Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DEATH KAPPA review - like Kaiju? Who doesn't.....

Directed by: Tomo’o Haraguchi
Written by: Masakazu Migita
Starring: Mika, Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Released by: Tokyo Shock 
 reviewed by :Mark Mackner

Giant monster fans rejoice!!!! It brings me immense, kaiju-sized pleasure that in 2010, man-in-suit giant monster slugfests are still being produced by our good friends in Japan. There was a whole cycle of GODZILLA films released in the 00’s, followed by GAMERA THE BRAVE, MONSTER X STRIKES AGAIN, and now comes the strangest kaiju film I’ve seen in a long time, DEATH KAPPA. 

DEATH KAPPA takes a handful of genres and grafts them together with all the grace and humanity of a mad scientist. And, if you know me, you DO know that I mean that as a compliment. This film is many things, and even if it’s not for you, you could never call it BORING. It starts off as some kind of creepy ghost town movie, then goes into I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER territory, then makes a sharp left turn into E.T., before careening into HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, and then into insane Japanese ROBO GEISHA-esque fare. And that’s just the first half hour!!!! And THEN it becomes a kaiju movie!!!! 

So, let’s slow it down about so we can fully appreciate what they’ve done here. A young girl has given up her dreams of J-Pop stardom in Tokyo, and is heading back home to the sleepy little burg that she hails from. When her grandmother is suddenly struck and killed by a speeding car full of drunken young hooligans, she swears to continue her grandmother’s vow of protecting the local kappa. Kappa are a form of YOKAI, mischievous goblin-like creatures from Japanese folklore. 

Soon after her grandmother’s death, our hero (Played by a stunningly beautiful young woman whose name I couldn’t glean from the credits OR the imdb page) discovers a real live kappa that just so happens to LOVE her music. We’re then treated to a ridiculous (yet thoroughly entertaining) extended montage of the hero and her friends, playing and dancing and just generally having a great time with the kappa. 

And here’s where things get ugly. Those drunken young hooligans get their karmic retribution in the form of some weird, reptilian/fish kinda creatures. It’s here where I was happy that I decided to screen this before I watched it with my kids. My kids enjoy watching GODZILLA and GAMERA films with me, and I thought about letting them watch this one with me for my first viewing of it, but this scene features lots of limbs being ripped off and some really bloody and gory deaths. I figured that the FROM THE PRODUCERS OF MACHINE GIRL AND TOKYO GORE POLICE tag on the front was something of a warning against letting children watch, and I’m glad I abided. 

So what were these strange creatures that attacked the speeding grandma killers? Well, that scene is followed by a wild scene of absurdist brilliance that addresses that question. There are some villains that are conducting strange experiments and trying to create an army of monster soldiers to avenge Japan’s defeat in WWII, and take over the world. They’ve captured our hero, as well as the kappa. This scene… man… mere words can not do it justice, but I’ll try. It takes elements from HELL BOY, The ’66 BATMAN show, TROMA, and POWER RANGERS, and delivers the most singularly schizophrenic spectacular of the year. If this scene were a short film, you’d have a damn fine film in just 10 minutes time. You’ve got a hot mad scientist chick in a lab coat and lingerie, skipping and dancing while pushing her dead grandfather around in a wheelchair. You’ve got hot bikini babes with fish gills. You’ve got a kappa sumo wrestling the villains, kung fu fighting, an atomic bomb, and all kinds of other craziness. 

And immediately after that it becomes an all-out, old-school kaiju movie. The entire second half of the movie concerns the sudden appearance of a giant monster named HANGYOLAS. And that part is friggin’ hilarious! A beautiful reporter cuts in and says “We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to tell you that a giant monster has appeared and he’s walking around town like he owns the place.” Then, 2 seconds later, she says, “The cabinet has just decided that the monster’s name will be Hangyloas”. That’s a welcome in-joke for fans of the genre, where the government/military/scientists regularly pull odd monster names out of the blue the moment something rises out of the sea and proceeds to level Tokyo. 

There’s lots of gags like that in this film, from the visible wires on the fighter jets, to the little plastic people smooshed in Hangyolas’ footprint. I’ve seen a couple reviews for this film that complain that the kaiju action doesn’t get started until halfway through, but isn’t that MOST kaiju movies? If you’re lucky? Even in many of the classics, you might get one brief city destruction scene midway through, and then the monster will come back for last 10 minutes or so. 

Not so in DEATH KAPPA. Once Hangyolas shows up at the 39-minute mark, you get 40 solid minutes of kaiju mayhem, including city destruction, a fight with the military, and an epic Death Kappa vs. Hangyolas slobberknocker that features elbow drops, airplane spins, and buildings used as nunchucks. Add all that to such glorious dialogue as “What’s the status of the Gorgon Monster Death Ray Unit?”, and you’ve got yourself a WINNER!!!! 

Oh, and that Gorgon Monster Death Ray is an homage to the Mazer Cannons from the classic TOHO Showa era (the 50’s through the 70’s), in both appearance and sound. Nice! Fun miniature work, too. The Hangyolas creature design is terrific. He reminded me of TITANOSAURUS from TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. I hope they make a toy of him. I’d totally get it. Kappa, well, even before he grows to kaiju size, he’s pretty ugly. 

Cast-wise, I know no one watches these kinds of movies for the acting/characters, but this one has two standouts worth mentioning. One was the female reporter covering the Hangyolas attack. Again, the credits are in Japanese, and the imdb listing does not have character names, so I have no idea who she is, but she is AMAZING!!!! The other is this guy in the war room where the military plans out their attack
on Hangyolas. This guy doesn’t say a word, but his facial expressions and his grunts of “Mm?” and “Uh?” cracked me up every single time. Really, it’s a small part, but that guy OWNS it! He’s a genius. 

With so much madness going on, it’s no surprise that not EVERYTHING works. If they just had the visible wires on the jets shown for a second, I think that would’ve been funnier than showing them clear as day EVERY time the jets flew by. Because once, it would be like, “Ha! Lookit the wires!” But 10 times, and you’re like, “OK, even in the older, lower budgeted fare like YONGARY, the wires didn’t show THAT much.” Also, many characters scream “Mommy!” before they die, and that gets old fast. Plus, there’s all kinds of WTF stuff, like the main jet pilot (A man) wearing blue eye shadow for some reason, but I don’t mind some random quirks here and there. 

This is the kind of movie that would be an absolute blast to watch with friends, whether sober, drunk, or high. It proves that you CAN make a great giant monster movie that doesn’t feature any already-established creatures whose names start with “G”. DEATH KAPPA is new to DVD and BLU RAY. GO GET IT!!!!! You’ll be glad you did. 

MINIATURES: A- . The minus is for the overuse of visible wires. The buildings, tanks, cannons, etc are wonderful).
MONSTERS: A. Kappa himself is kinda weird-looking. More like an especially ugly beaked toad than a rad dinosaur or dragon. But he’s organic-looking. The suit is well-made. And Hangyolas is everything you want in an enemy monster. Just a massive dragon with fire breath and a long, pulverizing tail.
OVERALL: A. Action-packed and loads of laughs. The first half is bugnuts brilliance, and the second half is kaiju-rrific!!!!

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When not hanging out at The Horror Hotel, Mark Mackner can be found creating such local indie horror gems as DAISY DERKINS: DOGSITTER OF THE DAMNED!, EVIL BREW, THE HALF-LIFE HORROR FROM HELL or: IRRADIATED SATAN ROCKS THE WORLD!, and EMBALMO!  He’s also the resident Spider-Man scholar over at geek site POPTARDS where he writes SPIDEY’S WEEKLY WEB-UP.  In 2011, he’ll be directing his latest original script PROM NIGHT ABORTION!  

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