Review: MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT!
Author: Ed Godziszewski
Official Movie Site: MONSTER X STRIKES BACK
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
Every now and then, a film comes along that helps to redefine a genre, offering a fresh take on a familiar subject. Unfortunately, MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT! (Girara no Gyakushu / Samitto Kiki Ippatsu!) is not that film, although you get the idea that the director thinks that is what he has done.
Going into this film, I knew what to expect…an off-the-wall comedy made by Minoru Kawasaki, one of Japan’s most eccentric filmmakers who specializes in offbeat concepts, starring a giant monster who was a less than successful (box office) one-shot character from the monster boom of 1967. When the director’s resume boasts titles like EXECUTIVE KOALA and THE CALAMARI WRESTLER, you know to expect more lowbrow comedy than high drama, but with a giant monster thrown in.
So all I really had hoped for was to have some fun, and maybe get to see some nice new miniature effects at the same time. Unfortunately, this film does not deliver even with the bar set low enough that you could walk over it.
The basic premise of the film is that the monster Guilala returns to earth during the middle of a G8 Summit being held in Japan, and the reactions of world leaders to the crisis are held up to ridicule. China, who launched an imitation of Mars survey spacecraft AAB Gamma (called AAC Beta), is blamed for bringing Guilala back to Earth. It’s world politics and the monster genre that are being spoofed here, and the current leaders of the G8 countries are all lampooned by somewhat lookalike foreign actors (apparently it was easier to find a Bill Clinton lookalike than a George Bush lookalike, but the character’s actions are decidedly those of Bush).
The Japanese leadership, including a parody of former prime minister Koizumi, are all played by actors in obvious wigs and fake facial prosthetics. The military leaders include several monster film veterans, including Yosuke Natsuke (Detective Shindo of GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER and Professor Hayashida of GODZILLA 1985), Susumu Kurobe (numerous Toho and Ultra credits), and Bin Furuya (from ULTRAMAN and ULTRA SEVEN).
If you have seen any of Kawasaki’s previous films, you know that subtlety is not his style. So we have the G8 leaders all acting so far over the top that it is hard to tell if they are just bad actors (as so many foreigners in Japanese films are) or if they are just overplaying a role. Either way, it is like making a caricature out of a caricature of a caricature…it goes so far beyond parody that it’s more embarrassing than funny.
The direction is akin to the director screaming at the audience, “THIS IS FUNNY. YOU SHOULD LAUGH NOW!” Instead, the effect is mostly one to make you roll your eyes. It is actually painful to see people like the Italian prime minister overacting so badly when his brilliant “Spirit of Rome” plan (dig a hole for Guilala to fall into…yes, that’s all there is to it) goes awry. It also struck me that the supposed comedy depends so much on recognizing the characteristics of these mostly forgettable real world G8 leaders that within a year or two, anyone who watches this will be left scratching their heads as to what was supposed to be funny in the first place.
The Japanese military leaders fare a lot better. They basically play their roles straight, and in that way you can actually wriggle some humor from their actions/reactions.
You also know you’re in trouble when the director has to reach for toilet humor. The Japanese prime minister’s defining trait is developing diarrhea whenever something important happens. And the giant idol saves the day by stopping a missile from striking Guilala which will cause it to multiply a million times over….he does so by taking the missile up his butt. How low can you go?
While there did not seem to be much real comedic value in the script, there were nonetheless a couple instances which succeeded in making me smile. When Guilala appears, as only the Japanese could do, there is a wave of merchandise that comes on the market to exploit the situation. People appear on TV hawking Guilala gum, packages of Guilala manju (a Japanese steamed cake), and so on, all sporting cute mascot-type drawings of the monster. That was clever, not to mention easy to imagine actually happening. There was also scene where a little kid in a baseball cap suddenly shows up in the situation room, gives the monster’s name and then offers advice to the generals on how to deal with the creature. The kid is ejected by MPs, carted off kicking and screaming. I always wanted to see that happen in a monster film.
I recognize that this film was made for Japanese audiences, so it isn’t necessarily fair to judge the film’s success just based on whether or not I found it amusing. I don’t pretend to fully understand the Japanese sense of humor, even having been married to a native Japanese for 20 years (come to think of it, she can’t explain it either). Instead, I would defer to the reactions of the audience, and I must say that there was not a single laugh, not even a chuckle, throughout the entire film, and I didn’t see any smiling faces when the film was over either. This and the thin box office numbers probably are a more honest gauge of its success on a comedic level.
Normally I would ask my Japanese friends who love monsters for their opinion, but it seems everyone valued their ¥1800 ($18) more than going to see this film. I wish I had been so cost conscious.
How about MONSTER X STRIKES BACK as a monster film, albeit a comedy? Sadly enough, even on this level there isn’t much to keep the audience happy. Guilala itself looks about as good as it can…the suit was made by Fuyuki Shinada (GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS and GODZILLA, MOTHRA & KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK) and it captures the essence of the original monster very well. After all, in a very literal sense, Guilala is a monster design that defies improvement (think about it). Shinada added a couple of small touches of his own to the suit, such as some reflective stones which make the monster seem to be pulsing with energy. Hurricane Ryu, veteran suit actor who has played King Ghidorah, Battra, and Godzilla Junior performs the role of the monster as best he can. It’s just that he doesn’t get much to do outside of the climactic battle.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, city destruction scenes are played out through stock footage from the original X FROM OUTER SPACE (though some new footage of building explosions are intercut). There is really only one small set that was built for the film, a barren valley surrounded by rolling hills. Guilala spends the whole movie in this one set, just moping around and waiting to be attacked. There isn’t even any effort made to rearrange the miniature mountains just to give a different look to the landscape once in a while. When Guilala is driven mad by one attack, suddenly a couple buildings and high tension towers appear in the middle of the previously empty set, just so Guilala can stomp them…and in the next scene they are mysteriously gone.
The final battle between the giant idol Take-Majin and Guilala is a huge disappointment, especially when you consider that Kawasaki is supposed to be such a big fan of giant monsters. You would expect that either the fight would be played for laughs or that it would have some action, but the entire battle was exceedingly ordinary…a few punches here, a couple knockdowns there, a toss or two, and then slice the monster and blow him up. Hundreds of more modest TV shows have done the same thing time and again, and with much more flair. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t exciting, it was just there, like they were going through the motions.
The Take-Majin appears initially with 8 arms, and you think maybe they could do something interesting with that. But as soon as the fight begins, the arms conveniently disappear, and they only reappear (motionless) when the grappling is done and the final blow is struck from a distance. Instead of a payoff, the viewer is left thinking, “That’s it?”
The movie going public seems to have seen it all coming, and have been staying away in droves. Dropping out of several first-run theaters after its first week in release, it wasn’t easy to track down a theater playing the film during its second week. I found a tiny theater off Ginza, hidden away under the street, in of all places. Thank goodness for the MONSTER X STRIKES BACK sign…had it not been there (and the direction to go to the left), I would have NEVER found the place. Around the corner in the side of this tiny building was a small staircase that went down into an underground tunnel, which was the theater location! It was the only thing remotely resembling an entrance to anything. Otherwise I might still be looking for it.
I attended a screening on a Sunday afternoon, the first day of summer vacation. This is prime movie-going season, a fact that was emphasized to me as I walked past a Toei theater which had long lines of families queued up to see the latest Sentai/animation double feature showing there. The show which I attended had a meager 20+ in attendance, and in a less than encouraging sign, it was made up exclusively of middle-aged men. Not a kid in the house. While it is doubtful that anyone expected this film would kick off a new monster boom, instead it probably set back the inevitable return of Godzilla a few years.
To sum it up, MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT! is a comedy that just doesn’t offer up much fun. As a paying member of the audience, it seems like the real joke was on me.
For more photos and information on MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT! please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- GUILALA’S COUNTERATTACK
- Shochiku details Guilala’s return in MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT!
- Guilala and Ultra Seven at World Characters Convention in Tokyo