Tag Archives: Kaiju

CAPSULE: COLOSSAL (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis

PLOT: An alcoholic woman discovers that she unwittingly controls a giant monster who is attacking Seoul.

Still from Colossal (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The premise is strange, but the execution is not as bizarre as it might have been, tending more to light psychological drama.

COMMENTS: The two opening scenes of Colossal are well-matched. In the first, a Korean girl loses her doll in a park, only to find a giant gray monster looming over the skyscrapers of distant Seoul. 25 years later, a tipsy Gloria (Hathaway) meets her own personal disaster among the skyscrapers of New York City when her boyfriend kicks her out of their apartment and onto the streets after she shows up drunk again.

Two women, facing two monsters, which, the movie suggests, may really be the same thing: the Seoul-stomper is somehow connected to Gloria’s screwed-up life. After her world falls apart and she moves back to her quiet hometown, things go to hell as she takes a job in a bar run by old friend and would-be lover Oscar (Sudeikis). That Korean monster, spotted one night 25 years ago, starts appearing again in Seoul almost nightly, although it usually does little more than scratch its head and stumble around aimlessly. These appearances, which naturally go viral on CNN and social media, all seem to happen while Gloria is blacked out. Meanwhile, Gloria ups her drinking and finds herself a boy toy, a handsome younger man without much backbone. That development doesn’t please Oscar, who’s given her a job, TV, and a new suite of furniture in hopes of finally winning his childhood sweetheart.

After this setup, we expect the movie dive into a wacky kaiju/romantic comedy mashup, but things get darker, as the metaphor extends from the monster merely representing Gloria’s alcoholism to embrace co-dependency and abuse—it a conflation of all of her bad choices, along with some misfortunes that befall her through no fault of her own. The script lets the symbolism get away from it a little bit, and neither the mechanism through which the monster manifests itself, nor its origin story, nor its final disposition, quite live up to the cleverness of the original conceit. The movie has serious (if not colossal) tone problems: too many innocent Koreans are killed for it to be an effective comedy, but the premise is too ridiculous to generate the tension needed for action/horror thrills. Colossal does find a way forward, by staying so committed to its allegory that you keep watching just to figure out how it will all be resolved. Sudeikis provides another reason to tune in, as he turns out to be a powder keg with a secret of his own. Colossal had the potential to level much more real estate than it did—lover’s spats and millennial introspections outnumber kaiju battles by at least two-to-one—but you should still find a lot to enjoy lying about in the rubble.

Spain’s Nacho Vigalondo first burst onto the indie scene with the tightly-wound time travel bibelot Timecrimes. Since then, he’s been continuing to make smart movies with sci-fi/fantasy/horror themes, and someday may produce an oddity ready-make for the List of the Weirdest Films Ever Made. This isn’t it, however.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a unique and bizarre and surprising and original piece of filmmaking… From its weird little prologue to a nearly perfect ending, ‘Colossal’ is a trip in multiple meanings of that word.”–Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

READER RECOMMENDATION: BIG MAN JAPAN [DAI NIHONJIN] (2007)

Reader review by Rob Steele [AKA Mofo Rising]

DIRECTED BY: Hitoshi Matsumoto

FEATURING: Hitoshi Matsumoto

PLOT: Not-so-lovable loser transforms into significantly larger loser to battle some of the

Still from Big Man Japan (2007)

weirdest monsters to ever threaten Japan.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: On a purely visual level, Big Man Japan has a bizarre aesthetic that nobody else would rightly consider.  Beyond that, the film’s humor is often so subtle that you don’t realize what strange territory you’ve stumbled into until it ends up battling it out on the screen in its underwear.  This film is just weird.

COMMENTS: Did you ever watch Mike Myers defend the male nudity in Austin Powers by claiming that the naked male form has been a comedic stereotype in British humor for years, but you still got the sense that he just enjoyed running around naked?  Well, Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto has taken Myer’s original intent and literally writ it large for the big screen.  Prepare yourself for a loving CGI rendition of the male form, with every stray hair delineated and a paunch that could kill.

Matsumoto doesn’t stop there.  His film, Big Man Japan, is as loving a tribute to pure loser-dom as you could hope to film.  His character is the none-too-bright heir to monster fighters in an alternate-reality Japan where giant monsters attack on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, while his monster-battlin’ grandfather was considered a hero, he is now a national joke, fighting inexplicably ridiculous monsters for increasingly little ratings.  (His show now only airs in the wee hours of the morning.)  As if being a national joke was not enough, our current Big Man manages to fail every time he is called up to bat.

Big Man Japan is a slow burn of a film.  If you are familiar with celebration of wrong-headed intentions Christopher Guest has been putting out for years, you should be comfortable here.  The majority or the film focuses on interviews with our loser as he is subtly confronted with his abject shame in society. Luckily for us, every twenty minutes or so, he must fight against a bizarre menagerie of monsters in CGI battles that are, to say the very least, uncomfortable.

This is an odd film.  But before you throw it out, stick around for the ending.  I’m not going to give it away here, and I’m not even sure I could if I tried.  Suffice to say, I laughed like a maniac, probably to the consternation of all my friends.

Big Man Japan is nothing else other than Big Man Japan.  Before you venture in, I recommend you watch the preview.  If it looks at all interesting to you (you’re a small crowd), watch it.  You may be unpleasantly surprised.  Or the opposite.  No real way to predict your fate with this film.  Suffice to say, don’t expect to get out unscathed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Part character study, part media satire and, by its finale, altogether bizarre, ‘Big Man Japan’ plays a bit like a quieter, weirder version of ‘Hancock’… the most impressive special effect here is Mr. Matsumoto’s hilariously restrained performance, a tour de force of comedic concision in a movie bloated by increasingly surreal developments.”–Nathan Lee, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968)

Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu; AKA Gamera vs. Viras

DIRECTED BY: Noriaki Yuasa

FEATURING: Toru Takasuka, Carl Craig

PLOT: Finding that Gamera is the only thing standing between them and the conquest of Earth, aliens attempt to enslave the flying turtle through mind control but are foiled by a pair of precocious boy scouts.

Still from Destroy All Planets (1968)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Kaiju (Japanese giant rubber suited monster) flicks are, collectively, a moderately weird class of movies.  And Gamera, with his implausible biomechanics—the turtle’s shell must be protecting a belly full of jet fuel necessary to power his flame breath and the four rockets that spout fire when he retracts his legs—is one of the strangest of a strange menagerie of giant lizards, birds and moths. But the weirdness in this one resides strictly on a light entertainment, comic book/pop culture plane, suitable for a goofy afternoon matinee but not for a spot on the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.

COMMENTSDestroy All Planets is a kid’s movie, for sure.  Both adults and aliens in this movie are constantly punked by short-pantsed tykes, electronics prodigies who sabotage mini-subs and alien spacecraft with equal ease.  Adults should be able to mine a reasonable amount of mindless enjoyment from this flick, though, whether it comes from pure nostalgia or from a simple appreciation of the child’s-eye absurdity of a world where giant turtles befriend kids while protecting the Earth from alien invasions.  Although cheap, the set and costume design is colorful and inventive.  The aliens have a consistent beehive theme, from their yellow and black striped bumblebee spacecraft to their honeycomb shaped instrument panels to the hive mentality of the alien drones who keep the ship running.  Plenty of psychedelic-era special effects are deployed, like kaleidoscopic viewfinders and crayola-on-the-negative ray-gun blasts.  The kaiju clashes are nice and violent, if longish, with monsters spouting a nice variety of blood colors when gashed.  (Longtime followers of the series will feel cheated, however, when they realize that most of the carnage is recycled footage from the turtle’s previous adventures).  Gamera pulls off his patented spinning pinwheel move in the climax, after being impaled in his soft underbelly by the head of his squidlike opponent!  There are also plenty of head scratching moments to keep fans of illogical plot devices entertained, as when the U.N. Security Council unanimously votes to surrender to the aliens rather than sacrificing the lives of the two hostage brats.  To top things off we have surprisingly hilarious alien decapitations and an arm that comes flying off when lassoed.  Destroy All Planets may not be good, even among its type, but it’s rarely boring.

Everyone should probably see at least one Gamera movie in their film watching career.  Since almost half the running time of this fourth entry in the series is composed of flashbacks and recycled footage from the turtle’s previous three outings, this may be an excellent place to start.  After watching Gamera stomp Barugon, Gaos, and half of Tokyo in scenes from the previous movies, you’ll feel right up to speed on the titanic terrapin’s exploits immediately.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..this is one of the lamest of the Gamera movies, though it does have some touches that I’ve come to identify with the series. Gamera’s foe is certainly bizarre looking, the scene where he becomes giant is truly surreal, and the violence is gorier and a bit edgier than you find in a Godzilla movie…”–Dave Sindelar, “Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings” (DVD)