Film Review: House (1977)

Also known as: Hausu (Japan)
Release Date: July 30th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Written by: Chiho Katsura, Chigumi Obayashi
Music by: Asei Kobayashi, Mickie Yoshino
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yōko Minamida

Toho Co. Ltd., 88 Minutes

Review:

“She eats unmarried young girls. It is the only time she can wear her wedding gown.” – Gari

I don’t think that anyone can argue that House is not one of the most bizarre motion pictures ever made. It’s certifiably insane but I mean that in the best way possible. Frankly, it is one of the most unique film experiences I have ever had. It’s so unique that I’m not surprised it hasn’t reached a larger cult status.

It is hard to describe what the film is. It’s like someone strung together a couple old Japanese folktales of yōkai, handed the directorial reigns over to Dario Argento and told him he had to take a bunch of LSD before rolling the camera.

The story itself is fairly simple. We follow seven Japanese schoolgirls who go into the country to stay at the house of an auntie of one of the girls. Except when they get there, things start to get weird and girls start going missing.

The cool thing that sets all the girls apart, is that each one is a stereotype of some kind with a nickname that fits the stereotype. Kung Fu is a badass martial arts chick, Prof is a brainy girl, Fantasy tells stories with lots of embellishments, Melody plays the piano, etc.

The film also utilizes trippy animation and physical environments constructed of very obvious matte painting backdrops. While this may look cheap at first, it creates a true fantasy world that doesn’t even scratch the surface with how weird this film will get as it continues to roll on.

The special effects for a lower budget Japanese film in the 1970s aren’t much to write home about but this film makes the most out of its limitations and because of the strange environment, the effects are easy to accept. This is a film that you just have to roll with but rolling with it is actually quite easy. It has this endearing hokiness that is infectious.

The acting is on par with a 1970s Japanese tokusatsu program. If you’re a fan of the UltramanKamen Rider or Super Sentai franchises, you know what I’m talking about. It isn’t great acting but it is comedic, physical, overstated and fun. Most of the actors are amateurs but they handled the material well and felt like authentic girls being themselves.

There is some really artistic gore in this but nothing too disturbing. A lot of it is mixed with animation or as a part of a visual collage. Also, the colors are vibrant and the gore is reminiscent of what you would see at the height of the Italian giallo movement. The film could even be described as a Japanese folktale mixed with Alice In Wonderland and some vivid blood splatter.

Trying to quantify what the entirety of this picture is with words isn’t an easy task. Maybe the trailer below will help. Regardless, this is a film worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.

Film Review: Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Also known as: Gojira no gyakushû, lit. Counterattack of Godzilla (Japan), Gigantis the Fire Monster (US – original title)
Release Date: April 24th, 1955 (Japan)
Directed by: Motoyoshi Oda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Shigeaki Hidaka
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla Raids Again was a quickly pushed out sequel to the original Gojira. And like its predecessor, the film was shot in black and white, making it the only film in the franchise, apart from the original, that wasn’t released in color.

In the United States, despite the success of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the American re-edit of Gojira, this film didn’t take the Godzilla name and was initially release as Gigantis the Fire Monster. In fact, English dubbed versions of the film still make reference to the monster being called “Gigantis”.

This film introduced the beloved kaiju Anguirus, who fought Godzilla in this picture but would go on to be a top ally for decades. And this is actually the film that gave birth to kaiju battles, as the previous Godzilla picture only featured the title monster.

Compared to the original, which was an exceptional motion picture, this is a very poor sequel to it. While it was successful, maybe Toho wasn’t keen on its quality, as Godzilla was shelved for seven years until he was brought back to battle King Kong in one of the best kaiju epics of all-time.

There are several reasons why this film is lacking compared to the two chapters that sandwich it.

To start, while tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya did handle the special effects, some mistakes were made during the production. The frame rate of the camera was not set correctly and the big kaiju battles are fast paced to the point that the monsters move around at impossible speeds and it almost plays like a slapstick comedy segment every time that Godzilla and Anguirus tie-up. It just looks hokey and doesn’t match up with the action of any other Toho kaiju picture. Plus, it is missing audio effects and the battles just sort of happen to music, looking like a goofy spastic dance.

Another reason why the film suffers is that Godzilla mastermind Ishirō Honda was not behind the camera. Additionally, the script was written by people that weren’t mainstays in the franchise in the same way that Shinichi Sekizawa and Takeshi Kimura were.

The film is still enjoyable for Godzilla fans and it does have its positives.

Toho regulars Hiroshi Koizumi and Takashi Shimura star in the picture and give good performances.

Also, the overall visual look of the film is fairly solid. The scene where Godzilla comes to shore and the military fills the sky with flares looks really cool and holds up well. Also, the scene where Godzilla is walking through the snow covered valley, surrounded by icy mountains, is a beautiful sight where the contrast between the monster and his environment is enhanced by the black and white presentation.

In the long history of Godzilla films, this one is mostly forgettable other than the debut of Anguirus and the kaiju versus kaiju concept that would become the standard in just about every kaiju movie made after this one.

Film Review: Ichi the Killer (2001)

Also known as: Koroshiya Ichi, lit. Koroshiya 1
Release Date: September 14th, 2001 (TIFF)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Sakichi Sato
Based on: Ichi the Killer by Hideo Yamamoto
Music by: Karera Musication, Seiichi Yamamoto
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Nao Omori, Alien Sun

Omega Project, Omega Micott Inc., Emperor Multimedia Group (EMG), Media Blasters, 128 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“Put some feeling into it, already! If you’re going to give someone pain, you’ve got to get into it!” – Kakihara

Ichi the Killer is a gruesome movie. That is probably an understatement, actually.

All I can say is that if you are going to watch it, be prepared for some serious shit. Then again, if you are familiar with the earlier works of director Takashi Miike, you probably know what to expect to a certain degree. This just takes his love of ultraviolence and brutality to a whole new level.

Visually, the film is pretty close to being a masterpiece. The use of lighting and environment paints an emotional context over the scene before a character even speaks. The art direction and cinematography are amazing. The use of color is spectacular and tonal shifts from scene to scene is brilliantly done. What we have with this film is a beautiful picture comprised of ugly and horrible things.

The story is bizarre and unsettling but what else could one expect from a film that pushes the bar so high in the gore factor. The plot also pushes that same bar and then pushes it even further. The characters are complex, their motivations are sometimes confusing but by the time the credits roll, it all adds up.

Out of the earlier works of Takashi Miike, this may be my favorite film.

TV Review: Kamen Rider Black RX (1988)

Also known as: Masked Rider Black RX
Original Run: October 23rd, 1988 – September 24th, 1989 (Japan)
Created by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Tetsuo Kurata, Jun Koyamaki, Rikiya Koyama

Ishimori Pro, Toei Company, 47 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Kamen Rider Black RX is only the third Kamen Rider series that I have seen in its entirety, after Kamen Rider V3 and Kamen Rider Black. This series is a direct sequel to Kamen Rider Black and features the same hero, although he is defeated early only to be reborn as RX.

This series is very consistent with its predecessor, which was fantastic. However, it actually ups the ante towards the end, as in the last few episodes, all the previous versions of Kamen Rider show up to offer their assistance. It was the first Kamen Rider story to feature all the Riders since the 1984 TV film Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!!

Having defeated Gorgom in the previous series, our hero Kohtaro is now a helicopter pilot and lives with the family who owns that business. The new villain group are aliens that call themselves the Crisis Empire. They plan to take over Earth, killing all the humans because humans don’t respect the Earth. It is a simple story line that has been used in tokusatsu (and sci-fi, in general) since the beginning of the genre.

Kohtaro doesn’t just become RX, he also takes on the guise of a few other Riders with specific powers. Bio-Rider, for instance, can shrink down in a similar fashion to Marvel’s Ant-Man. Also, he has his talking motorcycle and a sweet car that looks an awful lot like Frankenstein’s car from Death Race 2000.

The action is solid, the stories are good and this series has some pretty neat looking monsters. Nine television series into this franchise and the minds behind Kamen Rider still prove that they are creative and have some fresh ideas.

The version of the show I have is a bit tough to watch, at times. This was never released commercially in the United States with proper subtitles or dubbing. That is kind of unfortunate, as the show was re-edited into a U.S. show called Masked Rider. This was done in the same way that Super Sentai shows were being re-edited into the Power Rangers franchise. In fact, this show was made to be a spin off of Power Rangers in the U.S.

The reason the version I have is tough to watch is because the DVD set is from Malaysia. Just imagine a Japanese show translated into English by Malaysians. Yeah, a lot of things get lost in translation or are very confusing. Also, character names are not consistent. In fact, RX was called “Superman Black RX” and Rider Man from Kamen Rider V3 was “Black Superman”. The subtitles also constantly warned of Earth being taken over by “queer devildom”, whatever the shit that means. Also, some of the characters had Chinese names instead of Japanese names. But this is what happens when you get DVDs of shows you like from Malaysian sellers on eBay.

Malaysian weirdness aside, it really didn’t ruin the show. Its quality shined through and Kamen Rider Black RX was pretty close to perfect for a tokusatsu show.

Ranking All the Kaiju of the Toho Godzilla Universe

The Godzilla universe spans seven decades, four different Japanese eras and two American remakes. In that long history, he has fought many deadly foes and had several awesome allies. However, the franchise expands beyond that as well, as some monsters that had their own films have crossed over into Godzilla movies, comics and video games. Toho has created a massive kaiju universe over the years and even if there are different eras and continuities, in some way, all these monsters exist in the same general realm.

So I feel the need to quantify these awesome giant beasts with a list. Because I like making lists and who the hell doesn’t like reading lists. Sure, our opinions may differ but that’s what the comments area is for. So feel free to list your favorites and discuss the results.

Also, I included the MUTOs from the American film for comparison’s sake.

How am I ranking these? Well, it is a combination of who is the most powerful, bad ass and the coolest. And of course, number one should not be a surprise.

1. Godzilla
2. Mothra Leo
3. Destoroyah
4. Monster X (Keizer Ghidorah)
5. Mecha-King Ghidorah
6. Biollante
7. Cretaceous King Ghidorah
8. Shin Godzilla
9. Fire Rodan
10. Gigan (Millennium)
11. King Ghidorah
12. Dagahra
13. Mechagodzilla (Showa)
14. Desghidorah
15. King Caesar
16. Mechagodzilla/Kiryu (Millennium)
17. King Kong
18. Mothra
19. Zone Fighter
20. Godzilla Junior
21. Gigan (Showa)
22. Rodan
23. Anguirus
24. Jet Jaguar
25. Mechani-Kong
26. Hedorah
27. Space Godzilla
28. Mechagodzilla (Heisei)
29. Gargantuan Sanda
30. Battra
31. Orga
32. Varan
33. Gargantuan Gaira
34. Megaguirus
35. MUTO (female)
36. Frankenstein
37. Megalon
38. Dogora
39. Gezora
40. Baragon
41. M.O.G.U.E.R.A. (Heisei)
42. Ebirah
43. Titanosaurus
44. MUTO (male)
45. Gabara
46. Moguera (Showa)
47. Manda
48. Kumonga
49. Ganimes
50. Gorosaurus
51. Kamoebas
52. Maguma
53. Kamacuras
54. Meganulon
55. Giant Octopus
56. Giant Sea Serpent
57. Minya
58. Giant Condor
59. Zilla

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Film Review: Shin Godzilla (2016)

Also known as: Shin Gojira (Japan), Godzilla: Resurgence (alternate)
Release Date: July 25th, 2016 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Music by: Shirō Sagisu
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara

Toho, Cine Bazar, Funimation, 120 Minutes

Review:

“What is that glow?” – Rando Yaguchi

I saw Shin Godzilla in the theater last October but I didn’t review it then because I was taking a long (and much needed) break from writing. I figured that I would tackle it, once the Blu-ray version came out and I could relive the experience. Plus, I was curious as to how the dubbing would come out.

This was one of the most anticipated Blu-ray releases of all-time for me. In fact, I don’t actually buy hard copies of movies anymore unless it is something exceptional or I want to add the latest chapter of a series I have been collecting to my film library. I own a DVD or Blu-ray of just about every Godzilla movie, so I had to buy Shin Godzilla.

The film is slightly less effective and impactful on a smaller screen and for a second viewing. However, it is, without a shadow of the doubt, one of the greatest kaiju pictures ever produced.

Shin Godzilla is truly the first film to recapture the magic of the original 1954 Gojira. Other series reboots and American remakes have tried but none of them really hit the mark like this film. Shin Godzilla really brings back the horror element to the series. As much as I liked the 2014 American Godzilla, it didn’t bring with it a true sense of dread and terror and the title monster was a good guy. Here, we have Godzilla like he was originally intended, a gigantic force of nature that will destroy absolutely everything in his path without question.

To be completely honest, I have always been more of a fan of Godzilla as a hero and protector. I have also been a fan of kaiju movies having kaiju on kaiju action. However, the roots of the franchise are steeped in Godzilla being a destroyer and being so menacing that there was no need for a monster for him to battle. He was originally a living, breathing, rampaging force of nature that wouldn’t stop unless he was defeated by man.

Shin Godzilla is a departure from the hokier tone of the vast majority of Godzilla pictures. It focuses on human politicians and scientists as they are caught off guard by the appearance of this giant monster. They have to act fast and try to figure out the best way to stop the beast in a race against time, as the Americans are threatening to level the monster (and Tokyo) with a nuke. Japan obviously doesn’t want to experience another bomb being dropped on their soil, so they must come together and find a way to stop Godzilla.

This is the best acted Godzilla film that there has ever been. It is also the greatest, as far as scope and cinematography. While Ishirō Honda’s Gojira was a visual marvel for its time, Shin Godzilla is a pristine and super realistic approach to what Honda’s original established from a stylistic standpoint. While the original still looks beautiful, this newest incarnation of the series isn’t limited in scope and it gives a much more wide open and vast presentation. You truly understand the scale of Godzilla, compared to his surroundings. Plus, Tokyo is much larger than it was in 1954 and this film needed to showcase that while making the kaiju significantly larger, as well.

While purists weren’t initially happy with Godzilla being a creation of computer graphics over a rubber suit and more practical effects, I don’t think that anyone can argue against the change after seeing the picture. That is, unless some of these fans wanted something more akin to the sequels. Frankly, we’ve had sequels and rubber suits for over sixty years and it was time for the Godzilla franchise to catch up to the technology available. This certainly wouldn’t have had the same dramatic and realistic effect had we gotten another actor in a rubber suit. Besides, kaiju filmmaking of this style still exists. Just watch any modern Ultraman show if you need to see rubber suit kaiju. Godzilla and Toho are the godfathers of the genre and they really needed to take the monster into the future for the franchise to have new legs and live on for another sixty years.

I think it is hard to knock the special effects in this film, anyway. Toho did a magnificent job in making something that looks this good in a day and age where ILM and Weta have completely changed the game. Sure, Shin Godzilla‘s effects aren’t as good as the latest Star Wars films but for a smaller studio working out of Japan, this is a top notch movie, through and through. It actually turned out much better than I thought it would, as my biggest concern about making the monster digitally was the limitations Toho would face compared to bigger budget American blockbusters. Toho absolutely nailed it though. Besides, the same fanboys bitching about a digital Godzilla where the same ones praising the digital kaiju in Pacific Rim just a few years ago.

The only negative I can come up with, and it’s not even really that big of a negative, is that this film doesn’t play as good on a small screen. But then, what kaiju movies do? You want to see large monsters as big as possible. Also, on the second viewing, it isn’t as interesting simply because so much focus is on the humans in the story trying to solve the problem. I already know the answers and it makes some of these scenes just feel really drawn out the second time around. Granted, I try to look at a film from the perspective of how it effected me as a first time viewer and I can’t really say a bad thing about it in that regard. The first time I saw this, I was captivated and pinned to my seat at full attention, as the politicians and scientists tried to stop a seemingly unstoppable menace.

Shin Godzilla was a much needed reinvention and it will be interesting to see where Toho goes from here, as the bizarre twist ending opens up all sorts of questions and avenues that can be explored. I do hope that we do get to see Toho’s modern reinvention of some of the other classic monsters as well but as good as this film was with just Godzilla, it really isn’t necessary. But maybe King Ghidorah will show up and Godzilla might eventually return to being the protector Earth needs.

No matter what happens going forward, we will always have this movie, which is better than anything I could have anticipated.