Today’s selection: Death Kappa (2010, dir. Tomo’o Haraguchi)
Subgenre: Kaiju, Yokai
Available from: Media Blasters
This is an old review from when the movie first came out, reposted from a previous ‘blog:
God bless Fever Dreams Productions. Somehow, the US video distributor Media Blasters figured that Japan wasn’t producing enough crazy movies to sate their Tokyo Shock label, so they decided to finance some for themselves under the Fever Dreams moniker. They’ve been steadily improving, starting with Death Trance, then moving on to Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, and now Death Kappa. They also might be the inspiration for the Sushi Typhoon imprint.
Death Kappa, as you may guess, is about a kappa, a traditional Japanese water goblin, in a category of apparitions called yokai. The director, Tomoo Haraguchi, is no stranger to yokai, since he also directed the movie Sakuya, Slayer of Demons (which had a kappa in it), and the Kibakichi series, about a samurai werewolf (and Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Discoclub Layla, which is an entertaining film, but not in keeping with the yokai theme). Other than that, he did special effects work on Ring 0, Ashura, and most importantly the 1990′s Gamera trilogy (significant for being the best giant monster movies ever). My point is, the dude knows his way around monsters.
The movie tells the story of Kanako (Misato Hirata, best known as the capsule monster-wielding cheerleader Konomi in Ultraman Mebius, one of only four humans I know of in Ultraman to get an action figure), a failed pop idol who’s leaving the big city to move in with her grandmother. Upon arriving in town, she sees her grandmother run down by a group of hooligans, who, to add insult to fatality, toss her family’s kappa shrine into the ocean. Kanako takes over as shrine maiden, and discovers that a real kappa, revived when the shrine hit the water, is now living in the area. Meanwhile, something comes out of the ocean and kills the hooligans.
Kanako befriends the kappa with the power of song, and defends it when it’s attacked by military-looking dudes. She’s taken to an underground base, where Yuriko, a mad scientist, exposits to her about how she’s been breeding fishman super soldiers using kappa DNA, as part of a plot to return the country to pre-WW2 glory. Before she can convert Kanako into a fishlady, the friendly kappa appears and fights the guards. Yuriko triggers the nuclear bomb under the base to explode. Here’s where the movie gets really fun.
After the explosion, a giant fish monster, Hangyolas, appears in Tokyo and starts wrecking stuff. The military can’t do anything, even with their pseudo maser cannon, and hope seems lost until the kappa appears, grown to kaijuu proportions. They fight until Hangyolas is defeated, then Kanako reappears to sing her calming song, and the kappa swims away into the sunset.
Without any Godzilla/Gamera/Mothra movies to come out in recent years, the void has been filled with weirder, more offbeat giant monster fair, a lot of which has fallen into the field of parody (Big Man Japan, Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit, Long-Haired Monster Gehara). Of these blatantly unserious entries, I think Death Kappa may be my favorite. It’s proud of its practical aesthetic, and doesn’t care if you can sometimes see the wires or tell if something is a model because it’s more focused on being fun, but I also think that the flaws in the effects were more a matter of budgetary limitations than “it would be funny if the effects here suck”. It has zany stuff, like the monsters using power lines like wrestlers use the rope of a ring, but doesn’t go for the really crass jokes that Minoru Kawasaki would include. There are lots of neat homages and in-jokes referring to classics like Godzilla versus the Sea Monster, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Mothra, and others, making this an extra treat for folks more familiar with the genre. Also, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi (team Gainax) make cameos, and they’re always fun to see involved with a project (you know, aside from in Evangelion).