Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Japanese Monster Movies

(Movie glutton's note: One of the dangers of being a movie glutton is watching movies at a faster rate than I am able to blog about them.  I only posted once in December, and have only posted 3 in January so far.  From now on, when appropriate, I will be posting some of these in groups of loosely related movies.)

A loving father playing with his son.
 One of my favorite movie-going memories is lining up around the theater, waiting for what must have been hours with my dad and brother, to see the latest Godzilla movies.  These cheesy Japanese imports with terrible special effects surely were bad back then.  Even though my 7-year-old brain loved them, surely my dad hated them.  After watching Son of Godzilla, I gained a new appreciation for what dads tolerate for their sons.

I don't remember if Son of Godzilla was one that we saw in that Corpus Christi theater.  This 1967 release was 8th in the series that started with Godzilla in 1954.  I have to believe it was a low point in the series.  Baby Godzilla's midget in a rubber suit is worse than Godzilla's man in a rubber suit.  Godzilla's training sessions with his son are wonderful, if low, comedy (especially if you're 7).  The scientists living on this remote island get caught in the battle between Godzilla and the giant spider, but manage to escape the mysterious island. 

You don't want a hug from the Strangling Monster.

One of the great things about the Japanese monster movies is their self-referential mocking comedy.  Big Man Japan, a mockumentary about a man who grows to giant size when called on to fight monsters, mixes a little bit of monster action with reality-show-type interview with the big man.  He's past middle age, not too thrilled about his lot in life, and does not get much respect from the community.  To maintain his career, his agent sells ad to wear on his body; she is more concerned with ad placement than fighting monsters.  The monsters themselves are stranger than what I remember seeing on any monster movies.  Unfortunately, they take a minor role.  I would have enjoyed more monsters, less interview.  The ending seemed tacked on and a bit out of character with the rest of the movie.  Nevertheless, it's still a funny movie.

The third Japanese movie isn't really a monster movie; in fact, it's not a Japanese movie--it's Korean--but it fits well with these others.  Save the Green Planet has the silly title going for it--you know this isn't going to be an art film classic.  Well, maybe it is.  This was surprisingly dark and had some heavy social themes, not of which is revealed by the silly picture on the DVD cover.  Byeong-gu is an everyman who believes aliens are plotting to attack the Earth.  He kidnaps a prominent businessman whom he believes is an alien.  Byeong-gu tortures him and thwarts his escape attempts, revealing his insanity.  As more was revealed about Byeong-gu, I almost began to feel sorry for him.  But the more he tortured the businessman, my sympathy declined.  Sure, the businessman is a bad guy, and was directly or indirectly responsible for some bad stuff, but no one deserves that kind of insane treatment.

I have to admit, half-way through this movie, I was thinking it was a waste of time.  I kept watching, simply because I rarely turn off a bad movie.  By the end, it had totally redeemed itself with a satisfying, if bizarre, climax and a surprise ending that made me want to watch it again.  Save the Green Planet was strange and sometimes disturbing, but the dark comedy, the social commentary on labor disputes, corporate greed, and medical research, and the unpredictable pacing makes this one worth watching.

Bottom lines:
Son of Godzilla, 1 star, but only if you're a Godzilla fan.
Big Man Japan, 2 1/2 stars
Save the Green Planet, 3 stars

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