Definitely one of the oddest kaiju movies to come from Toho, Space Amoeba (or Yog: Monster from Space), was the first 1970s effort. It also became the final one from the combination of composer Ikira Ifukube and director Ishiro Honda. It’s a minor effort, with a lack of scale that severly hurts the story.
Like many of the Toho monster movies from that era, Space Amoeba ends up being located on an island. A limited effects budget means a constrained location. A new resort company plans to build here on the island Selgio (a bit too close to the island in Godzilla vs. Sea Monster which was Solgel), but a returning space satellite brings an amoeba to Earth.
This blue mass has the ability to transform basic creatures into giant beasts. There end up being three in total: a fish, a crab, and a turtle. Gezora is the massive cuttlefish, receiving most of the screen time, actually dominating the movie for a solid half hour. The problem is the ambitious attempt at the suit fails miserably. The bulging eyes, the rubber head that flops around impossibly, and the two tentacles that are obviously where the suit actors feet lie make this a creature that would never return.
The same goes for the other two monsters that look decent, but suffer from severe immobility. The actors seem to be struggling to even move a single body part. This leads to a final battle that doesn’t work at all. Even before that, there are multiple deaths that lean this in a stronger horror direction, but then one of the creatures is taken down by a small group of people using only fire. It’s hard to see it as a major threat even when it’s killed multiple times.
There are also story and logic problems, which are usually obvious in a Toho monster flick, but here they’re especially blatant. For an alien creature trying to take over the world, why would they attack on a small, barely inhabited island? How can a scientist possibly conclude this is all the work of a space creature without barely any basis to prove this theory, or to even think of aliens in the first place?
However, Space Amoeba does have some highlights. The matte work is complicated and exceptional, easily the special effects’ brightest moment. Not a single shot is botched. There’s a human takeover element too, and while not completely explored, it adds some extra suspense as the film draws to a close.
Akira Ifukube provides a highly unique soundtrack to this one. The new music pieces provide a wonderful backdrop to the action, and the stirring main theme is one of his best. Sadly, there are repeats here, including the island natives using the same song to worship their gods as the ones in King Kong vs. Godzilla did a little under 10 years earlier.
Space Amoeba has to fall into the realm of obscure creature features, and in the Toho realm, this is a rare one. Its highlights make a viewing worthy to the studio’s fans base. If you’re interested in special effects, there’s some spectacular work mixed in with the not so spectacular, and the suits are amongst the creative you’ll ever see. (*** out of *****)
Given the general obscurity and age, Space Amoeba is a small miracle on DVD. This is a pristine print, showing only a little bit of fading and slightly inconsistent black levels. There isn’t a speck of damage to be found on this picture, and transfer process has left no signs of compression. You’ll have a hard time finding a movie like this that turned out this beautiful on the format. (****)
Numerous audio options are available to please anyone, including both English 5.1 and mono, and the same two specs for the Japanese dialogue. This is one of the rare cases where the mono is the better choice. The dialogue in the 5.1 mixes is lowered, while Ifukube’s soundtrack overpowers. Bass is non-existent, leveling the playing field with the mono versions. There’s an extra level of clarity to the mono tracks as well, the English remaster is especially strong. (****)
Extras here are surprising, including a commentary track – with subtitles – with producer Fumio Tanaka (and a host). They have a blast with this one, pointing out the flaws, and even taking on a Mystery Science Theater approach a few times. However, they also respect the material where appropriate. Add those two styles up and you have one of the best commentaries out of all the US released kaiju movies.
There’s a small documentary about the three real life creatures in the movie. It’s around 10-minutes total, with plenty of footage of the actual animals. The narration is in Japanese with subtitles. There’s also an odd trailer titled “special announcement” that doesn’t seem to have much difference aside from the shorter length when compared to the full trailer (also included). Finally, four extra Toho trailers are here on the disc. (****)
Ignoring the Godzilla series, this was the first true sign of the shrinking focus on monster movies at Toho. The idea is only slightly new, the budget cuts obvious, and plotline more ridiculous than usual. This one was desperately calling out for a city locale at some point.