Friday, August 29, 2008

Kaiju Sessions 14-16

KAIJU-14: King Kong Escapes (’69); Godzilla vs. Hedorah (’71)

d.d. tinzeroes: I think I kind of forgot the lessons of the past on this one. Namely, that two, full-length feature films totaling 200 minutes in one session starting at around 8:00 is just never really a good idea, especially if both films are over 30 years old. Not that either movie disappointed me. ‘Godzilla vs. Hedorah’ (called ‘…vs. the Smog Monster in the U.S.) was strange, but I couldn’t help but notice that Hedorah seems to be sort of a ‘proto-Legion,’ in that (a) it has a fully realized physiology, and (b) its not, truth be told, a necessarily ‘evil’ kaiju. Rather, it consume pollution, and produces a sulfuric acid cloud as a by-product, which just happens to kill humans. There is nothing overtly malicious about it. The Hedorah costume’s pretty scary, too, when you get down it. ‘King Kong Escapes’ promised to be a wild ride, and it was, but our attention span began to drift a bit. This movie was pretty balls-to-the-wall and over-the-top. Dr. Huu was a great villain. Right down to the inappropriate laughs. Susan, Kong’s human female interest, was pretty, well, good looking. Mechani-Kong was neat, and it had never occurred to me that Mechani-Kong pre-dated MechaGodzilla by a good four years. The Kong costume was just downright weird looking. I understand that they were trying to get that simian look in a costume, and attempted to do so by exaggerating certain attributes: namely, the head, shoulders and trunk. I guess the assumption was that the proportionately smaller legs would create the illusion of the simian hunch. No such luck. Instead, we ended up figuring out how big Kong’s skull would be (about the size of his femur, i.e., about twice as big as it should be, proportionately). I think my favorite little thing was people kept looking at ‘plans’ for Mechani-Kong and all they were was either a drawing of Kong with a transparency put over it with a tracing of Mechani-Kong’s armor on it, or a simple sketch of Mechani-Kong. No circuitry. No gears. No superstructure. Just the exterior plating. But like I said, our attention spans were escaping us. We didn’t really watch the final rumble a top the Tokyo Tower (which looked really well done), but instead talked about the Plasma Fist Gamera Tom had purchased, and NeonGenesis: Evangelion toys. Oh, well. I think next time we go back to the tried and true format of Ultraman episodes + one feature.

KAIJU-15: Mothra (’61); Mothra vs. Godzilla (’64)

d.d. tinzeroes: In the summer that proceeded Kaiju-0 I had rented the dubbed versions of these two films (along with others, see UltraTom(!)’s notes to Kaiju-0). I enjoyed both films, but for Kaiju-15 we were watching the subtitled widescreen versions. The most impressive aspect, to me, was the performance of actor Frankie Sakai, playing the journalist Senichiro 'Sen-chan' [‘bulldog’] Fukuda. It was a good performance. One of those that surprise you when you see a film subtitled after having seen it dubbed. Aside from that, seeing this a second time, my favorite aspect has to be the failure of the bad guys to realize the Shobigin’s (lit. ‘twin fairy,’ played by Emi and Yumi Ito, the pop duo ‘Peanuts’) song is actually a summon spell, if you will (and what a great song it is; I have the CD). At the same time, the failure of the good guys to realize this same summons isn’t a switch you can turn on and off is also enjoyable. In this regards, I think Mothra ’61 is clearly more entrenched in fantasy than in sci-fi, which, I admit, is not a new insight. But there’s definitely a ‘primeval forces at work’ aspect there. Also: the scene where Mothra spins her cocoon was clearly referenced in Gamera ’95: the Tokyo TV tower breaks in half in approximately the same fashion, and, almost word for word, the military declares it will attack at dawn. Kudos to that. One of my favorite things about Mothra vs. Godzilla is the first appearance of Godzilla, emerging from the drained post-typhoon floodplain, followed by those matte shots where people panic in the foreground and Godzilla marches on in the background (an image homaged, if you will, in Godzilla 2000). Again, this was the subtitled version, while as I had only seen the dubbed before. The name of the ‘evil’ company was pretty good: Happy Fun Land Company? Something like that? I can’t remember. Still not sure what that ‘yellow powder’ was, and the movies explanation didn’t help. Good guy: “what’s that yellow powder?” (a yellow dust seems to be falling from Mothra’s wings, Godzilla’s on the ground, twisting and flopping under her). One of the shobijin: “That’s Mothra’s greatest weapon.” Great. So, uh, what is it doing to him? The main reason I forced the boys to do these two films consecutively was because they’re great for setting the stage for the subsequent ‘Ghidra, the Three Headed Monster’ and ‘Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.’ One more thing: as per course, the Godzilla suit had been revamped since his last appearance in Godzilla vs. King Kong. I’m somewhat fond of the previous suit, and although I like the Mothra-era one, I’m confused by those large, almost white eyebrow things that were added to Godzilla’s face. What are those?

KAIJU-16: Zeram (’91); Zeiram 2 (’94)

d.d. tinzeroes: Funny story here(to me, at least). I was renting Zeram (Tom would be providing the DVD of Zeiram 2), and it was $1.25 movie night at Redneck Video. I was on a bit of a Harryhausen kick, and picked up ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and ‘Clash of the Titans’ alongside Zeram. The clerk looks at my selection as he’s doing his thing with the computer, and asks “How’s Zeram fit in? I presume it has nothing to do with Greek mythology.” Now, really, I don’t blame him. For one thing, Harryhausen can’t be pidgeon holed into Greek mythos films, although it was true that night that I rented two of exactly that. But, come to think of it, Zeram is loosely related to Harryhausen, in that director/writer Keita Amamiya is a sort of modern day Harryhausen, in my opinion. Albeit, I think he’s working with budgets smaller even than Harryhausen’s, but Keita is a SFX man first and a film-maker second, if you take my meaning. He started out doing SFX for projects like the feature film ‘Gunhed’ and various Kamen Rider television shows. From there he worked his way up, in a sense, until he directed and wrote Zeram. Since then he’s helmed several projects, including ‘Moon Over Tao,’ where the sci-fi element is present but reduced; almost secondary. To me, this mirror’s Harryhausen’s career in some ways. Harryhausen started out as an apprentice to the great Willis O’Brien, but by ‘Clash of the Titans,’ his final film (in 1981), he was executive producer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Kaiju Sessions 12-13

[Note: Kaiju-12 and Kaiju-13 mark the end of Ultratom(!)'s collaboration on the KAIJU SESSIONS projekt. The remainder of the series consisted only of the lonely opines of D.D. Tinzeroes, though the capsule reviews' content dooes become more meaty than the earlier Sessions. Without Ultratom(!)'s input and the drunken brotherhood of group film viewing, the projekt's focus would quickly shift away from daikaiju and towards a more generalized Japanese grind house aesthetic. - Rensey]

KAIJU-12: Inframan (’75); Gamera2 (’96)

d.d. tinzeroes: HK/Shaw Brothers Ultraman-ripfest ‘Inframan’ was a drop-of-hat pairing with Gamera2, ‘Inframan’ turns out to have a connection to the first KAIJU session (‘Kaiju-0’), in that director Shan Hua also directed 1978’s ‘Flying Guillotine 2.’ So there you go. However , renting G2 on a British DV-R turned out to be a mistake. About 45 minutes into it, the picture began to scramble. Bummer. Cruddy Brits. Made up for it by watching the bonus footage at the end of G3. Especially the 3 minute-or-so trailer/short made up of ‘raw’ footage from the special effects sessions and dailies of the human-element storyline. Pretty bomber.

Ultratom(!): 'Inframan': it was good to see Danny Lee when he was really young, he had been one of my favourite HK action theater stars when I was in high school. 'Inframan' was super kewl, lots of fun. G2 was frustrating, it was kinda like when your watching your favorite sporting event on TV and its getting towards the end of the match, and BOOM, your signal goes to crap, no audio, picture nothing, the gods are working against you, and they demand a sacrifice... er, um...
well maybe not quite like that but you get the general idea...

KAIJU-13: Gamera2 (’96); Gamera3 (’99)

d.d. tinzeroes: And so it was that Peat’s education in the Canon was complete. This Session was the first to be held at an alternate location, even it was just Peat’s living room, all of five blocks or something away from my place. Ah, well. There was some light discussion of actually fast-forwarding for the first 40 minutes or so of Gamera2, since we had watched that last week. But we ended up just plowing through the whole thing. My comment about ‘Gamera2: Advent of Legion’ has to be that Gam’s opponent: Legion, is probably one of the all time great ‘original’ kaijus created after 1990, or after 1980, for that matter. Especially if you compare him to the original stuff Toho was coming up for with the Godzilla ‘Heisei’ era films (I mean, come on, Destroyah’s alright. But Fire Rodan? Space Godzilla? Battra?) or the more recent stuff (Ogra from Godzilla:Millenium; Megaguirus from GxM). Legion’s bad-ass! During the break between the two films, I went to the Sev for more beer. At the counter, the computer started freaking out and I the thought that Soldier Legions might crash through the door to eat the silicon. Back at Peat’s Place, we downloaded the three-minute trailer to the new Gojira x Mechagojira on Peat’s laptop and watched that. Then it was on to Gamera3. Did I mention Ultratom(!) screams like a woman? Especially when I make him jump (every goddamn time) when the Legion first shows itself in the subway tunnel, but also in G3: Revenge of Iris, when the, uh, ‘dehydrated’ body falls from the ceiling. Hardee har har har! G3 is certainly one of the best daikaiju eiga out there. I’m a little hesitant to declare it, as others have, as ‘the standard.’ I feel such a classification is unfair, because G3, while original, is also very much in the same vein as ‘Pulp Fiction,’ in that what we have is a film which takes an entire genre, culls the best elements from this enormous corpus of pre-existing work, and creates something ‘new.’ Of course, the problem is that its not really ‘new’ at all. G3 may very well be the first ‘postmodern daikaiju eiga’ (However, Shusuke Kaneko’s similar attempt in GMK fell short, I believe. Although by no fault of his own, it was merely the nature of the beast, or kaiju, as the case may be).

Ultratom(!): The debate as to whether or not to fast forward through the parts of ‘Gamera 2’ we'd already seen was put to rest about as soon as the video started playing, we were all sucked into G2, just like we knew we would. I get totally into these films, which D.D. exploits at every Given opportunity, be it a silicon based life form jumping at the screen unexpectedly, or a 'dehydrated' victim of Iris falling from the rafters, every time I'm taken off guard, and everytime in perfect sync with the events on screen D.D. grabs, hits, or shouts at yours truly.... I shall have my revenge 1 day. The 'VideoDaikaiju' version of Gamera2 we had was excellently subtitled and the picture quality is about as good as it gets with VHS, also think there was a couple of scenes in this version that somehow were omitted in the other version we had seen. After G2 we watched some trailers for 'Godzilla X MechaGodzilla' online, I'm with holding any sort of judgment until I see the actual film. As the opening sequences for G3 started I found myself with a HUGE smile on my face, I love this film, good plot, good acting, amazing effects, the modelwork and matting is some of the best out there. Unfortunately one of the side effects of seeing this film is that you start to have an affinity with this gigantic jet powered, fire-spitting turtle. While this is understandable and appreciated by a small percentage of the population, the majority of the populace will laugh and ostracize you when they find out you spent $30 on a plastic turtle action figure.... and I wonder why I can't get a date.