RIC MEYERS: Tokyo Shock
It’s that time again. I’m back on my annual summer filmfest tour. My first, and favorite, stop is FanimeCon in San Jose (“By Fans, For Fans”) California, where my friends at Media Blasters showcased riches aplenty – some recent, one brand spanking new.
Now, I’ve been fans of M.B. for awhile, since they’re the only (legal) place to get such classic Japanese samurai (a.k.a. chambara) films as Hideo Gosha’s Goyokin, such fine “old school” kung-fu films as 7 Grandmasters, and such rare, treasured Japanese action TV series as Baian the Assassin and Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. But this time they’ve outdone themselves … at least in terms of this column’s raison d’etre.
Let’s start with their recent output. They’re repacked and repackaged two cult favorites in ways both wild and weird. First, topping anyone’s list of “you may regret it but you’ll never forget it” movies is renegade firebrand director Takashi Miike’s graphic (is there any word stronger than graphic I can use?) live-action adaptation of the landmark manga Ichi the Killer. Once seen, you’ll know why “graphic” or even “explicit” don’t cut it (“cut’ it … get it? Anyone seeing the film will).
This tale of a repressed, demented, vigilante going after the worst yakuza sado-masochist ever put on film is a work of extreme “so-excessive-it’s-funny” art (art using mostly the color red). So it makes sick sense that Media Blaster’s “Tokyo Shock” division would package their new Double-Disc Special Edition in a Collector’s Blood Bag.
First, the good news: the mass of extras do nothing to lessen the impact of this literally unforgettable entertainment (although I almost hoped it would, given the intensity of the flick). They include a new 16×9 transfer, audio commentary with both the director and the manga artist/writer (Hideo Yamamoto), interviews with the actors and producer, and an illuminating on-the-set making-of doc.
The only place the frills falter is with “The Cult of Ichi” and Eli Roth interview featurettes in which horror writers and “torture chic” filmmakers heap bloody praise on the film. What they have to say is pretty much what anyone would probably say, but it you like their work, it might be fun to see them give voice to what you would probably think after seeing the movie.
Now, the bad news. While the packaging is “clever,” it is also wildly impractical. It took me more than two minutes to extract just one of the two discs from its sticky plastic prison, and it was nigh impossible not to get my grubby paw prints all over the wrong side of the DVD.
Better packaging providence can be found in the long-awaited, oft-rumored Ultimate Versus three-DVD set, safely installed in a handsome, agreeable gold and black metal case. Of course Ichi makes Versus look like Pippi Longstocking, but the former’s dismemberments don’t lesson the exhilarating energy of action film expert Ryuhei Kitamura’s Nipponese time-warped merging of yakuza/samurai films with Evil Dead.
Kitamura-san went on to make the great “kunoichi (female ninja)” movie Azumi, as well as Godzilla: Final Wars (and he’s in final talks to helm an American film), but here he’s at his raw origins, and Tokyo Shock gives Versus its due with so many supplements it’s hard to know where to begin. So, okay, I’ll start with the new director’s cut of the film (folding in ten extra minutes along with tweaking technical stuff he originally found wanting), a new audio commentary alongside the original commentary, a new “making of” to join the original making-of, several “side stories” following the characters outside the original cut’s framework, and even a making of doc about one of the side stories!
Suffice to say, if you love Versus, and Buddha knows I do, this sweet, sweeeeet Ultimate Collector’s Edition is like marrying it.
Now, onto the spanking new release. Originally I avoided the Japanese monster movies that featured giant humans. I liked Godzilla and Gamera (the mammoth turtle who flew by farting fire out of his shell’s orifices), but over the years fellow fans kept saying I should check out Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). I poo-poohed ‘em, choosing to stay safe with the likes of Mothra and Rodan (the gigantic bird, not the painter).
So, imagine my growing appreciation as I watched Tokyo Shock’s new undercover two-disc set of Frankenstein Conquers the World/Frankenstein Vs. Baragon. Undercover, because, although the Media Blasters marketing department puts both the original and U.S. titles on the front cover, they only alert consumers as to the wealth of riches inside on a little, tiny, dot stuck into the left corner of the back cover.
Director Ishiro Honda and the Toho studios lavished loving care on this, their first American co-production, and star Nick Adams gives one of the most energetic and convincing “staring off-screen” performances in the genre. And, although the giant Japanese caveman monster (who has Frankenstein’s heart irradiated by the H-bombing of Hiroshima – after the Nazis bring the beating heart to Japan just as Berlin was falling) is pretty silly looking, Honda and company labored overtime to make it work, and, against all odds, it does.
Although the discs include trailers, deleted, alternate, and extended scenes (including the infamous appearance of a giant dues-ex-machina octopus who appears out of nowhere), and a fascinating commentary by the director of photography and special effects assistant, the remastered film itself is the main extra — in that T.S. includes three complete versions: the original Japanese theatrical cut, the Japanese international edition, and the U.S. release – all with remixed 5.1 tracks.
It is an ultra-cool surprise in a modest package. Thanks to it, I now know what I’ve been missing all these years: an absurd but amazing homage to the joys of international monsters. It gives new meaning to the idea that Frankenstein is big in Japan.
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, The Ultimate Death, Doomstar, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective, The Weekly World News and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.