Tag Archives: Minoru Kawasaki

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.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EXECUTIVE KOALA (2005)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Elli-Rose, Hironobu Nomura1

PLOT: A koala in a business suit who works for a Japanese pickle company is accused of killing his wife and girlfriend, and can’t defend himself because he’s got selective amnesia.

Still from Executive Koala (2005)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Consider this “Apocrypha Candidate” designation a placeholder for Minoru Kawasaki. This is the first of his movies we’ve seen, and we’re impressed with his manic-yet-deadpan sense of absurdity;  it suggests something of his will be worthy of an honorable mention designation on our weird movie canon. Is Executive Koala the one, though? Or should Calimari Wrestler or Rug Cop occupy that slot?

COMMENTS: There’s a point in Executive Koala where a pretty woman (Japanese singer Shôko Nakagawa, making her first movie appearance) sees our hero Tamura buy a sack of groceries from a frog-headed convenience store clerk and quizzically comments, “A koala? A frog?”  Aside from the occasional background double-take from a passerby in the street (suggesting scenes shot guerilla-style in the wild), this is the only time anyone notices anything odd about the man in the business suit with a giant round fuzzy head and claws, or the frog, or the bunny rabbit president of Rabource Pickling Co., Ltd. It’s a kind of fourth-wall breaking moment: Nakagawa addresses the audience indirectly, acknowledging the absurdity of a world that apparently contains a total of three anthropomorphic animals whose existence otherwise surprises no one.

Aside from one montage of paintings depicting a surreal Australian koala massacre, complete with crucified marsupials, little is made of the fact that Tamura’s a koala; he might as well be Korean. So, viewed from one angle, Tamura’s koalaness adds little to the script: Koala could have been a competent psychological thriller without the gimmick (at least, until the story devolves into complete goofy chaos at the climax). The resulting film would have been serviceable, but forgettable, parody riff on American Psycho.

But there’s just something about casting a cute fuzzy mammal as the lead in your serial killer thriller that lets the audience know not to take anything too seriously, you know? The casting ensures that every frame of film is stained with absurdity that can’t be scrubbed off. Considering the fact that the only part of Tamura’s face that moves (and sometimes light up) are his eyes, the actors that wear the koala suit do a remarkable job in bringing the executive to life through head shakes, claw gesticulations, and simple props like a handkerchief used to mop his furry brow when he’s nervous. Tamura’s uncredited voiceover actor deserves praise, too, because we quickly come to accept this character’s reality (within his world). At times, we too forget that he’s of another species, and simply see him as a harried salaryman fretting about putting together a deal with a Korean kimchi magnate while under investigation for the murder of his wife and girlfriend.

Although the acting is deadpan, the film doesn’t simply play its premise as a straightforward thriller that happens to star a koala. Although it builds its absurdity slowly, it gradually accrues dream sequences, a martial arts demonstration against a bacon backdrop, more fakeout dream sequences and false memories, behind-the-scenes footage hidden inside the actual movie, a musical trial, and extensive koala kung fu. Oh, and believe it or not, there might be a few plot holes and loose ends flying around, too—like just who the hell was the frog? It may not all add up, but all in all, you get your entertainment dollar’s worth from Executive Koala. He may even deserve a raise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While funny in the ‘boy, that’s odd’ sense more than the ‘laugh ’til you ache’ sense, the film is fast-paced and freewheeling… This is a director who makes movies designed to leave audiences saying, ‘I watched the weirdest thing last night.'”–Noel Murray, The A.V. Club (DVD box set)

(This movie was nominated for review by AlgusUnderdunk, who described it as “a strange Japanese film I still can’t quite describe…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)