Isao Tomita

Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001, Kaneko Shûsuke)

While watching Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, I had a daydream. I day dreamt Craig Armstrong, composer of The Incredible Hulk score, had been brought in the redo the score of Attack for the U.S. home video market. He did not. Instead, Ôtani Kô actually did compose the score for the film I was watching, meaning director Kaneko okayed that music. Because the music is where Attack forecasts its eventual problems. The music goes from undistinguished but fine to godawful. Shorting after the music goes to godawful, the film starts its slide down from the not insignificant heights it had reached.

Kaneko’s approach to Godzilla, the monster, is to make him a villain again. Kaneko’s approach to a Godzilla movie is to make the viewer the victim. Kaneko makes every giant monster attack visceral. Introduce a couple disposable characters, identify with them as giant monsters threaten their lives. It’s occasionally successful and at least once pretty fun, but it’s a contrived approach. Kaneko’s not trying to tell the story, he’s trying to make the viewer like the movie. Two very different things.

Some of the problem is that story. It’s light. Godzilla is a soulless monster (with grey devil’s eyes), the other monsters are all Japanese folklore creatures who are coming back to save Japan from the invading monster. They just didn’t help at any other time. And there’s some historical and political things thrown in because Kaneko and the script want to appear edgy. But it’s not edgy. It’s silly. As Attack progresses, the film descends into narrative absurdity, even lower than when the film started with wisecracks about the crappy American Godzilla remake.

Attack should still be better. Kaneko does a fabulous job for the first half of the film. The first monster fight is outstanding. He just flops on the final one, when there’s multiple magical resurrections and so on. But that flop isn’t about pacing, which is bad, or about the effects, which are good, it’s about the narrative. The script goes slack at the end. The last twenty minutes are tedious and the coda is awful.

Better humans–and better human stories–would help. Niiyama Chiharu is an intrepid faux news reporter who decides to cover the giant monster story. No other reporters are covering it. Luckily her dad is the Navy admiral in charge of hunting Godzilla. Uzaki Ryûdô plays the dad. Neither of them are particularly good, neither of them are particularly bad. Niiyama gets annoying in the second half when she’s telling everyone to trust in the giant monsters.

So much potential, so much technical talent, such a bad second half. Kaneko figured out the beginning of a movie and then got lost he was done setting up.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shûsuke; written by Hasegawa Keiichi, Yokotani Masahiro and Kaneko; diretor of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; edited by Tomita Isao; music by Ôtani Kô; production designer, Miike Toshio; produced by Honma Hideyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Niiyama Chiharu (Tachibana Yuri), Uzaki Ryûdô (SDF Adm. Tachibana Taizô), Kobayashi Masahiro (Takeda Teruaki), Sano Shirô (Kadokura Haruki), Nishina Takashi (AD Maruo Aki), Minami Kaho (SDF Intelligence Capt. Emori Kumi), Ohwada Shin’ya (SDF Lt. Gen. Mikumo Katsumasa), Murai Kunio (SDF HQ Secretary Hinogaki Masato), Watanabe Hiroyuki (Hirose Yutaka) and Katsurayama Shingo (SDF Intelligence Maj. Kobayakawa Tokihiko).


The Hidden Blade (2004, Yamada Yôji)

John Ford remade 3 Godfathers, William Wyler remade These Three. I’m sure there are other examples of filmmakers trying again (though I have no idea if those examples were artistic or commercial). The Hidden Blade is, at its core, the same film as The Twilight Samurai. The settings are similar, one of the servants is even the same character, and the core conflicts of the films are the same. At the beginning of the film, I was even thinking about it, before I had seen the similarities–what if someone just made the same thing again and again? Writers occasionally do major revisions to their existing work–I’ve read Flannery O’Connor last story is a rewrite of the first and Alice Munro has frequent recurring details–musicians do different versions of a song over time… so why not filmmakers? Maybe The Hidden Blade is a warning to anyone else who thinks my revision observation is a good idea….

The Hidden Blade is based on short stories by the same author of the short stories Yamada adapted for The Twilight Samurai. At first, I thought it was simply overlap–the films are based on multiple stories, so maybe elements from one ended up in both films. No, it’s a lot more than details, it’s set pieces. Yamada runs through The Hidden Blade, telling most of the story in summary, since he’s already told the story… or at least the most memorable parts of it. The story construction, the drama, of The Hidden Blade isn’t good. The main character is conveniently sympathetic–by virtue of being the protagonist–and the film manipulates the audience along… The actor who plays the lead is excellent, but there’s nothing he can do. Watching The Hidden Blade is watching people pretend to be sleepwalking a scene in a movie. There’s no emotional depth. The film is all surface.

I’m not sure The Twilight Samurai had much besides surface depth, but its surface depth but more at stake for the character. While watching The Hidden Blade, one can count all the actions the protagonist takes to cause trouble later on in the film. There’s a total absence of imagination. The Hidden Blade fails to tell the audience anything they couldn’t have read in a two sentence description. There are no judgments to be made, nothing to be pondered–at best, one could make a list of The Twilight Samurai similarities. At worst, one could let the film waste his or her time.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Yamada Yôji; screenplay by Yôji and Asama Yoshitaka, based on stories by Fujiwara Shuhei; director of photography, Naganuma Mutsuo; edited by Ishii Iwao; music by Tomita Isao; produced by Fukazawa Hiroshi; released by Shouchiku Company Limited.

Starring Nagase Masatoshi (Katagiri Munezo), Matsu Takako (Kie), Ozawa Yukiyoshi (Hazama Yaichiro), Yoshioka Hidetaka (Shimada Samon), Tanaka Min (Toda Kansai), Tabata Tomoko (Katagiri Shino), Ogata Ken (Chief Retainer Hori) and Kobayashi Nenji (Ogata).


The Twilight Samurai (2002, Yamada Yôji)

I always say the Western is a uniquely American film creation and I stand by that one, but it doesn’t mean other countries can’t do good Westerns. For quite a bit of The Twilight Samurai, it’s a fine haunted gunman Western, Unforgiven and Open Range being other examples of this form. It never quite makes it, however….

The biggest problem is pacing. Twilight is slow and there are narrative problems throughout. It’s got narration from one of the protagonist’s daughters, past tense, which isn’t bad… if the film were a father/daughter picture. But it’s not (apparently the Japanese, who’ve embraced the family drama as Hollywood has discarded it, aren’t touching that one either). The film closes with a Oscar-nomination ready scene with the daughter in her present day, probably the mid-1900s. Such a lovely end-piece invalidates everything the film fought for (just like Yoda says in Empire).

The film also fails on some basic technical levels of cheating the viewer out of necessary scenes. It’s not really shortcutting (my prime example of shortcutting is It Happened One Night, with neither of the leads appearing in the denouement), because these are peripheral characters. But they deserve closure. According to IMDb, the film is based on three novels, which explains… nothing, actually. Yes, Twilight feels like it was a novel, but it doesn’t feel like an amalgam. Wait, wait. I forgot. It does make some promises regarding the father/daughter relationship, then fails to deliver. Damn good scene too.

The acting is all good, the lead in particular. I love how Hollywood can no longer make period pieces but everyone else in the world can. It’s kind of depressing.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yamada Yôji; written by Asama Yoshitaka and Yamada, based on the novel by Fujiwara Shuhei; director of photography, Naganuma Mutsuo; edited by Ishii Iwao; music by Tomita Isao and Inoue Yousui; produced by Fukazawa Hiroshi, Nakagawa Shigehiro and Yamamoto Ichiro; released by Shochiku Company Limited.

Starring Sanada Hiroyuki (Iguchi Seibei), Miyazawa Rie (Tomoe), Tanaka Min (Zenemon Yoho), Tamba Tetsuro (Iguchi Tozaemon), Hashiguchi Erina (Iguchi Ito), Ito Miki (Iguchi Kayano) and Kusamura Reiko (Seibei’s mother).


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