Today’s selection: Tokyo – The Last Megalopolis (1987, dir. Akio Jissoji)
Subgenre: Historical Fantasy
Available from: ADV
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is a great film: It has very high production values, some stellar performances, excellent recreations of the time period between 1912 and 1927, and a variety of interesting monsters (HR Giger is amongst the credits). The iconic villain of the piece appeared in The Great Yokai War and Tokyo Babylon, and inspired characters in Street Fighter and Riki-Oh, so it’s also culturally significant. However, I understand why it’s somewhat obscure in the west, and neither its direct sequel, Tokyo: The Last War, nor its side-stories Teito Monogatari Gaiden and Tokyo Dragon, have been translated into English. You see, this is a very difficult story.
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is based on the Teito Monogatari novel series (which were later the basis for the anime Doomed Megalopolis, which might have been the only thing that got the movie released stateside in the first place), and the author Hiroshi Aramata throws a lot of cultural signifiers into his work. The result is, as a western viewer, if you go into the movie already knowing about the whole deal with onmyoudou and shikigami, Taira no Masakado, the Great Kanto Earthquake, Gakutensoku, the Edo era vs. the Meiji era vs. the Showa era, and so forth: great. Otherwise, you’re in trouble, since the movie just sort of assumes you know it, so the majority of non-Japanese audiences, even those who frequent tokusatsu works, are going to be totally lost. These aspects are not asides or Easter eggs, they’re integral to the plot, so I really can’t blame anyone if they have to check out early in the 140-minute running time.
That’s a shame, because it really is a fantastic movie when viewed in the proper context and with the right cultural background, and I’d certainly like to see the sequel. Alas, given the density of the dialogue and constant historical name-dropping, even attempting such a task without subtitles seems ill-advised.