Archive for the Japanese Cinema Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE GREEN SLIME (1968)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 60s Movies, Aliens, Asian Horror, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Japanese Cinema, Monsters, Science Fiction, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

THE GREEN SLIME (1968)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Remember the terrific 1960s mod science fiction Gamma 3 movies directed by Antonio Margheriti?  Beginning with WILD, WILD PLANET (1965) to THE SNOW DEVILS (1967), these spaghetti outer space movies were gloriously whacked-out pieces of cinematic fun.  They all centered on the citizens of the Gamma 3 space station orbiting the Earth and they featured some of the greatest Sixties clothing and hair, and a young Franco Nero and Tony Russel as space captains, continuously saving the world.

Well, there was another Gamma 3 movie made in 1968.  The Japanese somehow got their hands on the rights to the series and populated it with American and Italian actors, filmed it in English, based on a story by Ivan Reiner—who did the other Gamma 3 stores—with a script by Bill Finger who penned several episodes of the campy 1966 BATMAN TV series, and directed by a man who didn’t understand a word of English, and damned if they didn’t somehow create one of the most entertaining sci-fi monster features of the era!

They even gave it a rocking theme song by Richard Delvy, the drummer for the first California surf band, the Bel-Aires!  This theme song is so warped and crazed, with a growling Delvy roaring over wah-wah wicky-wicky guitars and Theremin warbles that it perfectly sets the mood for all the insanity that is to follow.  Don’t believe me at how great the song is?  Here’s a clip.

A few years ago, dance floor diva Josie Cotton remade this on her wonderful album of B-Movie tributes “Invasion of the B-Girls.”  Here’s that version

Directed by Kenji Fukasaka (TORA TORA TORA – 1970, VIRUS – 1980, BATTLE ROYALE – 2000), THE GREEN SLIME starts with one of those cheap 1960s models of a space station that looks as if it were made in Mrs. Johnson’s art class with the glue and string still showing.  It’s Gamma 3, with a whole new interior that looks a heck of a lot better than the Italian version.  During a routine weather report, they accidentally discover an asteroid, and it’s heading on a collision course with Earth!  Cue montage of scientists earnestly working over typewriters (I guess the future didn’t have word processors).

The general has sent for Commander Jack Rankin, played by steel-jawed, wooden-faced Robert Horton (WAGON TRAIN – 1957-1962).  A young lieutenant says, “What’s Rankin doing here?  He’s tendered his resignation.  You can’t send him on a mission like this where the chances are next to zero.”  He’s ordered to join back up with his old partner, Vince Elliott played by constantly teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching fury by Richard Jaeckel (3:10 TO YUMA – 1957, THE DIRTY DOZEN – 1967, STARMAN – 1984).  At 7:00 the next morning, the asteroid, now dubbed Flora, will collide with Earth, so the duo must place explosives on it and blow it to kingdom come.  Hey, did the writers of ARMAGGEDON (1998) see this?

Toy ships zip around, and there’s that same gee-whiz feeling as the Italian films of the series, as though I was a little kid again, sailing my model spaceships around the back yard and making zoom-zoom noises.  It’s completely silly, but it still works, even when the strings are visible.

The GREEN SLIME attacks!

Upon arrival at Gamma 3, Elliott has to hand over his command to Rankin.  Vince’s girlfriend, Dr. Lisa Benson (the gorgeous, stunning, monotoned Luciana Paluzzi of THUNDERBALL – 1965 and a former Miss France) informs Elliott that Jack Rankin means nothing to her anymore.  She doesn’t even want to see him when he boards the station.  Five minutes later, she’s saying goodbye to the two men while wearing a silver lame’ jumper and some seriously piled-up hair.  When her eyes meet Rankin’s, it’s a whole other story.

They make it to Flora despite the fragility of their spaceship model by using a device that looks suspiciously like a Spirograph toy.  The asteroid is little more than barren rocks except for pools of the titular green slime.  The sets here look an awful lot like STAR TREK.  The men have soon set their explosives while Dr. Benson watches it all on television from Gamma 3.  Meanwhile, weird kabuki music plays in the background – boing, ping…ping ping……strum.  One of the crew finds a pulsating mass of glowing green slime, and he collects a specimen.  Some of the slime crawls on its own volition onto the crew’s equipment.  It’s alive!  And one of the crewmen has some on his pants leg!

The astronauts get back in their ship to outrun the blast.  Zipping as fast as their support strings will allow—at least ten Gs.  The G forces are so strong, the pilot can’t get his hand to the controls, but that doesn’t stop Jack Rankin.  He leaps from his seat, grabs the controls, and pushes them forward while activating the force field!  The Earth is saved!

Or is it?  Duh – duh – duuuh!

Back on Gamma 3, Vince and Jack vie for the attentions of the lovely Dr. Benson while the crew is decontaminated from the mission.  Who can clench their jaw the longest?  Can Jack woo Lisa away from his former best friend, Vince?  Is it over between the ex-lovers?  They all try to be civil during the swinging “Earth is Saved” party, where everyone dances as if they’re in a Charlie Brown cartoon to jammin’ trumpet jazz.

A riveting hospital scene in THE GREEN SLIME.

Meanwhile, the slime on the pants leg grows and electrocutes the man in charge of the decontamination of the clothes worn by the crew that flew to the asteroid.  More people are found electrocuted, and a weird creature is revealed on the main deck.  It’s got a green, squished down body covered in scales, long tentacles with dainty red claws on the end that shoot off sparks, and a single red eyeball.  This is an insanely silly looking monster, not scary at all, but hilarious, as if designed by Sid and Marty Krofft.  It walks while waving its tentacles around and making a noise like a dolphin with a head cold.  The creature runs amok, electrocuting numerous redshirts and destroying various computers and equipment.

Jack Rankin decides to hang around Gamma 3, not only to help kill the monster but also to continue seducing Lisa (who seems rather receptive to his advances – Bad Lisa!).

It seems the monster’s blood acts as reproductive organs, so every time the things are shot, they are making more of themselves through their emerald blood spatter.  They can heal themselves, too.  Electricity makes them grow at an incredible rate.  Of course, nobody tells anyone this, so when the monsters attack the hospital ward, the soldiers shoot the crap out of the beasts, creating hundreds of monsters out of a few.  They spread throughout the C-Block, but not before Gamma 3 is quarantined.

The GREEN SLIME in all its glory!

A brilliant plan is hatched by Vince.  All energy will be switched off except a single generator in C-Block that will lure the creatures away from the humans, and then isolating it in a storage room, trapping the slimy things.  The space station goes dark as the energy switches off, but it made me wonder how everyone was still breathing.  Oh well, pass the popcorn.  The squeaking midget monsters go right for the generator, waving their claws in the air like disco dancing crustaceans.  Taking it upon himself to be the hero, Jack Rankin leads the monsters away from the humans and into an airlock.  Vince saves him when dozens of the beasts attack him at once.  The air lock gets blocked, more things go terribly wrong, and Vince and Jack have to face each other down over whether to save a trapped scientist or not.  It turns out to be a moot point as the scientist gets fried by the monsters, and it all ends in a shoot-out, and one whole wing of Gamma 3 explodes and catches fire.  Interestingly enough, in space, flames and smoke on toy space stations still rise just like on Earth!

When the C-Block blows out, only a few creatures are killed while the rest escape to the outside of the space station, getting healed by the rays of the sun . . . and they’re growing!  Rankin decides to evacuate and destroy Gamma 3.  Of course, Vince is having none of it.  Fisticuffs result, and Vince is hauled away and arrested.  Unfortunately, the escape hatch has been sealed by the creatures, who march around on the exterior of the station like hundreds of tiny SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS.  The only way to clear the hatch is to go outside with jetpacks and lasers and blast away at the little buggers.  Elliott leads the attack, floating around the set on visible wires and firing lasers into the glowing red eyes of the creatures.

Lisa gets everyone off the ship except for the last evacuation vessel.  There isn’t enough energy left to get Gamma 3 to self-destruct, so Rankin must return to the hordes of green slime monsters and manually set the explosives.  Not wanting to miss all the action, Vince runs in after him to help.  Will they make it out alive?  Will the last ship of evacuees get to Earth?  Who will Lisa choose in the end, Elliot or Rankin?

No, this isn’t the Nickelodeon Channel. You don’t want to get anywhere near THIS green slime!!

Who cares when here are hundreds of midgets in rubber monster suits gleefully running around with sparklers in their tentacles?  From the wild theme song (available on a 45!), to the garish Technicolor photography, to the over-the-top acting of the heroes and the non-acting (yet extremely hot) redheaded heroine, THE GREEN SLIME is a blast.  Kids will cheer the valiant men and women of Gamma 3, while adults will groan at the strained dialogue and delight in the sheer audaciousness of it all.  It’s a candy-colored science fiction movie, full of innocence, monsters, and funky 60s hairdos.  How can you go wrong?

THE GREEN SLIME is available in a beautiful widescreen, restored print from Warner Archives.

I give THE GREEN SLIME three clenched jaws out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

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The Geisha of Gore visits GOKE, THE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Aliens, Classic Films, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2012 by knifefighter

GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)
Movie Review by Colleen Wanglund, The Geisha of Gore

Low-budget Japanese science fiction/horror films of the 1960s are familiar to most of us. They were dominated by rubber suited monsters threatening Tokyo with destruction; or in some cases, protecting Tokyo. These films also shared the popular anti-war theme of post-WWII Japanese movies in general. We all know Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Rodan and they are amazing for revolutionizing the art of Special Effects, especially in regard to miniatures. One particular sci-fi/horror film that really stands out is Hajime Sato’s KYUKETSUKI GOKEMIDORO (1968), which translates to “The Gokemidoro Vampire,” but was shown to English-speaking audiences as GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL.

A Japan Air flight takes off from Tokyo into a blood red sky. The passengers include Senator Mano (Eizo Kitamura); arms dealer Tokiyasu (Nobuo Kaneko) and his wife Noriko (Yuko Kusunoki); Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan), an American going to bring the body of her husband home; Momotake (Kazuo Kato), a psychiatrist; Professor Sagai (Masaya Takhashi), who is a space biologist; and an apparent hijacker (Hideo Ko). Not long after take-off, the pilot (Hiroyuki Nishimoto) receives a message that there is a bomb on board and he is instructed to return the plane to the Tokyo airport. The co-pilot, Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida), informs the passengers that some classified documents were loaded onto the plane by mistake and he must check their baggage. Fearing being caught, the hijacker points a gun at Sugisaka and orders the pilot to fly the plane to Okinawa. He then shoots the radio just as it was announcing a UFO over Japan. The plane is hit by a flock of bloody birds, and then fired on by the UFO, and it crash lands in a desolate area.

Sugisaka and flight attendant Kuzumi (Tomomi Sato) survey the damage and discover that the pilot and the hijacker are dead. When they discover that there isn’t much food or water, the survivors get rowdy. But wait, the hijacker isn’t dead!  He grabs Kuzumi and runs off with her, but he eventually comes upon the mysterious alien spacecraft. Hypnotized, the hijacker leaves Kuzumi and enters the craft. There we meet the evil alien entity—a mercury-like blob of a vampire called Gokemidoro—which enters the man’s head, to take control of his body. Kuzumi is found, unconscious, by Sugisaka who brings her back to the downed plane. The psychiatrist Momotake hypnotizes Kazumi so she can tell the survivors what happened. The alien in its new form makes its way to the crash site where it plans to feed. The survivors are still at each other’s throats, making Gokemidoro’s job that much easier.

So the first thing you’ll notice about GOKE is that it is most definitely low budget. But then you’ll notice all the stuff that makes this flick so cool. While in the air, the plane flies into a bright, blood-red sky—a background that was later recreated by Quentin Tarantino in KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003) when the Bride is on the plane flying to Japan. GOKE is saturated in bright primary colors which soon become garish as the film moves along. When the vampire feeds, its victim’s body turns a bright shade of blue; there are other scenes that are bathed in bright yellows and oranges—something ominous on the horizon, perhaps?

The characters are a cross-section of some of the worst personalities found in humanity. They are greedy, arrogant, and self-centered; completely unwilling to help their fellow man in light of their unlucky circumstances. The young hijacker brings a bomb on board the plane for no apparent reason. Momotake the psychiatrist seems to revel in the other passengers’ selfish behavior as they spiral out of control. Senator Mano and the arms dealer Tokiyasu have had illegal dealings, in which Tokiyasu promised to fund Mano’s campaign in exchange for Mano getting the committee to accept Tokiyasu’s weapons bid. True to scumbag form, Mano has no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. At one point in the film, Mano suggests using Mrs. Neal as bait to see if the alien is truly a vampire, and the others are perfectly willing to go along with the idea!  He feels that using a foreigner will cause fewer problems later on, if they survive the alien encounter. Most of the passengers use others to protect themselves from the alien vampire, as opposed to trying to kill it. It’s a disgusting display of the worst traits found in humanity. The only characters we can sympathize with are the co-pilot Sugisaka and flight attendant Kuzumi. They are the only ones who not only attempt to help the crash survivors, but they are the only ones to show any sort of compassion or faith in humanity (although that faith seems to be sorely misplaced).

The anti-war theme of GOKE is glaringly evident. The survivors who turn on each other immediately reflect the Cold War era of countries turning on each other and posturing with nuclear weapons, threatening the end of civilization as we know it. The final scenes of the film only serve to emphasize the anti-war sentiment. And as with the other sci-fi movies coming from Japan at the time, GOKE’s final scenes call to mind the destruction suffered by a country that actually had nuclear warheads used against it, with devastating results. The American passenger, Mrs. Neal is another nod to anti-war sentiment. She is on her way to retrieve her husband’s body. Mr. Neal was a soldier killed in the Vietnam War, which was exploding in living rooms all over the world due to television news broadcasts with graphic images of death and destruction—something which had never been seen on a nightly basis before.

The end of GOKE holds quite a twist, which to me is shocking when you consider the other genre films of the time. Writers Kyuzo Kobayashi and Susumu Takaku and director Hajime Sato leave no doubt as to the hopelessness of the situation their characters find themselves in. GOKE is one of the bleakest films I’ve ever seen, which is something I happen to like in horror films. As much as I love the kaiju films of the same era, they always seemed to end on a positive note….stressing faith in humanity’s compassion and ability to survive. GOKE doesn’t even hint at redemption for the human race, and that is why it is so disturbing. Sato was not afraid to bring the savagery of the human race to the big screen, barely hidden in an alien invasion/vampire metaphor. It is beautifully filmed and the video and audio effects are stunning, as is the movie’s soundtrack which only adds to GOKE’s very cool apocalyptic vibe.

No one is safe from GOKE, THE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL!

GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL is easily in my top ten Asian horror films of all time. It is haunting, somber and considerably gruesome. In my opinion, it is a must-see flick for any serious horror fan and you can see it pretty easily on Netflix and on DVD.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

The Geisha of Gore Takes On BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Controverisal Films, Cult Movies, Dystopian Futures, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , on February 29, 2012 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
By Colleen Wanglund

Imagine, if you will, being a high school student on a bus for a class trip, only to wake up on a deserted island and told you now had to kill your fellow students. That is the premise of the 2000 film BATTLE ROYALE. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, BATTLE ROYALE is based on a1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. On March 20th of this year the film will finally be released on DVD/Blu-ray in North America….YAY! A quick bit of trivia—Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese scenes in the WWII movie TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970).

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”

BATTLE ROYALE takes place in an alternate-reality Japan. Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a high school student struggling to maintain some semblance of a normal life after his father’s suicide. It is the end of the school year and the class of 40 students is returning from a field trip. At some point the students are gassed and the bus is diverted to an evacuated island for the purpose of participating in the annual “game.” The class is awakened by their former teacher Kitano (played by the wonderfully quirky “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), surrounded by soldiers and informed of their situation. They have also been fitted with collars that will explode if the kids try to remove them….or if more than one has survived by the end of the game. The students are shown an orientation video that looks more like an MTV video, complete with a cute pop star-like young woman. The students have three days to kill or be killed and only one student is allowed to leave the island alive. Some of the kids rebel or refuse to participate, but they are dealt with immediately. In one instance they are provided with a demonstration of the collar’s effectiveness (ironically it is used on a student who had stabbed Kitano a year before, causing him to retire).

Along with two additional participants, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), the students are sent out at sixty second intervals with their personal possessions and a pack containing basic supplies and one other item. That additional item is either an obvious weapon or something that may prove to be a weapon. The first night sees many deaths among the kids, including a few suicides. Every six hours Kitano broadcasts a list of the dead over the island’s PA system, as well as the times and locations of “death zones”—areas that will cause the students’ collars to detonate if they are found to be in the zones. The collars also serve as tracking devices and they stop sending a signal when a teen wearing one dies.

Shuya has promised to protect Noriko (Aki Maeda) and they manage to successfully stay alive by hiding and staying out the way of the others. The two run into Kawada, who helps them out by giving them shelter in an abandoned house and tending to Noriko’s wounds. They spend a good amount of time talking and Kawada tells the teens that he is, in fact a survivor from a previous year’s battle. His wish was to survive again but get revenge on those who caused the death of the girl he loved. The house is eventually attacked and the three are separated, with Shuya being badly wounded. Shuya is taken to a lighthouse where a group of girls is hiding, but fear and mistrust get the better of them.

While all of this is going on, we are given glimpses of Mistsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki), a student who proves to be one of the most dangerous players in the game, as is with Kiriyama. Mitsuko is the popular girl with the exclusive clique among the class but here on the island she has become a cold assassin, willing to kill anyone to get off the island. It is eventually revealed that Kiriyama volunteered for the battle because he thought it would be fun. He is as ruthless as Mitsuko. Meanwhile another student, Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) and two of his friends have a plan to hack into the military’s computers and blow up their compound on the island, effectively starting a revolution. Part of Mimura’s plan is successful, but not all. Shuya, Noriko and Kawada arrive at Mimura’s hiding spot too late to help them. Now they are on their own again, determined to leave the island together. Who ultimately will win the BATTLE ROYALE?

Okay, the first thing I love about this movie is that it stars Beat Takeshi. The man is amazing. He’s a director, actor, poet, television personality, screen writer, comedian, singer, painter and author. His movies are offbeat and Takeshi has developed quite a cult following both in and outside of Japan. He is a professor and owns his own talent agency and production company. The man is a dynamo. His biggest commercial success was his portrayal of the blind swordsman in ZATOICHI (2003).

….Sorry, back to the movie…..

BATTLE ROYALE, a dystopian parallel universe that condones teens committing violence against each other. It’s also a social commentary on how the younger generation seems to be turning its back on tradition. They no longer have the respect for their elders that previous generations had. We see this in the phone calls between Kitano and his daughter, although this is probably found most blatantly in the character Mitsuko. She is most assuredly self-centered and that is ultimately what makes her so dangerous. While we are given only glimpses into the teens’ characters prior to the battle, it is clear that Mitsuko is a bully. When she does finally meet her match, it is at the hands of someone who is just like her.

BATTLE ROYALE has not been released in the U.S. until this year, possibly due to comparisons with the Columbine tragedy. But note that this year also gives us the release of the similarly-themed HUNGER GAMES.

That said, the strongest characters in the film are the teens who do care about others. Shuya and Noriko manage to survive until the third day. They have taken care of each other and Shuya would probably die rather than allow that to happen to Noriko. So the message isn’t all bad. There is hope for redemption for this generation of teens.

When BATTLE ROYALE opened in Japan, it was a box office success, despite being given a rarely used rating of R15 (no one under the age of 15 admitted). While the graphic violence against teens seems exploitative, there is clearly a message of disillusionment with society in general, as well as a fear of the destruction of civil order. After all, it isn’t only that the kids are forced to kill each other off in a “SURVIVOR-with-weapons” scenario. It is the fact that adults distrust and dislike the teens so much that they force them into the battle for their very lives. They are given the ultimate punishment for defying their elders. BATTLE ROYALE is Darwinism at its dirtiest….only the most murderous will survive. It can also be considered an allegory on the competitiveness in Japan—both in school and in the workforce. At some point every society begins to fracture. BATTLE ROYALE shows us the extreme.

BATTLE ROYALE is, in my opinion, a good movie. The screenplay hits some of the points made in the book, although in a more exploitative way. There is quite a bit of violence and the SFX guys did a fantastic job but, considering the material, it is far from gratuitous. The young cast does a great job, especially Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya (who also starred in the DEATH NOTE films), and the main characters are fairly relatable. BATTLE ROYALE created a stir in Japan’s Parliament due to its violence but it is a memorable film for anyone who has seen it, and I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

Criterion After Dark: GODZILLA (1954)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2012, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, DVD Review, Garrett Cook Articles, Godzilla, Japanese Cinema with tags , , , , on February 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK: GODZILLA (AKA GOJIRA) (1954)
Review by Garrett Cook

Art snobs and Ebert acolytes were recently given what, for them, must have been a nasty shock. The company from which they bought their treasured Goddard Blu-rays had betrayed them. The chilled, sacred quiet of Bergman country had been broken by the sound of thundering pop culture stomping over their fantasy world of cinema segregation. Begging Jim Jarmusch to intervene with his newly constructed superbanality ray, they watched as their notions of cinematic purity came crumbling to the ground like so many Tokyo office buildings. Riding on the back of my childhood messiah, Godzilla, I laughed and laughed and laughed. And I know that a fair share of Criterion fans, horror buffs and geeks laughed with me.

The induction of Ishiro Honda’s  GODZILLA (1954) into the Criterion Collection seems like a strange decision. Some might think it was to pander to the mainstream or to get genre fans to start buying Criterion DVDs. Others may see it as a decision similar to Criterion’s choice to induct Michael Bay’s ARMAGEDDON (1998), as a chance to show them the rampant absurdity and kitschiness of a silly, silly genre. And what sillier genre is there than the Japanese giant monster movie? This is a film genre that brought us a towering Frankenstein monster tossing rocks at a triceratops/puppy hybrid, sasquatches wrestling in the sea with a running commentary by Nick Adams, and a fire-breathing turtle fighting a talking shark submarine. Putting one of these films on the same shelf as  8 ½ (1963) or PIERROT LE FOU (1965) is going to make some cinephiles cringe. Particularly those who instinctually check Roger Ebert’s website to find out if movies are any good. Ebert has led me to some fine films, and, during his Amazon Associate Days, my favorite brand of oatmeal, but those who read his 1 and a half star tirade against the film will be incredulous about its Criterion status and its merits.

GODZILLA is my idea of an art film. Crisp black and white, strong message, transgressive politics, mutable reality and moments of deep visual poetry. When a lot of us think of Godzilla, we think Technicolor stomping and giant spider wrestling. We think flying through the air on a cloud of radioactive fire toward a sentient Lovecraftian slag heap from space. But this is not where Godzilla came from. Godzilla, (or as I prefer to call it, GOJIRA, its proper Japanese title) is a film about impossible choices, forbidden love, social responsibility and questions of divine forgiveness.

The film begins on a shining sea, bathed in shadows. The sailors on a fishing boat gather around and listen to a melancholy tune played on harmonica. There is a flash of light and the boat is aflame. And lives are over. And nobody knows why. The opening goes beyond being an expressionistic portrayal of a fishing boat destroyed by bomb tests (one of the catalysts for the film), but a suitable metaphor for any number of the victims of war. Even soldiers find their lives snuffed out in short order—lightning-quick explosions of mines or IEDs ending their existence in the blink of an eye. The terms are clear; this is not a movie about a man in a rubber suit. Though when you finally get a look at Godzilla, you can see how it could be.

Godzilla himself looks nothing like most viewers will remember him. The creature is truly menacing in black and white, facial features vague, texture and topography cancerous, a creature of spikes and bumps and deformities. It is not dinosaurian, draconic or friendly or cute; it’s an abomination, a demon whose motives cannot be fathomed and whose primitive mind will not accept reason or compassion. The more I look at this creature, the more amazed I am that it became the kid-friendly critter I grew up with. The transition is something like Karloff’s creature’s evolution into Herman Munster. He looks as much like an irradiated dinosaur pissed off at being awakened by atomic tests as he could. It seems unlikely that this creature could be stopped by anyone, especially the film’s reluctant and traumatized heroes.

The film’s protagonists all have relatable real world problems. Doctor Yamane, the paleontologist (Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura, who was sensational in 1952’s IKIRU) has to choose between knowledge and helping to keep his country safe. His greatest discovery is something unfathomably terrible and a threat to mankind itself and he goes through a great deal of anguish. His daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi) is in love with sailor Ogata (Akira Takarada), but engaged to brooding one-eyed scientist Doctor Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), who has drifted away from her, consumed with guilt over the military applications of his invention. Even with the apocalyptic threat outside, the love triangle manages to hurt, the ethical conundrums of the scientists seem meaningful.

Hirata’s performance as Dr. Serizawa has always been one of the most appealing aspects of this movie for me. A sad, Byronic, but loveable character—a Victor Laszlo with the finer points of Rick Blaine—Serizawa  has the weapon that can destroy the monster but hates himself too much to use it and hates what the world could do with a weapon like this. His concern is a valid one. If the atomic bomb could wake up and mutate a monster like Godzilla, then what could his more powerful weapon do? He’s terrific. It’s the kind of acting one would think wasn’t necessary in a giant monster movie, but the kind of acting that really makes it work.

GOJIRA stands out for showing the human costs of this devastation. Not just in the anguish of Serizawa, but in the damage caused by the monster. You see mothers clinging to their children, telling them it’s all right because “they’ll be with daddy now,” you see victims in a hospital, mutated, burning and dying. You see the land scorched and the city ruined. In most giant monster movies, you watch the creature stomp around awhile until somebody comes up with a clever idea and kills it. GOJIRA isn’t like that. The creature ruins a city until a ruined man can find the courage to fight it. It’s great horror and it hurts like hell.

You want to see the movie in the cleanest, best format possible. You want to get the full effect of Akira Ifukube’s iconic music with great sound. You want it to look as good on your shelf as a movie of this caliber can look. Sony’s previous release of GOJIRA and its American counterpart, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (the bastardized version we first saw in the U.S., with added scenes featuring Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin~ your intrepid editor), had good commentaries, slick packaging and good special features. If you have it or you would like a cheaper alternative to Criterion’s version, you may not feel inclined to purchase The Criterion Edition. But, Criterion provides great features, a no doubt beautiful transfer and cover art by Bill Sienkewicz.  This is very much on my list for the next 50% off sale. If you don’t have this movie and you want to see it the best way you can, get The Criterion Edition. The DVD version is only $23.98 at the Criterion Store and the Blu-ray not much more. This is geek culture history, a film that crosses the line between sci fi and art film, really getting the treatment it deserves. Criterion has done a great thing.

© Copyright 2012 by Garrett Cook

The original Godzilla (1954) may not be as cuddly and kid-friendly as you remember.

The Geisha of Gore Sits at NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE (2005)

Posted in 2011, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, Religious Cults with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2011 by knifefighter

NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE (2005)
Geisha of Gore Movie Review by Colleen Wanglund

Sion Sono is a Japanese director with a huge cult following, both in Japan and the English-speaking J-Horror fan base. Sono is a poet, author, actor, composer, screenwriter and filmmaker, who made his mark with such movies as SUICIDE CLUB (2001), EXTE: HAIR EXTENSIONS (2007), and last year’s hit, COLD FISH, released by Sushi Typhoon. Sono even managed to lure the great Japanese actress Masumi Miyazaki out of retirement to star in his Grand Guignol-esque STRANGE CIRCUS (2005).

Before I get into the movie, I need to give you a little background first. NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE (2005) is billed as either a prequel or sequel (depending on who you talk to) to SUICIDE CLUB. SUICIDE CLUB opens with one of the best gore scenes I’ve ever seen—54 high school girls jump in front of a moving train at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, beginning a string of mass suicides across Japan. The carnage on display is a thing of beauty. And allow me to point out that the man responsible for the special effects on SUICIDE CLUB is none other than low-budget SFX genius, Yoshihiro Nishimura. Anyway, Detective Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi) is charged with trying to find a possible cause for these suicides, which may or may not have something to do with the latest pop sensation, a group of “tweener” singers called Desert. There is also a possible link to a website that displays red and white dots—each one representing a suicide. Needless to say, this is a great horror flick and you should seek it out.

Sono himself had announced that SUICIDE CLUB was the first in a trilogy he was planning; however, to date, there have only been the two films. He wrote the book Suicide Circle: The Complete Edition (SUICIDE CIRCLE is the official Japanese title of SUICIDE CLUB) in 2002 and released a companion manga. The book became the blueprint for NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE (2005) which actually runs parallel to the events in SUICIDE CLUB.

NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE tells the story of Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi), an awkward, angst-ridden seventeen-year-old who feels isolated from, and misunderstood by, her parents and younger sister Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka). The family lives in the small seaside town of Toyokawa—which is Sono’s hometown–but Noriko has dreams of attending school in Tokyo. Turning to the Internet she finds a website that caters to angsty teens from all over Japan and makes “friends”. One night, a blackout hits the town and Noriko decides to quickly pack her things and run away to Tokyo. Upon her arrival in the city, she goes to an Internet café and makes contact with the site’s administrator, whose user name is UenoStation54. They agree to meet at Ueno train station the next morning. Noriko, who is now using the name Mitsuko, meets the girl whose real name is Kumiko (played by the charismatic Tsugumi). Noriko embarks on a new life with a new identity as an “actress” in a troupe of rent-a-family players.

Six months have passed with no word from Noriko, but when sister Yuka reads about the mass suicide of 54 girls, she thinks Noriko had something to do with it. Yuka finds the website where Noriko, as Mitsuko, has been leaving messages in the hopes that Yuka is reading them. Now it is Yuka’s turn to run away to Tokyo to find her sister.

Noriko and Yuka’s stoic and seemingly cold father, Tetsuzo (Ken Mitsuishi), finally begins his search for his missing children—but initially as only the reporter he is, chasing a story—and with the help of his wife. He finds clues the girls, particularly Yuka, have left for him including a story Yuka wrote that seems to mirror the family’s current circumstances. Tetsuzo only begins searching as a father after an unexpected family tragedy drives him to despair—and looking for a fresh start.

Tetsuzo delves into the mythos of the suicide club and finally finds the elusive Kumiko about a year after Noriko first left home. He sets up a meeting in a restaurant where he is confronted by other members of the organization that Kumiko and his daughters are involved with. With the help of a friend, Tetsuzo hires Kumiko and the girls (who now go by the names Mitsuko and Yoko) to be his “family”. The girls arrive and begin the role-playing, quickly realizing that the house is familiar somehow—and it should be—because Tetsuzo has gone to great lengths to recreate the family home in Toyokawa. Kumiko is sent on an errand and Tetsuzo reveals himself to his daughters, who react with fear and confusion. What has happened to the girls since leaving home? Can Tetsuzo make amends and rebuild what is left of his family? And what of the fabled suicide club he has been investigating? Does it actually exist?

Where SUICIDE CLUB was a bit frenetic and full of gore, NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE is a quiet and much more reserved film. In fact, it isn’t even really a horror film (the only spilled blood to speak of comes in the final 30 minutes of the movie, and the shot of the suicide at the train station). NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE is a deliberately paced dark family drama with some horrifying aspects to it. Sono has also managed to put forth some original ideas here. The family rental troupe is a unique concept which could be a movie all on its own. They are hired for a set amount of time to act out family scenarios for lonely Japanese people. Some include visits to the grandparents; two daughters returning home to dad after a falling out of some kind; and even a family grieving the death of their patriarch. Where it gets horrifying involves a young woman playing the hated wife of a man who wishes to see his wife dead. The young “actress” goes willingly to play her role without regard to what may happen to her—and it isn’t pretty. There is also a sort of explanation for the original mass suicide at Shinjuku Station where we see Kumiko and Noriko looking on as the 54 girls go happily to their bloody end. These two scenes open the possibility of something untoward going on, including cult-like activity. Are these young women being brainwashed? The scenes also seem to reinforce the existence of a suicide club when considered with the connection to the website. Remember, the dots represent actual suicides (red for females, white for males).

Another original piece to the film is the character of Kumiko. Abandoned in a locker at Ueno train station (where she derives her user name on the website), Kumiko was raised predominantly in group homes and, as a result, has created a fantasy background for herself. Her career choice seems to stem from an encounter with a woman claiming to be her birth mother. In a scene that is eerie and unsettling, Kumiko begins critiquing the woman’s acting skills and volunteers to teach her how to be a “proper mother”. It also calls into question Kumiko’s motives. Is she just attempting to fill the void left by the abandonment of her mother or is it something far more sinister, perhaps revenge for her lot in life? Hmmm, what is Kumiko’s Internet user name again?

The story itself is told in a non-linear style and separated into chapters, with the main characters relating their own stories through the use of voiceovers. Sono manages to keep a steady flow to the narrative, tying it all together in a final emotionally-charged sequence. I also greatly appreciate the fact that for a supposed sequel (or prequel?), there is very little connecting NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE to SUICIDE CLUB, with the exception of Sion Sono’s commentary on the suicide rate and general apathy among Japan’s young people. I am not a fan of sequels and this film doesn’t even come close to resembling one. One other aspect the two films share (and which I tend to enjoy in a lot of Asian horror films) is the lack of a complete explanation for the events involved. NORIKO gives some plausible possibilities to the events of SUICIDE CLUB, but still leaves a lot open and up to the imagination of the individual viewer. I love when movies don’t have a nice neat little ending, tying up all loose ends. I don’t always want a logical explanation. Hell, horror doesn’t need a logical explanation. The vagueness allows for the uneasiness of the film to stay with the viewer and keep them thinking.

The running time of NORIKO is about two hours and forty minutes, which is uber-long, but Sono tells such a beautiful, bizarre and compelling story that it doesn’t matter. If you like David Lynch then you’ll love Sion Sono. This movie deserves to be watched….and you don’t need to have seen SUICIDE CLUB to enjoy it.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund

Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Asian Horror, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Garrett Cook Articles, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Japanese Cinema, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , on October 26, 2011 by knifefighter

Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)
DVD Review by Garrett Cook

The Haunted House story is one of the oldest, most archetypal horror narratives. We’ve always felt certain places are weird, or frightening, or that history has not yet cleaned up the ground on which we’re treading. This narrative has been used to great effect many times, in Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” in Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” in Robert Marasco’s “Burnt Offerings,” in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” and in too many other horror novels for me to list. The Haunted House is a cliché environment that nonetheless encourages writers and filmmakers alike to innovate. Interesting how an old, hokey, primal story has given birth to so much creativity and can always find new ways to generate fright and shock.

And although there have been more than enough duds in the genre, such as the atrocious NINE LIVES (2002) starring Paris Hilton and the rather dull TV mini-series, ROSE RED (2002), I personally am always excited when I get a chance to see a new, unique Haunted House story. Hearkens back to the first shudder-inducing time I saw POLTERGEIST (1982), or the first time when I stared in wide-eyed awe as Robert Wise reminded me just how beautiful a horror film can be when I first saw THE HAUNTING (1963) on TV. You too should be excited. Because the haunted house movie I’m going to discuss here is a fresh take among fresh takes, a film that holds the distinction of not only being an innovation in Haunted House narratives, but one of the weirdest damn cult movies in history.

Nobuhiko Ohbyashi’s HAUSU starts with the Haunted House narrative. Seven plucky teenage girls go on a trip to the country to visit one girl’s aunt. The house is not what it seems to be. The aunt is not what she seems to be. And maybe the girl is not what she seems to be. Not a bad start. It’s a movie most horror fans would shell out to see around Halloween. It doesn’t necessarily scream “Criterion Material” though. As with THE HAUNTING (1963), THE INNOCENTS (1961) and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(1959), HAUSU only starts there, at a place where too many horror movies are content to stop.

From the moment HAUSU begins, you know you’re not going to get what the film’s premise says you’re going to. The eccentric sequence coupled with a cryptic flashback should be a hint.  This, coupled with the  overly schmaltzy music and the ridiculously caricatured girls make you immediately wonder what’s going on. The tone is confusing. And also quite disquieting. If this isn’t a put-on of some kind, then Ohbyashi has not seen a horror film before, or for that matter, has not seen high school girls. These girls and their school are a cartoon, a sanitized, simplified, padded version of reality meant for children.

When Gorgeous, the protagonist, goes to see her father, you really get a sense that something is not right. For one thing, the view outside his window is a blatant matte painting, a bright, cheery falsehood that makes no pretense of being real. But things start going south for gorgeous immediately. Although her  new stepmother looks angelic, Gorgeous has been living in a fairy tale and stepmothers get the short end of the stick in fairy tales. Gorgeous  flees to return to her creepy shrine of a room to bathe in the idyllic light of her memories and talk to her dead mother’s photo. And she decides to inquire after her aunt.

Her aunt okays the visit, so she heads out to the country, with her teenage friends Sweet, Fantasy, Mac, Kung Fu, Prof and Melody, each one named for a single prominent characteristic that defines their character. Their journey is cloaked in mellow saccharine rock, a la Scooby Doo or The Banana Splits. They’re also treated to a black and white flashback…for which the girls provide running commentary. The flashback goes on right outside the bus windows, which is an unlikely place for a flashback. Of course, haunted houses are all about those stuck in the past. Like Gorgeous. You’re left wondering, are they heading for a country house or heading into the heart of her memory? Regardless of what goes on, you can be certain this is not a movie about creaking Gothic mansions, or about teenage girls roaming around having fun. While HAUSU engages the core of the haunted house movie and the core of the Saturday morning cartoon and the teen comedy, it is completely different from any of these genres and something sinister is floating around in it.

At the house they meet Gorgeous’ sinister witchy aunt. And from here things go madder. A weirder film unfolds. A film that’s actually something of a horror film. Not a horror film that will meet any kind of expectations you would have of a horror film, but a horror film nonetheless. It’s funny, scary, eerie and wildly unpredictable. The transition occurs when the perpetually hungry Mac’s head comes out of a well to try and eat the supposedly over imaginative Fantasy. How someone’s imagination can be overactive in a world as strange as that of HAUSU is a baffling question, but nonetheless, the girls simply assume that Fantasy is hallucinating, having an acid trip within this acid trip.

HAUSU’s transformation is similar to that which occurs in Takashi Miike’s AUDITION (1999). AUDITION starts off as a romantic comedy and then transforms into brutal torture porn. HAUSU starts off as a cartoon and turns into something that defies description, a movie composed almost entirely of surprises, with a resolution as surprising as it is cryptic. You watch these very pleasant girls faced with many ironic but weird perils that will surely kill them all. The movie has, by this point already made you forget what you signed on for. If AUDITION’s genre-bending ways did not offend or annoy you, then you’re probably sharp enough to play along with HAUSU. HAUSU is one of those movies where you might as well be staring at static if you’re not willing to play its game, accept the mutability of reality and genre and the lack of convention. If you’ve got smart, adventurous friends, it could be a nice addition to your Halloween party.

HAUSU brings out truths about films, artifice, memory, growing up and the horror genre. It reveals a lot about Haunted Houses and the Haunted House narrative without pandering, without characters openly discussing the movie’s themes, which is something that happens a little bit too often in Haunted House narratives. As great as Elisha Cook’s introduction to William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is, it could be argued that it’s a bit preachy and smacks you in the face with the movie’s message. As great as THE HAUNTING is, the handy dandy parapsychologist somewhat spoils things. HAUSU has no handy dandy parapsychologist. Only very confrontational expressionism.

Ghosts in the HOUSE (HAUSU) make for a wild time.

Criterion has given this movie the DVD release it deserves. Its menu, packaging and booklet are attractive and contribute to the movie’s cult mystique. It’s something you should be proud of owning and a badge of honor for the weird film buff. Included on the disc is a “Making of” type special that includes an interview with the director and a short film. For those of you who own Blu-ray players, this bright, colorful explosion of art horror chaos would be a nice thing to own. I’m sure it looks fantastic. This cult classic does not disappoint, especially if you’re some kind of freak. It haunts my DVD shelf and should have a chance to haunt yours as well.

© Copyright 2011 by Garrett Cook

The Geisha of Gore Takes On: TRINITY BLOOD

Posted in 2011, Animated Films, Anime, Apocalyptic Films, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Gore!, Japanese Cinema, Vampire Hunters, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2011 by knifefighter

THE GEISHA OF GORE PRESENTS:
TRINITY BLOOD: THE ANIME SERIES
By Colleen Wanglund

While I have always written about Asian horror movies—because I really think you should be watching them!—this month I wanted to start introducing our readers to anime. Most of you, I’m sure, have seen anime but maybe you didn’t realize it at the time. Ever see G-FORCE, SPEED RACER, LUPIN III, or POKEMON? Then you’ve seen Japanese anime. Anime (at least in the West) is just Japanese cartoons….nothing spectacular, just that they are drawn and written in Japan. There are certain aspects of anime art that do separate it stylistically from other cartoons. Anime gained its distinctive style in the 1960s and one of the most well-known animators—and a pioneer in the industry—was Osamu Tezuka.

One of my favorites is the horror/sci-fi anime series, TRINITY BLOOD. It started as a series of “light novels” (books for young adults) written by Sunao Yoshida and illustrated by Thores Shibamoto. The novels ran from 2001 to 2005. Yoshida then introduced the manga version in March of 2004 and it continues to be published to this day. The artist on the manga is Kiyo Kujo, who based his work on Shibamoto’s original designs. The anime version of the story appeared in 2005, but only ran for 24 episodes and stuck to a specific storyline. There are some continuity issues between the novels, manga and anime, mostly dealing with characters and order of story arcs, but the core story and major characters are the same.

TRINITY BLOOD takes place 900 years after Armageddon, which the Earth’s population basically brought on itself. The population of Earth became far too large for the planet to sustain, so humans set out to colonize Mars. While there, they discovered the Bacillus virus and the Crusnik nanomachines, both alien technologies. The colonists injected themselves with the virus and it changed them into beings called Methuselahs….or vampires. The Crusnik nanotechnology was implanted into test-tube babies, of which only four survived—named Cain, Abel, Seth and Lilith.

Over the centuries, war had continued on Earth, eventually leading to Armageddon. The colonists returned from Mars to help rebuild civilization, as they still considered themselves human. However, a war broke out between the human survivors of Earth and the returning Methuselahs. Now 900 years later, humans and Methuselahs live on the planet amid an uneasy truce through peace treaties. The humans are led by the Vatican, with the Roman Catholic Church being a major world power. The Methuselahs’ New Human Empire is based in Byzantium. For those who may not know Church history, Byzantium was originally Constantinople, site of the Catholic Church’s Eastern center established by the Roman Empire.

The Methuselahs do not need to feed on humans, but many people from both races fear and hate each other. Politics and mistrust reign. The Vatican is headed by Pope Alessandro XVIII, who is actually just a teenage boy who is uncertain of himself, to say the least. He relies on his main advisors Cardinal Caterina (his sister) and Cardinal Francesco (his illegitimate brother). The problem here is that Caterina is an advocate for diplomacy and Francesco advocates the use of military force. Cardinal Francesco heads the Department of Inquisition and Cardinal Caterina heads the Ministry of Holy Affairs, which oversees the AX, which is a special operations unit of priests and nuns trained to fight vampires.

One of the main characters of TRINITY BLOOD is Father Abel Nightroad and he is, in fact, one of the four Crusniks. During the wars with the humans, Abel took the side of the Methuselahs until his sister Lilith (who sided with the humans) was killed. Lilith’s body was interred in a chamber under the Vatican where Abel stayed by her side, in mourning, for almost 900 years. When Cardinal Caterina was a young girl, she wandered into the chamber running from Methuselah assassins. Abel saved Caterina and devoted himself to Lilith’s cause, the protection of the humans. Abel became a priest and is one of the founding members of the AX. Caterina and Abel are still very close. In his human form Father Abel appears very quiet and shy, and at times even bumbling; when he changes into his Crusnik form, his appearance changes considerably. His eyes turn red, his skin changes color and he has claws and fangs. At times he also has huge black wings and can emit pulses of energy. He doesn’t even need to suck the blood from a vampire to feed…it just moves to his body and he absorbs it. Even in his human form, though, Father Abel’s strength and speed is far superior to a human’s.

Another major character is Sister Esther Blanchett. Esther is heir to the throne of Albion, a small human country but probably the most powerful after the Vatican. Shortly after Esther’s birth, she was brought to a church in Istvan to protect her from the assassins who murdered her father. Istvan sits at the crossroads of the human nations and the Methuselah’s empire and is overseen by the Methuselah. Esther was raised by Bishop Laura Velez and when the Bishop was murdered by vampires, Esther became involved in the human rebellion, killing the city’s chief of security forces. When we are introduced to Esther, she has been fooled by Dietrich, a human, who is in fact part of the Rosenkreuz Order.

In the very first episode of TRINITY BLOOD, titled “Flight Night,” we are given a brief origin as to the time the story takes place and the state of global affairs. Father Abel Nightroad is flying back to Rome on an airship that is taken over by a Methuselah working for the Rosenkreuz Orden. For now, the order remains a mystery but it is clearly a terrorist attack—the hijacker intends to fly the airship into the Vatican. This is where we see Father Abel change into a Crusnik for the first time. We also meet Father Tres, another member of AX with the codename Gunslinger. Tres is also the only remaining cyborg of ten originally created to fight the Vatican, but now fights for them. And being a cyborg makes Tres one hell of a shot.

In the third and fourth episodes, “The Star of Sorrow Parts 1 and 2,” Abel and Esther meet for the first time. This is when we learn that the Rosenkreuz want to bring about another major war between the humans and vampires. Dietrich intended to destroy the city with a powerful weapon, dragging the factions into military conflict. Abel and Esther are able to stop the weapon, and Esther goes to the Vatican to join the AX.

Since the anime was only 24 episodes long, the story moves pretty quickly. We learn that the Rosenkreuz Orden is actually led by Cain, Abel’s Crusnik brother. Cain hates humans and Methuselah’s alike and, unbeknownst to most of the order’s members, Cain wants to see everyone exterminated. Throughout the series, Abel, Esther and other members of the AX stop potential terrorist attacks and discover more about the Rosenkreuz’s motives. We also discover that Abel’s sister Seth is the leader of the Methuselahs and she wishes the two races to live in peace. At times the AX goes up against Brother Petro and Sister Paula of the Vatican’s Department of Inquisition. They are formidable fighters who shoot first and ask questions later.

Okay, so 24 episodes and a quick moving story….sounds great. Some of the anime I’ve seen goes on far too long and strays from the core story. I suppose it’s like any television series that “ jumps the shark” at some point. The various arcs in TRINITY BLOOD all come back to the core story—two races of people trying to exist in the same space. It’s a very good story that flows well from episode to episode. However, there are many characters with their own agendas, so you have to pay attention. Don’t let that scare you off, though; the series’ continuity keeps it from getting confusing. While character development in the anime isn’t as in-depth as in the novels or manga, the main characters are suitably fleshed-out, keeping things focused and to the point. The original novels were targeted for young adults, but the political intrigue and the gore keep it just as entertaining for adults. The artwork is fantastic and very detailed from the characters to the scenery. TRINITY BLOOD is easily among the better examples of anime art. Abel in his full Crusnik form looks perfectly ferocious and the action sequences and visuals of blood and gore are beautifully done.

Another aspect of the story is the technology used by these civilizations. It’s referred to as the “Lost Technologies,” because it all seems to date back to pre-apocalyptic society, and not everyone knows how to use it. A lot of these technologies, particularly the airships—both civilian and military—have a very steampunk feel. Even the design of buildings in some of the cities, and the dress of most of the people, are steampunk.

I personally love TRINITY BLOOD, as well as the character of Abel. I know there are better series out there, like TRIGUN and HELSING, but TRINITY BLOOD fits into its own little bloody niche. It’s an entertaining series about two world powers in the midst of a Cold War, so it’s also a familiar story. Of course you throw in religion and it ups the ante. I like the fact that the vampires aren’t what you typically expect. They still consider themselves human and in fact eat and drink, just like humans do. Their appearance is the same as the humans, except for the Crusniks. The vampires are sensitive to sunlight, though, and the New Human Empire is protected by a barrier that makes daylight seem like twilight. I watched it for the first time as part of The Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” programming on weekends, but I have watched it over and over again online. If I can find the time, I’d really like to check out the manga. Episodes can be found for free on various anime sites on the web….just Google it.

Abel Nightroad is one of the main characters of the anime series, TRINITY BLOOD

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund