Today’s selection: Goke, the Body Snatcher from Hell (1968, dir. Hajime Sato)
Available from: Criterion
To start, let’s just clarify that nobody in this movie is from Hell, and the body-snatching is more of the “Invasion of-” than the Val Lewton/Boris Karloff variety. The original Japanese title is a little less misleading: Kyuketsuki (Vampire) Gokemidoro, though this isn’t your run-of-the-mill vampire flick, either. The film is a tense drama set in a more-or-less single location, following the survivors of an airplane crash. There’s conflict between a politician, the tycoon who was bribing him, and the tycoon’s wife who’s sleeping with the politician. There’s also an American woman whose husband just died in Vietnam, a suicide bomber, a professional assassin, and a psychiatrist who’s gleefully delighted by the entire situation. If that wasn’t enough for the flight crew to handle, in an isolated location without food or water, there’s also an alien parasite taking over the people’s minds and making them drink blood.
One of Shochiku’s experimental horror titles, it’s known for psychedelic imagery, a grim and unsettling ending, and for inspiring a shot in Kill Bill (like several other Japanese films of the time). The DVD case refers to the humans possesed by the Gokemidoro as “vagina face”, but it’s always sort of struck me more as looking like a festering wound, especially when they start oozing a pus-like silver fluid, which emphasizes the undead, vampire-like nature and makes the invasion feel so very wrong. The mixed cast of characters, heightening the tension, while under siege from a monster, would make this a good double feature with the same year’s Night of the Living Dead, as monster movies giving social commentary about the zeitgeist on both sides of the Pacific.
Side note: A fun game that can played with this movie is to listen to Shunsuke Kikuchi’s score, interspersed with his score for Dragonball, and see if you can identify which is which; it’s harder than you think!