Space Amoeba is a strange film in the Toho daikaiju universe. For one thing, it's an orphan in that the monsters who occupy a good portion of the film never return in later films or interact with the existing slate of Toho monsters. (Yes, I know Kameba appears as a corpse in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla 3 but that hardly counts). This film also came late in the Toho giant monster cycle when budgets were shrinking very quickly and the standard for monster films had moved from city crushing special effects extravaganzas to more human driven stories with restricted special effects budgets. Toho had managed to make a good showing with Jun Fukuda's two "Island" Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla. So they probably figured another giant monster film set on a tropical paradise would be a good draw. Maybe too they figured that abandoning the Godzilla franchise for a bit would allow them to make a more adult themed film. Either way, what we ended up with is Space Amoeba, a film that tries really hard to be three good films and fails at all of them. One film is an alien invasion flick, another is an island adventure/survival flick, and the third is a giant monster stomping on things flick.
When the unmanned space probe Helios 7 vanishes from radar midway to Jupiter, no one on Earth knows that a strange blue glowing gas has attached itself to the craft and turned it around for an early return trip. No one, that is, except Taro Kudo (Akira Kubo) who just happens to catch a glimpse of the capsule's descent from his airplane seat before the craft vanishes into the clouds. The problem is, no one else on Earth saw Helios 7 return and even his boss at a Tokyo newspaper doesn't believe him. None of this really matters as a spokesman for the "Asian Development Company" wants to hire Kubo to take pictures of an island where they plan to open a resort. The resort, we will learn way later, is a submarine hotel.
Selga Island midway between Hawaii and the Marianna Islands, and home to 80 natives who, aside from being a throwback to the stone age, are also going to be featured as one of the attractions for the resort. Kudo isn't interested until he learns that his old pal from a TV show, Dr. Mida (the always entertaining Yoshio Tsuchida) will be part of the expedition. See, Dr. Mida believes there are evolutionary monsters on the island.
Before you can say, "I think this movie might be only 10 minutes long", we're on Selga Island where one of the caretakers of the hotel property is killed by a giant tentacle after the natives tell him that the beach is taboo.
Once the rest of the cast arrives they begin slowly slowly working out the politics of the expedition. There's a corporate spy, Makato Obata (Kenj Sahara) masquerading as an evolutionary biologist, among them too, who reveals himself pretty quickly, Dr. Mida expected monsters but not giant ones, the natives are pissed at the hotel people because until then they've had clear monster-free seas and now they have a giant cuttlefish who lumbers through the village every night and eats the villagers. By the time you get half way through your bag of microwave popcorn there have already been two monster attacks and the whole blue space monster fog thing on Helios 7 is completely submerged in the rest of the script.
As the film progresses we get more complex monster appearances, though for the most part they don't interact much with the rest of the cast. Instead they are treated more like forces of nature that sweep across the island and leave a wake of destruction, and this is all well and good until the plot reveals that the monsters are not evolutionary quirks, but they have been created by the blue blob that hitchhiked back on Helios 7.
Worse, that blue blob has plans to take over the Earth, to do so he only apparently needs a corporate spy and a trio of giant animals.
This isn't to say that Space Amoeba isn't fun, it is, but the story elements have been done in so many of the Godzilla films already that to see them here without the familiarity of the known monsters to set up the conclusion, it's almost not worth the effort. Sadamasa Arikawa, a protégé of Eiji Tsubaraya, handles the special effects and they looks pretty much like what we daikaiju fans have come to expect from his effects house. The monsters, while new, are detailed and well proportioned whenever they are shown walking around the island. In the few scenes where the cast interacts with them, a trick that normally involves wrapping themselves in rubber tentacles and flailing around, it's not so good. Think of the giant octopus sequence in King Kong vs. Godzilla and you're about on par.
The film suffers from some clumsy pacing too, once the cast figures out how to drive the monsters off the island (a stupid plan involving bats) the whole shebang comes down to a battle between the guy possessed by the alien and er… himself. There's no military, not big special effects extravaganza or anything else. The best we get is a turtle and crap fighting around an erupting volcano.
All of the major elements here are borrowed from older, in some cases only slightly older, films from the Toho canon. Hell, this thing even borrows a variation of the native music from King Kong vs. Godzilla for the natives of Selga Island. Admittedly though Akira Ifukube often reused score pieces in one film and another.
What the film does have going for it is the cast. Ishiro Honda managed to draw in all of the really good actors known for their work in the Godzilla series, we already mentioned Kenji Sahara, this time playing the heel, Akira Kubo, Sachio Sakai, Yu Fujiki, and a pair of pretty ladies, Atsuko Takahashi and Yukiko Koboyashi.
There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than with this, but there are certainly a lot better ways too.
The DVD from Tokyo shock presents the film in very well restored widescreen, with the original Japanese language track, and in the old 1970 English dub. The special features includes a triplicate of featurettes on the real-life animals that inspired Kameba, Ganeme, and Gezora (a crab, cuttlefish, and turtle). The DVD also features a commentary track with producter Tanaka, Fumio Tanaka son of legendary Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was just cutting his teeth in film production with Space Amoeba.
This film was handled pretty well in the US market as I remember it, and in its Americanized form as "Yog: Monster from Space" appeared dozens of times on the Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature. It was nice to reacquaint myself with it but it won't be one of the films I watch all that often.