See It Instead: Pacific Rim Edition
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the 2-Headed Shark Attack and serial killer biopics. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
“Nothing I could say would humiliate these people.”
Pacific Rim (2013)
Crushing its way through the box office is Guillermo Del Toro‘s monster mash, Pacific Rim. Humanity is attacked by gigantic, reptilian monsters from the sea, and everyone lives in fear of Toho Studio’s patent division. Giant Mecha vs. Angry Monster, done right for a change. But not done first! While I highly recommend you see this movie (I considered changing this to See It Also…) the spirit of this article series is getting a Blockbuster feel for a B-Movie budget, so lets set you up with some sweet sweet monster loving.
The Safe Pick: Godzilla (Various)
I’ve been away, so it’s time to load up your Netflix queue, cause I’m going all out this week with picks for you. If you love monster on monster on building on robot violence, or the sight of grown men thrashing around in polystyrene suits does it for you, you and I should hang out, and also you should see these selections from Toho Studio’s greenish monster-thon.
If you have any interest in Dai Kaiju (giant monster, brush up on your Japanese, son) then you need to go to the source, Godzilla. This movie is zero camp and all tension, using fantastic pacing and cinematography to create classic movie monster fear. You hardly see the big guy, but you know he’s out there, and you dread him actually making land fall. Like a force of nature, this Godzilla emerges mysteriously, moving in a random pattern towards Tokyo, trailing a team of scientists who tie his appearance to both ancient monster myths and recent radioactive testing in the Sea of Japan (director Ishiro Honda was inspired/terrified by both the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the disastrous fall out of Pacific nuclear tests which caught Japanese fishing boats in the wake of larger than anticipated blast radii.) The finale of the confrontation between man and monster is especially powerful as rogue scientist Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata, in a bad-ass role) sacrifices himself to confront the monster and seal away his knowledge of a greater-than-nuclear weapon, the Oxygen Destroyer. Godzilla was topical, terse, and followed in the footsteps of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein as a cautionary tale of human pride gone awry.
Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
I make no apologies for this recommendation: it’s all bad-ass monster mayhem. The cover has Godzilla and Megalon fighting on top of the World Trade Center, which absolutely never happens in this movie, so you know it’s good. Why its relevant because it has the premier of Jet Jaguar, a human created robot who aides Godzilla (a good guy by this point…he switches sides more often than Hulk Hogan, and can probably act circles around him based on Suburban Commando…) This movie quickly loses any semblance of plot and devolves into a four way monster mash, typifying the waning days of the Showa Era of Godzilla movies, all while laying the foundation for such cultural gems as Voltron and Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. So if you want to see dudes in plastic costumes pile-driving the hell out of each other without a care, this bad boy is for you.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)
This is the culmination of the Godzilla franchise, and it’s kind of sad they kept following the failed model of the past and followed this genuinely good movie with monster-fests where the only real addition to the series was the body count of silly monsters Godzilla has to body slam in order to get to the final credits. This is the end of the Heisei series of Godzilla movies, and the studio obviously wanted to pay homage to the best ideas of the series, try to underplay the sillier aspects of the series, and get people to fear and love the big green guy again. The story has a quiescent Godzilla raising its offspring on Monster Island, until complications with Godzilla’s nuclear-addled body cause it to become feral and attack Japan once again. The military tries to cook up a batch of Oxygen Destroyer from rogue scientist Serizawa’s work, but fail and create a creature of terrible power, the Destoroyah (destroyer…Japanese is hard, OK?) This monster evolves quickly and nearly kills Godzilla’s child, now a full grown Kaiju, when Godzilla interrupts and lays a metric ton of whup-ass on the creature. The end of the film has an emotional change of guard between old and new Godzilla (OK, I get emotional when plastic monsters pass into posterity, sue me), and ties together the original movie to the more campy additions to the series, while taking the series closer to its visceral cautionary roots, yet still including the monster bashing action that fans love.
The Lighthearted Pick: Big Man Japan (2007)
This movie makes me love Japan more than all the bizarre fetish movies it produces ever could. It is the story of Masaru Daisato, a third generation monster fighter. His family has the power to grow to enormous size when struck by electricity, and have been drafted into defending Japan from various really, really weird creatures. His forebears have all become legends, defeating tremendous foes with grace and honor. Him, not so much. He’s only been called upon to fight some seriously messed up monsters, with, uhm, mixed results. A laughing stock, estranged from his family, and increasingly erratic, Daisato embodies all the pitfalls that could befall a normal under-achiever given tremendous power. The mockumentary approach is hilarious, and sometimes emotional, really forcing the viewer to see all the embarrassing and humiliating moments of the so called super-hero life. Oh, and Daisato wears a wrestler’s briefs, has sweet 80’s long hair, and uses a wooden sap to fight monsters who shoot sexual fluids at him. So it has that going for it.
The Unconventional Pick: Kaiju Anime (various)
Alright, I’m sorry. This whole post has been a Japan love fest. I could be picking the amazing lucha libre films which influenced Del Toro, such as the Santo film series (52 freaking films, get some popcorn and perhaps a respirator, you’re in for a long haul), but I speak Japanese, not Spanish, so I’m biased. Plus the monster vs. mecha genre came from the East, not the South, so here are my favorites from the Animated division of Japan’s Kaiju offerings.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Rebuild of Evangelion (2007)
For me and many Anime fans, this is the origin of Mecha love. The original series (1995) is legendary and infamous. The studio ran out of money before the story ended, and the die hard bastards in charge of making it re-used film, looped animation, and even hand drew animation on paper and filmed THAT in order to get their story out. Hard core. Given the equally hard core following that erupted, Neon Genesis got a second life in film form, with some alternate stories and new characters, dubbed Rebuild of Evangelion. Caveat: it’s a four movie series, and not all four have been completed, so if I hook you, you are just a screwed as I am waiting for the conclusion. The story is about a young man, Shinji, who has a mysterious aptitude for piloting Eva’s, the Mecha war machines created by mankind (and his creepy father) to fight the encroaching menace of the Angels, space entities which have begun attacking Earth in escalating waves, each Angel more powerful and ruthless than the last. The Angels are inscrutable and implacable, attacking till they die. Humanity is up against the ropes, and the despair and heroism that ensues is the major draw, as well as the space opera that follows as Shinji, a real wimpy loser at the beginning, makes allies and comes into his own.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984)
So, I might have lied. The reason many of my generation even gave Japanese animation the time of day was because of an after-school serial called Voltron. And the sweet toys associated with it. If you have the green or pink lion, message me, and we can finally get the whole robot built. I will reward you with being able to play the monster creature, though you know damn well you will be cut in half by my sword if things get rough. This cartoon is the ur-prototype of all the schlocky 90’s Mecha serials that followed – such as Mighty Morhping Power Rangers – as well the delightful skewering of the genre such as Gurren Lagann, which played with all the conventions of assembled robot fighters. Five warrior/explorers arrive on Planet Arus, and fulfill a prophecy to assemble the 5 lion robots, formidable fighting units on their own, which can join to create Voltron, Defender of the Universe (title was a bit literal, but oh well.) A wrinkle emerges when one of the explorers dies, and must be replaced by an Arus native, the princess. Now the team must come together to fight increasingly powerful monsters summoned by an evil empire looking to conquer Arus. With life and death issues, a mature take on responsibility and capability, Voltron was no fluff anime, despite Voltron always using his sword at the last minute to win a desperate fight. Apparently Del Toro was watching that part…
Attack on Titan (2013)
Very few anime and Kaiju movies create a sense of dread. The allure of Pacific Rim is that it captures the feel of triumph at winning a tough battle, while combining it with the fear of knowing that you are losing the war, and losing quite badly. This hopelessness grounds the spectacle of having giant murder bots going crazy on ten-story monsters. No series has really embodied that feeling for me as well as Attack on Titan. The series is young and ongoing, so it can go anywhere, but the first 6 episodes are so tense you have to watch them all in one go. Humanity suddenly finds itself confronted by Titans, mindless creatures of immense size, who kill only humans. They are mindless, child-like creatures, who nevertheless ruthlessly hunt Mankind, driving us to extinction. They are notoriously hard to kill, and even trained Titan hunters have a 60% mortality rate in battle. As the story begins, Humanity has hidden away in its last city, surrounded by three walls, starting at 50 meters tall, with each wall taller than the last. 100 years of peace have followed, with humans hiding away. Then a new Titan appears that kicks the first wall wide open. Now humanity must find the will and way to fight against monsters it can’t fathom. Support this series, and maybe we can keep it as tight and gory as it is, and prevent the stupid McAnime treatment successful series fall into.