Saturday, July 23, 2011

G-FEST 18: Kaiju Film Festival

This year's G-FEST began Thursday, with a "double-double feature" at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge, Illinois. First on the bill was "Gamera: Super Monster," which apparently received its North American big screen premiere with this showing.

"Gamera: Super Monster" is an exceedingly strange movie, but I still found it oddly enchanting. It was made at a time when Daiei Studio was closing, and it shows. New footage of Gamera is almost nonexistent, save for a couple rather static flying shots. All the monster battles (and there are plenty) consist of edited footage from previous Gamera films, which are knitted together by a nonsensical story about spacewomen and kids who use Kawasaki keyboards to save the planet. Oh, and then an evil spacewoman who finds redemption. No, seriously. But it is all done with enough heart to make it something I would willingly watch again. There are a couple of shots (one quite blatant, one recurring) that reveal a clear Star Wars influence (GSM was released in 1980).

Next up was the original "Mothra," (1961) a wondrous film that finds Toho's "dream team" of director Ishiro Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa and spfx master Eiji Tsuburaya operating at the peak of their creative powers. Intentional humor, exotic music, an incredible cast, crazily detailed miniature sets and one big moth add up to a moviegoing experience that is still transportative fifty years after its release.

After the dinner break, it was time for the second double feature, beginning with "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II," which benefitted greatly from being shown on the big screen. Released in 1993, this entry in the Godzilla pantheon is one that I have never seemed to connect with very strongly, but this viewing brought out its strengths. The effects work is actually quite impressive. Godzilla gets his tail handed to him by Mechagodzilla, and it seems possible that he could actually lose the duel. Akira Ifukube returns with a score that is intense and sounds fantastic in the theater. Most of the Heisei films seem about forty minutes too long to me, and this is no exception. In this setting, though, it was undeniably enjoyable, and the crowd, which had grown since the afternoon shows, laughed at the silly parts and cheered in the right places, too. There is nothing like watching a movie at G-FEST when the crowd is really "live."

Last on the list was 1995's "Gamera, Guardian of the Universe," regarded by most fans of the genre as a masterpiece, and you will get no argument from me on that point. A clear, crisp print only enhanced the meticulous effects work created by G-FEST guest of honor Shinji Higuchi, a real treat for all in attendance. The intensity of the day (combined with the shift to the Central time zone) caught up with us, and we returned to the Crowne Plaza before the movie's conclusion. But we perked up once back in the room, thanks to "G-TV," the in-house tokasatsu channel that is the unsung hero of the G-FEST experience, enjoying "Gomess" episodes of Ultra Q and Ultragalaxy.

It was great to be back on the G-FEST scene. It was a fun, exciting, yet relatively low-key day. That was good, because Friday would be anything but low-key!

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