Friday, October 29, 2010

REVIEW: Death Kappa

Death Kappa

Released: 2010

Tomo'o Haraguchi

Daniel Aguilar Gutiérrez
Hideaki Anno
Shinji Higuchi
Misato Hirata
Ryûki Kitaoka

Running time: 90 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

Fever Dreams, the production arm of Media Blasters, like Sushi Typhoon, seems to have found its market it caters to it very well. "Machine Girl" and "Tokyo Gore Police" have proved that. And so they decided to head into a territory that very few low budget production companies venture into, the Kaiju film. To create a Kaiju film effectively, you have to have a team of professionals that understand that practical effects are the way to go, and a team that understands how to create them efficiently, at low cost, and at the same time making them look fantastic. Not an easy task. Whilst the Kaiju film doesn’t seem to be getting the play it used to get, the films that are made like "Gamera the Brave" and "Godzilla Final Wars" are all fairly big budget films. Even the Korean film "D-Wars", which crammed more CG dragons onto the screen than one though possible, had a big budget. So can you make a Kaiju with a low budget?

A scientist, played by Daniel Anguilar Gutierrez tells us that there are many creatures throughout history that science cannot account for. The yeti, the loch ness monster, the chupacabra, and in Japan, the Kappa. The Kappa is a mythical creature, who spends its time living in rivers, eating cucumbers, wrestling and causing mischief. Kanako (Misato Hirata) is a failed singer who returns to her home of Shirokodama to live with her grandmother. However, upon her return, a group of hooligans run down Kanako’s grandmother, and with her dying breath she tells Kanako she must protect Kappa. Kanako, like most, always believed Kappa were mythical creatures, but little did she know her grandmother visited a shrine each day, giving the Kappa cucumbers. Once Kanako takes over, things are great. The Kappa and Kanako’s friends spend their days dancing to Kanako’s music and frolicking in the countryside. Little do they know that there is an evil group of militant scientists that are hell bent on restoring Japan to its former Showa glory, bringing back the nationalistic military might of the former age, and to do this, they want to use the genes of a Kappa, genetically modifying a person with Kappa genes, making super soldiers!

"Death Kappa" succeeds on many levels. Its biggest success is that the effects are for the most part practical. Director Tomo’o Haraguchi has done special effects on films such as "Air Doll", "Bullet Ballet", "Uzumaki" and "Gamera 2" and he utilizes the skills of Isao Takahashi, who has built all the miniature city sets in many Kaiju films. Yes, there are some CG effects, but for the most part, they are only used to enhance the practical effects. Even the nuclear blast that unleashes the horrific creature Hangyola’s that Death Kappa must do battle with is a mix of CG and practical effects. And so the battle between Hangyola’s, the Japanese army, and Death Kappa is pretty awesome, creative and colossal. But what about the rest of the film? It’s funny for sure. The secret group of militants lead by Yuriko (Mika) is particularly funny, especially Mika’s performance. Plus, she seems to be dressed as Nami the Scorpion, doing her best Meiko Kaji impression, and there’s also a special appearance by a guy that looks like Tatsumi Hijikata from "Horrors of Malformed Men". In short, Haraguchi is trying to make something fun, filling the screen with references to his favourite films. Does he succeed?

Sort of. My three biggest complaints? One, the film was obviously shot on low end HD cameras, and its very evident during the early scenes outdoors. Whilst for the most part it looks fine, there are some shots that show the formats weak points. Two, the music doesn’t fit the genre. Sure the pop songs that Kanako sings don’t fit Kaiju per say, but they at least performs a narrative and comedic purpose. It’s the score that doesn’t fit. It doesn’t have that same rumbling, drum filled soundtrack that is the norm for Kaiju. It doesn’t shake your soul like it should. And finally, my final complaint. The aspect ratio. Granted Kaiju started before Tohoscope and other widescreen formats existed, but that quickly became the norm. These films scream wide image! I’ve said this before with the recent crop of samurai films, but you can’t really create a throwback to a specific genre if you don’t elicit the same visuals. And in that area this film falls short.

But, it’s still pretty entertaining, and whilst satirical and funny, it still does manage to utilize the same anti-war and anti-nuclear message that Ishiro Honda used with the mother/father of all Kaiju, "Gojira".

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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