, as they blame Gezora's emergence on the corporation's activity on the isle. After their arrival, it's not long before Gezora reappears, killing another agent but leaving the area after some nearby bats are disturbed. Following the incident, Kudo spots Obata rummaging through the wreck left by the monster until he uncovers the corporation's plans for the island, revealing that he is actually an industrial spy. Once Kudo reveals this to the others, Obata confesses and return the plans to Hoshino.

The next day, Kudo and Miya go scuba diving, finding the submerged Helio 7 and Gezora, who spares the two after a flock of dolphins converge on the area. With his thirst for death unquenched, the creature goes on land, destroying the village and some of its fleeing inhabitants. During the incident, though, it's discovered that the creature is extremely weak against fire. A plan is then quickly set in motion, using oil drums located on the island, and the creature is burned alive. However, the threat is still quite real, as the terrestrial Amoeba leaves Gezora's corpse, and finds another local form of life, creating the monster Ganimes. Night falls as the creature finally attacks the island. However, it's also defeated, as Kudo, using a rifle, shoots out both of the creature's eyes, causing it to fall into a nearby ravine.

The menace is far from over, though, as the Amoeba, now frustrated by these setbacks, divides so that it can control Obata, mutate a snapping turtle into the monster Kamoebas, and create another Ganimes. Thankfully, the key to the Amoeba's defeat is discovered when Riko, a local native that had been in a state of shock since Gezora's second attack, recovers and reveals that the creature shied away once the bats emerged. Miya then concludes that supersonic waves are the key to driving away the monsters, as Gezora also retreated when a school of dolphins swam near. With this knowledge in hand, the natives go around and trap the local bats in a cave, sealing it shut so that it can be opened to instantly let the flying mammals loose. The plan is almost ruined, though, by Obata, under the control of the Amoeba, as he sets the interior of the cave on fire. Thankfully, the Amoeba's control weakens, and he regains his senses just in time to remove the seal on the cave. The bats then fly out just as Kamoebas and Ganimes converge on the location. The supersonic waves cause the two giants to become confused, as they engage each other in combat, which leads to their eventual demise in a nearby volcano. Obata, now burdened with the last remnant of the space invader, leaps into the lava with the two monsters, ending the being's threat once and for all.

As a whole, the plot is straightforward: introducing the concept with minimal setup, while scenes involving the monsters are frequent once the group hits the island. Unfortunately, some aspects aren't explored as well as they should be. The most obvious point here being Obata's joining of the group. The other three have a noticeable loathing of the character from the start, while he is very vague about his practice. It all feels like very sloppy writing, as scriptwriter Ei Ogawa knew that he wanted to get the character on the island so he could be discovered as an industrial spy, but didn't want to extend any effort into why he was allowed to be there. The reveal of him being a spy is as weak as it sounds too, as Obata confesses instantly and simply gives up the plans without a fuse. In fact, all of the writing here feels extremely rushed, and gets to laughable levels at times, such as when the villagers are conveniently bringing drums of gasoline nearby just as Gezora's weakness toward fire is discovered. As for the film's climax, Ganimes vs. Kamoebas, it's decent. The pacing makes it feel a little long though, despite that it's a rather short sequence. Granted, it is a little disappointing though that Gezora never shows up for the final confrontation, as is hinted at by promotional stills, the movie's poster, and the opening title sequence.

Still, a weak story can get by if the characters are well developed, although Space Amoeba has no such luxury. In fact, the character development here is pretty meek. The lead character here is Kudo, a photographer whose interest is in snapping shots of actual monsters. His passion makes him a fairly odd hero, particularly when he seems to almost jump for joy after being told that Sakura, one of the company's agents, was killed by a monster. As for Hoshino, her development here is extremely weak, as the only motivation is the unexplained and deep admiration she has for the island's native customs. It should be noted that her name isn't even mentioned during the course of the film, always a bad sign. Doctor Miya, the group's on hand Professor, fares better, although that's not saying much. The doctor's interest is in marine life and uncovering the truth behind monsters told in legends, as revealed during his introduction. Beyond this, though, not much is learned of the character, save his desire to exterminate the Amoeba at all costs. As it turns out, Obata, the industrial spy, is the most developed of the lot. His only concern is own needs, which is displayed in some comical moments such as when Ayako rushes to save some villagers while Obata flees in the opposite direction. His other objective is to avoid conflict at all costs, which is showed rather sloppily in the film when he simply reveals his true intentions as a spy. However, he is also the only character to evolve through the course of the film, as, once infected by the Amoeba, his own motives change entirely as he attempts to resist the space invader's influence and protect the others. A change in character motives that peaks during his final scene, where he leaps into the lava to end the threat once and for all.

Given the rather simplistic characters, I suppose it's no surprise that the acting, as a whole, fails to entice. Akira Kubo, as the Kudo the film's lead, feels like he is on cruise control here. He does give an energetic portrayal of the character, but it feels like it has all been seen before and there isn't a whole lot to make this performance memorable in the least. As for Atsuko Takahashi role as Ayako: she's cute when she needs to be, but that's about the only complement one can devote to her. To put it bluntly, Takahashi's acting ability feels very inadequate. She's fine when not much is demanded of her, but during some scenes, particularly when she is trying to convince Obata to resist the Amoeba, it seems like a more experienced actress would have been better. Actor Yoshio Tsuchiya has the role as professor Miya here, a brand of character which is at least slightly unfamiliar to Tsuchiya's expansive portfolio. Unfortunately, his performance here is far from note worthy. However, he does give the best performance of the lot, and only seems to be held down due to the lack of material to work with. Rounding out the four leads is Kenji Sahara, who plays the role of Obata; a role which ends up being a fairly taxing once the Amoeba takes control. As for his performance, he does a great job portraying the sleazy character at the start of the film, but seems to struggle during the scenes where he is under the Amoeba's influence. Past the leads, Chotaro Togin shouldn't go unmentioned here; however, it's for all of the wrong reasons. He has a relatively small part as Yokoyama, the second agent killed by Gezora, but his acting is just god awful, in particular when he runs away screaming after finding Sakura's watch. Another notable performance comes from Yu Fujiki, who has a role here as the promotion manager for the Asia Development Corporation. Fujiki screen time is fairly miniscule, but the actor's delivery is commendable, and his energy during his scenes actually elevate what could have been a boring sequence to something that is enjoyable.

Looking past some of the visual aspects of the production, one comes to Akira Ifukube's score for the film, which is often a highlight of any movie he is associated with. The same could be said here, although, in this case, only because the rest of the film is lacking. As a whole, the soundtrack feels stale. A lot of the composer's previous work is reused here, and doesn't sound improved upon in the least over earlier renderings. The most shameful instance in this case, though, is the island's native chant, which sounds identical to the same music heard eight years prior in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). To the composer's credit, the opening title theme is quite enjoyable; unfortunately, it's used so often during the course of Space Amoeba that by the time the end title card roles it has lost a lot of its splendor.

When all is said and done, Space Amoeba is a monster film, so naturally a lot of importance should be given to the special effects, but Teisho Arikawa seems to do more wrong than right here. In fact, there are a couple of cringe worthy moments, such as shots of Gezora's tentacles that rapidly change in size as the different shots are edited together. Once or twice, the tentacle effects are hand drawn animated as well, much in the same way they were in Dogora (1964). In regards to the kaiju suits: they look good in still shots, but move unconvincingly, especially Gezora as his shell tends to wiggle uncontrollably, and almost appears like it's going to fall off on occasion. Ganimes looks fairly good here, except for the scenes where the leg part of the suit is visible, as it looks odd to see the creature's small crustacean like legs flanked by the two lager ones in the back, which are the suit actor's. As for Kamoebas, the final member of the trio, the suit looks decent. His neck extending could have appeared more organic, but the effect is serviceable. A nod should be given to Arikawa, though, for creatively hiding the creature's back legs for most of the film, as, like the Anguirus suit, the actor in the costume is forced to walk on his knees.

Overall, Space Amoeba is a fairly forgettable monster film. The contrast in appearance and abilities of the three monsters is nice, but the entire production feels like it was hurriedly slapped together. Worth wasting an afternoon on, although not something that one is likely to come back to again and again.