Monday, March 15, 2010

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) Dis List review #4

This column is reserved for terrible movies with little, to no redeeming qualities that are woefully disappointing, at least to me. These are movies that could, or should have had potential, but fail on nearly every level; movies that aren't good enough to be bad cheese. This is...



Masahiro Matsuoka (Shinichi Ozaki), Don Frye (Douglas Gordon), Kane Kosugi (Kazama), Kazuki Kitamura (Planet X Controller)

Ruined by Ryuhei Kitamura

I usually start these off with a plot synopsis, but since the plot used for this mess masquerading as a movie is a patchwork of past BETTER MOVIES, we'll just skip that part and just wing it...

Even in futuristic Japan, X-men practice Taebo

Sometime in the near future, giant monsters have become a "bigger" problem than cockroaches so a superhuman group of "X-men" are trained to combat the threats to mankind. Then, in an effort to create suspense, Aliens (called Xillians) suddenly show up and vanquish the creatures. Shortly after a laughable meeting with the Japanese government, the Xillians say that a runaway planetoid called Gorath, (also the name of a Toho sci-fi feature from 1962) is on a collision course with Earth.

This whole scene I kept hoping she'd do that Sharon Stone thing from BASIC INSTINCT...

With no time for extras or minor characters to even remotely question any of the motives of the visitors, everyone blindingly accepts them with open arms save for the small few characters Kitamura fails to build upon over the films two hour plus running time.

Koh Takasugi does his best Klingon impersonation

Amidst all the various riffs off of popular American blockbuster drivel, it would seem the makers even took inspiration from the wardrobe from David Lynch's DUNE (1984)

Good news!!! Not more than ten minutes go by before this subplot (the one involving Gorath, remember?) is totally dropped and the Xillians real agenda is revealed. Apparently the Planet X Controller somehow managed to see reruns of V (1983) and came upon the idea to harvest humans as a food supply for his reptilian race.

However, there's even more good news!!! This plot device is also rather idiotically forgotten about as the aliens, along with the monsters, proceed to destroy nearly all of humanity. As a last resort, General Gordon (played by PRIDE fighter and Japanese fan favorite Don "the Predator" Frye) leads some of the X-men in the Gotengo, a flying, weapons laden submarine (also the subject of a 1963 Toho sci-fi film called ATRAGON) to free Godzilla from the Arctic (He is put there at the start of the film in one of depressingly few decent sequences).

He is released from his icy tomb and proceeds to travel around the world in 80 seconds (which is about the average length of time the monster fights are given) to battle with the monsters while the human characters, in a bid to make some kind of sense of the script, fight the aliens and their space armada to save the Earth (and their careers).

This is an apparently unused battle scene found on disc 2 of the special features. The footage shows Godzilla fighting Monster X, Gigan and Angilas

For many, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973) is the nadir of the Godzilla series. It's CITIZEN CANE next to GODZILLA FINAL BORE. After producing some of the finest entries with the Millennium series (several of which captured the essence of some of the Toho monster films of the 1960's), Toho decided to allow a young up and comer to direct the last film (for now) in the franchise.

The Shobjin, as well as Mothra, appear as mostly an afterthought in the film. Also, in Japan's future, the good guys dress as Nazi's.

Also in Japan's future, X-men can't drive worth a damn and shit blows up for no discernable reason

They couldn't have made a worse choice by hiring Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of the cult film VERSUS. He also went on record stating how big of a fan of the 70's G films he was and that he wanted to turn this last entry into a tribute of sorts to that much reviled time in the Godzilla series. Considering the displeasure the late Tomoyuki Tanaka had over some of those entries, you'd think that would have been a red flag right there for new producer, Shogo Tomoyama.

Godzilla fights Kumongo for about 30 seconds. This fight doesn't even really have an end. He simply slings the huge spider away with such force, I was expecting the outsized arachnid to come flying back from the opposite side of the Earth just like in the cartoons; complete with stamps from around the world.

Granted, the idea was to turn the series over to a young upstart filmmaker in the hopes of breathing new life into the series. Apparently, Toho execs had a lot of faith in Kitamura and more or less left him alone to shoot his cinematic train wreck. The biggest budget ever provided by Toho (20 million dollars) is totally wasted on ridiculous dialog and even more insipid "monster battles" and suit design. Much of the budget did go to the numerous location work such as New York, Australia, etc…

How the hell do you screw up a Godzilla movie? I mean, even the lesser entries still had their moments. Well, if you're going to make a Godzilla movie, or even a monster movie for that matter, it's usually a good idea to make the monsters the focus of your film. Even as bad and misguided as the American Godzilla was, at least the filmmakers there understood this much. The monster fights seen here are WAY too short. Some last barely ten seconds. Then Kitamura gets the hilarious idea to poke fun at the US Godzilla movie by having that "pretender to the throne" get incinerated here. It is quite an hilarious scene and inventive. It's also quite possibly the single most intentionally funny moment in the movie.

A revamped Gigan is hyped up throughout the picture and when we finally get a look at him, it's quite an impressive creation. But there's good news!!! When Gigan finally meets with Godzilla, he is, to viewers amazement, dispatched quickly; eliminating any build up the creature had up to that point.

Gigan gets wasted almost as quickly as he appears and loses his head for the first of two times

What's most amusing is the running gag that Gigan keeps losing his head. His second appearance is even more embarrassing! The only creature on the side of the Big G is Mothra. Like everything else in this movie, the inclusion of Mothra is rather hastily tossed into Kitamura's blender blunder of mismatched ingredients.

The scene in question features Mothra appearing to duel with the second incarnation of Gigan now sporting chainsaw appendages(!) This second appearance has all the potential to redeem the convoy of crap Kitamura has unspooled up to this point. But then....there's good news!!! Gigan fires some giant, spinning shuriken-like weapons which miss the giant flying God of Infant Island; only for Gigan to then turn her into a roaring ball of flame.

In one of the films dumbest moments (and if the movie didn't have enough already), Gigan cuts his own head off after blowing Mothra up

As he turns his back to the seemingly obliterated Mothra, Gigan's own weapons, the flying blades, return to sender and Gigan, rather stupidly, manages to decapitate himself(!?!?!) Now a flaming phoenix, Mothra does a kamikaze dive straight into the now headless Gigan, a victim of Kitamura's sloppy script.

One of many MATRIX styled nonsense in what is supposed to be a Godzilla movie

In what other ways can you screw up a Godzilla movie? There's WAY too damn much kung fu-MATRIX style fights. Me being a HUGE kung fu movie fan, I would have welcomed some of this here, but more screen time is given to martial arts scenes than the monster action. One of the funnier moments is the motorcycle chase scene between two of the X-men. One of them is Kane Kosugi, the son of international star, Sho Kosugi. As per Kitamura's penchant to have his caricatures...oh, I'm sorry, I meant characters! As per Kitamura's penchant to have his CHARACTERS pose a lot in his movies, here, we get that, too, but also the added attraction of Masahiro Matsuoka and Kane Kosugi exchanging glances shaking and fidgeting like they've had to much sugar in their tea.

Monster X prior to transforming into Kaiser Ghidorah, the least impressive incarnation of the scaly three headed monster to date

The ending is also guilty of shifting attention towards the human characters. More time is spent on their battle with the alien hordes inside the spaceship than the uninspired final Kaiju battle. Which is probably just as well considering this lifeless excuse of a "Final War" consists of revamped lowlights seen in all of the 70's movies such as that much talked about, cringe-worthy shot of Godzilla picking up an empty monster suit and slamming it down over and over.

An actual Kaiju soccer match. No shit, the filmmakers actually thought it would be cool to shoot a soccer match with monsters. The King Seesar suit design is really lame, too.

How many more ways can you screw up a Godzilla movie you ask??? In GODZILLA FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN, you see the Big G during the opening minutes, but then he's not seen again until a little over an hour later when he embarks on his "blink and you'll miss'em" monster battles. What the hell??? That means all we're stuck with until then is a pigs trough loaded down with characters and dialog you could give two shits about. Oh, and there's monsters seen during that time, too. There's also a totally hilarious and unnecessary jab at Gamera with a kid, whose mouth is totally covered in chocolate, is playing with Godzilla toys. He picks up his Gamera like turtle toy and yells at it, "You loser!" He then throws it in a fireplace.

With so much screen time devoted to human interaction you'd think the characters would be developed in such a way to seem somewhat interesting or even remotely believable. You would be horribly wrong. There's Don Frye, one of my favorite PRIDE fighters. He is the perfect embodiment of a live action anime character and has an enormous amount of screen presence, but he's one of the worst actors I've ever seen. His line delivery has all the energy and tonality of a James Taylor song. It also sounds like he's reading (badly) from cue cards. Frye stated in interviews that it was a lifetime dream to appear in a Godzilla movie. He also later stated the obvious that both his performance and this movie sucked. His fight scenes are good, at least.

PRIDE and K-1 fighter, "Big Daddy" Gary Goodridge and K-1 competitor, Ray Sefo have their own cameo. They only have a brief scene before G fries them, but their acting far surpasses Don Frye's lazy, disinterested delivery

Oh, and Kane Kosugi is memorable as the hot-headed Kazama. Several of the best loved Showa series actors, such as Akira Takarada, Kenji Sahara and Kumi Mizuno are on hand to look bewildered and somewhat embarrassed to be associated with this travesty.

Angilus is arguably the most interesting monster in this movie and gets some cool shots and new abilities

You couldn't possibly screw up a Godzilla movie anymore than this, could you?? This movie is fucking stupid. The blatantly and irrefutably comical in your face "homages" to STAR WARS and THE MATRIX look all the world like the Japanese equivalent to all those EPIC MOVIE, DATE MOVIE, MEET THE SPARTANS parodies that have been popular as of late. And then there's all the "Strike A Pose...Vogue" moments with the cast. The ridiculous score by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer feels hopelessly out of place and better suited for a Syfy Channel original. In more ironic news, Sum 41 delivered a track for the movie entitled 'We're All To Blame'.

There also appears to have been some MAJOR relooped dialog that is PAINFULLY noticeable. During the New York scene with the cop and the bum, they are clearly uttering the 'F' word over and over, but these enlightening exchanges have been overdubbed with words that look nothing like what's really being said. But then, there's not much else you can replace the word 'Fuck' with and make a sentence in the hopes of syncing the lip movements...'duck', 'stuck', 'Buck', 'luck'...One idea could have been to simply reshoot the scene, but I guess the 20 million forked over didn't allow for that. And let's not forget the Looney Tunes sound effects when Rodan flies over causing the pimp and the cops hats to fly off their heads.

You're kidding me, right?

Unlike a lot of other fans, I have no problem with the Minya (or Minilla) character. I think ALL MONSTERS ATTACK is one of the best entries in the entire series in the way it deals with a lonely latchkey kid who relies on the fantasy realm of monster island to lend him courage in dealing with (sometimes dangerous) daily life. But like so many other aspects of GODZILLA WTF?, the character is thrust into the narrative without any explanation whatsoever. He just appears and adds nothing to the film much like director Kitamura himself. At least Maasaki Tezuka understood what made these films work and successfully created some of the liveliest monster sequences of the entire run of GODZILLA films.

Footage (in English) of Godzilla receiving his star and also the premier festivities of the movie in California prior to its release in Japan

Toho banked so much on this one. The film was courted to US studios but none seemed interested particularly after the film bombed terribly in its native country. It only earned $12 million in Japan. Based on how much was spent on it, it was the least profitable Godzilla film. The film that trounced it like so many Tsuburaya created miniature models at the Japanese BO was the animated feature, HOWL'S FLYING CASTLE. However, GODZILLA'S BOGUS JOURNEY did receive a first for the series. It premiered in America at the Egyptian Theater in California before it came out in its native Japan.

Monster X transforms into Kaiser Ghidorah for no other reason other than to make it easier to cut his heads off

Never had a G-film divided its fans as much as this one but I cannot see how any fan can truly like this soulless excuse of a movie. It was as if Toho intentionally wanted to make the worst film imaginable by handing over the series to an individual who had nothing but disdain for the entire franchise. Considering the treatment a number of the Godzilla movies received when imported over here since the 80's, there's no way any tinkering could further fuck up this picture.

No, I guess you're not kidding...

Kitamura successfully turned the series into the giant joke many in America already perceive the films to be. If you look up Kitamura on IMDB you'll find this in the trivia section of his profile--Was offered the job directing The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but turned it down, citing a poor script. I had a good laugh at the bit about the poor script. An incredibly sad and wasted opportunity, this was the 28th film in the long running series. Hopefully, none of the producers committed seppuka after the last of the box office receipts came in. Meanwhile, Kitamura's career has seemingly floundered.

This review is representative of a fansubbed version of the Japanese R2 3 disc set. Disc 3 makes the purchase totally worthwhile. It contains a near 90 minute documentary cataloguing all the various Godzilla costumes and effects technicians since the '54 original. It contains tons of great behind the scenes shots of the films being made.

Shura (1971) review


Imafuku Masao (Gengobe Satsuma/Soemon Funakura), Kara Juro (Sangoro), Yasuko Sanjo (Koman)

Directed by Matsumoto Toshio

The sole shot of color before the darkness falls...

"Even if there is sunlight...this maggot can abide only in deepest darkness!"

Gengobe gives up the money given to him by poor farmers to a woman who uses him for other means

Having wasted his money on prostitutes, Soemon Funakura is cast out as an Asano Clan retainer, a group of noble samurai bound to a vendetta against the Shogunate. Living in shame, he changes his name to Gengobe Satsuma. His servant, Hachiemon gathers together the 100 ryo needed for Gengobe to be accepted back into his clan to take his place among the 47 Ronin. Koman, the geisha which he loves, is about to be sold to another man. The debt required to keep her in Gengobe's arms is 100 ryo. An escalating series of treachery, greed and lies brings about the downfall and gruesome death of a number of individuals.

This jidai geki (period drama) horror story is an alternate and fascinating take on the fabled true tale of the 47 Ronin, a story that has been brought to Japanese screens on a number of occasions. For this film, the 47 retainers and their leader, Oboshi Yuranosuke (Oishi Kuranosuke) are only mentioned throughout. We never see them. Through the films title and the events depicted, this film purports that Gengobe was to have been the 48th Ronin to avenge the ritualized suicide of their leader, Asano Takumi.

Matsumoto's movie takes some of the details surrounding that famous event and weaves them to suit the ominously gloomy atmosphere. SHURA (1971) is simply one of the most hypnotic and downbeat movies ever made. A tale of irony, sacrifice and extreme tragedy, it's shot in a unique style. The opening sequence of the sun going down is the only shot of the film in color. The remainder of the films 135 minutes is in an increasingly stark, grimly opaque and terrifying black and white.

Koman feigns committing suicide in an effort to prove her "intentions" to Gengobe

A number of the scenes in the movie possess a dream like quality in that we see an outcome, only to realize that it is all in the characters mind. Such sequences all add to the veritable madness Gengobe succumbs to over the course of the film. It's quite tragic what happens to him. Just when he is ready to atone for his mistakes, he allows a woman to cloud his hopes for reconciliation with his clan. It is soon discovered that he has been deceived by what he held most dear; his love for Koman, whom he wishes to make his wife. Ready to give up everything for this woman, his feelings betray him.

Gengobe learns that Koman is already married right after throwing his money away a second time

Immediately after handing over the 100 ryo to pay off Koman's debts, Sangoro admits that he cannot take her with him as she is already married! He then goes on to state that she is his wife! This whole act has been a ruse to clear her debts so the Sangoro would be finally accepted by his family as well as getting their infant son back. This crushes Gengobe. The 100 ryo was given to him by poor farmers and peasants who scrapped together what little they had so that he could rejoin the Asano.

Sangoro murders his own brother

No one in this film, even the innocent, obtain just treatment. The piling of one lie atop the other creates a world of rising sadism and ultimate tragedy. The characters of the geisha, Koman and her husband, Sangoro, are despicable and use Gengobe for their own good. Matsumoto also fills his picture with a lot of irony. Making his father believe he has suffered to obtain the large sum to gain his respect, the money is to be used to clear the irresponsible debts accrued by his fathers master, Soemon Funakura. What Sangoro doesn't know is that Soemon is actually the Asano name of Gengobe Satsuma.

Already insane, Gengobe sees the spirits of those he has killed coming back from the grave to haunt him

Gorily murdering five people behind the plot to relieve him of his money, the now crazed samurai goes in search of the two main conspirators, Koman and her husband. Now a wanted man, Gengobe later finds them and in a fit of rage, commits a sickening act of violence that leaves no restitution for anyone.

The incredibly brutal and uncompromising finale of SHURA

The death scenes shown here are poetically shot, but attention to ghastly detail is lovingly paid by the macabre cinematography. These scenes are very bloody, too. Limbs and heads are severed and the camera lingers on victims in their death throes. Often these bits play without sound and in slow motion which adds to the overall eerieness. The tone becomes more grim as the film heads towards its hopelessly bleak finale.

Gengobe has conversation with a decapitated head

The aforementioned cinematography is one of the movies many strong points and aids immeasurably in the horror aspects of this production. People's faces are often accentuated by shadows and the use of darkness with just enough illumination to highlight the facial features of those onscreen. Banned in the UK for its depressing tone and shocking violence, SHURA (1971) is a terribly underrated movie that seemingly never gets discussed much. The film is a sad, depressing tale that is a must see for horror enthusiasts and those with an appreciation for Japanese cinema.
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