Today’s selection: Dragon Blue (1996, dir. Takuya Wada)
Available from: ADV
I already wrote about this movie once for a previous ‘blog, so I’ll just copy-and-paste:
There’s a misperception in the North American anime community that the recently-formed Section 23 Films can be referred to interchangeably with the defunct ADV, simply because the latter reincarnated into the former. They are different creatures for two reasons that I like to make a case for. The first is that ADV used to be able to cut hella good trailers, which has completely fallen to the wayside in Section 23′s releases, but it’s the second distinction that pertains to this review. You see, ADV had a short-lived tokusatsu imprint called Rubbersuit Pictures, a banner under which they released Destroy All Monsters (the ultimate kaiju movie), Orochi, the Eight Headed Dragon (which tells the story of the birth of Japan, only with giant robots), Gunhed (the cult-classic mecha movie based on an unused Godzilla script), the awesome Daimajin trilogy, the Yokai Monsters trilogy (which tokusatsu authority August Ragone once called the best thing ADV ever did), and the Heisei Gamera trilogy (which are probably the best kaiju movies ever made, aside from arguably Destroy All Monsters). They put out this assortment of classic, excellent Japanese monster films, and then… they also released Dragon Blue. Unlike their other titles, Dragon Blue is not a major studio film (Gaga is fun for cult stuff, but it’s no Toho or Daiei), has only a human-sized monster, and was likely made for life on the cheapo video circuit rather than multiple theatrical rereleases.
The plot is of Mayuko (Hiroko Tanaka), who at the start of the movie is approached by a ghost of a feng shuei master and told that she’s a dragon person who can defeat demons. She takes an internship with an occult investigator (despite not really wanting to be an exorcist), who gives her bracelets to suppress her dragonity and sends her to investigate a coastal town where young women are disappearing and their boyfriends are turning up ripped to shreds (coincidentally just what Mayuko’s been having nightmares about!). She mingles with the locals, and the movie evolves into a sort of who-dunnit, only with a perp who’s also a monstrous, rapey fishman (like Twin Peaks meets Humanoids From the Deep). When the time comes to confront the scaly debaucher (whose identity is, actually, a bit of a twist), Mayuko has the option of either becoming his concubine or letting her inner dragon out for a monster brawl.
This could actually have made a decent first installment of a series (like, for example, Eko Eko Azarak), though there was never any follow-up as far as I can tell. The monster suit, created by Steve Wang, is Hollywood level (for the time it’s on screen), but the use of it to hump naked women keeps the movie firmly in the grindhouse realm. I admit, the first time I saw the movie, I was upset that it doesn’t hold a candle to the god-tier quality of the other films in the Rubbersuit lineup, and I pretty much dismissed it as softcore porn. However, watching it again after several years and several hundred exploitation nasties, I find that I don’t mind it so much anymore, and I’m glad to have re-tried it.
Getting back to the distinction between ADV and Section 23, the new company has its own tokusatsu releasing branch, Switchblade Pictures. Of the 20+ films in their catalogue, none of them are anywhere near as good as Dragon Blue, which as I mentioned was at least two grades lower than the next schlockiest thing Rubbersuit ever released. I like some of Switchblade’s stuff, such as Zombie Hunter Rika and Ki-Gai, but Dragon Blue, even for the relatively mediocre movie that it is, looks like high art in comparison. Therein lies the difference between the companies.