Ken Watanabe

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019, Michael Dougherty)

I wonder if, much like that one immortal monkey divining Borges’s dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, one could assemble a list of all the action beats in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which are mostly from Aliens and Jurassic Park 1 and 2, and arrange them to figure out the story to this film. Once the film hits the second act, I think it’d be more—I’m forgetting the stuff with Vera Farmiga, which is more out of a Mission: Impossible or James Bond. I’m sure Borges’s immortal monkey could do it, but I guess there is something more to director Dougherty and Zach Shields’s script than just stringing together the action scenes, fitting in the right amount of product placement for the studio (turns out it’s a lot and then a lot times twelve), and making sure there enough possible toys. See, you don’t just get Godzilla merchandise from this one, there’s also the other monsters, plus the stupid giant-sized stealth bomber-thing the good guys fly around in because Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a desperately joyless adaptation of a crappy eighties Godzilla cartoon.

Complete with annoying teen Millie Bobby Brown running around. Brown’s not just a mechanical engineer and accomplice to premeditated omnicide, she also knows how to run a ballpark sound board, which is maybe her most impressive trait.

She’s daughter of mad scientist Vera Farmiga (hashtag feminism), who has betrayed Monarch—the good guys with the giant flying fortress who tell the governments of the world to eat it while they study giant monsters, called Titans because someone wanted a trademark and this Godzilla movie tries as much as it can to forget Japan exists so you know they’re not calling them kaiju—and teamed up with eco-terrorist Charles Dance to release all the giant monsters who will once again rule the Earth.

But Brown’s also daughter of Kyle Chandler, who left Farmiga and Brown because their other kid died in the first Godzilla—unseen and stepped on, confirming it did kill a bunch of civilians but whatever. Chandler lives a simple life with a nineties movies alpha male cottage on a lake where he studies wolves nearby. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with Farmiga raising Brown in isolation at the giant monster facilities around the world.

As bad as you think Dougherty and Shields can get with the script, they somehow manage to go even lower. And not just when they’re reusing quotable lines from Alien and The Abyss. It’s all the time. They’ve got nothing good going on here. Nothing.

Obviously things don’t go well with Farmiga’s plan to give the world over to the monsters because it turns out they used frog DNA in the… sadly, no. Nothing quite so good. They really do just hinge it all on Farmiga’s ability to deliver a mad scientist speech and she fails at it utterly. She’s terrible, Brown’s terrible, Chandler’s pretty bad (his part is written as a Die Hard part for Bruce Willis, which would be amusing if Chandler were acting it that way, but he’s not), Ken Watanabe is downright hacky, Sally Hawkins somehow manages not to know how embarrassed she should look during her thankless scenes but someone doesn’t, which just makes it more embarrassing. Not to mention the stunt cameos.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, more than anything else, reminds of the first American attempt at a Godzilla, not because of plotting, but because of the film’s inability to tell an honest scene as well as the stunt casting. Zhang Ziyi gets… one hell of a thankless part, but she’s better than Hawkins for sure. Zhang’s as good as it gets in Monsters. Same goes for—shockingly because the part is so atrociously written—Bradley Whitford. He’s got the scientist slash medical doctor slash airplane pilot slash submarine pilot maybe part. It’s a really poorly written part, but Whitford manages not to be too bad. It’s the function of his part to make the film worse—kind of like how, in addition to being terrible, Thomas Middleditch literally has this recurring thing about making O’Shea Jackson Jr. seem either stupid or dickish. Jackson’s playing one of the soldiers, Middleditch is some useless company man (Monsters basically thinks Paul Reiser is the good guy in Aliens), Jackson’s Black, Middleditch’s White, Jackson’s likable, Middleditch’s a dipshit… it’s bad. And weird. Because Middleditch is apparently going to go on to become Chandler’s offscreen bro. They act like they’ve had a big bonding thing throughout, even though they never have any real scenes together because the script’s terrible and no one has any real scenes.

Unless you count the Joe Morton going and looking for someone scene. Joe Morton and David Straithairn somehow get through this one unscathed. And CCH Pounder. It’s very nice to see her in something… especially since she’s in the first scene so you could just turn it off after she’s done.

Also bad is Aisha Hinds. Not sure how much of it’s her fault but whatever her agent convinced her was going to happen because of this part… the agent was incorrect.

Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible music from Bear McCreary. There’s not even a lot of it. It’s sparse. But ungodly awful when it comes in. The movie ought to give some kind of warning so you can steel yourself.

Umm, what else. The editing’s not good, but Dougherty’s direction is awful so it’s not like there’s much the editors—all three of them—could do. Lawrence Sher’s photography is similarly not noteworthy. Monsters’s “mise-en-scène” is broke—Dougherty doesn’t know how to direct a single scene in the movie, giant monster or not—so what’s Sher going to do to fix it. What’s anyone going to do.

There are a handful of other things—okay, maybe a dozen but then like five things (plus the dozen)—I’d really like to enumerate but I can’t. If I list these silly, silly things, it might encourage someone to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters because it would seem like you couldn’t not have some kind of fun with the goofy things on the list. I don’t even want to tease them.

So instead I’ll just mention Doughterty’s “Brodie Bruce” type obsession with kaiju banging—Mothra and Godzilla are (apparently unrequited) soulmates but there’s a good chance Monsters is implying Ghidorah bangs Rodan. It comes up in a lousy attempt at a joke but then at the end the plot perturbs in just the right way for it to seem like a thing, even if it’s just the movie being cheap or expedient or whatever.

Once upon a time, Charles Dance wore a t-shirt with “Cheaper than Alan Rickman” on it, referring to his casting in a film. King of the Monsters—the entire production, the entire cast, the entire crew, everyone, everything, every frame—is wearing a “Cheaper than Alan Rickman” t-shirt.

It’s an astonishingly silly movie and it’s mortifying the filmmakers weren’t able to at least make a fun, astonishingly silly movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Dougherty; screenplay by Dougherty and Zach Shields, based on a story by Max Borenstein, Dougherty, and Shields; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Roger Barton, Bob Ducsay, and Richard Pearson; music by Bear McCreary; production designer, Scott Chambliss; costume designer, Louise Mingenbach; produced by Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, and Thomas Tull; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Millie Bobby Brown (Madison Russell), Vera Farmiga (Dr. Emma Russell), Kyle Chandler (Dr. Mark Russell), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Charles Dance (Alan Jonah), Ziyi Zhang (Dr. Ilene Chen), Thomas Middleditch (Sam Coleman), Bradley Whitford (Dr. Rick Stanton), Sally Hawkins (Dr. Vivienne Graham), Aisha Hinds (Colonel Diane Foster), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Chief Warrant Officer Barnes), Anthony Ramos (Staff Sergeant Martinez), Elizabeth Faith Ludlow (First Lieutenant Griffin), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), CCH Pounder (Senator Williams), and Joe Morton (Dr. Houston Brooks).


Tampopo (1985, Itami Jûzô)

Tampopo is a cinematic appreciation of Japanese food culture. Writer and director Itami also has some love of cinema things, but it’s all about the food. Even when it’s played for humor. Or for nurturing. Or for sex. Sexy foodstuffs abound in Tampopo.

But Tampopo is also this traditional narrative. It’s a Western’s narrative, but it’s a narrative. Truck drivers Yamazaki Tsutomu and Watanabe Ken intercede on the behalf of a woman’s honor (regarding her position as the owner-operator of a ramen shop). It’s Shane, okay? I didn’t realize it until the end but it’s Shane. You don’t think a lot about the narrative because it’s very reserved, sort of muted. The humor’s easier and less ambitions.

Miyamoto Nobuko is the woman. She’s also Tampopo. She’s a widow, with a kid, a suitor, the failing business, questionable ramen cooking talent. Yamazaki agrees to help her learn. He sets up assorted, eclectic instructors and occasionally bewildering, always entertaining lessons. And he falls for Miyamoto, but he’s just a traveling man. Or is he?

There’s no question about Miyamoto’s shop eventually being successful. It’s just how long it will take. The film starts not with the main cast but with Yakusho Kôji. He’s sitting down to watch a movie with his lady friend (Shinoi Setsuko). He likes movies and food. No talking during movies, as someone finds out. But eating during movies is fine. Just quietly.

Then Itami kicks off the main plot with some didactic structuring. But it turns out to just be a mold. He doesn’t keep it. He keeps the same kind of asides, just without the overlay. The asides (because sketches would require cameos and everything else seems to need quotation marks)–so, the asides. These asides have no narrative requirements. Itami can do whatever he wants. Or can get an actor to do involving an egg yolk. Tampopo is a lot. It’s also brilliantly edited by Suzuki Akira. Suzuki’s got to have showy cuts to match the content because Itami’s always matching intensity with content. There’s a tension between the two and it gives Tampopo its anticipatory energy.

That energy stays consistent throughout. Suzuki and Itami keep the same pace during the main plot scenes as they do the asides. It’s really cool.

Great photography from Tamura Masaki and music from Murai Kunihiko. The film never gets long, the asides stay fresh. The acting is great.

Yamazaki takes Miyamoto through the urban landscape–because even if it’s a Western, it’s still set in a big city–to find the instructors. There’s Katô Yoshi, a former ramen-master burnt out, and noodle-man Sakura Kinzô. Wanatabe is around a bit. And Yasuoaka Rikiya is the guy who’ll be there for Miyamoto when the open road calls to Yamazaki and he abandons her, the shop, and the kid.

The kid who’s uncredited?

Anyway. It all works. It’s delightful. Itami falls back on broader humor whenever he wants to hurry a scene, but it’s fine. They’re good laughs, they’re just at the expense of character development. Itami, Suzuki, Tamura, and Murai do phenomenal work. And the actors are good too, but none of them get to do phenomenal work because no character development. Not even for an Audie Murphy Western much less Shane. Spoof and homage have definite limits.

They also kill a little turtle onscreen. So. I’m not down with that. I don’t want to talk about it, but, no. Uh uh.

Still, it’s a rather good movie.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Itami Jûzô; director of photography, Tamura Masaki; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Murai Kunihiko; produced by Hosogoe Seigo, Tamaoki Yasushi, and Itami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Yamazaki Tsutomu (Gorô), Miyamoto Nobuko (Tampopo), Yakusho Kôji (Man in White Suit), Watanabe Ken (Gan), Yasuoka Rikiya (Pisuken), Sakura Kinzô (Shôhei), Katô Yoshi (Noodle-Making Master), Ôtaki Hideji (Rich Old Man), and Kuroda Fukumi (Man in White Suit’s Mistress).


Godzilla (2014, Gareth Edwards)

Instead of focusing on the giant monsters fighting, Gareth Edwards tells his Godzilla from the human perspective. It's too bad because Edwards occasionally will set up an action shot well–he's inept at following through with these setups and actually doing a good action scene, but he's always terrible with the actors. The most interesting question Godzilla raises is in regards to its character actors… why can David Strathairn keep it together with Bryan Cranston looks increasingly more humiliated to be delivering Max Borenstein's terrible lines?

There's nothing good about Godzilla. There's not some gem of a little performance, there's not some fantastic sequence to partially redeem the film. Borenstein rips off a plot point from the last American remake (with some garnish) but it's all right because most of the first half has Edwards ripping off everything he can from Steven Spielberg. Poorly, of course, because Edwards, Borenstein and Godzilla are all terrible.

Particularly bad also is Alexandre Desplat's score. There's not a single good note of music, but given the film's atrocious sound design–which is usually meant to heighten the emotional impact of leads Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen's lousy acting–one would be unable to hear it.

Real quick–Taylor-Johnson's awful, Olsen's awful, Cranston's embarrassed–Sally Hawkins looks like she's ready to cry being in this turkey. Ken Watanabe gives the second best performance (after Strathairn); Borenstein gives him the most idiotic dialogue.

Godzilla's truly American now. The film would fail a fourth grade science quiz. It's exceptionally stupid. And bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gareth Edwards; screenplay by Max Borenstein, based a story by Dave Callaham; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Bob Ducsay; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent and Brian Rogers; released by Warner Bros

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), Sally Hawkins (Graham), David Strathairn (Admiral Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Hampton) and Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody).


Letters from Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood)

It’d be absurdly obvious to point out Letters from Iwo Jima is an anomaly in Clint Eastwood’s body of work. Outside, well, some Japanese directors in the 1950s and 1960s, it’d probably be an anomaly in anyone’s oeuvre. It reminds me of a dream movie–some movie I watch in a dream and wake up and it’s not real. Even a day later, thinking about the film, I keep expecting it not to be real. Certainly not to get to see it again.

Though it’s a definite companion to Flags of Our Fathers, it really makes no sense to talk about the two films in relation to each other. Besides the obvious comparison (Das Boot), Iwo Jima reminds most of The Big Red One–there’s a relentless futility essayed in the three films, but Iwo Jima is by far the bleakest portrayal of war I’ve ever seen. It may have something to do with being from the Japanese perspective, but even of the Japanese war films I’ve seen… Iwo Jima is something more. The bleakness somehow never manages to depress though. Letters from Iwo Jima tells its story in a finite arena and, even though it has a slight modern-day frame, never really makes any comment on its subjects. There are a lot of beautiful moments in the film, usually involving the main character, played by Ninomiya Kazunari, and his friends and his experiences. But while the film spends its time with both he and Ken Watanabe’s general, neither are really the main focus of the film. Clint encapsulates the entire experience through these two, which lead me to The Big Red One comparison, but there are also comparison’s to Sam Fuller’s other war films, which were also incredibly bleak (The Big Red One is probably the most cheery, in fact).

In many ways, Letters from Iwo Jima is an indescribable film. Seeing it soon after Flags of Our Fathers makes a technical comparison possible, maybe even interesting, but the two films are completely different. Iwo Jima is a film… well, it’s completely unique, both in the experience of seeing it and its place in big-f Film (which is separately thrilling, that a film could still make a place for itself in the medium). It’s a startling achievement from Clint Eastwood and I pretty much figured he could do anything, but here he manages to top any conceivable expectations.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Iris Yamashita, based on a story by Yamashita and Paul Haggis; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production designers, Henry Bumstead and James J. Murakami; produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Warner Bros. and DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Ken Watanabe (Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi), Ninomiya Kazunari (Saigo), Ihara Tsuyoshi (Baron Nishi), Kase Ryo (Shimizu), Nakamura Shidou (Lieutenant Ito) and Nae (Hanako).


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