Thursday, November 27, 2014

Another Thanksgiving Turkey: Godzilla vs Megaguirus

With Godzilla 2000 a success, and Godzilla 1998 fading in the rear view mirror, Toho decided to embark on a third distinct Godzilla series. In the Milennium series, each film inhabited its own continuity, although each one refers back to the 1954 Godzilla. In fact, Godzilla vs Megaguirus goes so far as to replicate several of the rampage scenes with the new suit, apparently to let the viewer know that Godzilla 1954 happened, but at the same time, apparently Dr. Serizawa didn't manage to kill the monster with his oxygen destroyer. And so the monster returned in 1966 to destroy Japan's first nuclear power plant. So while this film, like Godzilla 2000 acknowledges the original source, it differs in that it doesn't acknowledge the entire film.

Godzilla vs Megaguirus recreates Godzilla 1954 with virtually the same technology

Despite this, the antagonist monster comes from Rodan. Did Rodan happen in this continuity? It's possible, since both Rodans die in the volcanic eruption. When discussing Godzilla and continuity, it's really best not to look too deeply for consistency.

In a secondary piece of back story, the Godzilla attack on Osaka in 1996 is shown. Again, the military is valorized, brave men and women who stand between Godzilla and ordinary society. In 1996, they are ineffective, but by 2001, they have created the G-Grasper unit, again an elite unit that the rest of the military aspires to be part of. And they have cool jackets, aviator glasses, a baseball caps.

Fighter Pilots got that swagger.

G-Grasper also has a version of the Super X, the Griffon, a large vector-thrust aircraft. Unlike previous Super X versions, it is not designed to take on Godzilla directly. It has no fire mirror or armor, relying on agility. It does have some pretty potent photon guns, however, certainly enough to get Godzilla's attention.

The Griffon, Super X Mark IV or so

But the military still does best with civilian contractors. And the military needs an inventor, who also serves as the audience's intermediary so the military can explain what it's doing. This Godzilla, for example, is predictable. It only comes when there's a radioactive energy source. Japan has been surviving on clean solar, wind, and other clean energies.

Godzilla is a proactive demonstrator against nuclear energy

The weapon to take care of Godzilla this time around is the Dimensional Tide, a teeny-weenie black hole designed to be deployed by a satellite. On a test shot, it opens a dimensional hole to the past. A meganulon flies through the hole, deposits its egg, and then chucks off back into the past.

200 million year old football, or something that'll flood Tokyo?

Later, a huge collection of the smaller dragonflies molt on a vertical surface as soldiers shoot at them. Wait, a mass of human-sized insectoid monsters and a larger, primary monster? Where have I seen this before? Oh yes, Gamera: Attack of the Legion.

Godzilla vs Megaguirus recreates Godzilla 1954 with virtually the same technology

When they reach Godzilla, they attack, and begin to drain him of vital energy. At the same time, the cloud of giant insects prevents the Dimensional tide from locking onto Godzilla. But they take the shot, and Godzilla takes a small black hole to the face. And then gets back up.

Black Hole Incoming!

When the giant Megaguirus finally shows up, it's an interesting monster. A huge, spike-covered dragonfly. It can vibrate its wings and create cutting waves, and like the smaller versions of itself, it can take energy from a target with its stinger. The cry is uninspired, and the combat with Godzilla is dull. Kaiju fighting draws heavily on sumo wrestling. Without this, the combat is often very unsatisfying. Even Ishiro Honda didn't do particularly well in Godzilla vs Mothra, although he brought in some innovations, such as Mothra dragging Godzilla along the ground. Here we have no such creative spirit.

Not just Guirus, MEGAguirus

And that's how you get ride of a giant dragonfly

After surprisingly uninspiring fight, Godzilla destroys Megaguirus the way we want him to--a blast of his atomic heat ray. The Big G then goes on a rampage across Tokyo, heading for the Science Institute. It turns out Government minister/industrialist kept the plasma energy secret, even after it was banned in 1996. They fire the Dimension Tide again, and Godzilla seems to get annihilated by the black hole, and Tokyo has a gigantic crater in its center. Which is kind of odd. Godzilla had headed straight for one building to destroy the Plasma generator. Clearly the Dimensional Tide leveled a lot more than Godzilla already had, and possibly more than he would have. So the military, as with Godzilla 1998, causes more damage than Godzilla does.

Again, this is primarily the military's fault. Godzilla was just after one building

Despite some interesting ideas, the film plods. Until the frenetic pointlessness of Godzilla: Final Wars, this will be a low point, financially and artistically, of the Millennium series. Often, when Godzilla's on screen, he's in close-up as if it were an actor, rather than far shots that make the monster feel large and powerful. There isn't a lot of Godzilla smashing stuff, and the fight with Megaguirus, as noted, is uninspired. These factors, combined with the uninteresting human plotline, lead to a weak film.

Kinda too close to Godzilla

It does have one enormously redeeming feature, however. Godzilla has long been in the shadow of Ikiru Ifukube's iconic music. Films of the franchise that have tried other styles and have usually come off as weak, or quickly dated. Michiru Ôshima is the first composer to successfully strike out on her own, creating a drum-heavy, ominous heart-beat like, followed by somber brass, a sufficiently resonant theme for Godzilla. While her music here is good, her scores for Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla III and Tokyo SOS are excellent.

Next up, if you can't beat them, recruit them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

More than Kind of Weird: The Attack of the Giant Moussaka

I want you to apprecate this essay for what it is: A dissection of a film in a language I don't understand, and to my knowledge, has never been translated into English. The Attack of the Giant Moussaka is a campy parody of fifties science fiction, including kaiju film, but draws its roots primarily from underground LGBT film. It's not available on DVD in region one, so I've had to watch a low-rez copy from Youtube. It was made on the cheap, although the effects have a charming naivety to them, they aren't horrendous. The copy I'm watching and taking pictures from has French subtitles. I know approximately five words of French. So I may be wrong about a lot of this.

Giant Moussaka. No kidding

At the Athenean Institute for Cosmic Reasearch, they're eityher discussing some sort of space anomaly or planning a party and deciding who to invite. What I'm pretty sure is true is that they're all so gay their lab coats are pink. In case we weren't sure, watching it in a language we didn't understand, for example.

Gay scientists at the Athens Institue of Space, or some such

Across town, a group of drag queens preparing for a night out.

Settling the girls for a night on the town

And there's a morbidly desperate middle-class couple. She gets her cocaine delivered with her pizza, and her husband talks on the phone all through the meal. He appears to be a married-to-his work politician, perhaps appointed. The moussaka iself was made by the English-speaking maid for the politician, the cokehead, and their son. But the boy apparently doesn't like it. He takes it out and feeds it to a dog.

Well, at least the dog will eat the maid's moussaka

Before the pooch can finish his meal, a UFO happens by and beams the remaining moussaka making it huge. And mobile. And apparently sentient. It isn't long before the moussaka is out crushing people in their cars. Seems lucky that they didn't throw King Ghodorah at Athens.

Well, of course the UFO will come by and enbiggen your crappy moussaka

The aliens are scantily-clad women, naturally. Lovely women aliens have been a staple of kaiju films since Miss Namikawa in Invasion of Astro-Monster, although these seem more like Barbella and Flobella in Gamera vs Guiron. There's a whole bit of exposition involving the moussaka and the ocean that I totally didn't get, and which might explain the ending.
From the Planet of the Women, apparently

Despite the campiness, once the moussaka begins to rampage, there's real tragedy. A reporter walks through a backyard filled with bodies, and interviews a traumatized survivor.

My next report will be from an actual abbatoir

The film is cognizant of its roots, showing us psople running away from the giant moussaka, and a trail of bodies it leaves in its wake. As the TV presenters around the world begin to weigh in, the British announcer does in front of an image ot Tower Bridge, famously demolished by Gorgo.

We who suffered under Gorgo send our sympathies to those under the moussaka

The massive and sudden international interest in the Giant Moussacka is interesting, since a lot of the people in the city itself learn what's happening from the television reports. In fact, television is a relentless presence in the film, underscoring so much of the characters' actions. One pair of characters just sit and watch their TV. A television psychic tells us that the Giant Moussaka is a Cancer, with Saggitarius ascendant, giving it a strong personality. A politician (I think) says it's all hallicinations derived from methane. A commentator on television warns that the moussaka is the product of carbon dioxide, and then poisons herself on live television. As far as I can tell, this is not played for laughs.

Well, if we understand the moussaka...

But nobody actually does anything. The Moussaka continues to rampage. It doesn't destroy buildings, and it never actually comes into contact with the police or the military, probably for budgetary reasons.

Just going along, scaring people to death

The phone-talking politician confronts the enormous Moussaka with a pistol. Less than not working, the puckered bullet holes vomit back an toxic liquid, reminiscent of Hedorah, but notably less gruesome.

You just shot Moussaka. What the hell?

The largest killer is not the moussaka itself, but the fear it spreads and the suicides in its wake. Several suicides methods are shown, electricution, pills, and gas. This may be emblematic of the high suicide rate in the LGBT community, but Greece has a spectacualary low suicide rate, one of the lowest in all of Europe. So I really don't have a grasp on what this is all about. The film has no trouble showing the dead in the moussaka's wake.

And going from camp to grim with no transition.

Eventually, the aliens return in their brightly colored UFO, and shrinking the moussaka and turns it back into their lost leader, Garo. Clearly, I've missed a great deal. But the end of the film has one of the scientists, the reporter, the child of the cokehead, and the main drag queen driving, happily eating chocolates, I believe having found a new life together, rolling to some cheery disco.

Happy ending, having found our family

Attack of the Giant Moussaka seems like a more complex film than most on-line reviewers give it credit for. It's not just a spoof, but I'm damned if I can figure out exactly what else it's trying to be. There seems to be some sort of statement about the influence of television, fear, and the privilege of the wealthy. It's certainly not about food. Of course, I'm also saying this not having followed any of the dialog, so take trhat statement with a grain of salt.

Happy ending, having found our family

Next week, I get back to DVDs, so no more blurry pictures! And Godzilla is up against a foe we haven't seen since 1956.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's The Day

My book is available for order from Thunderstorm Books. I have been informed that as of 8 this morning, it is 70% sold out.

This is Hag. It has a cover by Wayne Miller, and an introduction by Laird Barron. And you can buy it at the Thunderstorm Books website. I would write more about this, but I've got that combination of excited and terrified that combines into queasy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree: Yonggary 1999

Several production companies saw the success of the 1998 Godzilla, and smelled money. A few went through ther back catalogues to see if they had any monster franchises to mine. Daniel Pink was rumored to be working on a remake of Reptilicus before his death in 2002.

South Korea looked at its 1967 Yonggary, and decided it was time for a remake. In 1999, enormously popular comedy director Hyung-rae Shim released Yonggary in South Korea. It was not as popular as hoped, and he subsequently reworked (According to Wikipedia, approximately 60% of the film was changed for the 2001 release) it for release in foreign markets. I do not have access to the 1999 version, and like the original Yonggary, it's possible that the original version does not exist. So I'm working with the 2001 version, in the timeline of the 1999 version. Like its inspiration, the 1999 Yonggary creature bears very little resemblance to the previous feature, making it the progenty of 1998 Godzilla that is most like its' parent. The new Yonggary is more human, muscular in build, with spiky pauldrons on its shoulders. The head now has three horns,and the nose horn is practically vestigial.

Yonggary. Looking crappy with his 1999 CG.

In order to appeal to a more international audience, the director chose Caucasian actors, and shot the film in English. The plot proceeds that an underground expedition is exploring some caves, and come across a boneyard of giant creatures. Oddly, this feels like it was the inspiration for Gareth Edwards Godzilla, which features a similar scene of the protagonists discovering a gigantic skeleton.

Dinosaur and giant monster graveyard.

They come to what they've been seeking, a glowing red rock, and take a swing at it. Cue fiery holocaust.


And then we're in space. Hey, there's going to be aliens in this movie!

Aliens. I wonder if they're going to try to control a monster.

The film's major failing is its dialog, delivered by actors that are middleweight, at best. The human side of the story is utterly uncompelling, and the director spends waaaaaay too much time with the tyrannical director of the dig, and the crazy guy who knows about the prophecy that Yonggary will come back and destroy the world. Which means that we're mixing our ancient prophecies with our alien invasion, shades of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. The film functions in very broad cliches, really not bringing any new ideas to the genre. The prophecy is not actually from anywhere. Just a prophecy our crazy and government-hunted paleontologist happens to be aware of. This is the sort of paper-thin justification that makes a script sink, similar to Kraa and Zarkorr. And when a general stands on front of a United Nations Defense Agency sign and shouts that he takes orders from the President, it undermines the credibility of the script.

Credibility gap ahoy!

The aliens proceed with their reanimation program, and Yonggary's fossil come back to life. Again like Godzilla 1998, Yonggary is entirely CG, and from the perspective of 15 years on, it's not good CG. It also doesn't look like the original Yonggary. Wasn't aliens reanimating the dead is a major plot point from Plan 9 From Outer Space. When the military is deployed, they consistently miss Yonggary, and destroy buildings instead. Which is to be expected, since they're namechecking Sidewinder and AMRAM air-to-air missiles, rather than an air-to-ground missile. Maybe it would be better to attack kaiju with tank busters or the hellfire missile. Research isn't that difficult, people!

Yeah. That sort of CG.

The script has enough background in kaiju film to give us the footprint trope, though.

Love that footprint as evidence.LOVE IT!

Throughout the film, the military insists that Yonggary is going to desroy the world. And I have to wonder about that. It's just one monster. It's got some teleporting, but it will clearly take decades to destroy every major city in the world. Imagine it, even at gigantic walking speed. How long would it take for a kaiju to walk to every city of more than a million people on earth? In 2005, 335 cities worldwide had a population of more than a million. That's a lot of cities for one monster to knock down.

Stomp a bunch of people, RULE THE WORLD!

There is also a air jump with experimental weapons to the urban area Yonggary is trashing, yet another scene repeated (albeit with a vastly superior script) in the Gareth Edwards Godzilla. Of course, here the soldiers have experiemental laser weapons and jet packs. And it looks very silly.

We're going to destroy the monster with lasers! Deploy the sharks!

Once they have been deployed, the lead soldier says "Compared to this guy, Godzilla is a pussy." This sort of trash-talk seems to infest kaiju films that are insecure about their status in comparison to other films. We've seen this sort of interfranchise sniping in Gamera, Super Monster, Kraa the Sea Monster, and we will see it again in Godzilla: Final Wars. Trash talk does not make the film look smart or brave, just desperate to look better than something else.


It turns out that Yonggary, like virtually every incantation of Ghidorah, is being controlled by the aliens. And in a very specific reference to Destroy All Monsters, it's being controlled by an implant. This means the implant, like Yonggary, is some two hundred million years old, but apparently, alien technology is built to last.

Wait, I'm what?

There's a threat of a nuke being used to get rid of Yonggary, but deployed on a F-117 fighter-bomber, which to my surprise can handle the B61 nuclear bomb. B ut then the control diamond is destroyed, and Yonggary is no longer under the control of the aliens. And it abruptly turns into a heroic monster, of the late Showa Godzilla sort. It immediately demonstrates its niceness by holding up a crumbling building, allowing the humans below to escape.

Behold Hero Yonggary!

The aliens then deploy Cycor, their own monster. Cycor has four legs and two forward-projecting claws, an armored back, and a long tail with a club at the end. Cycor is a lot more spikey than Yonggary, letting us know it is both aggressive and the bad guy. It also has fire breath, but this is more of the fireball, rather than Yonggary's heat ray, and projects a lightning-like energy discharge from its tail.

Cycor! Who is sharp and has talons ans stuff!

The end of the film is the battle of Cycor and Yonggary, Yonggary having suddenly become our hero. As with a lot of the Showa-era Gamera films, characters cheer on Yonggary, so we know we're supposed to be rooting for him. This was goofy and annoying when children were involved, and it's doubly so when military officers sit helplessly and cheer on the monster they were trying to destroy not fifteen minutes ago.

Yonggary and the whippy tentacles!

Yonggary manages to burn a limb off Cycor, but it grows back as long, whippy tentacles that grab Yonggary. Another blast takes off the head, from which more tentagles grow. And then Yonggary fires its breath weapon down Cycor's neck stump, and the monster explodes. This is similar to Godzilla unleashing its atomic ray directly into Biollante's throat. Godzilla doees the same in Godzilla 2000, and Godzilla 2014. Although this film came out the same year as Godzilla 2000, Cycor and the aliens were added for the 2001 release, so it's quite possible G2K was in influence here.


The very end has Yonggary trussed up, being flown to an island where it can adjust to the 20th century. The masses of helicopters may have given Del Toro the idea for how to transport the jaegers inPacific Rim.

Better than the balloons used to move Kong.

I would be interested in watching the original 1999 Yonggary, but only once. The film is weighted down with terrible dialog, scenes that go nowhere, manufactured conflict, and paper thin character development. Even the monster destruction is unsatisfying, lacking any sort of emotional grip on the audience because we don't care who is getting stomped on.

That said, next week is going to be a weird one, as Greek food becomes the gigantic city-destroying monster. And I don't understand Greek, and I can't read the French subtitles.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remember When We Supported the Troops?

It was easy to support the troops when they were far away. Now they're back. And according to the Veterens' Administration last year, they're killing themselves at a rate of 22 a day. Don't just say you care about vets today. Talk with them. Make sure they're OK. And do it for the other 364.

Suicide in the Trenches
By Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kaiju Neo-Brutalism: Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris

In addition to the return of Toho's Godzilla, 1999 also saw the return of his greatest rival, Gamera. Director Shûsuke Kaneko and writer Kazunori Itô had created two stunning Gamera films, some of the finest kaiju films ever made. And they had done so with half the budget of Toho's Godzilla series of the same period. As the difference between the Japanese Godzilla and the 1998 American film demonstrate, attention to detail does matter. Itô and Kaneko clearly love the series, and spent a lot of time coming up with the plot, fleshing out the characters, and studying Kaiju films, finding their tropes, and subverting them.

The film starts with an old enemy, Gyaos, star of two Showa-era Gamera films, and the main antagonist in Gamera, Guardian of the Universe.

Dead Gyaos aren't much fun

Directly after this, a deep-sea vessel discovers a graveyard of not one, but dozens of dead Gameras. So our heroic turtle isn't just an anomaly, he's part of a long line of Gameras. This brings up questions unanswered by the first film of the Heisei seriesd, as well as calling all the way back to the original 1965 Gamera. It also imparts a history to both of the Gyaos and Gamera himself.


Previously, Gamera had a connection to Asagi Kusanagi. That link was sacrificed in the previous film, and here, Gamera is much more destructive than he has been. Additionally, that previously-benign relationship can be poisonous if the individual taking that psychic connection has a lot of issues. Ayana Hirasaka, who forms a link with the Iris guardian, has been traumatized by the loss of her parents and the bullying of her fellow students. When given the power to appease her appetite for destruction, it doesn't go well for anyone. This is a definite swerve for the series. Rather than concentrating on the monsters, The Revenge of Iris looks at the trauma caused by the giant monsters that stomp through cities, examnining the broken lives in their wake. Gareth Edwards' 2014 Godzilla had moments of ths, but wasn't as willing to put an unflinching eye to the human misery around the monsters' feet.

Stompin' through town!

Gamera's introduction, twenty-three minutes into the film, is brutal. After burning a Gyaos over Tokyo, he lands. As he walks, buildings crumble and people are crushed under the debris. Later estimates of fifteen to twenty thousand people are killed ast Gamera pursues the Gyaos without respect for the humans at its feet. It breathes fire through buildings to get a better angle, blows up streets with near-misses. In the end, Tokyo is a sea of fire, much as it was during the 1954 Godzilla rampage. And Gamera is again put on the military's hit list.

Gamera wrecked this place.

Meanwhile, Asagi is raising Iris, a tentacle monster that is a guardian spirit similar to the Phoenix. It grows from a small snail-like thing to a huge, gossamer-winged tentacle beast with arrowhead-like spiky bits. Like the Legion Queen, the construction is amazingly detailed, and must have been incredibly complex to work. Like Gamera, it's no angel, requiring body fluids to feed on. And humans are plentiful and convenient.

Young Iris.

Monster Snacks.

Iris all growed up.

It has been fascinating watching Godzilla and Gamera swap ideas back and forth. In the late sixties, Godzilla attempted to court Gamera's audience. In Gamera's Heisei series, many ideas are borrowed from Godzilla. The heavily tentacled form of Iris is reiminscent of Biollante, especially when Gamera gets a tentacle through the hand. f Also the concept that the two monsters come from the same source, although in this case, gamera and Iris share the same creators, rather than sharing DNA. The idea that the friendly creature is from time immemorial awakened to fight its ancient enemies is central to Godzilla 2014.

Iris all grown up.

The biggest subversion of the usuak kaiju tropes is that we do not see the ultimate fight. Gamera defeate Iris, which should have been its ally, and then, wounded, must confront dozens of Gyaos. But Gamera has his badass walk through the burning ruins before roaring a chellenge at his enemies. Gamera will never stop fighting. But we never see that last fight against the Gyaos. We never see the end.

Gamera and Iris, face to face.

Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris is an impressive film, well made, with a compelling plot, and good characters. It actually has less Gamera action in it than the previous two films in the franchise, but monster action defines a kaiju film, and is not what makes it great.Gamera 3 involves the audience in the lives of the people impacted by the kaiju, gives them very real jobs to do. Even the unlikeable characters are memorable.

You know who else made a comeback in 1999? Yonggary, of course.