Film Review: Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (1987)

Release Date: 1987 (US home video)
Directed by: Minoru Kanaya, Kiyosumi Kuzakawa
Written by: Keiichi Abe, Bunzo Wakatsuki
Based on: Star Wolf by Tsuburaya Productions
Music by: Norio Maeda
Cast: Tatsuya Azuma, Jô Shishido, Miyuki Tanigawa

Tsuburaya Productions, Sandy Frank Enterprises, 75 Minutes

Review:

“It’s not going to be easy, getting into this place.” – Rocky

Like it’s predecessor, Fugitive Alien, this film was made by splicing together episodes of the Japanese tokusatsu television show Star Wolf. And also like its predecessor, this was f’n terrible. Luckily for us, this one was also featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I think the consensus is that the first movie edit of this is the better of the two. I think this one has the edge though, simply because of the climax, which features a spaceship dogfight that is definitely a complete ripoff of the trench run scene from Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope. It is also a trench run that happens in daylight, which made it visually interesting.

That being said, I can’t realistically praise the special effects. They are exactly what you would expect from a ’70s tokusatsu show. And while Tsuburaya was really good at making miniatures, at the time, it can’t match the production value or the quality of something you’d see in a Hollywood blockbuster.

The dubbing in this is cheesy as hell, the narration is bad and I’m pretty sure that the story being told in this English translated abomination is nothing like the original story that was found in the episodes used for this film edit.

The Star Wolf show itself had several stylistic nods to the Ultraman shows that Tsuburaya is most famous for but it lacked one key thing: giant monsters to fight.

This isn’t worth anyone’s time really, unless you’re a glutton for punishment: Japanese style. But it does make for a good episode of MST3K.

And I guess I’ll just put the entire episode of MST3K below, as there isn’t a trailer for this anywhere.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Other tokusatsu shows chopped up into feature length films: Fugitive AlienTime of the ApesMighty Jack and Super Robot Mach Baron.

Film Review: Fugitive Alien (1986)

Also known as: Starwolf and the Raiders (Germany)
Release Date: 1986 (US home video)
Directed by: Minoru Kanaya, Kiyosumi Kuzakawa
Written by: Keiichi Abe, Bunzo Wakatsuki, Yoshihisa Araki, Hiroyasu Yamamura, Hideoyoshi Nagasaki, Toyohiro Ando
Based on: Star Wolf by Tsuburaya Productions
Music by: Norio Maeda
Cast: Tatsuya Azuma, Jô Shishido, Miyuki Tanigawa

Tsuburaya Productions, Sandy Frank Enterprises, 102 Minutes

Review:

“What did I do to deserve this?” – Ken

That’s a good question, Ken. I mean, anytime a television show is cut up and edited into a movie, the results aren’t going to be very good.

This, along with a sequel that was also made, were taken from episodes of the 1978 Japanese tokusatsu television program Star Wolf. This was created by Tsuburaya Productions who were most famous for the Ultraman franchise and a slew of other kaiju and tokusatsu shows geared towards children.

I have seen the source material and it is okay for what it is but there are so many better tokusatsu shows that could have been introduced to American audiences. This certainly doesn’t hold up as well as Tsuburaya’s slew of Ultraman shows or things like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.

Frankly, this is really hard to sit through and the quality of the print is damn near atrocious. I don’t know if a better print of this film has survived or if this has ever been restored but it probably wouldn’t help to make this any more enjoyable.

The only real way to enjoy Fugitive Alien is to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it. There are actually two MST3K versions, as this was featured on Comedy Central but was also riffed by Joel and the ‘Bots during the show’s original first season on local Minnesota television. I’d recommend watching the Comedy Central version, as it has a higher production value that might slightly offset this film’s poor appearance and dullness.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Other tokusatsu shows chopped up into feature length films: Star Force: Fugitive Alien IITime of the Apes, Mighty Jack and Super Robot Mach Baron.

TV Review: Knights of Sidonia (2014- )

Also known as: Sidonia no Kishi (Japanese title)
Release Date: April 11th, 2014 – current
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Based on: Sidonia no Kishi manga by Tsutomu Nihei
Music by: Noriyuki Asakura
Cast: Pete Sepenuk, Ryôta Ôsaka, Takahiro Sakurai

MBS, TBS, CBC, BS-TBS, AT-X, Aniplus Asia, Sentai Filmworks, Animatsu Entertainment, Netflix, 24 Episodes (so far), 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

After really enjoying Attack On Titan, I decided to watch other modern anime series. Interestingly, Netflix just debuted an anime series under its own banner. That show is Knights of Sidonia.

What turned me onto this show initially, is that it seemed to have a Robotech vibe to it. Although set in deep space and not primarily set on or around Earth like the original run of Robotech, this series presents the all too familiar anime staple of following the lives of badass pilots in badass mecha. That is a compliment, as this is a formula that I doubt I will ever grow tired of and in a way, shows like this and Robotech give me what I always wanted in a Rogue Squadron film or series, which the Star Wars people have never given the masses.

The premise of this show reminds me of Attack On Titan except this takes place in space, as opposed to walled in villages on Earth. Also, the gigantic threat to humanity isn’t hungry man-eating Titans, it is gigantic humanoid rock creatures called Gauna that can shapeshift and rip things apart with massive tendrils. Gaunas can also grow to immense size like some sort of outer space kaiju.

Overall, this is a beautiful show and it was enjoyable. It is short, only having twelve 25 minute episodes, so it is a quick watch. Although from what I hear, there is a second season in the works.

The art, the style and concepts explored on the show are the selling point here. There is nothing exceedingly exceptional about the overall package of Knights of Sidonia other than it is pretty solid and well-balanced and the Gauna are a sight to behold. The mecha are pretty cool too but ultimately they make me miss the Veritech fighters of Robotech. Sorry, it is hard not to keep comparing this series to the one just mentioned again.

The weak point of Knights of Sidonia is that they spend quite a lot of time developing characters. While this shouldn’t be a problem, it does seem to be a waste when character development is such a focal point but all the characters feel one dimensional and stereotypical.

In the end, this was an engaging show. It is awesome visually and some sequences within the series were impressive.

I just hope that the second season fleshes things out more and that they speed things up story-wise.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: RobotechMacross stuff from Japan, VoltronNeon Genesis Evangelion.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

Also known as: Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan, lit. Earth Assault Order: Godzilla vs. Gigan (Japan), Extermination 2025 (France), Godzilla on Monster Island (US alternate title), Frankensteins Höllenbrut (Germany)
Release Date: March 12th, 1972 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube, Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Hiroshi Ishikawa, Tomoko Umeda, Yuriko Hishimi, Minoru Takashima, Zan Fujita, Toshiaki Nishizawa, Kunio Murai

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Two monsters… One of them is Ghidorah. The other one is new. A completely new sound.” – Commander of Defense Forces

I’m just going to put it out there, this chapter in the Godzilla franchise is going to get a high rating from me. I know that it isn’t anywhere near the best that the franchise has to offer but it has always been a Godzilla film that I have loved and it features my two favorite Godzilla villains of all-time: the debuting Gigan and the always badass King Ghidorah.

Plus, this deals with an alien race of cockroach people that have a sinister plan that involves building a Godzilla branded theme park where their headquarters is actually a big building made to look like Godzilla himself. It’s crazy and bizarre and really encompasses all the things I love about ’70s Godzilla and Jun Fukuda’s run on the series.

On top of that, this teams Godzilla up with his oldest enemy, now ally, Anguirus.

This film is just incredibly bizarre but in a great way. Of course, you have to be a fan of kaiju movies and classic tokusatsu to truly embrace the madness but this really is a tokusatsu epic for its time. And ’70s Godzilla films almost feel like Ultraman episodes without Ultraman in them.

The weirdest thing about this picture is where Godzilla and Anguirus talk to each other. These bits work better in the original Japanese language version of the film. In the English dubbed version, which I grew up with, their voices are hilarious and it’s impossible not to laugh at it. It’s absurd but it’s enjoyably absurd and strangely enchanting.

I think I always connected to this chapter because the main character is a manga artist. When I was a kid, I was an aspiring comic book artist, so I always thought this part of the film was really cool. Plus, you get to see the inner workings of a manga company when this character makes his first appearance.

Another big plus about this film is that it has a ton of action. The big tag team battle royale seems to go on forever and it is actually a bloody affair, as Gigan literally has a buzzsaw for a stomach and the filmmakers had to emphasize the danger of that by cutting into the heroes.

Gigan is just a fantastic monster: one of the best kaiju ever created, hands down. He’s bizarre, deadly as hell and not a friggin’ pushover by any means. Granted, Gigan and King Ghidorah flee the scene like two little bitches at the end of the movie but the showdown between these beasts is incredible if you are a fan of classic kaiju battles.

I love this film. Always have. Always will. It’s not my favorite but it is the best from its decade.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 (2005-2006)

Original Run: September 10th, 2005 – October 28th, 2006
Directed by: Kobun Shizuno
Written by: Masaki Wachi, John Touhey
Based on: G.I. Joe by Hasbro
Music by: Russell Velazquez, John Siegler
Cast: Eric Stuart, Michael Sinterniklaas, Scott Rayow

4Kids TV, G4, The Hub, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

If G.I. Joe, a great franchise, was rebooted into a show for really young Millennial kids with mediocre anime and obnoxious techno blaring at every turn, than this would be that show.

It’s friggin’ terrible. Seriously, it’s one of the most atrocious things I have ever seen with the G.I. Joe brand on it. Sure, maybe the DiC TV series from 1989 is a hair bit worse but this is just as unwatchable. Granted, the art style is actually much better than the DiC stuff but it isn’t what I would call good anime.

I hate the character design, I don’t like the CGI bits, which there are a lot of, and the people chosen for this much smaller Joe team are baffling choices. Sure, you need Duke, Scarlett and Snake Eyes but that’s about it. The rest of the Joe characters here seem like they were just picked randomly. Granted, I’ve always liked Tunnel Rat but he’s hardly iconic and his reinvention here is dogshit. I mean, the first thing you even see him do is eat a cockroach off of a sewer pipe.

Additionally, the Cobra characters are fairly decent choices but none of them have the presence of the old school G.I. Joe cartoon from the Marvel/Sunbow era. Destro and the Baroness are the first two that you see and they just don’t have charisma and seem like poorly crafted caricatures of their old school counterparts.

I really wanted to give this a shot, as it’s no secret that I’ve been on a massive G.I. Joe kick lately. I’ve been reading through the entirety of the IDW Publishing G.I. Joe comics and I recently revisited the original animated show. Sigma 6, sadly, didn’t come close to the quality of the two things I just referenced, however.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone. Not even a six year-old boy obsessed with anime, Americana and obnoxious nose bleeding techno.

All that being said, this must be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Banging your head against the bar in an obnoxious techno club in Estonia.

Film Review: Branded to Kill (1967)

Also known as: Koroshi no rakuin (Japanese)
Release Date: June 15th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Hachiro Guryu
Music by: Naozumi Yamamoto
Cast: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami

Nikkatsu, 98 Minutes

Review:

“This is how Number 1 works: first he exhausts you, and then he kills you.” – Number 1

While I have only seen a handful of Seijun Suzuki’s motion pictures, he has become one of my favorite directors of all-time. Between this and Tokyo Drifter alone, he has proven to me that he is a true auteur with an incredible eye, an enchanting style and impeccable craftsmanship.

I thought Tokyo Drifter was one of the coolest, if not the coolest, movies I have ever seen. Branded to Kill is nearly as cool and just as perfect as Tokyo Drifter.

Suzuki has a way of taking something pretty standard like a Yakuza picture and making it much more interesting than it needs to be. But that is also why his films are so unique and incredible and not just forgettable chapters in a massive genre of Japanese cinema.

The bizarreness of this film can’t be understated. The main character is an assassin for hire and is ranked Number 3. He is in a battle with the other ranked assassins throughout the film but is specifically being targeted by Number 1. He also has a fetish that sees him obsessively inhaling the aromas of freshly boiled rice.

The movie is mostly a series of assassin battles playing out, as these killers try to outwit and survive one another. The story also has strong film-noir elements in its visual style, use of a femme fatale and constant twists and turns. It is one of the most artistically sound Japanese neo-noirs of all-time, right alongside Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter.

It is easy to see where some other noteworthy auteur directors were influenced and inspired by Suzuki’s work here. The film almost has some David Lynch qualities too it, decades before Lynch really emerged and crafted his own interesting oeuvre. It would also influence John Woo, Chan-wook Park, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino.

Interestingly enough, this film made no money upon its release and Suzuki was fired for making films that “…make no sense and no money.” Suzuki successfully sued the studio and caused a major controversy within the Japanese film industry, which resulted in him being blacklisted. He didn’t make another film for ten years and became a sort of counterculture hero. Because of this, he became recognized as an artist with something more to say than just a standard director pumping out low budget gangster movies for a paycheck.

Nowadays, this film is heralded as an incredible body of work and even has its own Criterion Collection edition.

Over thirty years later, Suzuki filmed Pistol Opera for Nikkatsu, the studio he had the falling out with. That film was a loose sequel to this one.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, as well as some of his other films: Youth of the Beast, Pistol Opera and Gate of Flesh.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. The Wolfman (1983)

Also known as: Densetsu-no Kyoju Ookami Otoko tai Gojira, lit. Legendary Beast Wolfman Against Godzilla (Japan)
Release Date: Never released in a completed form (made in 1983)
Directed by: Shizuo Nakajima
Written by: unknown
Based on: Godzilla by Toho Co. Ltd., The Wolf Man by Universal Pictures
Music by: Akira Ifukube (stock music)
Cast: unknown

Unknown Running Time (about 15 Minutes has been released)

Review:

Godzilla vs. The Wolfman is a motion picture that was never completed. So I guess it is hard to review the film as a full body of work but being a big fan of Godzilla and the Wolf Man, as well as kaiju movies and “what ifs”, I had always been curious about this unfinished film.

This has been something that I’ve heard about for a few years but wasn’t sure whether or not it was some wild rumor or actually true. Well, I have now seen the footage that still exists and even shared it below, as opposed to the typical trailer I throw at the end of my film reviews.

From what I know of the plot, there is a werewolf loose in Japan. He happens to get irradiated and thus, grows to kaiju size. Godzilla crosses paths with this new menace and a big battle ensues. Godzilla is more similar to the ’50s Godzilla and what we would see a year after this in The Return of Godzilla. What I mean by that, is he isn’t the happy and heroic kid friendly kaiju of the late ’60s and early ’70s, he is more of a badass that doesn’t really care whether or not he ruins your town.

The werewolf transformation looks a lot like what was done in An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, a few years before this was made. For limited resources and not being made by an actual studio, it isn’t half bad.

The full-size giant Wolf Man suit is pretty damn cool. He looks like a white, arctic wolf and resembles a lynx more than an actual wolf but I dig it. As a monster, he is certainly very different than anything Godzilla has faced before. I love the unique take on the classic Wolf Man character. I guess he would be most similar to King Caesar from 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla but even then, he is his own kaiju.

While this film did employ several people who had worked on Godzilla pictures before and after this, this was not being made by Toho like all the other films. This was essentially a fan film made by real kaiju movie makers.

Filming started in 1983 and went into the mid-’80s. The editing, sound design and visual effects production is still ongoing from what I’ve read. Currently, the clips that exist have Akira Ifukube’s old school Godzilla scores mixed into the action. I’m not sure if it is a place holder for something else to come or if this will even be completed. It’s hard to say but director Shizuo Nakajima claims that there is over ten hours of raw footage.

It is really well done for what it is and seeing it actually come together one day would be really cool. I just don’t know if Toho would ever allow that, as they’re very protective of the Godzilla brand.

As for now, I guess the world will have to enjoy the only footage that exists but at least we have something real to look at, as opposed to just rumors and speculation as to whether or not this film was just legend or fact.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: It’s pretty unique as a Godzilla movie but the tone is probably most like 1984’s The Return of Godzilla.