What you need to know
What does a reviewer do with a film like ‘Dead Kaiju’?
Have you seen Anno Hideaki and Higuchi Shinji’s Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ) from 2016, which is actually an excellent satire about the Japanese government being mired in bureaucracy? Do you ever wonder how such a government would deal with the aftermath of a kaiju (怪獣 monster, literally “strange beast”) rampage, especially since the rampage in that film is stopped by a protagonist working outside the system? Does the blunt title of writer-director Miki Satoshi’s What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? (大怪獣のあとしまつ) catch your eye? What about the attractive stars, Yamada Ryosuke and Tsuchiya Tao?
What if I told you that Yamada plays Obinata Arata, the Prime Minister’s (fictional) Special Forces point man for the kaiju cleanup; that Tsuchiya plays Amane Yukino, point woman for kaiju cleanup for the Environmental Minister (Fuse Eri); and that the two are ex-lovers? What if I then added the slight wrinkle that Yukino is married to Amane Masahiko (Hamada Gaku), the Prime Minister’s special assistant with a fascist mustache and former friend of Arata? Would you believe me if I said that this makes him Arata’s boss and Yukino’s professional rival? And that he’s having an affair with a very conveniently placed lab technician?
What would you think of the satire if the Prime Minister were played by Nishida Toshiyuki in full-on clown mode? What if his entire cabinet were one big clown car of childish, bickering, bullying, and sometimes physically aggressive clowns? And what if the Defense Minister, played by Iwamatsu Ryo, spoke only in gnomic epigrams that only his generals could understand and return in kind? Would you think of this as an accurate satire of Japanese society, or an overly broad caricature?
Do you think such a film could treat the super-complicated love triangle at its center with any degree of nuance? Or do you suppose that this might be one of those films in which people have conversations by monologuing at a window with their backs to each other, shot from a low angle (cinematography by Takada Haruyuki) and layered over with epic music (by Ueno Koji)?
Did you think the pretentious epicness stopped there? Can you imagine a baselessly frenetic camera, swooping, arcing, aerial droning, and closing in on frivolous details like door knobs and briefcases (edited by Tominaga Takashi)? Can you hear in your mind’s ear line after line of faux portentous dialogue (when not in slapstick mode), hinting at a level of significance that isn’t really there?
Would you still want to see the centerpiece of the film — the kaiju corpse? Would you breathe a sigh of relief if I told you that it doesn’t look half bad lying there in the river, with the lone exception of one leg sticking into the air? Would that relief be swept away if I quickly added that the function of the corpse is basically to create one big fart joke, supported by an STD joke? Would it be a plus or a minus if I told you that the CGI and greenscreen (by Noguchi Koichi) look terrible, but that most of the effects are practical (by Butsuda Hiroshi)?
How would you react to the idea of the ending being spoiled the very first time we meet the Prime Minister? Would it be any consolation if, even after the spoiler, the ending were still completely unpredictable, in the sense that it would come out of nowhere? Let me put it this way: Have you seen Pacific Rim (2013)? Do you remember the ending? What if, instead of a sword, the kaiju-killing weapon had been a gigantic sphere of light? What do you mean, What does that even mean? How should I know?
Doesn’t it sound like Miki wrote himself into a corner? Do you think he should have let another screenwriter give it a shot? Well, it should be a sign of some competence that it looks like he went back to thread the nonsensical ending into the plot, right? Do you think it makes more sense on the page? Is it brilliant or pitiful for the film to end with a self-deprecating post-credits scene?
What do we want from this kind of film anyway? Is it the conflict of values and interests hinted at when the Culture Minister (Yashiba Toshihiro) proposes turning the still-exploding malodorous corpse of the kaiju — named Hope by a panel of naming experts — into a museum exhibit and tourist attraction? Or do we just want to see a demolition expert with a complicated backstory (Joe Odagiri) blow up a dam to flush the kaiju corpse away, “like a toilet”? Since both are in the film, now’s a good time to ask: Do you know the phrase “less than the sum of its parts”?
So, what do you do with the dead kaiju? Is it asking too much to expect the film to answer its title question? Or is the film “satirizing” even its own title?
I leave these questions as an exercise for the reader.
TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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