I’ve been really lax on the Today’s Random Tokusatsu movie segments as of late; apologies to anyone particularly looking forward to them. I figured I’d try to make up for that a little with quick thoughts about five of the movies I’ve watched or rewatched within the past few weeks:
Tokyo Zombie (2005, dir. Sakichi Sato)
Available from: Manga/Anchor Bay
It’d be easy to call this zombie-apocalypse bromantic comedy a Japanese take on Shawn of the Dead, if it weren’t for the fact that its source manga dates back to 1999. Tokyo Zombie also thrives on a darker, more misanthropic humor: a lot of the chuckles come from the notion that everyone in the flick is completely amoral, so it’s hard to feel bad when a jogger ignores the mauling of a molester, or our bumbling slacker “heroes” hit & run someone who happens to be a matricidal d-bag. Attempts at gravitas are immediately undermined in the next scene, and absurd concepts (such as the zombie plague originating from a mountain-sized trash heap in the middle of the city) keep the film in decidedly unserious territory. Random exposition is delivered in the form of animation, and Kazuo Umezz makes a cameo, twice! The end result of this is one of the most entertaining zombie flicks to come out of Japan, a likely contender for top-10.
The Calamari Wrestler (2004, dir. Minoru Kawasaki)
Available from: Pathfinder (there’s also a version out from Discotek, but it’s not on amazon for some reason)
One of the better Minoru Kawasaki films (maybe because of its lack of terrible gaijin actors), this tells the story of a pro wrestler reincarnated as a talking squid. He has a love triangle with his ex-girlfriend, now engaged to another wrestler, who eventually reincarnates as an octopus, and other marine-based wrestling highjinks ensue. The movie does on occasion bring some genuine laughs, and actually works in a few of the dramatic bits, but both times I watched it I felt like about half an hour could be cut.
Moon Child (2003, dir. Takahisa Zeze)
Available from: TLA
This movie stars rock icons Hyde (as a vampire) and Gackt (as his apprentice/ward) living in futuristic pan-Asian slums. The pair get involved with organized crime and a love triangle, pressures driving a wedge between them.
I was sort of expecting something along the lines of a moody music video based on this premise, but it wound up actually having a lot of humor, reasonable special effects and wirework, gun fights of near-Ryuhei Kitamura-level intensity, and surprisingly good performances… in addition to the bits that seemed like a moody music video. But hey, a multi-generational crime epic was certainly more than one would predict from looking at the cover art.
Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Gaim and Wizard: The Fateful Sengoku Movie Battle (2013, dir. Ryuta Tasaki)
Subgenre: Henshin Hero
Available from: fansub-only
The “Movie War” mini franchise within the Kamen Rider series has been really good lately, but after a string of three greats (and an okay), this latest annual crossover event was really quite a dud. While director Ryuta Tasaki’s last entry (the W and OOO crossover Movie War Core) had a ridiculous segment about reviving Oda Nobunaga, at least the other half of the movie was solid. In this case, the Wizard segment is just sort of dull by nature of being Kamen Rider Wizard (at least the camera mugging is kept to a minimum), and the Gaim segment feels detached and fundamentally untrue to the concepts of Kamen Rider Gaim… and they bring in Oda Nobunaga again! It’s a shame that a Kamen Rider movie can come to the theaters and offer pretty much nothing substantive to the audience, but in this case, I’d recommend skipping it, and hoping Koichi Sakamoto’s attached to the next one.
Hiruko the Goblin (1991, dir. Shinya Tsukamoto)
Available from: Media Blasters/Fangoria
Between the first and second Tetsuo movies, Shinya Tsukamoto directed a much more commercial venture in the form of an adaptation of Daijiro Morohoshi’s Yokai Hunter (one of those important and quite influential manga that almost nobody in the west’s ever heard of). It really seemed like this somewhat Lovecraftian adventure should be the first installment in a series, but subsequent Yokai Hunter cinematic adventures never materialized, leaving this as a sort of odd one-off (unless there were others I’m unaware of?). I’ve heard that the lead actor was pretty rough to work with, and combined with how atypical this movie seems for Tsukamoto, it does sort of make sense that the franchise sort of fizzled here.
Anyway, this movie takes place overnight at a high school just above a portal/nest of a particularly nasty type of yokai named Hiruko. The creatures are a sort of spider-John Carpenter Thing that takes on its victims’ face for a body (suitably unsettling and finely executed), and it’s up to one of the students and his yokai-hunting, archeologist uncle to put a stop to their proliferation.
As I mentioned before, by Tsukamoto standards, this is a rather comedic, mass-appeal romp of a film. It’s one of the go-to iconic Japanese monster movies when discussing non-giant (in this case, smaller than human) non-ghost monsters, and has a mass appeal that Tetsuo or Nightmare Detective never will. That makes it lose appeal for the art-house crowd, but I’m of the mindset that it’s okay for a director’s movie to break the mold by simply being B-movie fun every once in a while.