Thursday, February 26, 2015

No Future: Demeking

Demeking the Sea Monster is sold as a kaiju film, but that's really stretching it. There is a giant, city-destroying monster involved, but it's seen for about as much time as Clover is. And like Cloverfield, and Monsters next year, this is more about people that the monster, or at least the prophecy of the monster, impacts than the monster itself. Demeking is really a story of a couple of disaffected people, with a ten minute kaiju sequence thrown in. Further, Demeking is referred to as a space monster in the film, not sea monster any more than Kraa the Sea Monster turned out to be.


In the openning, Hachiya drives among a blighted industrial landscape similar to the one from All Monsters Attack. This gives the audience a sense of time. 1970, when Japan's industries were indifferent to pollution, the era when Godzilla vs Hedorah was made.

Remember when pollution was a family value?

The majority of the action happens in 1970, when our protagonist, Kameoka, is in high school. Kameoka is socially awkward, dislikes school, and would rather hang out with his middle-school aged friends, forming the Tanoura Exploration Club. Anything to get away from his dreary reality. The film has some notes of Gamera the Brave, with the bored kids trying to make their own fun, but Gamera had more focus.

So, not the school type.

The town has a dreary little fun park, but it seems as listless as everything else. But When Kameoka meets Hachiya, Hachiya reveals that he has a desting. To fight Demeking. Hachiya could become the head of the club if he wanted it. He has a motorcycle. When he suddenly leaves for Tokyo, however, he leaves behind a treasure hunt for the boys. And suddenly, thre's magic in their lives. Something to investigate, something to to. Something unknown.

Out of the tunnel of boredom, into the sunlight of adventure.

In the end, they come up with a large banner. When spread out on the beach, is says "Space Monster Demeking Witness Koichi Hachiya, 2019" With a large painting of a footprint, a clever subversion of the giant footprint trope that goes all the way back to the black and white King Kong.

Clever subversion of a kaiju trope, the monster's footprint.

It's difficult to portray boredom in a film without boring the audience. Demeking is mostly successful. The pace is leasurely, with many shots of the fun park's Ferris wheel turning lazily, and many scenes of Hachiya and Kameoka doing dull or repetitive things. Anyone coming expecting a giant monster trashing Japan is going to be sorely dissappointed, and the marketing of the film as a kaiju work doesn't help. I'd read a few reviews and knew what to expect, but someone who picks up the film because the tag line is "Terror Lies Beneath" is going to be sorely dissappointed.

It's about boredom, not being able to do what you want.

Demeking arrives, like Ghidorah, in a meteor. And I wonder if there isn't a certain amount of influence from King Ghidorah. Demeking is best described as a huge, walking snail with a barnacle cluster for a shell. It has a breath weapon, which it uses to destroy the oil refinery it landed in (shades of Gamera) because without another monster to fight, what else is there to do with a breath weapon?

Demeking blows up a refinery.

Demeking blazes a trail of destruction, and in its wake, it leaves dozens of eggs. Kameoka chases it down, confronts the creature, only to wake up. It was a dream.

Demeking leaving eggs behind it.

Two years later, Kameoka meets his buddies again. He is still in high school, but he's writing a novel about Hachiya and Demeking. In a piece of truth in fiction, he is more enthusiastic about telling people about it than he is in actually writing it. The last we see of it is Kameoka's empty desk. Has he given up? Or was the novel finished? Haochiya has taken several part-time jobs, but he's still dissaffeced and aimless, even though his father tries to get him to take his life seriously.


Demeking uses its kaiju in a very dfferent way than other films. The creature is more a subplot in the film, a dream Kameoka has. TV Topes calls this Rent-a-zilla, where the kaiju appears, but itn't the full focus of the film. The most famous example is probably the Stay-Puft marchmallow man from Ghostbusters. As it gets easier to put CG into films, it gets easier to introduce a kaiju this way. Unfortunately, the English marketing team seems to have latched onto this as the main feature of the film.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kaiju as Demo Reel: Geharha The Dark and Long-Haired Monster

Normally, I prepare myself for a kaiju film. I'll look it up on IMDB, TV Tropes and Wikipedia, so I have some idea of the background of the film. With Chohatsu Daikaiju Gehara, or Gehara: The Dark and Long-Haired Monster a 20-minute short from Kiyotaka Taguchi, I have basically no idea what I'm getting into. This is the debut directoral effort from Kiyotaka Taguchi, who has gone on to work on Ultraman Ginga and other Tokusatsu series.

Geharha, with an uncharacteristic explosion behind him

The opening is promising. The classic fisherman on a boat used in so many films, from Godzilla 1954 to Pacific Rim. Something is interfereing with the engines, and then something surfaces, and the sailors are pulled out of the cabin by HAIR! Yeah, this is going to be fun. We have already established what this film is in less than two minutes. The classic monster from the great unknown sea, and it's not going to be serious.

What terrifies men? HAIR!

Hideo is a journalist, another kaiju film classic. He enconters an unspecified expert that says the monster might be a Keukegen. A little digging (by me) discovers that these are hairy spirits of Japanese folklore. A look into that discovers that Lik the Chinese and Hells, the Japanese have a lot of spirits.

The Keukegen Spirit. In bronze, apparently.

Our reporter goes to an odd shrine, putting me in mind of 2008's Monster X Strikes Back, to find out more about Geharha. It turns out that the great seal, which is implied to have imprisoned the Great Geharha, a plot device used in the first Reborth of Mothra film, has been broken.

What do you want, outlander?

Film crews track Gaharha's movement towards urban area Kanazawa, which I don't think has ever been attacked by a kaiju before. As a reporter describes the approach of the monster, two goofy kids are seen jumping up and down in the background, clearly enjoying being on television, not really taking the approach of the monster seriously. This portrayal of kids as senseless reminds me of the relentless dances that infested the mid-sixties kaiju films such as Frankenstein vs Baragon, Ebrah, Horror of the Deep, and the first Gamera film. Kids these days. And those days.

Woah, there's a giant monst--hey are we live?

When attacked by the military, Geharha responds with a reek, which I suspect is like burning hair. With the military stymied, an inventor steps in, and deploys the Gas Vortical Device. Which, when we get a close look at it, is just a gigantic fan. But once its hair is blown back, the tanks can home on on a vulnerable spot no longer hidden by hair.

Menacing the way none but Hedorah is

Geharha retreats to the mouintains, and falls into a lake. The End appears on screen, but then a UFO, similar to the ones from Invasion of Astro Monster uses a beam to pull Geharha out of the water, now clearly an homage to Invasin of Astro-Monster. Silver-clad aliens then theraten to use Geharha to destroy the world unless all humans will bown down to them.

So, not quite done yet...

We're going to take over the world and make you all wear shades.

What follows is a trailer for Gehara: Monster Martial Law, which looks brilliantly silly, with the aliens attempting to subjugate Earth. It loosk faster-paced, and has a lot of explosions.

What terrifies men? HAIR!

More than anything, Geharha: The Dark and Long-Haired Monster feels lke a demo reel for someone who wants to get into kaiju film. It's compact, getting in a large number of kaiju tropes in its twenty-minute running time, a whirlwind tour of such film. It wastes no time, but it doesn't introduce much that is new, either. The monster Geharha is new, but it doesn't do anything unusual. It rampages, and is defeated by a combination of the military and new sicence. There's little time to paint the human characters in anything but broad strokes. Still, it's effective for what it is, and clearly netted the director interest, because he's got work.

Next week: Growing up in the Seventies. And a Kaiju.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

An Opportunity Wasted: Cloverfield

Cloverfield is a film that helps to solidify the sea change in kaiju films. After Godzilla: Finals Wars, kaiju film began to shrug it shoulders, attemt to break the bonds of expectation. Gamera the Brave is a meditation on the relationship why Gamera is a friend to all children. Monster X Strikes Back is a kaiju comedy. The trend continues with Monsters, Death Kappa, and Earth Defence Widow. Film makers were beginning to understand that Kaiju films didn't just have to arrive looking like a Godzilla film. It could be anything from a brightly-colored comedy to a serious film about international affairs. Writer Drew Goddard, director Matt Reeves, and producer JJ Abrams decided to make a movie about the worm's-eye view of a monster attack. To put the audience not in the typical omniscient point of view, but rather as if by someone who was experiencing the attack, utilizing the immediacy of a found footage film. It's an excellent premise, marred by several major missteps.

Wait, where's the monster?

In the supplementary material, JJ Abrams talks about wanting a monster as iconic as Godzilla. The essential problem is that you can't have a monster that is iconic if you do not show it. Clover is an interesting monster, but its presence is largely felt, rather than seen, throughout the film. And therein lies one of its major faults. Kaiju film is about the monster, and Godzilla is iconic because we see it. It doesn't hide behind mountains, buildings, or fog. Its actions determine its fearsomeness, not its appearance. The Host shows its monster, in broad daylight, early in the film. It remains fearsome.


The film's second, and most fatal flaw, is the unlikability of the characters. I'm not interested in whether 20 somethings sleep with each other, and there is a stunning lack of detail of development in those characters. The party is for Rob, who is leaving to be a vice-president in Japan, and that's all we learn about him. They talk around their actual jobs, they don't have anything outside their jobs and relationships with the other peo[ple in the room. No hobbies, no useful skills, as if they were intended to be blank everyman cyphers and just turned out to be boring. The first eighteen minutes of the film go nowhere, and it's frankly a relief that the monster shows up when it does. Rob is the witness, and like all the characters, a blank slate. Thus his reactions to what's going on around him is a constant stream of "Oh my Gods." Literally eighty-four times, one for each minute of the film. Which is especially aggrivating when factoring in the eighteen minute non-monster portion of the film and ten minutes of credits. That said, the film is a good presentation of New York under attack. The panic, the filmakers' insistence that they not tell the audience everything. The concept is good. Unfortunately, the people described by the script let that concept down.

I want to spend an hour and a half with... this guy.

Cloverfield is, in many ways an attempt to deal with the tragedy of 9/11. A lot of the imagery, such as the billowing dust clouds when the Empire State Building falls, the falling papers, come from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers. Godzilla was much the same, utilizing the imagery of destroyed Tokyo as a stand-in for Hiroshma and Nagasaki. But Honda wanted to make radiation, an invisible killer, visible, and Cloverfield doesn't seem to have such a deep ambition.

Rolling clouds of dust.

Cloverfield also uses the smaller monsters trope from The Return of Godzilla, which will be reused in Pacific Rim. Further, Godzilla has a staid, documentary feel that is similar to Cloverfield. Where we see peple fleeing past the camera in a typical Godzilla film, in Cloverfield, the point of view is that of those fleeing characters. And although the ground shakes at Clover's footsteps, this film is canny enough to avoid the over-the-top cars jumping of the New York-based 1998 Godzilla.

Marlena saves our douchecanoe hero, dooms herself in the process.

The film is quite aware of its roots. Single frames from King Kong, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and Them have been sneaked in. Beast and Kong are both set in New York. During the openning logos, the subtle boom boom can be heard, similar to 1954 Godzilla, where the kaiju's footsteps can be heard during the Toho logo. The director also confirms that, despite the Cinéma vérité lack of music, the song over the credits, Roar! by Michael Giacchino, is a nod to Akira Ifukube, who supplied so much excellent music for the Godzilla franchise.

Marlene is the least bland character, because when the parasites attack, she beats the crap out of one with a piece of pipe she's found. This single piece of action is just about the only initiative any of the characters take, other than Rob's Quixotic quest to save Beth. The scenes in the subway are similar to those of Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion, which also involves smaller kaiju-associated monsters in a subway tunnel.

Don't look behind you.

Unfortunately, she is rewarded for her heroism with a disease or poison that the parasites carry, similar to the mysterious deadly disease from Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Which is acknowledged in the film with a single frame of the rhedasaurus. This being a modern film, instead of passing out, Marlena begins to weep blood and then spurts blood horrible onto a screen. That's what she gets for saving tool Hud!

The rewards of stepping out of your usual role, missie!.

The military is more complex than the characters. When the foursome (which becomes a threesome temporarily) are picked up by the military, they are at first retained, and then let go by a sympathetic soldier. Soldiers are shown with wounds, so they are directly invlved in the fight. Although the hospital scene is quick, it's a good piece of texture. Men are fightng and dying. On the other hand, as the four are running, three missiles streak overhead and smash into buildings. Ooops.

Marlena saves our douchecanoe hero, dooms herself in the process.

Despite the similarities to King Kong, there aren't that many direct nods to the film until Hud, Beth, and Rob try to escape from the destruction in a helicopter. Despite being his directly by a bomb attack, Clover reaches out and snashes the helicopter, the same way Kong does to the biplanes. At this point, as the camera gets hit hard, we get another single-frame image, this time of Kong. Director Reeves is clearly DVD-savvy,and knows these little hints and nods will be found.

Where'd that idea come from? King Kong.

Clover's design is certainly unique, although there may be hints of Return of the Jedi's rancor about the face. It certainly looks alien, with the liong and spindly front limbs and stubby rear limbs. Despite what the director and producer say, it does not look like a viable aquatic animal. How would it swim?

Clover, among the skyscrapers of New York.

The most famous problem with the film lies in its overexecution of the hand-held verisimilitude. The shaky-cam is hugely annoying, and used as an excuse not to show the monster. I can tolerate a five-minute shake Youtube video, but spending an hour with a shallow jerk who holds the camera like a Parkinsons' patient with hyperactivity disorder leaches a lot of the interest out of the film. It is possible to find a stabilized version of Cloverfield on the net, which is a vastly less annoying experience. You get to see what is happening around the characters, even though you still have to listen to Hud. However, it does not fix the hide the monster problem. Clover is an excellent design, easily as interesting as anything see in Pacific Rim. Why not show the audience the monster you want to make iconic?

Marlena saves our douchecanoe hero, dooms herself in the process.

Cloverfield starts with an excellent premise, but really drags it down by giving us unsympathetic characters, hiding the monster that it's intended to showcase, and overusing the shaky, unprofessional camera work. An opportunity wasted.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mimetic Mutation, Kaiju Becomes Comedy: Monster X Strikes Back/Attack the G8 Summit

Some ideas have long, full lives. After being kicked around and taken seriously for years, even decades, there's often a moment when someone comes along to take the mickey out of it. In America, this person is often Mel Brooks, who spoofed Westerns with Blazing Saddles, Space Opera with Spaceballs. Each time, the parody has marked a trend on the wane. Westerns had been ubiquitous in the sixties, and were starting to fade by the advent of Blazing Saddles. It was inevitable, then that the idea of the Kaiju film would also mutate. 2008's Monster X Strikes Back/Attack the G8 Summit is one of two kaiju parodies to appear after Final Wars: Monster X Strikes Back, and Death Kappa.

While these parodies of course mock the genre, they also preserve it. Very few films are using rubber suited monsters these days. Godzilla was done in full CG in Japan for the first time in Always Sunny on Third Street 2. Although it's a brief appearance, it's quite credible. Low budget satires, then, are a way to keep the art of suitimation alive.

FULLY CG Japanese Godzilla, looking pretty good.

In previous kaiju films, the world has occasionally taken an interest in the plight of poor Japan, constantly under attack from various monsters. The off-screen United Nations is referred to in Gamera vs Zigra, for example. But here, the leaders of eight powerful nations (Japan, the US, Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, and Russia) are together for talks. Each leader is a broad stereotype of the Japanese perception of the country: Canada constantly defers to Great Britain, the American is obsessed with his popularity, the French Prime Minister is looking to get the cute translator into bed.

Our politicial goofballs.

The other protagonists are the kaiju film regulars, the reporters. While the politicians argue, they are our common man, the people who go out and actually solve the plot problem of Guilala. Wandering around the Lake Toya region, they discover a group of locals performing a strange religious dance to Take-Majin, a warrior spirit.

FULLY CG Japanese Godzilla, looking pretty good.

Primi Minister Ibe is on the defensive from the rest if the G8, having not reduced Japan's Carbon emissions. He is also suggering some intestinal distress, possibly echoing the 1980 conference in which Saburo Okita stood in for the recently-deceased Masayoshi Ohira who had literally died days before, as well as Geroge H. W. Bush's well-known social faux pas involving Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. One of the better running gags for the film is the constant replacement of the G8 banner to reflect first that the world leaders are going to deal with the monster, and then as headquarters for each of the cockamamie schemes they come up with to destroy it. He is eventually replaced by Oizumi, the former Prime Minister.


Sapporo is the town that gets hit, which has been previously attacked by Godzilla in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah and Gamera in Attack of Legion. So it's no stranger to getting wrecked.

Guilala is the monster from the 1967 film Giant Space Monster Guilala, known in the US as The X From Outer Space. In fact, Guilala's initial rampage is grainy footage recyvled from the first film. a fair amount of the rubber suit footage is recycled from the older film, but it would be unfair to compare this film with Godzilla-inspired remakes such as the 1999 Yonggary. This is not a remake, but a not-so-gentle ribbing from a director who knows his kaiju film. There is more to this film than merely having a monster smash a city.


The jokes come fast. The World Leaders use a toy Guilala to show its location on a map. A kid, who appears from nowhere, suggests the name Guilala. He is hauled away, as the audience has wanted to many of Gamera's boy protagonists hauled away, but everyone starts using the name Guilala anyway.


Several of the world leaders come up with schemes for destroying Guilala. The Japanese launch their more recent missile, but Guilala simple eats it. The Italian lures Guilala into a giantic pit (shades of King Kong vs Godzilla). The Russians attempt to poison it with their newest development, Polonium 210 (which killed Russian political refugee Alexander Litvinenko). The Germans attempt poison gas. The United Kngdom tries brainwashing. The French Prime Minister doesn't manage to get a plan off, he's too busy trying to get into the pants of his translator. This serves as a vital plot point later on. As each of the leaders fails to destroy Guilala, their flag is reduced to half-staff.

Guilala getting his brain fried.

When the Brits fail, the Japanese prime minster proposes the use of a nuclear weapon. Nukes have been brought up as an option in several kaiju films, such as King Kong vs Godzilla, and there is that scene in The Return of Godzilla where the Soviets and the Americans argue over using atomic weapons on Godzilla. They have been used in the recent American films Pacific Rim and 2014 Godzilla. But this This is of course against everything Japan has stood for since World War II, as the only country that has been subjected to nuclear weapons during wartime.

We must drop a nuke!.

Former Minister Oizumi, it turns out, is not the minister at all, but the ruler of the North Country (unnamed, but clearly Kim Jon Il and North Korea.). See the Pulgasari article for the complex relationship between North Korea and Japan. The translators, it turns out, are his also, and have been concealing M-16s... somewhere. All he really wants is to drop his Potaedong 55 missile with a nuclear warhead (North Korea had made its first nuclear test in 2006, two years before this film was released, and has done so twice more since then).

Instant villain.

Luckily, the reporter has been working with the villagers on summoning Take-Majin, a protective spirit or god destined to fight Guilala. Take-Majin is a warrior spirit, similar to Daimajin. More humanoid than the kaiju, I wonder if these large fighting spirits are the ancestors of Japan's giant fighting robots. Lord Take-Majin has multiple arms like a Hindu god, but a more pleasant face than Daimajin.

Lord Take-Majin.

The day is saved by the French Prime Minister, who sneaks into the G8 summit that has been taken over by the Supreme Commander and distracts the translators by flashing them. A melee ensues, but Kim manages to get his Potaedong launched.

The French Prime Minister to the rescue.

Lord Take-Majin intercepts the missile, and fights with Guilala. It's a pretty classic wrestling match, as you would find in just about any super sentai show. The end comes when Take-Majin throws a chakram, decapitating Guilala.


And that's all for Guilala.

The film is clearly made on the cheap, and I say that undersatanding that the director cared a lot more for this film than did the producers and directors of, say, Kraa the Sea Monster. But it's reasonably funny, clearly understands where its roots lie, and took some time with the script. The jokes are broad, the action based on stereotypes of countries, but there's a bit of effort to make them not completely cliche. It's a fun film for the Kaiju groupie, if not a stellar acheievement.