Saturday, February 23, 2008

2nd June 2007: Japanese Rubber Monster double #1!


Japan 1965 b&w

aka Gammera The Invincible, Daikaijû Gamera, Giant Monster Gamera

Director Noriaki Yuasa Writer Nisan Takahashi

Cast Eiji Funakoshi (Dr. Hidaka), Harumi Kiritachi (Kyoke), Junichirô Yamashiko (Aoyagi), Michiko Sugata (Nobuyo)

Tonight we travel to a parallel universe where the appearance of giant prehistoric monsters flattening cities are part of the daily routine. It’s the world of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra Ghidrah and their kind - a strange world, and one made even stranger by the appearance of an unidentified flying turtle called Gamera.

Forever in the shadow of the monolithic Toho Studios, second rung Daiei Studios were more famous for samurai sagas than monster movies. In the mid 60s they decided to join the giant reptile race and designed a rival monster series to Toho’s mammothly successful Godzilla. They wisely chose Gamera as their flagship - a giant turtle that shoots flames from between its snaggleteeth, and spins through the air by shooting flames through its shell’s feetholes (and at one point you almost see the paper mache shell catch fire!).

The first Gamera film “Gamera The Invincible” (as it was sold to the US) is a virtual mirror of the first Godzilla film, only 10 years behind. American fighters chase an unmarked plane over the Arctic to its fiery demise - the nuclear bomb on board ignites and awakens the giant Gamera from its icy slumber. Feeding off atomic energy, it immediately goes on a rampage, and the world wants to destroy Gamera once and for all, but a little Japanese boy named Kenny, who has a psychic connection with the giant turtle and even keeps a miniature version in an aquarium by his bedside, believes Gamera is essentially kind and benevolent. He’s like a little Jewish kid with a pinup of Hitler. “Gamera is a GOOD turtle,” he pleads, then sulks, and puts on a face like someone’s pooped in his coco pops. Miraculously the world’s leaders listen to him, and so begins Z-Plan to save the world AND Gamera from complete destruction.

Kenny: Gamera saved me, didn’t he?
Dr Hidaka: Yes. Gamera saved your life.
Kenny: Because he knows I like turtles.
Mother: Gamera likes you. Gamera must have a good heart.
Kenny: Yes. Gamera is a GOOD turtle.
Mother: He is good. He IS good.
Dr Hidaka: (laughs) Yes, he is.

Released in 1965, Gamera was a surprising hit. The annoying infantile anthropomorphism actually worked on kiddie audiences in both Japan and the US, and the sight of Gamera on two feet stomping miniatures of Tokyo and the North Pole is gloriously chintzy. Most surprising of all is the longevity of the series: eight original Gamera films, plus a slew of recent remakes. Not bad for a mutant reptile whose only friend is mewing eight year old milktoast - and if I hear “Gamera is friends to ALL children” one more time I’M going to crush Tokyo. Which appears to be an easy task in the parallel universe where children are smart and turtles are bigger than a Seiko billboard in the 1965 turtle-fest Gamera.

Warning From Space

Japan 1956 colour

aka Uchûjin Tôkyô Ni Arawaru, The Mysterious Satellite

Director Koji Shima Writer Hideo Oguni

Cast Keizo Kawasaki (Toru), Toyomi Karita (Hikari Aozora/Ginko), Bin Yagasawa (No. 2 Pairan), Shozo Nanbu (Dr Toro Isobe)

Welcome back to our second Japanese science fiction feature, a much earlier tinfoil effort from Daiei Studios. Warning From Space, released in 1956 to capitalize on the success of Godzilla, has the honour of being the first Japanese space opera film in colour. It also features some of the most bizarre out-of-this-world creatures ever witnessed on Schlock Treatment - star creatures from the planet Paira who have giant eyes for belly buttons and look suspiciously like a cross between Tellytubbies and the KKK.

Their spaceship hovers over Tokyo, creating mass hysteria and the usual cries of denial from the stuffed shirts in the government. After frightening a few geishas, the star creatures decide to “transmute” into a more pleasing form to the human eye. And so as to not attract undue attention, the lead alien morphs into the most famous female singer in Japan, appears at a country club doing ten-foot volleys on the tennis court, and walks through walls in front of crowded rooms.

Father (holding a tennis racquet): Hmm... it’s very strange.
Son: The racquet?
Father: No! The girl!

Her message is simple - Earth is on a collision course with the renegade Planet R and, as Planet Paira is dependent on the Earth’s gravitational pull, the fate of both planets are at stake. Dr Kamura’s plan is to use the earth’s stock of H-bombs to blast the planet out of existence, but the rest of the world won’t listen, and as Planet R dwarfs the Earth in its shadow, earthquakes and tidal waves split Japan in two. It’s a perfect picture postcard of post-war angst: barely 10 years after Hiroshima and the Japanese population are running from air sirens into bomb shelters while their country is flattened by outside forces.

Interestingly, the A-bomb is seen as the potential saviour of Japan - or maybe that’s something the American dubbing studio lost in the translation. And speaking of the dubbing, why do half of the characters sound American, and the other half are straight out of Monkey Magic? Still, it’s an interesting, uniquely Japanese manifestion of Cold War paranoia, with a very cool backdrop of 1950s Tokyo. Remember to keep your eyes on the stars as we prepare for the imminent destruction of the Earth - AGAIN - with the 1956 Warning From Space.

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