Monday, March 31, 2008

New Feature: Movie Reviews

Frankenstein vs. Baragon (Japan 1965)

I came across a bunch of these Kaiju, letterboxed and in the original Japanese, full length and really beautiful. DVD's with special features, no less. This is the giant monster genre, Godzilla and company, Baragon is one of the minor players in the G-man pantheon. This movie has always been hard to find, hard to see, and maybe if someone were not as fascinated as I am by the vehicles, the monster-suits, the clothes, the Twisting party-goers, and Kumi Mizuno, then maybe they’d think it was a little slow, or sophomoric even, but for me it’s four stars out of five.

Nick Adams! Even! He’s Kumi M’s love interest, they’re both scientists at the, get this, the Hiroshima Institute of Radio Therapentics. Their domestic scenes are priceless: a little, tiny apartment cluttered with stuff, a tiny TV, Nick puts on a star-spangled chef’s hat and an American flag BBQ apron and makes hamburgers in the living room with a little table fan on. “Oishi!” squeals Kumi M. with delight. This is one of several movies that they made together, and this one was made during their torrid love affair. They both play it relaxed and happy, all very natural.

The wide screen is indispensable to Japanese movies. Japanese directors use every corner of the frame, making beautiful static scenes with internal movement, to pan-and-scan them can make you dizzy enough to get sea sick. And just think what you miss: in a couple of scenes there’s an extravagantly beautiful woman scientist in the background, wild curly mane, great, lavish lips, she has no lines and wouldn’t make in into the pan-and-scan.

The nuclearization of Hiroshima is of course included here, somehow America always brings about these huge aberrations. It’s a great scene, too, first a lone B-San goes over high and then, wham! all hell breaks loose. This is right after the Frankenstein heart has been removed from its crate for examination by, come on, guess, yes! Takashi Shimura! again appearing in a lab coat, the original Godzilla scientist. Here he shows up for one minute of screen time, tops, and then gets nuked along with everybody else.

I lose some details of the story, it being told in Japanese, but it seems like the Frankenstein heart grows a man around it, a Japanese man (maybe it was the food) in familiar Frankenstein makeup. Before long he’s growing. He stays in his slightly burst clothes for quite a while, he’s at least twenty feet tall with the same pants and belt, 32 inch waist, probably. Later on he clears fifty feet and wears his own creations.

Both monsters have run-ins with Twist parties. Frankenstein, big, stands up waist deep in a river next to a party boat, the crew and the Twisters all swallow their gum but ‘Stein just takes a look and goes back under, no damage done. Baragon surfaces in the mountains (he’s Baragon, the sub-terrainean monster) in a ski-resort cluster of Swiss Chalets, during another drunken Twist party, and wrecks the place, deaths are likely but unrecorded.

Great vehicles throughout. Nick and Kumi drive around in a baby-blue Datsun Bluebird with a grill full of rally badges. The cabs and cop cars are full sized and cherry. Later on the scientists make the scene in a nice red convertible. These are all vest-pocket Sixties Japanese cars.

The Baragon suit is great, his eyes are wild and his horn flashes orange light on and off for no good reason. The actor inside is good, too. Frankenstein is a very agile actor, a good physical actor. The fight scenes are very exciting, undercranked to make them look more dangerous, Frankenstein may have been a wrestler/actor, he’s got the moves.

Kumi Mizuno really makes the movie though. She appears in divine clothing at all times, nice hats and bags, subdued ensembles with tight skirts, all very Jackie Kennedy. One blue outfit is especially stunning. She absolutely glows in this movie, Nick must have been making her happy at the time. Nick Adams is good too. The remarkable saving grace of these movies is that talented actors appear in them and take the job seriously, whatever kind of crap is going in around them.

One final note about the appearance of American armed forces in these movies: they are always presented as no-nonsense professionals who get things done right the first time and mighty fast too. In the first scenes, Nazi forces around Frankenstein’s castle are getting their asses severely kicked; soon after there is a surface transfer made between a German and a Japanese submarine, they are spotted on the surface by a Catalina and bombed quickly and accurately, the Nazi sub gets it in the neck; the B-29 lays Fat Man right on Hiroshima’s nose. The admiration thus expressed is no doubt grudging, but just as real.

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