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Archive for April, 2010

Gamera: The Giant Monster

Posted by Josh Samford On April - 7 - 2010
The Plot: In the midst of the cold war, a group of Japanese scientists venture to the Antarctic in order to flesh out the story of an ancient beast called “Gamera”. Gamera is a giant turtle monster who breathes fire and is long since thought to be merely a legend. Dr. Hidaka, his assistant Kyoko Yamamoto and their press agent Aoyagi are enjoying this expedition into the Antarctic when a Soviet plane holding an atomic bomb is shot down by American forces near where our scientists stand – the icy ground cracks open and the great beast Gamera rises from his slumber. Standing 190 feet tall and holding the ability to project fire from his mouth, the beast seems unstoppable. All known ammunition seems to simply power this beast even more, with each attempt at destroying him failing worse than the last. Will our scientist team figure out the secret to this great turtle or will he completely destroy the great Island nation!


The Review
The Kaiju film is a significant genre within the realm of Japanese cinema that I unfortunately haven’t explored fully up until this point. My good friend Jordan from the B-Movie Film Vault was always the resident Kaiju fanatic and expert with any of my film friends. I suppose I never delved heavily into the genre because it seems rather intimidating. The genre itself is so expansive and was such a massive craze that, going off of an intellectual guess, I would have to say there are close to 100 of these films floating around. With Godzilla himself, the most well known of these giant monsters, starring in over 25 titles by himself. As intimidated as I may be, I’m not against launching into any film genre. When I was contacted by Shout Factory to check out their latest release, the original Japanese version of Gamera: The Giant Monster, how could I resist? I couldn’t and I’m glad I took the plunge, because where I may not find Gamera to be a spectacularly well made film – for what it is, it is a glorious bit of naïve fun. It is a retro throwback to the days of limited budgets, big films and low grade special FX. It seems as if it has been forever since I last sat down with an oldschool giant monster movie, but now it seems I’ll have to get acquainted with the genre all over again. I had never actually seen a Gamera film up until this point (but had heard the line “Gamera – A friend to all children!” many times before), so if you are a die-hard Kaiju fan then I apologize if I come off as lacking in knowledge. Although this may not be my first Kaiju feature (have seen Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters and a few others), we all have to start some place!

The first thing I took notice of with Gamera: The Giant Monster, aside from some of the cheesier special effects (I’ll get to all of that shortly), was the very familiar origin story. With Gamera being born from nuclear power, unleashed at the hands of the United States (with the Soviet Union this time out) – the fear of nuclear power and the feelings of anger, confusion and resentment that the Japanese population must have felt throughout the post-war period seems ever present in this feature. However, it’s interesting how Gamera delivers a message that is quite positive despite these fears that society may have had in the new era of the cold war. From the threat of nuclear devastation being substituted with a far more dangerous adversary, throughout the film we see the Japanese, United States and Soviet Union ultimately come together in the hopes of saving all of mankind. While this may not be the defacto theme that runs throughout the entire film, it’s certainly an interesting and positive outlook from a film that at first seems bleak and dark. As we push aside these curtains, we discover that people are the same from all over and that helping one another is the ultimate push for peace. Despite the silly effects and the ultimate goal of being a ‘scary’ show for the kiddies, there are some really admirable traits at work in Gamera.

Gamera IS a monster movie though and it delivers on those expectations, big time. The monster actually makes his first appearance within the first five minutes of the film proper! In a scene that is instantly memorable and considered to be one of the finer moments of the classic Kaiju era, we see Gamera escape from his icy prison by the glacial ground cracking open and steam erupting from the center of the ice. We then see Gamera himself as snow, or broken ice shards, cover his body. When he’s finally on solid ground he of course moves on to destroying the closest man-made object he can find which just so happens to be a massive ship. Slaughtering his first group of innocent people, Gamera proceeds to stomp, smash and bite his way through Japan over the next eighty minutes. The inevitable show down with Tokyo would absolutely be the highlight of the film, where we see Gamera absolutely demolishing a grandiose set of miniatures. Smashing over a building at one point and pouring the debris atop a high-rise with several passing cars that proceed to flip and crash. There’s a lot of great destruction at foot in Gamera, but there’s some even better special FX that I just can’t help but mention.

Now, when you’re dealing with older film fare such as this, you have to be a bit forgiving. In fact, you have to really be forgiving. While younger viewers might sit down and watch this film and see the black wires holding up the airplanes and think ”Wow, how did anyone ever fall for this?”, I recommend that they go back just ten years ago and look at what was considered “cutting edge” in terms of CGI and digital effects and see how well it stands up. In fact, I’m sure Avatar is going to look infantile in twenty years. However, some of the special FX work in Gamera… well, you can’t help but smile when you see it! The previously mentioned wire work, the obvious miniatures and the rubber suit of Gamera himself – it’s just so quaint and fun for me as a film fan. There’s so much fun to be had watching this guy in a rubber costume smashing up a set while explosions are shot at him, go off around him and explode on his own chest. While watching, you see the film in the context of its story and you also see it as this piece of work that so many people slaved upon and their results were no doubt highly successful at the time of completion; however we as an audience now are so familiar with the duplication of these effects that it gives us an insight into their creation. While this might take some audiences out of the film – I think it makes it lovable in a way. The way it crafts all of these simplistic effects, from hand drawn animation (when we see Gamera flying through the air) to the pretty humorous shots of airplanes flying through the air, it all seems so endearing to me.

The Trivia
  • The first and only film in the Gamera series to be shot in Black & White. It was done in this way due to financial reasons as well as the crew simply being more familiar with B&W.

  • Made as a direct reaction of the success that the Toho film company had with Godzilla, Daiei wanted in on the action so thus Gamera was born.

  • The initial story was inspired by Masaichi Nagata, the former president of Daiei. When he was returning home from the US on an airline trip he looked out the window and saw a vision of a tortoise. When he came back into the offices, he said he wanted his vision to become a reality.



  • The Conclusion
    Although it probably doesn’t hold the weight that the original Godzilla does, it’s a fun Kaiju film that has influenced so much of pop culture. Although that in itself doesn’t reflect the quality of the film, I do think it has some bearing on our judgment of the film. ShoutFactory! really delivers with their presentation of the film and also packs along some pretty sweet special features. Amongst them a 12-page booklet featuring an interesting write-up from director Noriaki Yuasa, written shortly before his death. Also on the disc is an excellent commentary track from August Ragone, author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters and expert on Japanese film. His commentary track is slam-packed full of information on all things Gamera. Last but certainly not least is the Gamera retrospective, which is a short documentary focusing on the filmmakers who helped compile the series. Coming in at roughly twenty minutes, there is a lot to grab from this featurette



    Girl Boss Guerilla Review

    Posted by Josh Samford On April - 4 - 2010
    Hey everybody! I’m a little late updating the site, the job has been getting in the way but I didn’t forget about you! Today we have a review for the Pinky Violence classic Girl Boss Guerilla. Although immediately upon watching, I felt kind of wishy-washy about it but after really going over it again I found a lot more to enjoy. This one could use two watches!

    The Plot: The Red Helmet Gang is a all female biker gang from Shinjuku, lead by the tough yet beautiful Sachiko (Miki Sugimoto). When the group hits the road and lands in Kyoto, they start their hustling campaign. Their scams start off small but they quickly garner the attention of another all female gang in the territory, the Kyogoku group. After Sachiko dispatches of their girl boss, it turns out that this gang isn’t as respectable as the Red Helmet Gang and they almost turn our girls into pin-cushions. Fortunately for the Red Helmet Gang, Rika (Reiko Ike) the former boss intervenes and acknowledges Sachiko as the new boss of the group. Rika and Sachiko begin a friendship that will carry them to great success, but Rika’s brother who is a yakuza may stand in the way of their riches. This Yakuza gang wants the girls to slack off and leave the territory to them, but the Red Helmet Gang won’t go without a fight. Meanwhile, Sachiko is finding love in the form of a young boxer who knows how to treat a woman. So while the group is committing acts of blackmail and threatening violence, the Red Helmet Gang will have to keep the Yakuza off of their back, Sachiko will have to look after her man and Rika will have to confront her very own brother and force him to pick sides between blood and the gang.






    CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

    Girl Boss Guerilla

    Posted by Josh Samford On April - 4 - 2010
    The Plot: The Red Helmet Gang is a all female biker gang from Shinjuku, lead by the tough yet beautiful Sachiko (Miki Sugimoto). When the group hits the road and lands in Kyoto, they start their hustling campaign. Their scams start off small but they quickly garner the attention of another all female gang in the territory, the Kyogoku group. After Sachiko dispatches of their girl boss, it turns out that this gang isn’t as respectable as the Red Helmet Gang and they almost turn our girls into pin-cushions. Fortunately for the Red Helmet Gang, Rika (Reiko Ike) the former boss intervenes and acknowledges Sachiko as the new boss of the group. Rika and Sachiko begin a friendship that will carry them to great success, but Rika’s brother who is a yakuza may stand in the way of their riches. This Yakuza gang wants the girls to slack off and leave the territory to them, but the Red Helmet Gang won’t go without a fight. Meanwhile, Sachiko is finding love in the form of a young boxer who knows how to treat a woman. So while the group is committing acts of blackmail and threatening violence, the Red Helmet Gang will have to keep the Yakuza off of their back, Sachiko will have to look after her man and Rika will have to confront her very own brother and force him to pick sides between blood and the gang.





    The Review
    The Pinky Violence genre of Japanese cinema has quickly become a personal favorite of mine. They can in many ways be obscure and hard to define, but I think what makes these films so special is the strange concoction of genre types that they deliver. They are films that mix social commentary with strong doses of action, but they are also universally appealing due to their love of common exploitation themes. Coming from a society that is generally male dominated, certainly in the sixties and seventies, these girl power movies that showed women standing up proud and powerful right next to the men who are supposed to be authority figures; these were very unique and daring movies. Ahead of their time by decades, really. Yet, as I type this, my mind wanders to the plethora of excessive sex scenes and the four tons of nudity that are usually jam packed in every other title that fits the definition. There’s a dichotomy at work that I personally find intriguing as a viewer and I doubt I’m the first to have picked up on it. Unlike most American exploitation at the time, most of which were shot on miniscule budgets with very little thought put into the visual presentation of the films, the technical merit of these films were all top notch. To go with the beautiful ladies, the cinematography in Japanese films of this era were all so gorgeous. All of these things I have said so far are true in the case of Girl Boss guerilla. In almost every sense of the word this is an atypical example of the genre in question, which is not necessarily a bad thing. That just means all of those good things are at play in this one, but unfortunately there seems to be less truly stand-out moments.

    Norifumi Suzuki, as a filmmaker, is quite the interesting character. He crafted the delinquent girl formula with his many notable entries into the genre, but his focus on class systems and defiance of social norms made him an auteur of the exploitation film world. Girl Boss guerilla jumps out of the gate with an axe to grind, taking on any authority or moral figure that it can possibly think to shake a finger at. Staking its story on this group of delinquent girls, Suzuki is actually very clever in his purposes behind the film and the shots that he takes at social taboos and etiquette are delivered in such succession and in such quick order that its easy to look over a lot of this stuff. His poking fun at religious leaders in particular, which I am assured is a continuing theme throughout his work, is just one aspect of this utter defiance he has with any single person atop the totem pole. These stories about women inside of the underworld surely appealed to his love of the societal misfit and the girl biker gang in Girl Boss guerilla are the perfect marionettes for him to play with. The all girl gang is an interesting concept for Japanese society, especially in the time that these films were made. Inside of the underworld, where the Yakuza are king, women are relegated to wives and at-home support. Yet, here in Suzuki’s world – these girls assault, hurt and win against these dominating tough guys. They are the misfits within a society of outcasts. A veritable sub-subculture.

    The girl power angle is something that is given a certain amount of mileage in these films, but the aspect that might turn off some modern film-goers would be the exploitation aspects that originally packed the theaters. For diehards and film geeks, especially those who understand the context or at least try to keep up with the culture, it’s easy to look past the over-abundance of sexuality. Modern viewers might be thrown off by the sexual domination and the obviously exploitative moments that were only meant to draw in the male audience. You have to give films like this credit however, despite their confines of having to deliver the sex and violence expected of them they still managed to pack in their message and empowered women within a world where men were expected to be those in total control. It’s a strange mix where you have these very pro-women films that will inevitably have a sequence at some point where one of the girls will be stripped topless, find herself in ropes or chains and have her breasts either lashed, burned or beaten. The breast is treated as a truly sacred body part in these films, their importance is best displayed in the sequence where our girls induct a member and give her their matching tattoo: which unlike the yakuza, who have giant murals on the back, is instead placed over the left breast. It’s a predictable ploy in these films that if anything is to happen to any body part on these girls, the breast will receive the punishment.

    Yet, for all of the sleaze a film like Girl Boss guerilla seems to ring out more for me as a celebration of beauty more than anything else. The sex isn’t what I would personally consider explicit and it seems as if the majority of focus on these girls is placed mainly on their use of sexuality in their characters. Their sexuality for the most part is used to intimidate the male characters that surround them. These girls are the antithesis of what Japanese society considered to be ‘good’ girls and they display that with vigor. The use of wardrobe is another expression of this attitude, but ultimately all who live within the ‘underworld’ of Kyoto dress so incredibly fashionable. Girl Boss guerilla delivers all of the giant sunshades and bright colors you could ever expect from a Japanese film of the era, and the style of it all is simply amazing. Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike have never looked more beautiful than in this film, with Sugimoto wearing a tight-fitting green shirt which she is all too ready to pull up to display her petite and well tuned mid-section. I don’t find myself drooling over actresses often, but Sugimoto could ask me to commit murder and I’d probably consider it.

    The Trivia
  • The film originally opened as the B-Picture on a double feature with Kinju Fukasaku’s original Battles Without Honor & Humanity.

  • Although not the first pairing of Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike (their first film was 1971’s Onsen Mimizu geisha (1971)), it is the most widely available of their first films together.

  • Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike shared screen time together on nine separate films (Onsen Mimizu geisha (1971), Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Counterattack (1971), Terrifying Girls’ High School: Women’s Violent Classroom (1972), Lustful Shogun and His Twentyone Mistresses (1972), Girl Boss guerilla (1972), Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Challenge (1972), Sukeban (1973), Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973) and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (1973)), eight of which were directed by Norifumi Suzuki. Criminal Woman: Killing Melody, their last appearance together, was directed by Atsushi Mihori.


  • The Conclusion
    Although immediately after watching the film, I had mixed feelings about it, I find myself liking it more and more. Some of the things that draw me to it aren’t so direct and it takes some time to think about it. It isn’t an overly complex film and I don’t want people to drag that from my review, but it does put on a snarling face to authority figures and I enjoy that aspect of it. The previously mentioned stylish look of the film, from wardrobes to set decoration and beyond, is another really great aspect of it. All in all, I won’t say it’s my favorite Pinky Violence film that I have seen but it is a good deal of fun and absolutely worth searching out. I must warn, you may just fall in love with these girls.



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    Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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