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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Golden Bat (1966) review


Sonny Chiba (Dr. Yamatone), Osamu Kobayashi (Golden Bat), Wataru Yamagawa (Akira Kazahaya), Hirohisa Nakata (Shimizu), Hisako Tsukuba (Naomi), Andrew Hughes (Doctor Pearl), Keiko Kuni (Piranha), Keichi Kitagawa (Jackal), Yoichi Numata (Keloid)

Directed by Hajime Sato

The Short Version: This brief but bonkers 73 minute wonder from Japan is the perfect cure for those suffering from the bad movie blues. This child-friendly (well, the Japanese version of small fry fantasy) science fiction nonsense reaffirms why Japan produced the most enjoyably goofy, brain-dead escapist entertainment the world has ever seen. Where else could you see Sonny Chiba side by side with a skull faced, wand waving cackler in a cape and wrestling boots dueling with an alien in a rat costume made out of bed sheets and bicycle reflector eyes and with a metal hook hand?

Nazo, an evil alien with plans to rule the universe sends the flaming planetoid, Icarus to destroy the Earth. Meanwhile, Dr. Yamatone and his scientific team have designed the Super Destruction Beam Cannon which can obliterate Icarus before it reaches the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a particular element is needed to fashion the cannons lens. They find it on a chunk of island left over from Atlantis which also harbors the tomb of the Golden Bat, a superhero that rises from the dead to battle Nazo and his alien army.

This uniformly BATshit crazy movie is only 73 minutes in length, but packs enough utterly insane situations for a few additional movies. Watching the film, it takes on the persona of a Mexi-horror-Masked Wrestling movie directed by and starring a Japanese cast. Imagine a movie about a guy wearing what looks like a rat costume made out of a bed sheet and pillow cases with a metal claw battling an incessantly laughing skinny dude in a skull mask decked out in glittery spandex, wrestling boots, a Dr. Strange cape and carrying a wand with a ball on the end. Honestly, words fail to do this intoxicatingly nonsensical mess justice. It's the kind of movie that would delight small...very small children and grown up fans of nutty Japanese cinema.

Yet another picture based on a manga, GOLDEN BAT is one of the strangest adaptations to ever make its way to the screen. It mixes science fiction with fantasy and adds a helping of horror to complete its kooky recipe. The title hero with his bulbous, semi grinning skull for a face, constantly cackles and says relatively little dialog. The main villain by comparison looks about as menacing as Pokemon and would look more at home hop, skippin' and jumpin' at a kids theme park than orchestrating Earth's demise. Nazo's army are essentially a bunch of space ninjas whose ensemble is completed by a trio of Halloween hucksters one of which looks like a werewolf and another has fried egg all over his face.

Nazo gets around in this huge space craft that's a cross between an enormous drill bit and Viras, the giant alien octopi from GAMERA VS. VIRAS (1968). Dr. Yamatone and his "Science Patrol" track it in their zippy 'Super Car #2', a flying craft that takes them out to sea where they find the remains of Atlantis(!) floating around out their. After being assaulted by Nazo's (Nazi?) laser emitting tower and a cadre of his black clad stormtroopers, our gang descend one of the Roman styled constructs where they find a tomb that houses the Egyptian designed sarcophagus where Golden Bat sleeps. Engraved with hieroglyphics that read more like a political speech than a prophecy, Yamatone opens the ornate coffin and finds GB clutching the rock-like element required to complete the Super Destruction Beam Cannon! All they need to do is sprinkle some water on his chest and viola, instant Golden Bat.

From there it's a series of cliffhanger moments where Nazo's minions use a human duplicator to kidnap members of the Science team to get their hands on the cannon. Other moments find the bad guys battling the Bat Man while cruising around in a flying submarine similar to the Gotengo from ATRAGON (1963) and numerous laser gun exchanges that bring the film to its conclusion--a confrontation between the Bat Man and Rat Man as well as the GORATH (1962) inspired Icarus hurtling ever closer to the planet.

One thing that stands out in GOLDEN BAT, and Japanese Sci Fi in general, is how violent it can be--far more brutal than anything seen in US made kiddie programmers. In this film, children (with guns to their head!) are nearly choked to death while the alien invaders stand by and laugh and another scene has hostages thrown off the giant alien tower and we see them bounce off the otherworldly cathedral as they fall to their deaths! Post war Japan had a strikingly relaxed view on big and small screen violence which was likely a reflection of the horrors witnessed and suffered through the aftermath of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This was one of action superstar Sonny Chiba's most curious roles as he was playing a scientist as opposed to the title character or some other larger than life persona. He had already starred in some other thoroughly bizarre superhero movies such as INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN (1961) and the Middle Eastern set hero show, THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH (1960) among some other out of the way features and TV shows before solidifying himself as the premiere action hero of Japan's big and small screens at the dawn of the 1970s. There's no hint of great bone-breaking things to come in his performance here, but it's refreshing to see the man pre-Blood, Guts & Karate undertaking vastly different roles from the sort he would soon become synonymous with.

Hajime Sato also directed Sonny Chiba in the bland and infantile TERROR BENEATH THE SEA (1966). Granted, with only the edited US version to compare on DVD here in America, it's not nearly as entertaining as the shorter and sillier GOLDEN BAT. Sato also directed the low budget, but excessively creative GOKE, BODYSNATCHER FROM HELL (1968), a multi-colored, candy coated Sci Fi/Horror flick about soul sucking space vampires that caps with an incredibly downer ending. Sato's GOLDEN BAT is a quirky, hopelessly childish, yet immensely fun Tokusatsu programmer and one that will likely only be appreciated by those with a fondness for wacky Japanese science fiction.


Fazeo said...

Fantastic review as always. I've never seen this film so now my interest in it has skyrocketed greatly after reading your review.

I take it that it doesn't have an official DVD release?

venoms5 said...

Thanks again for the kind words, Fazeo! No legit US release, but it is out on DVD in Japan sans subs. There's a fansubbed version (which is the one I reviewed) which can be bought at various online outlets.

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