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April 01, 2010

Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G-8 Summit

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Girara no gyakushu: Toya-ko Samitto kikiippatsu
Minoru Kawasaki - 2008
Media Blasters Region 1 DVD

Minoru Kawasaki's film not only works more or less simultaneously as a parody and homage of Japanese monster movies, but is quite easily a better made film than many of its sources of inspiration. While the original Monster X, known as Girara in the Japanese version and Guilala in the English language version, was made by rival studio Shochiku, the story uses the same template established by Toho studios. The main characters are a newspaper reporter and a photographer, there's a group of people living in a remote area who worship an ancient god, there the connection between a monster and a young boy, and there's the boy in a baseball cap who manages to sneak into an off limits facility. The villagers also have some kind of group dance as part of their rituals. Add to this, Kawaski's own penchant for making fun Japanese culture as well as the pomposity of political leaders. It is somewhat disconcerting that for a filmmaker who virtually celebrates his own cheapness, this may be the most polished and best looking film from Kawasaki.

The leaders of the industrial world have gathered in northern Japan to discuss the environment. Whatever jockeying for influence is put aside with the news that a monster has invaded Japan. Rather than scurrying home, the President of the United States declares that the best thing would be for him to stay to fight the monster. The other leaders, realizing the political advantage, follow suit. Japan, Italy, Russia, Germany and Great Britain each come up with ideas to defeat Guilala. Each attempt ends in failure, with the monster emerging even stronger. The only foe that can defeat Guilala is the god, Take-majin, who exists as a mythical character.

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Guilala creates havoc, busting through buildings that look no more real than the sets of similar films from forty years ago, breathing fire, and literally laughing at the failed attempts to kill him. Some of the more topical humor includes a Japanese prime minister with very audible irritable bowel syndrome, a French prime minister more interested in bedding his attractive translator, and a dictator from a place identified at the North Country, recognizable to anyone who has seen Team America. Kawasaki doesn't spare his own film by having one of his artist friends, interviewed on television, commenting that while it's good to see Guilala back in action, he would have preferred an attack by Varan or Baragon.

I have to wonder if Kawasaki has worked himself into an artistic corner. While Monster X Strikes Back is fun to watch, it does eventually get almost as tiresome as many of the later Japanese monster movies tend to do after the first hour or sometimes less. For myself, Kawasaki's best films are The Calamari Wrestler, about a talking octopus who is a professional wrestler, and Rug Cop, about a policeman who overcomes the bad guys by flinging his toupee. Less successful for me are the more ambitious Executive Koala and The World Sinks . . . except Japan. A Youtube glimpse at the film, Pussy Soup, featuring puppets, with a cat who cooks ramen, offers little promise of anything new. Even though Monster X Strikes Back doesn't offer some of the laughs of Kawasaki's best films, there is still pleasure to be had with the reassuring voice of Beat Takeshi as the saviour of the world, and the sight of the monster itself doing a little victory dance in the sunset.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 1, 2010 12:36 AM