Kaiju Appreciations; Dagahra

Managed to get another appreciation video up. This one is for Dagahra, the villainous sea dragon of Rebirth of Mothra II, the second film of the Mothra trilogy from the late 1990s.

Dagahra’s story is that he was created by an ancient civilization called Nilai Kinai to clean up the pollution they had put into the oceans. But instead Dagahra went mad and began producing ‘Barems’, toxic starfish-like creatures that consumed the oceans in an effort to destroy everything that polluted the seas. He was subdued, but is awakened in the modern day by human pollution, where he clashes with Leo, the son of Mothra (who is the main star of the three films).

(As a side note, in my head I like to imagine that the Mothra trilogy is in fact in continuity with the Heisei Godzilla films, so that Leo’s mother is the same Mothra that fought Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mothra. Consequently, I like to imagine that Battra is his father)

Now, when I did my Kamacuras appreciation I said that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Toho kaiju without personality, but…well, Dagahra might just be an exception. He’s really not very interesting, despite a cool design; just another rampaging monster for Leo to fight in a series of extremely repetitive and largely dull battles that mostly consist of them shooting animated beams at each other with little effect. The idea of him having gone mad in the past from being corrupted by the very task he was created to perform is sort of interesting (and served as the basis for my song choice), but nothing is really done with it. It’s just an excuse for him to be there.

Honestly, the second Mothra film is pretty bad: possibly the worst kaiju film Toho produced in the 90s (the first one isn’t very good either, but at least has some emotional charge with the death of Mothra as she gives her life for her son and has a pretty cool villain in Death Ghidorah: a twisted clone of King Ghidorah). The child stars are extremely annoying (though I found out the girl actually went on to a pretty successful career) and the anti-pollution message is as subtle and artfully done as a meteor. The pseudo-Indiana Jones action that fills out the non-monster scenes is pretty awful, and it doesn’t help that Dagahra’s backstory is an almost exact copy of the Gyaos from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, which is one of the better kaiju films of that era, not to mention being simultaneously very similar to Battra’s from Godzilla vs. Mothra, both of whom are much more interesting characters (hence why Battra has become a staple of the Godzilla roster while most people forget Dagahra even exists).

For the song I went with The Hate in Me, initially just because I’d been meaning to use that for someone and I figured it was fitting enough to work (I really just wanted to get Dagahra over with; his video was a real chore due to how repetitive the monster scenes in that film tend to be). But in retrospect I’m pretty pleased with it: taking his backstory into account it feels like he’s calling out both Leo and the Nilai Kinai people for creating him and then not letting him do his job as he understands it. The line “There’s no apology for your hypocrisy” feels to me as though he’s calling Leo out for simultaneously pretending to defend the Earth while protecting the very people who destroy it. Likewise “You made me what I am.”

Overall, despite the struggles, I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Enjoy!

Kaiju Appreciation: Sanda & Gaira

For those who don’t know, one of my hobbies is editing together music videos, particularly ones celebrating the various Godzilla and other Toho characters. My latest one (first in nearly a year for one reason or another) is for Sanda & Gaira, the gargantua brothers from War of the Gargantuas.

For those unfamiliar with Kaiju eiga, War of the Gargantuas is a loose sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World and tells the story of two giants or ‘gargantuas’ that grew from pieces cast off of the regenerating Frankenstein monster from that film. One, Sanda (the brown gargantua), was raised by humans who loved and cared for him, the other, Gaira (the green one) grew up alone in the sea. Now fully grown, Gaira is a savage monster who preys upon people (spitting out their clothing), but when the military traps and nearly kills him, Sanda appears to rescue his brother and care for him. Only, when Sanda discovers his brother’s murderous appetites, he tries to beat the habit out of him, prompting a war between them.

This is really one of the best kaiju films of Toho’s classic era. It’s a good story based on a creative premise, and there’s a lot of real pathos in the relationship between the two monsters, where Sanda genuinely cares for Gaira and keeps trying to reach out to him even well into their fight, but Gaira is having none of it. But you can’t help feeling bad for him nonetheless, because Gaira clearly doesn’t have the capacity to understand the idea that Sanda can love him and still chastise him, making their showdown a full-blown tragedy (most of the best monster films are tragedies at heart).

Haruo Nakajima, best known for playing Godzilla in the first twelve films of the series, here assails Gaira. He called this his favorite non-Godzilla role by far, since the costumes left the actor’s eyes exposed, allowing for much greater emoting. I imagine the lighter costume and greater scope to show his athleticism also helped.

Anyway, for this appreciation I went with the song “How Can I Live” by Ill Nino, which seemed to fit the tragic, yet violent tone of the film (it’s the song that played during the credits of Freddy vs. Jason, though I actually first discovered it in a now-long-lost video tribute to…War of the Gargantuas!).


Kaiju Appreciations; Kamacuras

One of my hobbies is making music videos out of songs and film clips (though between one thing or another it’s been a long time since I’ve actually completed one). In particular, I’ve been working my way through a series of tribute or ‘appreciation’ videos for the various Toho Kaiju ever since my college days. Today, I finally got the next one up.

Today’s video is for Kamacuras, the giant praying mantis, who debuted in Son of Godzilla. There are actually three of them to start with, and they all end up being killed off over the course of the film; two by Godzilla, one by the giant spider Kumonga. Kamacuras didn’t return until the massive 50th anniversary film Godzilla: Final Wars, where he was one of the large stable of mostly B and C level kaiju filling out the film. He destroyed Paris under direction of the aliens from Planet X, then got taken out by Godzilla as part of what was essentially a montage of brief battles.

There’s not a whole lot of meat to Kamacuras; he’s a giant praying mantis, with all that implies, looking for food, and serving as a kind of starter opponent for Godzilla’s son, Minya. The three mantises menace the newly-hatched kaiju, and then the remaining one serves as the antagonist of Minya’s first solo fight (which Minya more or less loses, requiring Godzilla to drive the mantis off).

Though, that said, I don’t think there is any such thing as a Toho kaiju without personality. Kamacuras has a number of delightful little character touches, like the way he very clearly does not take Minya seriously when he comes to challenge him: he just kind of looks at the little kaiju then goes right back to menacing the film’s heroine. There’s a sense of glee when he’s pursuing his prey or attacking people, as though he’s eager to cause pain. He also seems to have an inflated image of his own power levels, rushing into battle against the likes of Godzilla and Kumonga (a trait that carries on to Final Wars). Think of him as the skinny, switchblade-wielding thug of the kaiju world; dangerous in his own way, but not nearly as dangerous as he thinks himself and way out of his depth with the more high-ranking characters.

Hence why I chose the song Get Ready to Die; a light, but gleefully aggressive little number, the exact kind of thing a character like this would sing.

Kaiju Appreciations; Hedorah (commentary)

So, my next Kaiju Appreciation turned out to be Hedorah, the Smog Monster. It’s a little surprising, since Hedorah is one of those characters that I tend to forget about, despite his comparative popularity. Probably because he’s only really in one movie, and it’s one of the worst of the series (his only other appearance is an extremely brief cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars, which is so short and pointless that you wonder why they bothered). Anyway, here’s the video.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a heavy-handed and fairly idiotic environmental film, so I picked a song from another heavy-handed and idiotic environmental film: Ferngully. Fortunately, the song Toxic Love is absolutely perfect for Hedorah (it helps that the character who sings it in Ferngully is also a living pile of pollution. Got to make things simple for the kids, you know). It’s basically just a song from the point of view of pollution itself, which is what Hedorah is. Add in that it’s sung by the marvelous Tim Curry and it’s a pretty fun little number that might have been written for Hedorah.

As for the video, I’m pretty satisfied with it. The film quality is still terrible (that won’t change for a while), and since so much of the movie takes place at night it’s sometimes hard to see anything. I had to fill up a good deal of the running time with shots of random pollution, but the film does that too, so I’m not bothered. I do remember holding off on making this one until I could get the thirty-seconds worth of footage from Final Wars, which is a good indication of how anal I can be. Worked out well in the end, though, since I think that footage fits in nicely and helps liven things up a bit.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased. It’s not one of my favorites, and Hedorah isn’t an especially interesting character (again, heavy-handed environmental metaphor: nothing more), but I think the video turned out pretty good. What do you think?

Kaiju Appreciations; Iris (Commentary)

Wow, that footage is grainy. And dig the ‘Unregistered Hypercam’ notice in the upper left.

My very first appreciation actually features someone from the Gamera series. I like Gamera, though he doesn’t grab me as much as Godzilla. Hailing from Gamera III: Revenge of Iris, the third film in the brilliant Gamera trilogy from the nineties, Iris is a sinister, parasitic creature. Seeking power, he psychically bonds with a troubled girl named Ayana who blames Gamera for the death of her parents during the events of a previous film. Feeding on her hatred, Iris grows stronger and begins to prey on the people around her, finally emerging as a towering, tentacled behemoth prepared to destroy Gamera, but not before fully absorbing Ayana.

Iris is an impressive monster, one of the most evil of all the kaiju in either the Gamera or Godzilla series. Unusually, his evil is not just that of violence and destruction, but of actual deception. He tricks Ayana into thinking that he cares about her and intends to act as her servant while slowly destroying her mind and killing her remaining family. When she finally wakes up and tries to stop him, he shows her who was actually in charge the entire time.

If the greatest evil kaiju of all time formed a Five Bad Band, Iris would be their Evil Genius. He’s a cunning, manipulative demon of a monster.

Poor Unfortunate Souls, therefore, was an obvious choice (using the Jonas Brothers’ version because it was shorter, and because I read Iris as a male character). I’m not sure it was the best I could have done, but it certainly captures Iris’s deceptive, mephistophelean character. The short length and fast pace suits the paucity of footage available (Iris doesn’t have much screen time), and the words and tone are such that I can picture him saying, if he were to sing. The driving beat emphasizes the overwhelming power of the monster, as well as the strength of his temptation and the contempt with which he ultimately holds his victim. All in all, despite certain reservations, I’m still quite pleased with this one.

In particular, I’m rather proud of some of the editing tricks I managed, even as inexperienced as I was. For instance, the scene where Iris swats a couple of Gamera’s fireballs out of the sky is actually two shots in the film: there’s a brief reaction shot from the watching humans in between impacts. I cut that scene out and found, to my delight, that the result is pretty seamless and fits the lyrics perfectly.

Kaiju Appreciations Commentary

I’m a massive Godzilla fan. I’d call myself a fan of a lot of different things, but by far the one that is closest to my heart is Godzilla.

As a matter of fact, Godzilla was what got me interested in film. I started out loving the Godzilla series, and that led me to look into other, similar films like King King, the Harryhausen flicks, or the Universal Monsters. From there, of course, it was only a brief step to a full-blooded love of cinema.

Why do I love Godzilla so much? Well, it isn’t the reason a lot of people love him. I don’t laugh at the dubbing or the questionable special effects (in fact, some of the effects work is really quite impressive, but that’s another story). I don’t even go to see Godzilla and his co-stars smashing stuff. I keep coming back because I simply love the characters and the world and the story. I love Godzilla, and Mothra, and Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and Anguirus, and all the rest: I love how, to me at least, they come across as real personalities, with virtues and vices. Godzilla especially I find to be a fascinating figure: a tortured, ferocious soul yet possessed of an essential nobility which causes him to side with the right when faced with true evil.

As an expression of this love, I began to make short music videos, pairing footage of each monster to a song that I thought fit his personality. My first went up back in 2009 (six years ago. Wow). My most recent just went up a few days ago, and I’m still not nearly done yet.

Just as a bit of self-indulgence (and because I really need to get to blogging again), I’ve decided to go back and do a kind of ‘director’s cut’ commentary. Each week I’ll present one of my videos and do my best to describe the process of making it (as well as I can remember) and my reason for picking the specific song. Hey, it’s my blog: I can do what I want with it.