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: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 2: City on the Edge of Battle (full title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2018 (Japan)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe

Toho, 100 Minutes

Review:

My review of the previous film in this trilogy had this paragraph:

Well, I’m going to be blunt: this was terrible. It’s slow, it’s boring, everyone in it is extremely unlikable and it has a giant plot hole large enough to suck Godzilla in.

Well, not much has changed with the second movie.

But I will start this by saying that this film is a wee bit better. I at least found it to be less boring, even though it was more drawn out than it needed to be. But I liked the talky science bits in this chapter better than the first. Also, the main character was less annoying than he was in the previous movie.

This film series is taking its cues from the Shin Godzilla mythos, as Godzilla continues to evolve and adapt to whatever they throw at him. Also, there are different creatures and things in the wilderness that are biological products of Godzilla and his weird and random evolutions. To be honest, even though this opens up a lot of interesting exploration and ideas it also seems like a cheap and poorly crafted trick to throw curveballs and to lazily write through situations. “Oh, we’ve got Godzilla now!” “No! He is evolving to combat and withstand X, Y and Z!!! Damn him!!!”

The heroes seem to have an advantage here in that the remains of Mechagodzilla from millennia ago have grown and evolved in its own way to what they lamely refer to as “Mechagodzilla City”. Sorry but “Mecha City” would’ve been fine, guys. I was annoyed throughout the movie whenever a character had to refer to the city with that mouthful of unnecessary syllables. But being that there is still one more movie in this series, it should go without saying that the city isn’t as advantageous as the heroes had hoped.

Anyway, the animation style is the same. I am starting to dislike it less or I’ve just grown used to the combination of hand drawn animation mixed with CGI animation. It still looks odd to me in places and I will always prefer hand drawn animation but it does seem a bit more refined here.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan, as regular readers of this website should already now. This anime film series just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. But if the third one also improves a wee bit, that one may be somewhat palatable.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

Film Review: Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

Also known as: Uchu Kaisoku-sen (original Japanese title), Invasion from a Planet (alternate title), Space Greyhound (US promo title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Koji Ota
Written by: Shin Morita, Akihiro Watanabe
Music by: Michiaki Watanabe
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kappei Mastsumoto, Ryuko Minakami, Shinjiro Ebara, Mitsue Komiya

Toei Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

Not all tokusatsu films were created equal and that’s certainly the case with Invasion of the Neptune Men.

Even the great and legendary badass Sonny Chiba couldn’t save this picture from itself.

However, if you do have a soft spot for the obscure tokusatsu genre, then this may still hold your interest. But there are much greater films within that genre and from this era. All the Toho stuff is damn entertaining and I’m not just talking about Godzilla and other kaiju films.

This is probably most famous, at this point, for being lampooned in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mike and the ‘Bots really suffered through this one but they make it more watchable than it is on its own.

The special effects are terrible but that goes without saying. Toei wasn’t at the level of Toho or even Daiei.

The alien robots looks like generic knockoffs of Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (and a dozen other films and shows).

This is also littered with really annoying kids thanks to the awful dubbing. If you want 75 minutes of shrill screaming and loud talking, this will probably be right up your alley. But you should also talk to a psychiatrist because something is wrong with you.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: the worst Japanese tokusatsu of the 1960s.

Video Game Review: Godzilla (PlayStation 4)

I’m a massive kaiju fan, tokusatsu fan and Godzilla fan. I know it may sound silly to some but this game is the one that made me finally break down and buy a PlayStation 4. I also got it for Uncharted 4 but it’s this game that really made up my mind for me just because I wanted a great Godzilla fighting game with great graphics and mass environmental destruction.

Sadly, this doesn’t live up to the expectations I had for it but I did enjoy the hell out of this game, regardless. It has several flaws but even those didn’t distract me from the monster on monster combat for the first few weeks that I played this. But eventually, those flaws caught up to me and I wanted much more from this game.

If you are also a fan of the classic Godzilla universe, this will probably make you happy, for the most part. Luckily, this game is cheap as balls now because I wouldn’t recommend paying full price for this thing, as it runs its course pretty quickly.

You don’t start out with all the monsters being playable. You have to play the story mode multiple times to unlock every character and then you also have to play more to unlock points that can be used to enhance the abilities and stats of your monsters. This is fun for a little while but I doubt anyone will ever want to finish this arduous task because the game suffers heavily from repetitiveness.

It’s fun to play through this a few times but it is just the same thing over and over again.

Also, there really isn’t a good versus mode in this and the other modes kind of suck. The story mode is where it’s at but this is sadly, a one trick Minya.

There are some key monsters also missing from this game. I had hoped that there would be some DLCs that would add more monsters to the game but this was a commercial failure and nothing extra was developed.

Another negative, is that the environments are fun to destroy but you are confined to an area and can’t really roam too freely. Every stage has a border around it. It’d be much cooler if there was a massive map of Tokyo and you could actually walk from one side of the massive city to the other, confronting other kaiju along the way.

The game does do a good job of replicating the Shōwa era by using all the familiar music and giving you many levels that look like sets from those films. You can even knock down the Tokyo Tower on one stage. However, that nostalgia wears off the more you play the game.

It also doesn’t help that the monsters have a very limited move set and clunky controls that seem to work against you.

If you don’t give a shit about Godzilla, you should steer clear of this. If you do like the franchise, this is worth a buy if you can get it for like $10-$15.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there aren’t a lot of kaiju games, at least in the US. But I bet this pairs well with the Japanese Ultraman games. If you have the ability to play imports, I’d suggest those.

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.