Saturday, May 14, 2016

Interesting Things About Starman

No, not the Hollywood movie. Googling “Starman” brings up lots of diverse materials. You have to punch in “starman japanese movie” to get to the old Japanese Starman films. They’re pretty interesting.

Recently I watched Evil Brain from Outer Space, featuring Starman. I hadn’t seen a Starman film for ages. I mean literally ages; most of the trees now adorning the world were mere potential in the bowels of the parent trees the last time I watched one. That was in the small Japanese movie theater west of Times Square in New York, somewhere in the mid- to high-Forties, in the late 1960s. The one I saw this month was different, somehow.

Evil Brain was entertaining as it was. The living brain of the evil genius Balazar wants to take over the universe. (Balazar comes from the planet Xemar.) Not only the universe, he wants to take over the “entire universe.” Very ambitious. Of course he wants to start with the earth, specifically Japan. Some other planet called The Emerald Planet sends Starman, the Man of Steel (callback alert), to thwart Balazar’s efforts.

There are monsters galore and mutants with “cobalt claws” that can even hurt Starman. There are also human bad guys that kill earth scientists and rob jewelry stores to cover their overhead. There are lots of very hot female actresses organized to decorate as many scenes as possible. Starman prevails, but it all looked curiously innocent this time around. Not like I remembered it at all.

The big climactic fight at the secret base looked just like my clear memory of it, except that all of the shocking brutality had been hoovered out of it. I recall scenes like Starman actually pulling the eyes out of a bad guy and then displaying them for the camera, laughing a disturbing triumphant laugh. 

There was none of that this time around.

What, I wondered, had happened? Did they shoot two versions of the Starman movies? Was it all cleaned up later on for Japanese, or American, TV? Professor Google to the rescue!

They were originally filmed as shorts for Japanese theatrical release. That was what I had seen first time around, some of the original shorts. Starman was called “Super Giant” in Japanese, or “Super Giants,” even though there’s only one of him. The studio was Shintoho, which was the non-union arm of Toho. They were shot around 1958. An American outfit bought the rights to the shorts sometime in the 1960s, cut them up, and made Evil Brain and several other films. They obviously cleaned them up too.

The ultraviolence might seem out of place in a series modeled after the American TV show Superman, and Starman was intended to be a children’s show. But it is a Japanese product, after all.  You get your cuteness and your grand guinol and your sentimentality and your rape and your elegant beauty all mixed up in a typically Japanese salad in Japanese cinema.

I’ve seen something like 500 Japanese movies of all genres by now, so I’m well beyond being surprised by what I find there. It’s a fascinating culture. Evil Brain should be enough Starman to hold me for a while, but if I come across any of the original shorts I’ll be sure to tune in. 

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