Monday, January 2, 2012

Cuyahoga Kaiju Christmas

Deep in the last uncharted territory of Northeast Ohio lies a place where mighty monsters still roam: Cuyahoga Kaiju Club Headquarters. Members of the CKC squad were summoned the week after Christmas for fun and fellowship, and were not disappointed.

The festivities began with--what else--food! While enjoying the tasty treats, we also had the opportunity to examine two of the new S. H. Monster Arts Godzilla figures: Godzilla himself and the 90's Mecahgodzilla. While undeniably cool, CKC members were fairly unanimous in the following observations: (1) Godzilla's head seems too small, especially in reference to the prototype on the box. (2) While heavily articulated, Godzilla is not quite mobile enough, while Mechagodzilla's hip sockets seem too loose to keep him upright. (3) The energy beams included with each figure are a neat touch. (4) Overall, these are nice collectibles, but are a tad pricey for the size. Kaiju Don brought out his Revoltech Legion, which is of comparable size, even smaller than the S.H. figures, and my personal opinion is that it had a bit more pizazz. That's no knock on the S.H. figures, but I will probably not be rushing out to purchase them any time soon.

Soon it was time to enter the CKC theater, and first on the viewing list was "Frankenstein Conquers the World." I've seen this film before, but seeing it again in its entirety brought ought both the strengths and pitfalls of this movie. First, the strengths: FCTW features a classic cast, with fan favorites Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno in the starring roles. Toho vet Tadao Takashima keeps things interesting as a scientist with a keen interest in the irradiated Frankenstein, and kaiju fans will notice the brief appearances of Yoshio Tsuchiya, Jun Tazaki, Kenji Sahara, and Takashi Shimura. Haruo Nakajima, who is the suit actor inside the Baragon costume, also is seen onscreen as a helicopter pilot.

Another strength of this film is the effects work, though in the same breath it must be said the results are mixed. Some of the sets built for FCTW are so huge and lush one forgets they are sets. Yet this same movie has an extremely fakey-looking horse and chicken feathers that are waaay out of scale, compared to a giant monster, not to mention some rather obviously radio-controlled cars, and a crawling hand that could pass for a Halloween decoration. For the most part, the growth of Frankenstein is handled well, although the question of clothing/animal skins is never really addressed, and probably ought to be ignored altogether if one is going to enjoy FCTW. Although this really isn't a movie to be taken "seriously," it does offer some genuinely creepy moments, most of them having to do with the facial appearnce of the Frankenstein monster.

One more strength of FCTW is simply the audacity of its premise. There is a crazy brillance to the idea of Frankenstein's monster's heart being shipped back to Hiroshima just in time to be exposed to the Bomb.

Unfortunately, the worst part of this monster movie is the monsters. Frankie is just a big, spindly, ugly guy, whom, it is insisted, is obviously Causcasian (!). This led to some great CKC riffing, you can be sure. Baragon, as Frankie's foe, is tragically goofy. With big, floppy ears, a taste for farm animals, and a penchant for leaping about, Baragon just isn't that much of a menace. The closing battle, which should be hugely climactic, is hampered by the fact that you essentially see a skinny human wrestling with a funny looking monster, which is another way of saying that the audience's ability to suspend disbelief is stretched past the breaking point. In the end, the concept of the film is more intriguing than its actual cinematic execution, but it is still worth numerous screenings for any self-respecting kaiju fan.

After a quick intermission, it was on to "Gamera 2: The Advent of Legion," a film that has grown on me over time, to the point where I consider it one of the best kaiju films ever made, even slightly better than "Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris." A few reasons why I hold it in such high regard: (1) The effects work is impeccable, featuring a number of trend-setting scenes like Gamera sliding to a stop in the city. (2) The story of Legion is handled with some intelligence, including Biblical allusion! (3) The Gamera "character" is somewhat complicated; he is not regarded as a clear-cut savior, nor is he always successful in defeating his enemy. (4) The filmmakers had the guts to decimate an entire city and region in the story. (5) Hiroyuki Watanabe has a small but important role in the final third of the film (We chauffered Mr. Watanabe to and from Chicago's Field Museum this past summer at G-FEST.) "Gamera 2" looks great on the Mill Creek Blu-ray edition. These releases are an unbelievable value for monster lovers.

At the conclusion of "Gamera 2" it was time for us to go. Time flies, where the CKC is concerned. It was a great way to close out a very memorable kaiju year, and we here at Monsterland Ohio continue to be thankful that a mutual enjoyment of fantastic cinema has brought such good folks into our lives! Happy New Year!

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