I tacitly retired from doing daily tokusatsu movie blurbs last year, but due to popular demand, I’ll try to remember to post about movies that are fresh on my mind when I do watch them. Here’s a couple recent viewings:
Izo (2004, dir. Takashi Miike)
Subgenre: Artsy, Historical Fantasy
Available from: Media Blasters
Izo is a difficult movie. While it’s gorgeous to look at and has cool effects/fight sequences, the plot is nigh-inscrutable. The main character (a demonic version of notorious 19th century criminal Izo Okada) drifts across time and space, dueling various gods, demons, governments, schoolgirls, ghosts, historical figures, random passers-by, and abstract concepts (also Bob Sapp), leaving the audience at the end of the two-plus hours thinking “what the heck was that about?” There’s definitely a good deal of symbolism, but as the poorly-educated, dense blockhead I am, all I could think of was fighting games each time the setting changed and a new enemy appeared. I was able to find some good reviews with liner notes after the fact, but I sort of wish there was a proper audio commentary to get all of the nuance.
The Snake Girl and the Silver Haired Witch (1968, dir. Noriaki Yuasa)
Available from: Fansub-only
Made by Yuasa at the peak of his popular Gamera series, this movie adapts two of Kazuo Umezz’s better-known children’s horror manga stories into an effectively creepy extravaganza, frankly better than most of Yuasa’s Gamera output. 10-year-old Sayuri is being returned to her rightful home from an orphanage (which was a little convoluted, but easy enough to roll with), but she finds that her new mom is a little…. off…..and her secret jerk of a more-secret sister is downright scaly! Throw in a spooky witch, some psychedelic dreams, and a dark old house, and you’ve got a a fantastic, intense kids’ horror flick. I imagine it was passed on for western distribution due to it being in black-and-white (which really works for the atmosphere), but fingers crossed that someone decides to rectify that in the future.
Sakuya: Slayer of Demons (2000, dir. Tomoo Haraguchi)
Subgenre: Yokai, Historical Fantasy
Available from: Universe Laser (Chinese audio only, fansubs also available)
Personal anecdote: back in high school, my then-girlfriend tasked me with selecting a movie to watch at her birthday party. Going through options of fansubs we could rent (it was a different time), my best otaku pal and I limited the choices down to two candidates: “This one is about two hours of killing zombies in the woods (Versus), and this one has Shinya Tsukamoto being a creeper, plus a showdown with a giant spider woman (Sakuya)!” We wound up getting both, which was, needless to say, a terrible decision from a romantic perspective, but as a monster movie fan there are no regrets.
Sakuya was Haraguchi’s first yokai outing, which is funny when you consider just how much the genre has defined his career between this, the Kibakichi series, and Death Kappa. The film features Sakuya, a young demon huntress, on a series of adventures with her two ninja bodyguards and her kappa foster brother, eventually culminating in a battle with a giant “Spider Queen”, all to great tokusatsu effects. The unconnected series of yokai-encounter vignettes feels like it could very well spawn a movie franchise or a TV series (and there was a sequel, albeit in light novel form), but for whatever reason Haraguchi moved on to Kibakichi instead… which is also great, so no complaints there.