WIDESCREEN JAPANESE SCI-FI AND HORROR CLASSICS ON TCM IN OCTOBER
With Halloween just around the corner, the Turner Classic Movies channel has packed their October schedule with such horror and science fiction greats as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), FREAKS (1932), KING KONG (1933), THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), THE HAUNTING (1963), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978). Of special note are three rarely seen Japanese classics from the 1960s— two of which are currently unavailable on home video in the United States— which will all be shown uncut, in Japanese with English subtitles, and in widescreen.
GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro, VAMPIRE GOKEMIDORO, 1968) -Tonight at 2:00 am EST/11:00 pm PST
An Air Japan flight en route to Itami has some spectacularly bad luck. A flock of birds crashes into the jet, and the crew receives a bomb threat. When the co-pilot Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida) and a flight attendant named Kuzumi (Tomomi Sato) search for the bomb, they spook a professional assassin (Hideo Ko) who attempts to hijack the airplane. As things go from bad to worse, a huge flying saucer passes by and disrupts the plane’s controls. The jet crashes in desolate mountain range, The UFO lands nearby, and an alien being called Gokemidoro begins to pick off the survivors. The blob-like creature splits open the heads of its victims and crawls inside, taking control of their bodies. In their panic, the passengers begin to turn on one another… leading up to the stunning conclusion.
GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL was directed by Hajime Sato, a Toei Company veteran who had helmed THE GOLDEN BAT (Ogon Batto, 1966) and TERROR BENEATH THE SEA (Kaitei Daisenso, 1966). Sato moved to Shochiku Co., Ltd. in the late 1960s and returned to his horror roots with this film. Screenwriter Susumu Takaku also wrote Shochiku’s grim GENOCIDE (Konchu Daisenso, WAR OF THE INSECTS, 1968) and episodes of the anime series DEVILMAN (Debiruman, 1972). The opening sequence by cinematographer by Shizuo Hirase (GENOCIDE, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE) was reportedly the inspiration for a similar shot in Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003). GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL was finally released in the US as a drive-in double feature from TFC and Pacemaker Films in 1977.
THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (Uchu Daikaiju Girara, GIANT SPACE MONSTER GUILALA, 1967) –Sunday, October 8 at 2:00 am EST/11:00 pm PST
1967 saw kaiju films from each of Japan’s major studios. Shochiku’s entry was the bizarre and entertaining THE X FROM OUTER SPACE from director Kazui Nihonmatsu (GENOCIDE). After five manned missions to Mars are destroyed by a mysterious UFO, Captain Sano (Toshiya Wazaki) leads the spaceship AAB-Gamma on a sixth expedition to the red planet. Stopping off at a base on the moon, the crew hangs out in the spaceport lounge while Sano contends with the competing affections of his girlfriend Michiko (Itoko Harada) and his ship’s biologist Lisa (Peggy Neal). The AAB-Gamma eventually resumes its journey but is intercepted by the UFO, which attaches glowing spores to the earth ship’s surface. When the ship returns home, the spores hatch and unleash the monster Guilala. Convential weapons prove ineffective, so the crew of the AAB-Gamma races against time to find a way to stop the monster’s rampages across Japan.
THE X FROM OUTER SPACE was Shochiku’s only daikaiju film. In 1968, it was syndicated directly to television in the United States by American International Pictures TV and was shown regularly throughout 1970s… but it has been hard to see for decades, and is not available on Region 1 DVD.
KWAIDAN (Kaidan, GHOST STORY, 1965) –Sunday, October 22 at 2:00 am EST/11:00 pm PST
This Toho film tells four supernatural tales set during Japan’s Edo period, based on the collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903) by writer/journalist Lafcadio Hearn. Born in Greece in 1850, Hearn was raised in Ireland and spent several years in the United States. In 1889 he moved to Japan, where he lived until his death in 1904. His writings were enormously popular in Japan and instrumental in introducing Japanese culture to western audiences.
In 1965, director Masaki Kobayashi (THE HUMAN CONDITION) and screenwriter Yoko Mizuki adapted a handful of stories from Kwaidan for the big screen. In THE BLACK HAIR, a samurai (Rentaro Mikuni) must pay the consequences for abandoning his wife (Michiyo Aratama) in order to marry a rich woman (Misako Watanabe). A woodcutter (Tatsuya Nakadai) encounters THE WOMAN IN SNOW, and the murderous spirit (Keiko Kishi) offers to spare his life if he never tells of what he has seen. In HOICHI THE EARLESS, a ghost demands that a blind musician (Katsuo Nakamura) play for him every night. And a man (Kanemon Nakamura) discovers someone else’s reflection IN A CUP OF TEA.
With its strong direction, top notch cast (including Takashi Shimura and Tetsuro Tamba), and haunting music score, KWAIDAN became a critical and commercial hit. Another major factor to it’s appeal was the colorful, stylized sets used throughout the film. Much of the movie was shot on indoor soundstages, and in places KWAIDAN resembles a filmed stage play… further adding to the off-kilter, supernatural feeling of Hearn’s stories.
KWAIDAN won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and was also quickly picked up for release in the United States by the Walter Reade Organization/Continental Distributing Inc (Continental also released GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER to theaters that same year). It is currently available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. Lafcadio Hearn’s original Kwaidan stories are online from the Gutenberg Organization.
To check out the rest of Turner Classic Movies’ October schedule, please visit their official website.