The Yog and I
When I was five years old, I received an NES and a copy of Godzilla: Monster of Monsters for Christmas. I was psyched about playing Super Mario Brothers, but I was absolutely elated at the notion of a Godzilla video game. At five years old, I was already a huge Godzilla fan and familiar with most of the monsters in the game.
In level one, I was forced to fight two monsters that I had never heard of, a robot named Moguera and a giant blue squid called Gezora. I assumed these two were created for the game. I had never seen them in a movie or read about them in the Crestwood Monster Serie Godzilla volume.
Years later I learned that Moguera and Gezora were legit. Moguera, the mole-shaped robot from 1957’s The Mysterians, was among Toho’s first class of kaiju. Gezora was one of the stars of a bizarrely titled film from 1970 called Space Amoeba. When I finally saw Space Amoeba (a.k.a Yog, Monster from Space) it became apparent that Gezora’s appearance in the Godzilla: Monster of Monsters! was possibly the highlight of its fifty-year-long kaiju career.
“The Most Fantastic Science Adventure Ever Filmed!”- watching Space Amoeba
To impress the producers at Toho, screenwriter Ei Ogawa set tried to combine all the most popular tropes of previous kaiju movies in his Space Amoeba screenplay. Space Amoeba is the most generic Toho giant monster movie since 1958’s Varan the Unbelievable. The filmtells the story of a reporter named Kudo (Akira Kubo) who is convinced by Ayako (Atsuko Takahashi), a representative from a resort company, to join an expedition to Sergio Island.
They are joined by the scientist Dr. Mida (Yoshio Tsuchiya) and the sleazy anthropologist Obata (Kenji Sahara). At the island, they discover that a super-intelligent space amoeba hitched a ride on a space probe that crashed off the island’s coast. The amoeba infects a cuttlefish (Gezora), a crab (Ganimes), and a turtle (Kamaoebas) and transforms them into giant monsters. Our heroes defeat Gezora and Ganimes. The amoeba creates another Ganimes which battles Kamoebas as an active volcano destroys the sinister entity and its creations.
All of the beloved elements that fans still associate with the kaiju eiga of the 1960s are in the film: scientists, villagers, reporters, volcanoes, tribal dancing, and mutant creatures. The film’s smaller kaiju and island setting give it a more intimate feel than other kaiju movies, but it does not save the film. The movie is a collection of Toho’s “greatest hits” thrown together without much rhyme or reason.
The uneven quality of the monster action is not enough to distract the viewer. Even Akira Ifukube’s score, despite featuring some intriguing electronic elements, is not very good. The cast does the best they can with the material. Akira Kubo, a favorite of both Honda and Akira Kurosawa, is a fine protagonist. Another Honda and Kurosawa favorite, Yoshio Tsuchiya has the unglamorous job of playing the wise, exposition spouting scientist.
Kenji Sahara is known for playing good looking heroes in tokusatsu movies, but in Space Amoeba he shines as the goateed anthropologist who becomes possessed by the amoeba. Despite some bright points, the film shows that the golden years of the kaiju film, exemplified by films like Mothra, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster, were over.
Decisive Battle! Movies vs Cinema!
In 1966, Tsuburaya Productions’ kaiju anthology series Ultra Q debuted in Japan. Later that year, Ultraman and Ambassador Magma (known in the United States as The Space Giants) debuted. 1967 would see Ultraseven and Giant Robo zoom their way into Japanese homes. Agon the Atomic Dragon and Mighty Jack followed in 1968. In a short time period, the giant monsters who had regularly besieged Japanese movie theaters had laid waste to the small screen as well. The monsters, robots, and superheroes who made up this trend were part of the much larger television boom. By 1970, television had supplanted film as the dominant form of entertainment in Japan.
Ticket sales declined and Japanese studios reduced costs on all productions. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) and Son of Godzilla (1967) were noticeably cheaper than previous Godzilla films. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, had a larger budget but was intended to provide a grand finale to the expensive series. When the budget of Gamera vs. Viras was drastically slashed by Daiei studios, the decision was made to use monster footage from the previous three Gamera films. It worked and the movie made a profit. Gamera vs. Viras inspired Toho to produce All Monsters Attack, a film commonly derided by fans for its recycling of old Godzilla footage.
All Monsters Attack would be the last Toho kaiju film where the legendary Eiji Tsubaraya was credited as director of special effects. The title was honorary. Ishiro Honda stepped in and directed most of the original effects sequences as well as the main film. After the film’s success in kiddie shows, Toho decided to create new kaiju characters outside of the Godzilla franchise. The film would be called Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas: Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas, but fans all over the world would know it as Space Amoeba.
The Amoeba Takes Shape- Filming Space Amoeba
The film that would become Space Amoeba originally began as a planned collaboration with UPA, the American company which co-produced Invasion of Astro-Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World, and The War of the Gargantuas. The screenwriter assigned to Space Amoeba was Ei Ogawa, a writer mostly associated with detective movies. The film was tentatively titled The Great Monster Attack and featured heroic Earthlings defeating alien beasts with nuclear weapons. The deal with UPA fell through and Toho minimized the scope of the movie. Originally the entire planet was in peril, but the final draft of the screenplay mostly took place on one island.
Space Amoeba was co-produced by Godzilla forefather Tomoyuki Tanaka. Tanaka’s co-producer was the 29 year old Fumio Tanaka (no relation). This was his second film after The Vampire Doll. Tanaka would go on to produce all of three films in Toho’s Dracula trilogy. He would go on to produce The War in Space and The Return of Godzilla. Most of the day-to-day work on the film fell to the younger Tanaka.
Ishiro Honda was brought back to the director’s chair. Honda wanted to shoot the film in Guam, but budget considerations moved the shoot to Hachijo Island, a small island 700 miles off the coast of Japan. The film was shot during the winter and many of the actors are visibly chilly while pretending to be in a tropical paradise. Honda was reunited with Toho contracted actors and kaiju veterans Akira Kubo, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Kenji Sahara.
Space Amoeba is the first Toho kaiju film where Eiji Tsubaraya is not credited as director of special effects. The pioneering co-creator of Ultraman and Godzilla died a month before production began. Sadamassa Arikawa was credited as director of special effects. Because of Tsubaraya’s ill-health and television commitments, Arikawa had essentially been the uncredited effects director for Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, Son of Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters. The muli-monster brawls Arikawa oversaw in Son of Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters remain some of the best kaiju battles in the entire Godzilla series. Space Amoeba does not reach those heights, but the film’s three beasts are not without their charms.
Giant Monsters of the South Seas
After All Monsters Attack, Toho wanted to offer kaiju saturated youngsters new monsters. Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas were different from most of the Toho menagerie because they were based on real, extant animals. Monster modeler Teizo Toshimitsu, who had helped design all of Toho’s most famous kaiju, worked on the film.
Gezora, an enormous kisslip cuttlefish, is the highlight of the film’s three monstrosities. It’s name is derived from the Japanese word “geso” meaning “squid legs.” Future Godzilla effects director Teruyoshi Nakano believed that the monsters’ names were too jokey and it hurt the film’s box office. The puppeteering on Gezora’s arms and tentacles is the effects highlight of the film. On the commentary track for Tokyo Shock’s Space Amoeba DVD, producer Fumio Tanaka described Gezora’s movements as “very sexy.”
Gezora’s bulbous eyes were intended to move as well, but the mechanism in the suit broke. Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima, portrayed Gezora. Despite his absence in the film’s final battle, Gezora is the most beloved of the three monsters. In addition to appearing in the Godzilla NES game (and the infamous creepypasta it inspired), Gezora appeared in several issues of the Godzilla: Rulers of Earth comic book. Gezora had a small cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars via stock footage.
Nakajima also portrayed the mutated rubble crab Ganimes. Among kaiju crustaceans, Ganimes ranks somewhere between Ebirah and the giant sea louse from The Return of Godzilla. The best aspect of the suit was its ability to hide Nakajima’s legs. Arikawa instructed his monster makers to make the crab’s vertically oriented mouth as monstrous as possible. Ganimes’s name is a combination of the Japanese word for crab “Kani” and the popular feline manga star Nyarome. Ganimes, one of the most obscure of Toho’s monster stable, has had no major appearances outside of Space Amoeba.
Kamoebas the matamata turtle was portrayed by suit actor Haruyoshi Nakamura. Arikawa wanted Kamoebas’s neck to move and stretch like the real Amazonian matamata turtle, so compressed air was used to create its telescoping neck effect. When Kamoebas’s neck is paired with Ganimes’s mouth, the monsters take on a Freudian dimension. Kamoebas’s name is a combination of the Japanese word for turtle (“kama”) and “amoeba.” Kamoebas is the only one of the three beasts who has made a full appearance in another kaiju movie: he famously shows up as a dead body in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. The monster also had a small dalliance with television in 1972 when he appeared in the low budget Toho superhero show Go! Godman.
Space Amoeba becomes Yog, Monster from Space
Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas: Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas was released in Japanese cinemas on August 1, 1970. Toho’s official title for international release was Space Amoeba. In America, it was originally released by American International Pictures (AIP) as Yog, Monster from Space.
Fumio Tanaka speculated that “Yog,” the name given to the space amoeba in the American version, is derived from H.P. Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothoth, another intergalactic blob monster. The film’s American posters and marketing spotlight Gezora, making it seem that the cuttlefish is the title creature. Yog, Monster from Space was released in 1971. The press book for the film suggests promotional gimmicks such as paying local exterminators to display signs which read “Watch ‘YOG- MONSTER FROM SPACE’ threaten our homes at the theater…but let us attack the monsters that threaten your home from within.”
Other suggested gimmicks included a trail of blue monster footprints outside the theater and a lobby display of living crabs, turtles and octopi. Yog, Monster from Space underperformed and it would be the last major American release of a non-Godzilla Japanese kaiju movie.
The End of an Era
Space Amoeba would be the last movie produced in the classic style of Toho’s science fiction classics. It would be the last Toho kaiju film that did not feature established monsters from the Godzilla series. Toho ended guaranteed union contracts making Space Amoeba the last film where members of the unofficial “Godzilla acting company” would portray most of the main roles. Toho split up into several different smaller companies and the quasi-independent Toho-Eizo would make the next kaiju movie, Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Toho could not compete with the glut of tokusatsu material on television and all future Godzilla movies would remain low budget affairs until the series’s revival in 1984.
Honda intended for Space Amoeba to be his last film as director. He was reluctantly brought back to direct the final Showa era Godzilla film, Terror of Mechagodzilla. Space Amoeba was the first and last film with Sadamassa Arikawa credited as special effects director. Reportedly, he left Toho over a dispute regarding a special “in memoriam” credit for Tsuburaya. Haruo Nakajima would act in two more kaiju films: Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla vs. Gigan. Gezora and Ganimes would be the last non-Godzilla monsters he portrayed. Shortly after Space Amoeba, Toho’s entire special effects department was dissolved.
The difference between Space Amoeba and the kaiju movies that followed it is striking. The 1970s Godzilla films replaced the tropical islands of the 1960s with barren landscapes and smoking craters. The bloodless monster fights of Tsuburaya were no more. For the next five years, Godzilla would be burnt, stabbed, and shot by his opponents. Five years after Space Amoeba was produced, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws introduced a level of violence and terror not found in earlier monster movies. I would argue that Space Amoeba is not simply the end of the classic monster movie in Japan, but the end of the classic monster movie worldwide.
It brings to a conclusion the age of monsters which began with King Kong in 1933, continued with the giant dinosaurs and insects of the 1950s and was perfected in the 1960s by Toho. By the end of the 1960s, however, the genre had become ripe for reinvention. Fortunately, the fifty years after Space Amoeba’s release have produced some of the greatest monster movies of all time. Despite the quality of these films, many of these gruesome creatures have lacked the innocence of an enormous, bug-eyed cuttlefish.
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