Monday, August 13, 2018

Sparkiegojira's thoughts on GAMERA GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE(1995)

A member of the Facebook group Noonan's Sci-Fi Fun Club who I'll call "Sparkiegojira" has offered his own discourse on the first of the 90's Gamera films, GAMERA GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE which was originally released theatrically by Kadokawa in 1995:


This is the first of a three part look at Shusuke Kaneko's trilogy about a giant, flying turtle, and what deeper meanings he may have intended to express through these masterpieces of the Kaiju Eiga genre. Bare with me as I will be working in spurts as Thoughtful Thursday is also busy as feck day for me!
I've visited or lived in Japan off and on since I was 9, and there is a saying here; one is Shinto when you are born, Buddhist when you die (This has been amended in recent years to include "Christian when you are married" due to the popularity of fake Chapel Weddings!) and I read an editorial years ago about how puzzled the average Japanese was when the Americans had Emperor Hirohito announce via radio that he was not a God. No one but a few nut jobs believed that! The point being, average, modern Japanese don't deeply believe in anything, but give a lot of lip service to religion and God and other deities. My mom-in-law for instance says she believes in herself but no gods. Others, and I mean a lot of people, are just fairly miserable. About 30,000 suicides a year, and alcoholism seems rampant. 67% of the population drink and 2% qualify as alcoholics. Japan also has a rich and vibrant Otaku culture, who seem to me at least, to smoke and drink less and to be generally happier than the rest of the population. The thesis of this essay is that Otaku culture is a successful surrogate for traditional religions in a nation where "It is only make-believe" is so engrained in the national mind set, and that Kaneko addresses this phenomenon over the course of his three Gamera films.
First up is 1995's GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, or the much cooler and "shibui (Retro-cool!)" Japanese title GAMERA: DAIKAIJU KUUCHUU DAI KESSEN or GAMERA: GIANT MONSTER MID-AIR BATTLE. Dooh got to put this on hold again. The Mom-in-law turns 68 today and we are off for crab!
Back. Where was I? Oh, Mark Hughes, spoilers will abound as I discuss the films themselves...
Kaneko at a press conference for the film said he had always wanted to make a "chanto shita" (Well done) Kaiju movie (He had previously petitioned Toho to let him direct 1992's GODZILLA VS MOTHRA.), and it might as well be Gamera. And he and screenplay writer Kazunori Ito deliver. It's the lightest in tone of the trilogy, despite featuring Gamera's old foe, the human munching bird like Gyaos, but Kaneko appears to set up his agenda in the lyrics to the closing credits song; Bakufu Slump's MYTH. The opening lyrics go something like "You certainly felt it as a child, you believed in a great power. (Sorry 7 years teaching English in Japan has conversly made my Japanese rusty!)", neatly summarizing the preceding film's impact and at the same time celebrating Gamera's return.
The film begins with one of a pair of ships carrying plutonium, the Kairyu Maru (Seadragon, perhaps a reference to the Lucky Dragon No 5 that got irradiated by the Bikini Atoll H-Bomb test.), running aground a mysterious atoll which then moves away on its own accord before disaster insues. Here we meet our main male lead character, Marine Officer Yoshinari Yonemori, played by Tsuyoshi Ihara, as well as two heart warming cameos by by Showa era Gamera and Godzilla stalwarts, Kojiro Hongo and Akira Kubo as the two ship captains. The scene ends with a wonderful shot of the atoll, retreating deeper in to the Philippine Sea, and then the the title literallly explodes onto the screen in quite dated CGI, but the credits that follow are all rendered in a "shibui" plain, white scrawl as if to scream to the viewer "This IS your grandpa's Kaiju movie!".
The movie then cuts to an aquarium, were a young girl named Asagi Kusanagi (Played by Steven Seagal's far more talented, cute, and no doubt intelligent daughter Ayako Fujitani!) discusses Atlantis and the mysterious atoll and whether there is a connection with a friend. It would seem the atoll is moving towards Japan.... where more trouble is abrewing in small village in the Goto Archipelago, under siege by unseen forces on a dark and stormy day. One villager manages to radio the message "It's a bird! It's a Bird!" before being taken. Meanwhile guilt ridden Yoshinari has volunteered to join the scientific team to investigate the atoll, lead by Asagi's father, Naoya Kusanagi and our female lead, Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (The lovely, but no so lovely we don't buy her as an ornithologist, Shinobu Nakayama, who previously had a bit part in 1993's GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA.) is dispatched to the ruins of the small village to investigate the alleged birds and the disappearance of her mentor. She is joined by Police Inspector Osako (Played by cult star Yukijiro Hotaru, whose character will be the only one besides Asagi to appear in all three films.), Ms. Nagamine is at first skeptical stating "The only creature capable of such devestation is man." She has second thoughts though when she finds what resembles a large bird pellet. Digging through it with gloved hands she is shocked to retrieve her missing mentor's pen from the whitish muck.
All doubts are removed when Nagamine and Osako encounter a lone giant winged beast deep in the forests of the island. "If that's the culprit, it's out of our jurisdiction!" a terrified Osako exclaims as Nagamine cooly ureges the need to follow it. A helicopter chase ensues, and in a classic cliche of giant monster cinema, Nagamine discovers Gyaos is not fond of flash bulbs and is nocturnal. The also, to Nagamine had already surmised, there are at least three of the bird beasts, and they are headed towards the next nearby island.
Meanwhile, Yonemuri and Asagi's father have located and landed on the mysterious floating atoll. There they find numerous, metallic, Magatama (Coma shaped beads that first appeared in ancient Japan's late Jamon period. They play a rich part in Japanese history and mythology.) scattered across the atoll as if they were mean't to be found. They also find a metallic monolith inscribed with Rune like script half burried. By day break it is unearthed, and to Yonemuri's suprise it is the same temperature as the human body to the touch, and he can feel what feels feels like a heartbeat. Howeever, as if in response to his touch, chaos erupts as the monolith and atoll itself crumbles throwing the investigation team into the water. As Yonemuri struggles to the surface, he witnesses a huge eye and tusk of some enormous creature glide by....
Nagamine and Osako are tasked with capturing the bird creatures as an endangered species by a Mr. Saito, played with comical bureaucratic menace by Hirotaro Honda, and Osako hits upon the idea of using Fukuoka Dome and it's closable roof as a giant bird trap. Using slabs of cow as bait, and SDF helicopters equipped with powerful lights to guide them, the bird like creatures are successfully lured to the dome. One escapes out to sea though before the dome roof can be closed, and in what now we call a "Sqeeeeeee" moment, is slapped out of the sky by Gamera as he emerges from the water. Gamera makes land fall, and in the chaos we get treated to close ups of bowls of Fukuoka's world famous tonkotsu ramen noodles crashing to the ground. Back at the dome, the two captured Gyaos, in a nice nod to their Showa predecessor, use clearly sonic ray beams to free themselves from the cages erected around them. Gamera attacks the dome bent on killing them, but instead allows their escape. In another squeeee moment, he retracts his limbs, spews jets of flame, and spins off airborn in hot pursuit.
Eventualy Kaneko transfers us to yet another domestic scene (A trademark of the director is locating important explanatory scenes in mundane surroundings, unlike the high tech bunkers and control rooms seen in the Heisei Godzilla series.), where Yonemuri and the Kusanagi family discuss events over dinner. The Runes from the atoll's monolith have been translated; "Our last hope is Gamera, who we leave to the cradle of time, to awake with with the shadow of evil, Gyaos." Yonemuri then gives Asagi one of the Magatama beads, which her father speculates might be made of the mythical metal Orihalcon from Atlantis. The Magatama bead glows and heats up in Asagi's hands, and psychic bond between her and Gamera is formed.
Nagamine and Osako on the other hand continue their investigation of the Gyaos and discover a decimated nest of hatchlings. Osako speculates they must have been attacked by something, but Nagamine concludes that without a parent, the hatchling ate each other alive!
The next day sees another meeting with Mr. Saito, who reluctantly accecpts naming the creatures Gamera and Gyaos, but is intent on destroying the former and protecting the latter. Action then moves to the Kiso Mountain range where Nagamine, Yonemuri and Kusanagi converge over sightings of the remainng two Gyaos. In a brilliant, thrilling scene that almost did not make the movie for being so unashamedly pandering to audience emotions in a Speilberg way, Nagamine and a small boy are trapped mid way across a small suspension bridge as the Gyaos attack. Yonemuri does his best to rescue the pair, but all hope seems lost as a Gyaos prepares another sonic beam attack. It's fended off by a sudden fire ball shooting past, and in another sqeee moment Gamera comes through the forest to the rescue. One of the Gyaos gets blown to smithereens, a moment my sister and I always gufaw and sqeee at, but the other prepares another sonic beam attack on the now trio of humans trapped on the bridge. Gamera shields the humans from attack with his mighty paw and launches off in pursuit. When the action is done, Yonemuri concludes "Gamera is on our side!"
This doesn't change the policy to destroy him however. Gamera is shot down over Mt. Fuji, and Asagi, her hand now bandaged where Gyaos drew blood from Gamera, is determined to get a closer look. She convinces a Taxi Driver to take her and the two witness the SDF, in a twist on the genre, successfully pummeling Gamera. The remaining Gyaos joins in the attack, and as Asagi pleads for Gamera to run away, she spouts blood where ever Gamera is wounded. Gamera just manages to escape as Asagi collapses.
Gyaos meanwhile discovers train cars are packed with nutrition. After a harrowing attack, the JSDF finally is given orders to take the soccer fan munching bastard out. Plans to destroy the evil beast, who now has now grown to Gamera proportions and developed shielding over its eyes to protect it against the sun, go disasterly, and Tokyo Tower is destroyed, providing Gyaos with a handy a nesting place.A now desperate Mr. Saito exclaims "Where on earth is Gamera now?" to Nagamine`s disgust!
Gamera is in fact sleeping on the ocean floor, recovering from his wounds. Asagi likewise is fitfully asleep at home in bed, when her father enters her room. Noticing photos of Asagi and her boyfriend, he takes her hand, boosting Asagi and Gamera's psychic link and speeding their recovery. The stage is now set for one final, exciting battle between our "last hope" and "the shadow of evil." A battle that stretches from land, sky and even lower outer space. Not too much of a spoiler to reveal Gamera wins in the end, but only again with Asagi and her father's aid.
Roger Ebert said of GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE "...not a good movie, but a good movie going experience." With all respect to the late Ebert, A. what's the difference? And B. It's not just a good movie, it's a very good movie! Kaneko and special effects director Shinji Higuchi are tasked with turning an admittedly silly old franchise, Gamera of yore was sort of to Godzilla what the Monkees are to the Beatles, into a fresh, exciting and at the same time old fashioned Kaiju Eiga and they succeed in spades. Working with a quarter of the budget of the typical entry in the Heisei Godzilla series, they put the same year's GODZILLA VS SPACEGODZILLA to shame. Higuchi is a veritable genius when it comes to special effects (Check out his Daicon Films amature production OROCHI THE 8 HEADED DRAGON, and its crazy detailed miniature work!), and here he uses everything from CGI to tricks dating back to Harold Lloyd's suspensful comedies of the 20s. Natural lighting for the day miniature work, and details like trashbags sitting on the curbside for collection, really help sell the illusion! Other innovations include, in,a first for the genre, casting a woman as the full grown Gyaos, giving the evil critter and almost graceful shape, and using a little person in a scaled down Gamera suit for extreme long shots.
Kaneko on the other hand delivers believable, likable characters who remain well intergrated with the kaiju action throughout (Unlike Toho's 90s films, where all to often the cast would wind up watching the action on a huge monitor in a high tech control room.). And without once uttering the old Gamera franchise's mantra "Gamera is the friend of children!" shows us this to still be true. Asagi's pyschic connection to Gamera is mutually beneficial, with Asagi, and the love and support of her widowed, somewhat distant dad, helping Gamera save the day.
Gamera and Gyaos this time out are clearly genetically engineered by a lost ancient human civilization making the idea of a giant flying turtle, not just more believable, but through execution darn exciting. Kow Otani's thrilling music, the clever special effects and Kaneko's keeping the human characters tied into the action, makes for one,of the most exciting climatic battles in the genre's long history. And it's capped off with a nod to Westerns!
Where's the evidence for your thesis, mr.pretentious smarty pants?! It's a coming.... Because despite being a total delight, GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, is followed by two, even more ambitious sequals, each more complex and thought provoking than the last. GAMERA:GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE successfully rebooted the franchise with a fun, heartfelt Kaiju action movie, giving Kaneko the clout and freedom to explore deeper themes. See you next Thoughtful Thursday!


Here's a trailer for the film which I consider one of the greatest giant monster movies ever made:




Noonan's Sci-Fi Fun Club on FACEBOOK

I'm not a member of many Facebook groups BUT I would like to give a brief "shout out" to NOONAN'S SCI-FI FUN CLUB which I am a member of. As the name implies, this FB group is all about science fiction in television, books and cinema.

To check out this group(and join if so desired) click this link: Noonan's Sci-Fi Fun Club

Monday, July 30, 2018

Norse code: OUTLANDER(2008)

I remember when I first saw the trailer for a sci-fi film called Outlander many years ago...and thought it looked surprisingly cool. This movie has grown on me over the years though I admit to having a bias of sorts for anything TV or cinema with vikings in it.

In Outlander(2008), Jim Caviezel plays "Kainan", an alien soldier whose ship crash lands on 8th century Earth in a Scandanavian lake. Kainan accesses his ships' computer log, learns where he is and then has a run in with the local clan of vikings. Kainan reveals to his Norsemen captors that he didn't arrive alone. In fact, a monstrous creature Kainan calls a "Moorwen" has tagged along on his spacecraft and is currently making itself right at home, slaughtering many of the locals as it does.

Kainan and the vikings must quickly work together to stop the threat of the "Moorwen", a hulking and four legged creature that emits a red-purple glow and has a nasty disposition.

I won't call this film spectacular but it's solid with decent special effects, a cool looking monster and Jim Caviezel's performance as "Kainan".

This movie can be bought on DVD and/or Blu Ray and is for sale at Amazon.

A trailer:


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Monsterland Asylum

Way back on January 29, 2006 I created an internet message board called Monsterland Forums. It's still around albeit nowhere near as active as it was between 2007-2009. It's been converted to "Tapatalks" format and looks different but nearly all the original posting content is still there. So are a handful of members(including myself)!

This message board is also known as 'Monsterland Asylum".

Here's the link to the new site:  Monsterland Asylum

I became self employed back on October 1, 2015 and have been VERY busy but I have committed to restarting this blog with the intent of posting two entries a week minimum.

Right now is a great time to be a fan of giant monsters and giant monster movies. Coming up in May of next year: Godzilla King Of The Monsters(2019), a sequel to 2014's Godzilla. King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra(larval and adult forms) are all confirmed to be in this movie along with the "King" himself, Godzilla!

Below is the first official full length trailer for this film.

 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

What's the frequency? - VIDEODROME(1983)

I recently watched Videodrome(1983) on Cinemax. I liked it but it may be "hit or miss" for diehard horror movie fans. This movie, directed by David Cronenberg, has some interestng visuals and practical effects courtesy of Rick Baker. Watch this movie and your opinion of televisions may change...and not for the better. Videodrome(1983) is available for sale on Blu Ray at Amazon.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hamming it up: RAZORBACK(1984)

I recently bought this Australian horror film on Blu Ray and enjoyed it! In this movie a monstrous, 900 lb boar terrorizes the inhabitants of a small, dusty and desolate town in the outback. The cast includes a poor guy looking for his missing wife, a determined hunter hell bent on killing the leviathan swine and a pair of crazy, grubby looking brothers who make life miserable for everyone they come in contact with. The underlying sense of dread in this film made me think no one was going to survive the monster sized boar but fortunately some cast members survive. (no other spoilers)

The trailer:


>

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Making waves: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea(1961)

My latest Blu Ray purchase is 1961's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. I already own the DVD but, after spending the past ten days watching episodes of the VTTBOTS television series(which originally aired on ABC from 1964-1968), I decided to add this film in Blu Ray format to my BD collection. I like the series more than the film but I am a HUGE fan of both!!!






The Blu Ray of this film can be bought at Amazon as well as the TV series: VTTBOTS Blu Ray

Friday, April 29, 2016

The French connection: WATERLOO(1970)

As I have been VERY busy working as a lawn maintenance laborer I haven't had much time the past few months to do much of anything on the internet, much less contribute content to this blog. Still, and as always, I find time to enjoy movies. I recently purchased an epic war drama, a 1970 Italian-Russian film directed by Sergei Bondarchuck and produced by Dino de Laurentiis called WATERLOO. The film begins in 1814 with French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, his forces defeated by a coaltion force of British, Prussian and Spanish soldiers, forced to abdicate his position and flee to the island of Elba. Ten months later Napoleon escapes Elba and returns to France. The weak willed French king(played by Orson Welles) flees the throne upon learning that Napoleon has returned. Bonaparte quickly returns to absolute power.

Enter Arthur Wellesley aka "The Duke Of Wellington"(played by Christopher Plummer), an English aristocrat and capable military commander in charge of the coalition army which must contend with Napoleon again. France has been the dominant power in Europe since the late 1790's but other nations on the European continent oppose France, believing this country has become too powerful for its own good.

In June, 1815 a battle takes place at a town in Belgium called "Waterloo" which will shape the future of Europe for decades to come. Napoleon Bonaparte and a force of about 290,000 men battle a comparably sized force commanded by the Duke Of Wellington, Wellington's army assisted by the dashing Prussian army commanded by Blucher. Rod Steiger is terrific as the brooding, brilliant, ego driven "Napoleon Bonaparte". The actor evens resembles the real Bonaparte(based on artists renderings of the French emperor). The battle scenes are well choregraphed and the whizzing, whistling sounds of the airborne nine pound cannon balls launched from French and British cannons add to the spectacle of the Waterloo battle sequences. I also liked Dan O'Herlihy as Bonaparte's proverbial "right hand man", Marshal Michel Ney.

As a history buff Napoleon Bonaparte has always been of great fascination to me. I wrote a detailed research paper while in college on his disastrous military campaign in Russia(in 1812) so buying the DVD of WATERLOO was an easy decision for me.

Highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys epic ar films! The Russian DVD of this movie is available for sale at Amazon and presents the film in it's original widescreen aspect ratio.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla 続・夕陽の呉爾羅: TOHO'S NEW "GODZILLA RESURGENCE" EXPOSED Private P...

Recently leaked images appeared online which revealed the look of Godzilla in the upcoming Toho film Godzilla Resurgence(2016)(slated for a summer, 2016 theatrical release). This is the first Godzilla movie produced by Toho Studios since Godzilla Final Wars, which was released in Japan back in December of 2004. These leaked images reveal a craggy, nightmarish looking Godzilla who is not wearing the effects from H bomb radiation exposure well at all. I've seen a lot of negative comments about this look on Facebook but I wholeheartedly approve of this rendering. Godzilla looks more monster and less dinosaur and I think it's a great idea by Toho to present this legendary creature in that way.

I encourage Godzilla fans and giant monster movie fans to keep themselves informed of this upcoming Toho movie by subscribing to August Ragone's blog. Click the link below:

The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla 続・夕陽の呉爾羅: TOHO'S NEW "GODZILLA RESURGENCE" EXPOSED Private P...: シン•ゴジラが露出!禁断の写真は発行されました! A face only a mother Godzilla could love... Clearasil, anyone? Earlier today, a number of low-res images began...

Friday, January 1, 2016

Yes - "Leave It" (remastered)

This terrific song sums up my sentiments regarding last year...leave it!