Tag Archives: Giant Monster

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: GODZILLA (2014)

The first entry in the “Alfred Eaker vs. the Summer Blockbustes” series, in which we send a curmudgeonly arthouse critic out to the cineplexes to check out the latest in pop culture with the unwashed masses. 

As a movie character, Godzilla always seemed too imitative of his predecessors, notably King Kong (who had far more personality and craft) and a couple of Ray Harryhausen creations (which had more craft). Still, the 1954 Japanese original, distributed by Toho Enterprise and directed by Ishiro Honda, was an imposing manifestation of the H-Bomb. Grimness permeates the original, birthed from an authentic response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the 1954 nuclear tests in the Pacific (which had resulted in radiation sickness visited upon occupants of a Japanese freighter). The beast of nature brutally emerges, like a fevered dream, amidst raining soot and decimated fallout shelters, to take revenge upon mankind. Contemporary audiences may roll their eyes during some of the clunkier dialogue (i.e.the preachy finale) or squirm through dated FX, which do hold true to form. Horror films, more than any other genre, date quickly: but that hardly renders the original mere camp. The clicking newsreel footage, juxtaposed against the dramatic tensions between the four human characters, nearly banishes the preposterousness of it all. Predictably, American distributors demanded a dumber version tailored to Yank attention spans, which cannot handle much in the way of foreign narrative, let alone subtitles. The result, directed by perennial hack Terry Morse, cut out nearly an hour of footage and added an Americanized half hour with actor Raymond Burr, who in the role of reporter Steve Martin is awkwardly placed throughout the film, pointlessly narrating what we are already seeing. Worse, by muting the escalating human drama, Morse and company actually made the film a duller affair, robbing it of its gnawing pop power. Burr is simply too phlegmatic an actor for such surroundings, lacking the anxieties of Takashi Shimura (an Akira Kurosawa regular) and Momoko Kochi, or the haunting quality of Akihiko Hirata. Western audiences flocked to the bastardized version anyway, and, until a few years ago, when both versions were released on the Criterion Collection, most Americans were largely unaware of the Japanese original.

Godzilla (2014)It was the success of the American Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956), rather than Honda’s Godzilla (1954, originally titled Gojira), which set the increasingly cartoonish pattern that followed. Honda, who had previously been an assistant to Akira Kurosawa, wrote the original film’s screenplay and invested a stark sobriety into his absurd narrative. However, it was the American box office which dictated the remainder of Honda’s output. By the third entry in the ongoing franchise, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the big green lizard (still technically a villain) does battle with of one of his own influences. However, the guy in the rubber gorilla suit here looks more like an embarrassing reject from the Island of Misfit Toys than he does the titular hero of the 1933 classic. King Kong vs. Godzilla nearly serves as a new definition for “execrable.” That, in itself, could prove entertaining, but the film fatally succumbs to unbearable dullness. Even the most hardcore Godzilla fundamentalists are pressed to defend this one, and it is almost shocking to find Honda directed it as well. While the original Godzilla isn’t a certified classic, it is rousing pulp fare.

Within a few films, Godzilla morphed into a kind of jolly green giant, super-dino protector of Japan. Occasionally, the new genre injected fleetingly Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: GODZILLA (2014)

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)