Tag Archives: Kaiju

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 CAPSULE: MONSTER SEAFOOD WARS (2020)

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Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Keisuke Ueda, Ayano Christie Yoshida

PLOT: Someone steals Yuta’s temple offering of a squid, an octopus, and a crab, and soon giant versions of these three creatures begin terrorizing Japan; an anti-squid squad is formed to combat the menace.

Still from Monster Seafood Wars (2020)

COMMENTS: If you’re looking for a light kaiju appetizer that won’t ruin your appetite for more substantial fare, Monster Seafood Wars may be your dish. Minoru Kawasaki’s spoof follows a sushi delivery boy/genetic engineering prodigy Yuta as his stolen seafood goes bad in unanticipated ways. Along the way he joins a monster-fighting squad, attempts to woo his love interest away from a rival, and tries out a mouthwatering array of kaiju sushi dishes.

Unfortunately, the film is poorly paced, with too much exposition and too few battles stuffed into in the first thirty minutes. Monster Seafood Wars drops in a number of documentary-style retrospective interviews throughout its runtime, which, while not too intrusive, rarely add much beyond a bit of unnecessary pseudoscientific explication. They feel mostly like padding. When monster tentacles are sliced off during a battle—and are subsequently found to be delicious—the film’s middle section takes a long foodie detour as kaiju cuisine mania grips Japan. These segments may be parodies of actual Japanese cooking shows, but they’re mildly amusing at best, and again play like padding. The main plot is utterly ridiculous, and at times inconsistent: the monsters can’t seem to decide whether they’re teammates or adversaries. This lack of coherence isn’t a bug so much as a feature, but I wanted to see wackier characters enacting this stupidity—more like the mystical video game maven who blindfolds himself to awaken his “fifth personality” (and to set record high scores) would have been welcome.

The lightly comic plot is the starchy rice to complement the main dish—the amphibious kaiju and their awkward attempts to wreak havoc. Kawasaki goes back to basics: guys in rubber suits plodding around on miniature sets, trying to wave their heavy unarticulated limbs in as a much of a semblance of unwieldy menace as humanly (monsterly?) possible. Anatomical accuracy is not a concern: the lobster-red octopus not only has very human-looking eyes, but also a nose, and crab pincers. These giant sea creatures are all surprisingly bipedal, to boot. But like the rest of the movie, the battles are cheap. The monsters perform behind a Lego skyline, while PAs sitting just offscreen toss handfuls of Styrofoam rubble into the frame. The budget apparently didn’t allow them to actually destroy those Lego buildings, so Tokyo is not actually stomped here; no scale models were damaged, and could be returned to the hobby store after usage for a full refund. The producers couldn’t afford to risk ripping holes in those rubber suits, either; when tentacles are lopped off, it happens offscreen, then we see the giant piece of newly-cut sushi sailing through the air in a separate shot. There’s also some cheesy CGI to further season the spectacle. In other words, Big Man Japan this is not, although Monster Seafood Wars revels in its own recipe for Japanese corn. Although the costumes are goofy parodies of classic kaiju, the sound effects are quite authentic to the 1960s monster movie era Seafood is spoofing; the synthesizer shrieks and echo-chamber collisions might have been lifted from a vintage Gamera film. And the final showdown is fun, bringing in an appropriate new giant to do battle with the seafood trio.

If silly monster battles are your thing, Monster Seafood Wars will satisfy you well enough. But it seems like the kind of ground others have trod before, and I’m confident that Minoru Kawasaki is still capable of more imaginative moviemaking than this.

Kawasaki based Monster Seafood Wars on an unproduced screenplay by Eiji Tsuburaya about a giant octopus eventually defeated by a vinegar gun. If it had gone into production, that unmade project would have pre-dated Godzilla.

8*. BIG MAN JAPAN (2007)

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Dai-Nihonjin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Tomoji Hasegawa, Taichi Yazaki

PLOT: An offscreen interviewer asks questions of middle-aged Masaru Daisatô, who grows into the giant “Big Man Japan” to fight various monsters who plague the country, as part of a documentary on the superhero’s fading popularity. Far from being honored for protecting the nation from kaiju attacks, Masaru is suffering from low ratings in his late-night time slot, is going through a divorce, and his house is covered in graffiti and vandalized whenever he causes collateral damage. When he flees from one particularly tough monster, his reputation is further damaged, and his retired grandfather (a previous Big Man Japan) leaves the nursing home to take on the kaiju himself.

Still from Big Man Japan (2007)

BACKGROUND:

  • Previously known in Japan as a comedian, Big Man Japan was Hitoshi Matsumoto’s first feature film.
  • The film spent five years in development and took a year to shoot.
  • Big Man Japan has frequently been suggested/recommended by readers over the years. Most recently, it was runner-up in our 2020 Apocrypha tournament.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The endlessly inventive giant monsters—with creepy human faces pasted on them via the black magic of CGI—are Big Man Japan‘s key visual motif. The Stink Monster, who looks like a cross between a squid and a fleshy flower petal, doesn’t seem like the weirdest kaiju in the stable, until a second Stink Monster shows up to do a wild mating dance that makes him look like a spastic ballerina on speed trying to get lucky at the disco on Saturday night.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Combover kaiju; Stink Monster mating dance

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It plays like a genetically modified experiment in corssbreeding Spinal Tap with a late-era Godzilla monster mash, which is strange enough; Big Man Japan is not satisfied with it’s own oddness yet, however, so it takes another unanticipated turn into lunacy in the final act.


U.S. release trailer for Big Man Japan

COMMENTS: Thoroughly committed to its absurd premise, with Continue reading 8*. BIG MAN JAPAN (2007)

CAPSULE: COLOSSAL (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , 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:

FEATURING: Hitoshi Matsumoto

PLOT: Not-so-lovable loser transforms into significantly larger loser to battle some of the weirdest monsters to ever threaten Japan.

Still from Big Man Japan (2007)

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)