Film Review: Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

Also known as: Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth (English title), Vengeance of the Space Pirate (US dubbed version)
Release Date: 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Tomoharu Katsumata
Written by: Leiji Matsumoto, Yoichi Onaka
Based on: Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Toshiyuki Kimori

Toei Animation, 130 Minutes, 101 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“At the end of their lives, all men look back and think that their youth was Arcadia.” – title card

I never really knew who Leiji Matsumoto was. As a kid, I loved Star Blazers though and I had heard of Captain Harlock but I never knew that they were associated. Had I known that, I probably would’ve watched this film when it came Stateside.

Now, I’m trying to rectify the injustice of not watching Matsumoto’s other work. So I started here, as this was free for Prime members and because I’ve always been intrigued by Captain Harlock, even though I’ve never seen any of his shows or films.

Maybe I should have watched the earlier anime series first but this does serve as a prequel to it, as well as a prequel to one of Matsumoto’s other creations, Galaxy Express 999.

This is a space opera at its core but that was Matsumoto’s modus operandi and he was able to craft fantastic tales within the genre. Arcadia is no different and ultimately, this made me want to watch the earlier Harlock series.

The thing that really works and makes this so compelling is the tone and the atmosphere. Visually, it’s both dark and fantastical.

The opening scene with Harlock in his biplane being confronted by the spirit of a witch that haunts the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea is pretty breathtaking and lures you in like you’re being pulled by a powerful phantom’s grip. And maybe that’s the witch coming through and having an effect on the audience. Point being, the opening is so well crafted that it made me a fan of this picture from the get-go.

Everything that follows is also pretty fascinating. This is a story with a lot of drama but most importantly, high adventure.

The hero is cool, most of the other characters are great but most importantly, the design of the ships, vehicles and the universe they inhabit is imaginative and stunning.

The audio is presented in mono and I’m not sure if a remastered stereo version exists but the mono sound kind of adds to the atmosphere. Granted, that could also be nostalgia triggering in my brain, as it gave me the same experience I had watching old VHS tapes of Star Blazers and Voltron.

If anything, this feature film sold me on the franchise and further strengthened my appreciation for Matsumoto.

I’m not sure where my odyssey through Matsumoto’s oeuvre will take me next but watching the original Captain Harlock series, as well as the Galaxy Express 999 stuff is a must.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

TV Review: Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985)

Original Run: September 17th, 1983 – December 7th, 1985
Created by: Kevin Paul Coates, Dennis Marks, Takashi, Mark Evanier
Directed by: Bob Richardson, Karl Geurs
Written by: various
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast: Willie Aames, Don Most, Katie Leigh, Adam Rich, Tonia Gayle Smith, Teddy Field III, Sidney Miller, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Bob Holt

Toei Animation, Marvel Productions, Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corporation, TSR, CBS, New World Television, 27 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I used to watch the shit out of this cartoon when I was really young. It was one of my favorite Saturday morning treats. However, I haven’t seen it since at least the early ’90s.

But like most animated series that were productions involving Japan’s Toei studio and Marvel, it was top quality stuff for its time and it has aged really well.

Sure, it’s hokey and goofy like kid’s cartoons are but it has a real charm about it and that charm is still effective.

I love the character designs of the show, especially in regards to the villain Venger and the five headed dragon, Tiamat. Also, Venger was voiced by Peter Cullen, best known as the voice of Optimus Prime while Tiamat was voiced by Frank Welker, best known as Megatron.

The show followed six Earth kids, their little unicorn named Uni and the impish Dungeon Master. The Earth kids were magically transported to the Dungeons & Dragons dimension through a theme park ride. I know, it sounds ridiculous but you didn’t care about stupid details or coherent plot when you were five years-old. Frankly, I don’t care about it now because the show works for what it is: a kid’s magical adventure.

Unfortunately, the show never had a proper ending and the kids never actually made it home within the episodes produced. I guess it can be assumed that they eventually saw their parents again but hopefully that happened before they were in their forties.

Anyway, this is still a really cool show. I even showed a few episodes to my nephew and he dug it with his discriminatory 2019 standards.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s fantasy cartoons like Masters of the Universe, Captain N the Gamemaster, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Visionaries, ThundercatsSilverhawks, etc.

Film Review: Wolf Guy (1975)

Also known as: Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko, lit. Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Japan)
Release Date: April 5th, 1975 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Written by: Fumio Konami
Based on: Wolf Guy by Kazumasa Hirai
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kyosuke Machida

Toei, 86 Minutes

Review:

“There is a nastier pathogen than syphilis. It’s the one they call hatred of humans. I had clearly caught that infection from Miki.” – Akira Inugami

Man, this is a bizarre movie. But it’s also a horror Yakuza movie from Toei Studios in the 1970s. They spent a lot of time making tokusatsu television and Sonny Chiba action movies though, so this was a weird hybrid of all the things they were good at back in the mid-’70s.

Chiba is essentially a werewolf. However, we never see him actually turn into a werewolf, there is just dialogue about how he’s channeling his wolf power and his animal instincts. There is also some sort of phantom ghost tiger thing that keeps attacking people and ripping them to shreds.

The films is also full of drugs, whores, gangsters, syphilis and really weird sexual encounters.

At one point, Wolf Guy Chiba meets his mother, who is also his wife and he suckles her breasts. Yeah, it’s fucking weird as shit but hey, this is Japanese cinema where weird shit is allowed to fly, nothing has to make much logical sense and no one really seems to care as long as something really cool happens every five to ten minutes.

If I’m being honest though, I have no idea what the hell I watched. But I did mostly like it. I love Chiba, I love Toei and bizarreness is right up my alley. And luckily, this wasn’t so bizarre that it was like some Takashi Miike shitshow. He’s literally made shitshows, that’s not just an expression.

Wolf Guy is an insane movie. It won’t be a movie for most people. But the right kind of audience should love it. I don’t love it but I guess I appreciate it for what it is: pure madness, but cool pure madness. And not so visually off putting that I have to wash my eyes out for ten hours after seeing it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: ’70s Japanese horror and tokusatsu, as well as ’70s Sonny Chiba action crime movies.

Vids I Dig 012: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Inhumanoids’: The Monsters Get Top Billing

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: Inhumanoids was a 1986 cartoon and toy line created by Hasbro that lasted only a single season.

Unique because the title characters were the bad guys, the Inhumanoids, and not the good guys, the Earth Corps (bunch of nerds).

There was a line of large action figures and the stories in the cartoon were serialized so it had a lot going for it but not enough for it to break through the glut of ’80s properties.

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: 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.