Film Review: Prince of Space (1959)

Also known as: Yūsei Ōji, lit. Planet Prince (Japan), The Star Prince, Prince Planet, Invaders from the Spaceship, Invaders from Space (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 19th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Eijirō Wakabayashi
Written by: Shin Morita, Masaru Igami
Music by: Katsuhisa Hattori
Cast: Tatsuo Umemiya, Joji Oda, Hiroko Mine

Toei Company, 57 Minutes (Part I), 64 Minutes (Part II), 85 Minutes (DVD cut), 121 Minutes (full cut)

Review:

“You there! Discharge the caustic vapors!” – Phantom of Krankor

This isn’t the first Japanese superhero character but he is a very early example of one before the superhero tokusatsu genre took off. This is sort of an early prototype for more famous characters like Ultraman, Kamen Rider and the Super Sentai team (Power Rangers in the States).

Like several tokusatsu “films” that are released to American audiences, this one was comprised of episodes of a television show. In Japan, the original show consisted of 49 episodes that were broken up into multiple segments. Some of the segments were edited into a two-part film series, which was released theatrically in Japan. Once this made it over to the States, those two separate films were edited into one very choppy motion picture.

Like many other tokusatsu show to movie edits, this one was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It appeared in the original first season when the show was just shown locally in Minneapolis. This movie was never recycled into the show once it went national on Comedy Central.

Being that I am a fan of tokusatsu entertainment, I’m always eager to check out some of the more obscure offerings. While I found this entertaining, due to the nature of what it is, it was still a poorly edited mess and rather boring.

The special effects are dreadful, even by the tokusatsu standard. But in this show’s defense, this did come out well before stuff like Ultraman. That classic tokusatsu show wouldn’t debut until 1966.

Unless you are a hardcore fan of tokusatsu or a Mystery Science Theater 3000 completist, you won’t get much benefit from watching Prince of Space a.k.a. Planet Prince a.k.a. The Star Prince a.k.a. Prince Planet a.k.a. Invaders from the Spaceship a.k.a. Invaders from Space.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other really early examples of tokusatsu, most of which was bad until Godzilla and Ultraman took the world by storm and became top franchises.

Film Review: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

Also known as: Kyōryū Kaichō no Densetsu, lit. Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds (Japan), The Legend of Dinosaurs (US alternate title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Junji Kurata
Written by: Masaru Igami, Isao Matsumoto, Ichirô Ôtsu
Music by: Masao Yagi
Cast: Tsunehiko Watase, Nobiko Sawa, Shotaro Hayashi

Toei Company, 94 Minutes

Review:

The trailer for this Toei picture is actually infinitely better looking than the film itself. Yes, the scenes from the trailer are in the film but the movie lacks energy and excitement and the action just seems pretty minuscule. Basically, this is a really boring movie and I’m a guy that loves kaiju and tokusatsu films.

While I have watched a lot of Toei pictures, this one eluded me until I found it at the end of the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was never brought back for the show’s nationally televised run unlike several of their first season features.

Considering the era in which this film was made, it was greatly inspired by Jaws and the Hollywood trend of having giant animals attack humans. Being that this is Japanese though, the animals here are much more fantastical than their more plausible American counterparts. This really is just a standard kaiju movie but one with generic looking monsters that lack the personality of Toho or Daiei’s more famous creatures.

This never got a theatrical release in the United States but it did appear on television in 1987 with a terrible dub track. In all honesty, the atrocious dubbing really hurts the picture and is probably a major reason as to why this plays so poorly. There isn’t a subtitled version of this that I have been able to track down.

If you like this style of film, there are so many that are much better. If you’re a kaiju completist though, you should probably check this out. I doubt it will wow you but at least you can check it off of your list.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Toei’s other kaiju and tokustatu stuff, as well as lower budget, more generic kaiju pictures that don’t feature famous monsters.

Film Review: Batman Ninja (2018)

Release Date: March 24th, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Junpei Mizusaki
Written by: Kazuki Nakashima
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Yugo Kanno
Cast: Tony Hale (English dub), Tara Strong (English dub), Kōichi Yamadera, Wataru Takagi, Ai Kakuma, Rie Kugimiya, Hōchū Ōtsuka

DC Entertainment, Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks, Barnum Studio, Warner Bros., 85 Minutes

Review:

“This is madness.” – Batman

Yes… yes it is, Batman.

The only reason I checked this out is that it’s on the DC Universe app, which I now have and am trying out. Other than that, I didn’t have much interest in this.

However, some of the character designs looked cool and I thought that this might just be bonkers enough to be enjoyable. The problem is that I only made it about twenty minutes into the film before I regretted hitting the play button.

Cool and interesting character designs don’t mean much outside of a sketchbook of conceptual art. You have to apply these cool looking characters in an engaging and dynamic way and this anime fails to do just that.

This movie is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions and I’m pretty sure that the creators behind this had no idea what the hell they wanted to do apart from throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen just for the sake of throwing a bunch of cool looking shit on screen.

The story is all over the place, makes little sense, I can’t tell what the hell is happening through most of the film and there’s a big mecha battle because this is Japanese and it can’t exist without a big mecha battle.

This is a bunch of cool, unrelated shit thrown into a blender without little care as to whether or not it would blend well and be enjoyable, let alone remotely palatable. I had an uncle that had throat cancer and for awhile, he had to blend up every meal. His face while drinking his meals was similar to mine while trying to drink in this movie.

Batman Ninja is abhorrent and it should not have been made. It’s existence reminds me of the most famous of all of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quotes: “Your scientists creators were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: terrible to subpar anime.

Film Review: The Living Skeleton (1968)

Also known as: Kyûketsu dokuro-sen (original title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Hiroshi Matsuno
Written by: Kikuma Shimoiizaka, Kyūzō Kobayashi
Music by: Noboru Nishiyama
Cast: Kikko Matsuoka, Yasunori Irikawa, Masumi Okada, Nobuo Kaneko, Kō Nishimura

Shochiku, 80 Minutes

Review:

The Living Skeleton is two things: eerie and atmospheric. It also reminds me of the darker episodes of the Japanese TV show Ultra Q, which was like a Japanese X-Files, three decades before that show even existed.

But it is darker and more haunting than that show, as this isn’t geared towards a younger audience. And in fact, the opening scene is pretty violent stuff.

The film opens with modern pirates taking over a ship off the coast of Japan. The pirates murder the crew and passengers before getting away. As the film rolls on, we see that this incident has caused a lot of spiritual unrest in the afterlife and a balance must be restored.

The story is a mixture of a traditional ghost story and Japanese folklore tales. There are skeletons underwater, a girl possessed by her dead sister and a few other surprises throughout the film.

The effects are really good. Especially considering the time that this was made and for the fact that it was a Japanese picture with a modest budget. And while some moments look a bit hokey by today’s standards, it all still works and the chilling atmosphere wraps around you like a thick blanket on a wet, cold day.

I really enjoyed this and while a lot of the events in the film seem almost random, for those more clued in to Japanese folklore, it’s a really cool experience. The Japanese have always been extremely creative with the monsters that have cemented themselves in their culture. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject matter and they have so many ghosts, spirits and “yōkai” that are just really damn cool.

Japanese horror is a breed all its own. The classic stuff is really cool and very different than what America or Europe has pumped out for decades.

The Living Skeleton is a rather short motion picture but it does a great job of showcasing Japanese terror and fears in a variety of ways.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Japanese fantasy horror of the ’60s and ’70s: House, Kwaidan, Onibaba and Attack of the Mushroom People, to name a few.

Film Review: The Wolverine (2013)

Also known as: Wolverine 2 (working title), Wolverine: Inmortal (Spanish language title), Wolverine: Samurai (Japan)
Release Date: July 16th, 2013 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Based on: Wolverine by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Patrick Stewart (cameo), Ian McKellan (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 126 Minutes, 138 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“Your grandfather called me a ronin, a samurai without a master. He said I was destined to live forever, with no reason to live.” – Logan

The Wolverine did a pretty good job of making up for the mostly terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Also, it was the film I wanted instead of Origins because when I first heard that they planned on a solo Wolverine film, I immediately hoped that they would tap into his Japan stories. I just had to wait a few more years for that, I guess.

Everything about this film is really good, except two things.

The first, is that it was drawn out a bit too much. I felt like it could have been whittled down by twenty minutes or so and had a much better flow to it.

The second, is the villains. I loved the story but the baddies were weak as hell and really uninteresting.

Viper has never been a character that’s been a big deal in the comics and I’ve never really cared about her. In this, she just never felt like a real threat. She spits acid but in a film where the hero is Wolverine, who heeled from a nuclear bomb blast in the first five minutes. So now I’m supposed to worry about him getting acid spit in his face?

The other villain is a more well-known character from the comics, the Silver Samurai. However, he isn’t really the Silver Samurai here, he’s just an old dying Japanese billionaire wearing a mecha suit. Sure, the suit is adamantium but whatever. Tear that shit open like a tin can and squash the dude’s head like a grape. And again, he’s just not the real Silver Samurai.

Getting back to Viper, she stuck out like a sore, disfigured thumb. The reason why is because her acting was abominable. Everyone else in this film gave great performances. I don’t think it’s her lack of experience in acting that’s the issue, it’s just that her poor performance is greatly contrasted by how good everyone else is in this. She would blend in to a lesser film but every scene that she is in here, is bogged down by her performance. It really hindered key moments in the film.

Getting to the positives, there are more of those.

The story is great and I do love how it develops and evolves. It could have used better pacing but once you get to Japan, things really pick up and there is just a bit in the middle that could have been edited down because I didn’t need as much attention given to the romance story as this film felt it needed.

All of the action sequences are executed superbly, most of the CGI is pretty good and Hugh Jackman proved that he is perfect as this character, even if hardcore fans still complain that he’s too tall.

I also really enjoyed Rila Fukushima’s Yukio. She kind of made a good sidekick in the movie and I wish she had carried over into Logan, even though it was set well into the future.

James Mangold did a fine job resurrecting this franchise. This was a good first outing for him with the character, which only helped to make his Logan pretty close to a comic book movie masterpiece.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other films starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Film Review: Dead or Alive (1999)

Also known as: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (original title), D.O.A. (short title)
Release Date: November 5th, 1999 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi

Daiei Film, Toei Video, Excellent Film, 105 Minutes

Review:

“My father was a small-village cop in a town where nothing ever happened. He just hung around like a scarecrow, until he died. But like they say – even a scarecrow keeps away the sparrows.” – Detective Jojima

People often ask me, “Hey, did you see that new Takashi Miike film?!” And my usual response is, “No.” People that know that I’m a hardcore film aficionado just assume that I like everything weird and strange out there but Miike’s movies have never really resonated with me and this one is no different.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the film. I respect lots of things that aren’t my cup of tea because a person doesn’t have to like everything just for the fact that others see value in it or just because it has some sort of merit or special quality that makes it unique or influential.

I understand why Miike’s films resonate with some people, just as I understand why David Lynch is so beloved, even if most of his films don’t hit me in the same way. But I also know that directors with really strange oeuvres have die hard fans that love everything they do almost blindly. Miike fans are very much like that, especially ones in the Western Hemisphere.

Dead or Alive is beloved by many but I just see it as a knockoff of old school Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong crime films with a bunch of crazy shit thrown into it to gross people out without a real reason for it to exist other than shock value.

Now I think that Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawa gave good performances and they deserve the recognition they received in these sort of films but lots of capable actors give capable performances in movies beneath their talent level.

I guess the only way I can describe this is that it’s like Infernal Affairs or The Departed if they were made by Troma and with Japanese dialogue.

Like other Miike films, a bunch of crazy, nonsensical shit happens with really fucked up curveballs thrown at your head pretty violently. Here we get a girl fucking a dog, a stripper drowned in a kiddie pool of diarrhea, a man snorting a 30 foot line of cocaine and a big finale that doesn’t make you suspend disbelief, it just shows you that you’re an idiot for thinking that you could.

This is a movie for people who want to relish in super violent, gross shit. This is the cinematic equivalent to poop munching porn. People will argue for the artistic merit of this film and Miike’s creative choices but I’m sure there’s someone that gets paid to analyze psych ward hieroglyphics that a mental patient finger-painted with their own feces.

Yet, Miike is pretty good at making this feel like one long, overly surreal music video. So props on the editing, I guess. Except for the middle of the film where things slow down to a brutally boring crawl.

I don’t want to completely trash Miike because he is capable of making good movies but I just don’t understand how and why this became a beloved film.

Dead or Alive was actually my introduction to Miike around the turn of the century. It didn’t set a good precedent and I do think that it has made me biased against his later work but I do think that Audition was a good movie and Ichi the Killer certainly felt more refined and accented his style better.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films that focus on crime or the Yakuza.

Film Review: Rashômon (1950)

Release Date: August 26th, 1950 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa
Based on: In a Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki

Daiei Film, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves.” – Commoner

Kurosawa is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. I have a deep admiration for a lot of his pictures. However, Rashômon isn’t at the top of my list, even though it really brought him worldwide notoriety and won an Academy Award.

It’s still a really good film but I always gravitated to his action heavy samurai epics like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Yojimbo or his crime films like Stray Dog and Drunken Angel. But this film is still very engaging and maybe more intimate than the others, as it has a very small cast and really just focuses on a single event.

The purpose of the film is to tell the story of this event from four different perspectives. Kurosawa did this because he wanted to show how different interpretations can greatly vary. Also, within that, Kurosawa wanted to show how memory or bias can sway factual accuracy.

Initially, Japanese critics weren’t too fond of the film and they were a bit baffled when Western audiences praised it. Ultimately, this film opened the gates for Japanese cinema, as it was now being appreciated by audiences across the world.

The film deals with some heavy subject matter, especially for 1950. The story deals with the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband. I don’t really think that this is a film that could have been made in America, at the time. I also think that its gritty realism is what caught audiences by surprise and captivated them, as Hollywood films were typically so clean and pristine. Even the grittiest of film-noir pictures didn’t get this dark.

Historically, this is one of the most important foreign films of all-time. It paved the way for other directors and new genres that made their way to the States. It allowed Kurosawa to have the respect and freedom to make better films, some of which became the best movies ever made.

I don’t want to take anything away from this. It’s doesn’t necessarily resonate with me like a lot of Kurosawa’s other work but I can’t deny it’s place in history, its influence and the great craftsmanship it took to bring it to life.

Also, the sequence where the dead husband speaks through a medium is legitimately creepy. I did love that part of the film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Kurosawa films of the late ’40s and early ’50s.