Tag Archives: Japan

An Imperfect but Captivating Look at the Final Days of WWII: JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY

JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY


(4/5)

Pros:  Fascinating from a historical perspective; strong acting and directorial style


Cons: Introduces literally hundreds of characters, making it difficult to follow the unfolding storyline

Released to mark the 35th anniversary of the famed Toho Studios, 1967’s Japan’s Longest Day (a.k.a. Nihon no ichiban nagai hi) details the events from late July 1945 until the official Japanese surrender on August 15 of that year. The story begins just before the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb, as Japanese bureaucrats argue about whether they should agree to the demands of the Pottsdam Declaration, which laid out conditions for an unconditional surrender. The deployment of “the bomb” has little effect on the tone of these arguments, but while the politicians continue to bicker over wording in the Declaration which suggests Japan would be “subject to” the command of the Allies, Nagasaki is destroyed, prompting Japanese Emperor Hirohito to step in and declare that he wants to end the war as quickly as possible. Many Japanese find unconditional surrender to be an unacceptable, dishonorable way to exit the war – the Declaration establishes Japan as a “subordinate” nation, and most of the country’s military leaders prefer to fight to the last man – a situation which would likely lead to an incredibly costly American and Soviet invasion of the home islands. Disagreeing with the Emperor however is simply not an option, so even the most reluctant of the military leaders finally accepts the Allies’s terms.

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All of the above action, presented in an almost documentary-like manner replete with actual wartime footage and a narrator who explains and provides context to the events, takes place in the first twenty or so minutes of this 167-minute film – the opening titles only show up around the twenty-one minute mark. This might seem strange since it would appear that the main conflict in the story has been resolved with Hirohito’s explanation that he wants his military leadership to agree to surrender. In truth, writer Shinobu Hashimoto’s script (from a story by Soichi Oya) is just getting started, since it’s at this point that Japan’s Longest Day truly gets into its groove, presenting an incredibly detailed, chronological timeline of the events of August 14th and 15th, 1945. As Hirohito records a speech to be broadcast over the radio, telling his nation that he has agreed to surrender, a group of lower-ranking military men and a rogue civilian military battalion choose to march in anger against the Prime Minister and the Emperor himself. It’s the LP recording of the surrender address itself that the rebelling military men are most interested in capturing since they can effectively prolong the war by ensuring that the speech isn’t broadcast.

220px-Hirohito_in_dress_uniformInterestingly, though Emperor Hirohito (pictured here) figures prominently in the film, the audience never sees his face and he exists as an almost mystical figure.


Given the lengthy running time, it might not be surprising that Japan’s Longest Day is very talky – particularly during its first half. There’s precious little of what most viewers would consider action during this opening section, which presents a very dramatic portrait of a proud nation in severe pain as it comes to terms with its first major military defeat. Though the prolonged dialogue scenes only reinforce my belief that the film would have a limited audience, with those interested in Japanese history or World War II perhaps having the most to gain by watching it, these moments are nonetheless fascinating to watch from an American perspective. Until very recently, there’s been almost no effort made to present the “other side” of the World War II story: the war is often (still) viewed as an “US versus them” affair, with the Japanese clearly being the “bad guys.” Japan’s Longest Day obviously shows a much different side of the war, but also is rather eye-opening since it shows happens when an ultra-nationalistic country is put in its place so to speak after an extended, far-reaching conflict. One can only imagine what would happen in the United States should it face a similar situation.

japans-longest-dayThough it’s long and slow-going at first, the film gets plenty tense down the stretch.

Around the halfway point, just as a narrator explains that only half of Japan’s longest day had elapsed, the film makes a sudden turn into more action-oriented territory. Following a moment pulled straight out of ultra-violent samurai cinema, momentum in the film slowly starts to build and dramatic tension gradually increases, reaching a literal fever pitch by the conclusion. Honestly, I was a bit surprised by this abrupt shift in mood: while captivating in its own way, Japan’s Longest Day seemed all-too willing to simply continue on with its dialogue-heavy presentation. The violent action that eventually turns up is made all the more thrilling simply due to the fact that a viewer who stuck with it had probably grown accustomed to the film’s (up to that point) languishing pace.

002be1c1_mediumOutstanding shot composition is one of the best things about the movie.

Director Kihachi Okamoto (who was primarily known before this film for samurai pictures such as Samurai Assassin, , and Kill!) does a masterful job of juggling concurrent events . Often, footage showing the most mundane of tasks (discussions about the exact wording of the surrender address that the Emperor will deliver, for instance ) are juxtaposed against scenes of violent struggle taking place in other locations at the same time. The editing work here is really slick, obviously designed for maximum impact, and I especially appreciated the varied choice of camera angles and perspectives as well as the framing in those shots. Directing cinematographer Hiroshi Murai, Okamoto is able to create numerous striking moments: all the hyper-violent scenes are quite shocking in the way they’re related to the camera, but the way Okamoto is able to express the feelings of his characters without dialogue is equally impressive. The film frequently alternates between tight close-ups showing the pained expressions on the actors’s faces and long shots which establish the ways in which their characters are drifting apart ideologically, and I especially liked a scene in which the grief-stricken Emperor is shown clutching a handkerchief in his hand in the foreground while the bitter Minister of War sits stoically in the background.

hJmUr4Jkb8v8Fq5rsUWpStJ3vYdA statue-like Toshiro Mifune as the Japanese War Minister.


Consistent with American-made war epics like The Longest Day, Battle of the Bulge, or Tora! Tora! Tora! to name but a few, Japan’s Longest Day is an all-star film if there ever was one. Virtually every actor I’ve ever seen in a Toho sci-fi flick (of which the Godzilla films are the most well known) shows up here, and it was a treat for me to see what they could do with quality material.  That being said, it’s Toshiro Mifune, never a player in a Toho monster mash, who appears as the obvious main character, playing Minister of War, General Korechika Anami. Mifune says more with just his eyes than many actors could in pages of dialogue, but later in the film, he also handles a moving speech about how the young people in Japan have to carry on after the war, working to improve the nation. His final scene in the picture is absolutely stunning, complimented by one of Okamoto’s best directorial flourishes. In a smaller role, Takashi Shimura is his usual, stately self playing Information Bureau Director Hiroshi Shimomura, but it’s Toshio Kurosawa who arguably turns in the most genuinely memorable performance, playing a major who decides to take matters into his own hands in an effort to prolong the war and achieve a “glorious” final battle. Generally, I found the acting in this film to be very strong and full of an appropriate level of both anguish and fervor.

japan-s-longest-day-1967-re-10Many regulars from Toho’s sci-fi flicks turn up here, and do a surprisingly good job tackling more dramatic and serious material.

Finishing up with a batch of hard-hitting and absolutely astounding stats (some 3,000,000 wartime casualties) and a cautionary statement about how Japan must never experience another 24 hours like the one depicted in the film, Japan’s Longest Day wound up being quite a different film than I would have expected. In all honesty, many American viewers would have no interest in watching this black-and-white, subtitled foreign film in the first place, but the fact that so many characters (identified through use of onscreen text) are thrown at the viewer makes it very difficult to keep track of the ongoing action. At a certain point, I fully expected this to be a sort of endurance test to watch, with strong acting but little action; imagine my surprise then when director Okamoto made sure it went off with a bang during its back half. Confusing though the narrative may be, the observant non-Japanese viewer gets enough of the gist of what’s happening to follow the unfolding events, and in terms of its historical value, I’d have to call this picture important. It definitely provides insight into a time and place that’s not-often (if ever) discussed in America, and I would certainly recommend this challenging but entirely worthwhile film to patient viewers willing to stick with it.

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5/10 : Just when you think this movie’s going to be all talk, it lets loose with some blood-spurting violence.


0/10 : No profanity, lots of hard-hitting dialogue.



0/10 : Nada.

3/10 : Will undoubtedly impress history buffs, but many will be turned off by an incredibly talky first half and a story that’s difficult to get a handle on.

“You’re still thinking in terms of success or failure…will it preserve our nation or destroy it?”

The FMW Video Series Ends with a Whimper: FINAL ENCOUNTER

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: FINAL ENCOUNTER

(2/5)

Pros: Decent main event matches – that are GASP! shown in their entirety

Cons: Severe editing during the undercard and some so-called matches that are just plain awful

Initially started in 1989 as a promotion based around so-called “garbage wrestling” that involved brawling, extremely violent stipulation matches, and the use of weapons, Japanese wrestling organization Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) had by the year 2000 completely changed its main focus. While FMW would still put on the occasional deathmatch and did feature more blood and outright violence than one would find in the mainstream American promotions of the late ‘90s, the days of matches like the “exploding swimming pool death match” were over by 2000, and FMW was devoting more and more time to outrageous in-ring antics in an effort to be more “entertainment” oriented.


FMW was originally based more on extreme violence and stipulation matches, where sights like this were common. And you thought wrestling was .

Chronicling the “Backdraft” pay-per-view event which took place May 5, 2000 at the Komazawa Indoor Stadium in Tokyo Japan, the 2002 DVD release Final Encounter demonstrates that notion perfectly as it highlights eight of the nine total matches on the card that night. Unfortunately, the DVD is problematic right off the bat without even taking match quality into account. Many of the matches seen are clipped (i.e. edited) to the point of no return, showing only selected highlights of the various contests. This unsurprisingly severely disrupts the flow of the bouts and makes it increasingly difficult for a viewer to really get into the action. It also should be said that the undercard matches at the Backdraft event were by and large pathetic: even judicious editing on the part of the producers can’t convince me that several of the matches here are any good at all. To be honest, FMW’s roster of wrestlers had some genuine talent at one end – and pure jobber material at the other: the worst wrestlers in the promotion simply couldn’t hold their own in the ring and seemed incapable of having a worthwhile match. As a result, many FMW events were very much a mixed bag, with really good main events and a lot of trash leading up to them and that’s certainly the case with Backdraft.

FMW roster
Though there were some legit stars left, by 2000, the FMW talent pool was running pretty slim…

As if Tokyopop’s tendency to hack matches apart in the editing room wasn’t bad enough, the announce team featured on their FMW releases doesn’t help to make these programs any better. The team of John Watanabe and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski simply don’t generate much interest in what’s taking place: listening to these two bungle through the program really makes me miss the good ol’ days of my youth when the likes of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Joey Styles (among others) would both entertain and excite the viewers with their commentary. Watanabe’s idea of making the program compelling is to repeatedly scream the names of various moves into the microphone, while Lovranski tries and fails to be a “heel” color commentator for the action (i.e. be “the bad guy”). Overall, the commentary only further sinks the already questionable Final Encounter.

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That face about sums it up when it comes to the commentary of Watanabe and Lovranski.

Without further ado, here’s the match rundown:

1. Ricky Fuji vs. Crazy Boy : Mexican wrestler Crazy Boy (first cousin of ECW’s Super Crazy) takes on Fuji, the Japanese version of Shawn Michaels, in this heavily edited opening match. Probably the highlight of the whole, rather lousy affair is seeing (and hearing) the apparently tone-deaf Fuji crooning on his way to the ring while being followed by some of the most unenthusiastic floozies you’ll ever see near a wrestling ring. As for the match itself, as good as it gets is seeing the Mexican combatant performing some of his trademark aerial moves, including the three-tier moonsault (in which he hits Fuji with the move performed from each of the three ring ropes in succession). Lackluster to say the least, I’d only give the match one star (out of a possible five).

Ricky Fuji
Ricky Fuji: he looks intimidating, then he starts singing.

2. June Kusanagi vs. Kaoruka Arai : Japanese AV actress (i.e. porn star) Kusanagi takes on the niece of FMW president Mr. Arai (who’s decked out in a schoolgirl costume) in this supposed match that’s really just a series of incredibly sloppy basic moves and a lot of pushing and shoving. Watching these two pretend to wrestle is excruciatingly sad: the only highlight (??) of the match (sadly, shown in its entirety) occurs when Arai awkwardly performs a Britney Spears-like dance in the center of the ring. Oh, did I mention wrestler Flying Kid Ichihara is the guest referee and will “go out” with the winner of the match? Yawn. No stars – it fails even as cheesecake.

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Anyone looking for another of FMW’s classic women’s matches won’t find it on this program.

3. Yuka Nakamura, Emi Motokawa, & Azusa Kudo vs. Kaori Nakayama, Chocoball Mukai, & Kyoko Inoue : A six-person match shown in highlighted form, with female wrestlers Nakamura, Motokawa, Nakayama, and Inoue involved in a match that also features male porn star Chocoball Mukai and Azusa Kudo, who reportedly had a male-to-female sex change operation. What??!? Though there are a few legitimate wrestling moves in the match (the surfboard press performed by Inoue is actually really impressive), the “high point” of the match occurs when Kudo performs a crotch-biting maneuver against Mukai. Pretty tasteless, even by the standards of pro wrestling, and not at all a good match. I’m giving it a half a star due to the handful of actual moves which pop up intermittently.

Chocoball
Chocoball Mukai: not a wrestler.

4. Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki & Hideki Hosaka vs. Matty Samu & Eddie Fatu : WEW Hardcore Tag Team Titles are on the line as champions Sasaki and Hosaka defend against the “Samoan Gangster Party” of Samu and Fatu (the late brother of the WWE’s Rikishi who also wrestled under the name “Umaga”). Shown in highlighted form, this match turns into a rambling brawl that’s fought all over the arena. Since it’s a hardcore match, both Sasaki and Hosaka bleed profusely for almost no reason whatsoever and the match features a lot of tables and chair shots. Culminating in a spot which finds Hosaka gingerly performing a crossbody from a ringside scaffold onto Fatu, the match nonetheless feels completely pointless with minimal buildup and next to no excitement despite the level of violence and destruction. Two stars.

Sasaki
Sasaki brawling in the middle of the cheap seats.

5. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Ryuji Yamakawa : FMW star Kanemura takes on Yamakawa, who made a name for himself in the even more violent Big Japan promotion, in this contest for the WEW Hardcore Title. As might be expected, this brawl spreads out to the farthest reaches of the Komazawa Stadium, including the main hallway where Yamakawa introduces fluorescent light tubes into the mix. Despite these weapon shots and the use of multiple chairs and tables, the most brutal thing in the match occurs when Kanemura is suplexed onto the unyielding floor in the refreshment area: there’s simply no faking some things in pro wrestling and taking a bump on cement just can’t feel very good. As the match nears its conclusion, it features some very rough in-ring action, including a pretty sick DDT from the top rope. Though again shown only in highlights, this is by far the best match on the program to this point. Three stars.

kanemura v yamakawa
Kanemura preparing to slam Yamakawa to the mat.

6. Sabu vs. Mr. Gannosuke : ECW star Sabu (whose wrestling style not just slightly resembles that of FMW’s Hayabusa) takes on one of the obvious villain wrestlers in Japan in this grueling contest, shown only in highlights (which is disappointing considering that the cover art of the DVD features an image from this match). The always-reliable Sabu utilizes his trademark innovative offensive, spring-boarding off chairs to perform splashes, dropping a leg to put Gannosuke through a table, and even pulling out a spike to rip the Japanese wrestler’s forehead open with. It’s a virtual spot-fest throughout, with Gannosuke at one point delivering a fire thunder driver through a table, but the ending (following a pair of fireballs) is disappointing. Three stars.

Gannosuke
Gannosuke drives Sabu through a table at ringside.

7. Kodo Fuyuki vs. Tetsuhiro Kuroda : WEW Title is up for grabs, as Fuyuki (who was kicked out of FMW after a “loser leaves town” match a few months previous yet was back in the promotion in record time) returns to stake a claim on the championship he created. Kuroda (who appears laughably small put alongside the barrel-chested Fuyuki) enters as the champ, but quickly finds himself on the receiving end of fork shots to the head from Fuyuki. To be honest, this entire contest seems like a mismatch, with Fuyuki generally dominating against the genuinely overpowered Kuroda, though the champ does his best to keep things interesting. Match reaches a low point when, after smacking Kuroda over the head with a satchel of eggs, Fuyuki drapes a pair of mens’ briefs over the champion’s face – which is not removed for several minutes. Fuyuki’s patented Plastic Surgery Facelock submission hold also looks really bad as performed here, but he does get credit for unloading a fire extinguisher into the face of his opponent at one point. I’m not sure I can really get behind a title match that builds up to be a battle of the clotheslines, but this hard-fought match is significantly better than any of the opening matches here – and is shown in its entirety. Three and a half stars.

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Fuyuki preparing to crack Kuroda with a broken piece of a table.

8. Masato Tanaka vs. Hayabusa : By this point in his career, the popular Tanaka was transforming himself into the premiere “bad guy” in the promotion, and here takes on his one-time friend Hayabusa in a match which finds both competitors throwing caution to the wind. It’s matches like this (shown in full) that demonstrate what FMW performers were capable of when at their best: after a methodical start to the contest, these two trade jaw-dropping moves for the majority of the bout. There are some unbelievable sequences here: Hayabusa performs a moonsault, follows up with a Fisherman Bomb, which leads into the Firebird Splash and finally a Falcon Arrow. Another wild sequence culminates in Hayabusa being powerbombed over the ring ropes towards a table on the outside. When he mostly misses the table however, his head and neck land flush on the concrete floor. Ouch. Non-stop action here reaches mind-blowing intensity when Tanaka quite literally T-bones Hayabusa directly on his head with a suplex. This is the kind of move that ends careers (as Hayabusa would find out the following year when he was legitimately paralyzed following a botched in-ring maneuver), but the match nevertheless continues towards a thrilling finish. The only downside is that the camera coverage repeatedly shows a stone-faced Jinsei Shinzaki (the Japanese wrestler who performed in America under the name of “Hakushi”) sitting ringside; even with this distraction, I’d call it a classic bout. Four stars.

connects
Hayabusa connects on Tanaka.

Despite the fact that the main event certainly delivers the goods, Final Encounter never quite is able to overcome a definitively awful first couple of matches, and it ultimately stands as an appropriately mediocre finale to TokyoPop’s FMW video series. I’ve often wondered why the producers of these programs chose to include so many matches that were frankly unflattering to the performers involved – or to the FMW promotion in general. In the case of Final Encounter, including the undercard matches makes sense (even if the extreme truncation of these contests is infuriating), but this video series as a whole (which I would assume was trying to showcase the “best” of the promotion) winds up being perfectly underwhelming.

FMW's glory days
It’s odd that the TokyoPop DVDs don’t cover many of the matches from FMW’s glory days.

Circa the year 2000 when TokyoPop’s FMW series started to see release in the states, Japanese wrestling was extremely hard to find outside of the tape trading circle, so I was thrilled to be able to watch FMW events at all. Fifteen years later, the general sloppiness of many of these matches is glaring and I can’t help but feel that FMW (which folded in 2002) would have been better off to remain true to its “garbage wrestling” roots. Spectacle is more important than the technical brilliance of any performers involved in that sort of match, and I believe a more niche-oriented approach would have made better use of the promotion’s (somewhat meager) relative level of roster talent. Regardless, despite the rather spotty quality of this series, I can’t help but enjoy these FMW releases on a certain level: they’re reflective of an era in pro wrestling that will likely never occur again. Though I can’t in good conscience give Final Encounter (or many of the other domestic FMW releases for that matter) a glowing rating, I think many fans of the sport (particularly those who can appreciate the more violent and outrageous aspects of it) would enjoy or at least be interested in it.

funk fireball


The DVD from Tokyopop is a decent quality, full-screen transfer from the original VHS masters. Aside from a collection of trailers and gallery of wrestler biographies, the DVD includes two bonus matches as extras:
1. Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki vs. Mr. Gannosuke and Kintaro Kanemura : More or less shown in its entirety with no commentary, this is a matchup for the FMW tag team titles between the obvious fan favorite team of Shinzaki and Hayabusa and the title-holding villain squad of Gannosuke and Kanemura. While Hayabusa’s wrestling prowess had been pretty well established by earlier volumes in the FMW series, this match goes a long way in proving Shinzaki’s in-ring abilities. A close-range, acrobatic head kick onto Kanemura is especially impressive. For their part, Gannosuke and Kanemura work quite well as a team and succeed at making things ugly: both Shinzaki and Hayabusa are driven through tables outside the ring (Shinzaki being powerbombed over the top rope is a definite highlight of the contest). After a wild final few minutes in which a barbed wire-covered baseball bat is introduced, there’s a surprise ending. A better match than I might have expected: three and a half stars.

2. Kodo Fuyuki and Kintaro Kanemura vs. Jado and Gedo : Tag team champions Fuyuki and Kanemura take on the veteran team of Jado and Gedo in this contest which takes place in a half-empty arena with a tropical island set in the background (??!?). Extensively edited, the contest seems even more low key and unexciting, with Jado and Gedo doing a fine job of isolating their opponents in the ring. Fuyuki, of course, cleans house at one point and gets to do his famous war cry, but there’s really nothing of note that takes place during the contest. One and half stars.


5/10 : Quite a few matches on the card feature someone getting “busted wide open” and there is some pretty gnarly violence at times – par for the course in FMW and not nearly as extreme as some Japanese wrestling discs I’ve seen.


1/10 : A few adult themes and related dialogue; nothing major.


1/10 : The catfight between porn star Jun Kasanagi and schoolgirl Kaoruko Arai might do it for some people, but there’s not much here.


5/10 : Generally forgettable as a disc of Japanese wrestling and a rather sad way to close the FMW video series.


Hayabusa endearing himself to the fans: “Look at my face closely in that monitor. I lost my front teeth. Don’t I look silly?”

Most Bizarre Movie Ever? Maybe, But It’s Also Pure Genius: 1977’s HOUSE

HOUSE (a.k.a. HAUSU)

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(5/5)

Pros: Cheerfully deranged and gloriously imaginative = shows the limitless potential of cinema.  DVD package is outstanding.

Cons: To say that some people wouldn’t like this movie is putting it nicely

Starting off with a fairly typical haunted house-type story, director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (released by the Japanese Toho Studio in 1977) from there ventures out into no man’s land, becoming one of the most wacky films ever produced in the process. Awash with unadulterated creativity, the film makes nary one lick of sense from a typical standpoint, but exists as a truly one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that demonstrates the limitless possibilities of the cinematic medium. Undoubtedly, this movie would not be to all tastes: though a box-office hit upon release in Japan (despite the fact that it is thoroughly un-Japanese), it’s been dismissed by numerous critics over the years and has (admittedly, unsurprisingly) been declared by some to be completely unwatchable . For the select few who would “get” this movie in the first place though, House is a film that makes any and all others look hopelessly dull and a bit pathetic in comparison, a piece that would provide a jolt to the brain of audiences made apathetic by typical Hollywood drivel.

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The film begins by introducing the viewer to seven Japanese teenagers who are planning their summer vacation. Each of the girls is identified by their defining characteristic: the smart one is called “Prof,” the chubby girl is “Mac” (short for stomach), the tough girl is known as “Kung Fu,” and so on. The main character here is called “Gorgeous,” who is having problems coming to terms with the fact that her widower father is planning to be remarried. When the girls’ collective vacation plans fall through, Gorgeous invites the gang to join her at a remote mansion owned by her enigmatic aunt. Once the group arrives however, they discover that the aunt’s house itself appears to have an appetite for young girls, and the teens begin to disappear one by one. As the survivors try to figure out a way to escape the estate, Gorgeous begins to discover how similar she and her aunt truly are…

house

Is that actually the story for this film? In a nutshell, yes, but the House experience is about much more than just the basic storyline which is has to be said is made all but irrelevant by about the five minute mark. In the hands of Obayashi, a director who was known primarily for work in television commercials prior to this feature, House becomes a gleefully gruesome, energetic thrill ride of innovative and playful cinematic technique that resembles what the results might have been had renegade Japanese filmmaker Seijun Suzuki (known for his eccentric crime thrillers) made a horror flick. The script written by Chiho Katsura is little more than a framework which allows Obayashi to let his creative sense run wild and the director winds up unleashing some of the most mind-boggling visuals and sequences ever put to celluloid. The screen is frequently drenched in vivid color or overrun with crude (i.e. purposely imperfect and obviously artificial) but clever special effects, and the pace of the film is simply relentless. Virtually any camera and cinematic technique imaginable is showcased here: we have a truckload of iris effects, split screen sequences, marvelous painted backgrounds combined with live-action foregrounds, chroma key effects, stop-motion, straight-up animation and more. The optical printer certainly gets a workout during the course of this movie, and it leaves one with the notion that Obayashi can’t make it more than a minute without astounding the viewer with some cinematic magic. As wonderful as it is to marvel at all the eye candy though, it’s equally as tempting to focus on the small details, fascinating settings, and constantly evolving backgrounds. There really is a ridiculous amount of amazing things to behold when watching this film.

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As may be suggested by that description, it would be easy to point out that this film is entirely incoherent. I’d have to suggest however that viewers who would dismiss House on those grounds are completely missing the point of the film. It’s all but impossible to take this cheerfully demented film seriously on any sort of level, and declaring the wholly dream-like and surrealist piece to be “illogical” is not only stating the obvious but actually a ridiculous statement to make. House is quite clearly told from a young person’s perspective; the result of an imagination running wild and creating scenarios that wouldn’t make any sense to an adult who knows better than to be caught up in fits of fancy. I could easily make a case for this film being a fantasy derived from and taking place in the mind of a young teenager struggling to deal with “real world” or “big people” problems. Gorgeous seems not at all able to truly deal with her mother being “replaced” by the apparently random lover her father has introduced into her life, and many of her seemingly absurd actions in the film appear to the be the result of her unwillingness or inability to come to terms with her situation.

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In many ways, I think House was designed for viewing by younger audiences: the film exists as a pop culture nightmare of the type that kids (having been exposed to an endless string of advertisements) would (for better or worse) be accustomed to. Playing as a sort of live-action horror cartoon, House’s editing scheme is extremely manic to the point of resembling the music videos that would turn up a few years after this film’s production, and there’s a noticeable tendency to focus on idiosyncratic detail that most films would gloss over (again, this seems to fall in line with the film being told from a child’s perspective; hell, it might just be the best screen representation of what ADHD feels and looks like). Undoubtedly, the main problem for western audiences is that, in terms of what the majority of American viewers would classify as being acceptable viewing for children, House is way too sexual, violent, and downright subversive. Perhaps it goes without saying that this film defies classification or categorization, but since the film’s ideal target audience would probably have no way of seeing it, it’s not all that surprising that the film has often been misunderstood and marginalized. In the eyes of viewers accustomed to gritty ‘70s cinema like The French Connection, The Exorcist, or even Jaws, House is a true anomaly, a film that was decades ahead of its time when produced and may as well have been beamed in from another dimension.

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The actors assembled for this film were mostly amateurs, and it shows since they often seem positively oblivious to what’s going on around them. That said, I think the style suits the material: it would be really hard to swallow this film had the cast been entirely serious about it. All the younger females in the film are spunky and cute in their own way, and established actress Yōko Minamida, who plays the aunt, comes across as being very creepy at times. In terms of the horror movie elements, House takes a while to get going, but eventually unloads some fairly graphic and gory delights. During one scene, one of the girls is attacked by a piano which bites off her fingers and proceeds to devour her whole, and the final third of the film features quite a bit of blood flow and spray. Most of the gore sequences are more tongue-in-cheek amusing than outright horrific, but the film would be fairly shocking to some viewers (and not just because of the carnage). (written by Mickie Yoshino and Asei Kobayashi and performed by Japanese rock group Godiego) is outstanding, continually blaring over any and all action taking place, and Yoshitaka Sakamoto’s photography is actually quite stunning, often shooting from unconventional angles. Finally, I have to commend Toho’s art department for creating some extremely eye-catching and colorful sets – the vast majority of which were constructed in studio. The background paintings seen throughout the film (check out how the skies look in many scenes) are particularly excellent.

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At this point, I should point out that this film does have a few minor flaws. For one, I could do without the pointless asides during the final third of the picture which show a male teacher coming to the girls’ rescue. Almost slapstick in nature, these brief scenes take away from the momentum and pure insanity going on back at the titular abode. I’ve also got to say that most of the green screen effects seen in the film look pretty awful. I know I said earlier that the effects here were designed to be imperfect, but there are several scenes in which obvious outlines surround characters and objects, indicating that they’ve been superimposed onto other backgrounds. This is frequently annoying and quite distracting: Toho’s effects team had done better work in the mid-’60s on many of the Godzilla films and I’m not quite sure why they look so horrendous more than a decade later. Remember, Star Wars was made this same year.

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I can’t stress enough that House is a film that has to be seen to be believed, one that seems to have inspired a multitude of Japanese films over the years, and one that possibly even led to the country’s enduring fascination with all things pop culture. It’s impossible even for me – a viewer well-versed in the wild worlds of cult films and Japanese cinema – to come up with another film that’s even remotely similar to this, and I’d be lying if I called this film anything less than one of my all time favorites – House has to make at least my top three. Absolutely marvelous in terms of its visuals, House deserves placement among the most artistically and creatively satisfying pieces of cinema ever produced, and I think most any viewer could appreciate that aspect of it even if they don’t like or are confused by the film as a whole. Highly, highly, HIGHLY recommended – this singular classic of Japanese cinema is an absolute must for viewers who enjoy strange and/or cult movies.

Hausu


A really nice selection of DVD extras – even for a Criterion disc. “Constructing a House” is a rewarding 45-minute featurette in which director Nobuhiko Obayashi, story scenarist Chigumi Obayashi (the director’s daughter), and screenwriter Chiho Katsura discuss and explain the project. The DVD also includes a short appreciation piece with film director Ti West and Nobuhiko Obayashi’s entire, 39-minute and suitably wacky 1966 experimental film Emotion. Picture quality on the disc (original full screen format, in Japanese with English subtitles) is outstanding.


7/10 : A fair amount of gore and extreme violence, but most of it is handled in a comic manner. This is not nearly as rigorous as many of today’s horror films.  Weirdness factor is out of the ballpark however.


1/10 : Minimal profanity; some innuendo.


6/10 : Underlying sexual themes exist throughout the film and there’s a decent amount of topless and rear nudity from some cute Japanese girls.


10/10: Is this the most weirdo movie ever? Quite possibly, and it’s also one of the most impressive creative visions ever put to celluloid.


“Just let me eat you…”


TRAILER:

The Not-So Glorious History of the FMW Double Title:RULE THE ASYLUM

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: RULE THE ASYLUM

(3/5)

Pros: Tanaka vs. Ganosuke is BRUTAL; program has a sense of purpose

Cons: Two matches here are repeats from previous FMW compilations; match lineup loses momentum down the stretch

Chronicling the two-year history of FMW’s prestigious double title championship which was made up of the Independent Heavyweight World Title and the Brass Knuckles Championship, Rule the Asylum (released on video in 2001) really should have been one of the best entries in TokyoPop’s series of DVDs featuring Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. Other volumes in this series were more or less a hodgepodge of matches that varied in quality from being mind-blowing to absolute garbage, but here was a disc that had only title matches on it and featured the top names in the promotion. Sad then that even this DVD has problems that keep it from rising above mediocrity: though all the matches on the main program are seen in their entirety (my biggest, most all-encompassing complaint about the FMW series overall was the amount of truncation that was done on many if not most matches), two of the five have been included on previous TokyoPop DVDs, prompting a WTF response. When there are relatively few entries in this series in the first place (the series ended after volume 14) and there are literally hundreds of FMW shows to draw material from, why would there be any recycled footage present on these US releases?

hayabusa with belts
Hayabusa displaying the two belts of the FMW Double Title.

Though FMW was known as a “garbage wrestling” promotion due to the prevalence of stipulation matches and extreme violence (at least in the early days of the promotion), by the time the double title championship was unified in 1996, the promotion was headed more in the direction of becoming more like the American promotion WWF, i.e. focusing on “entertainment” over brutality. Matches on Rule the Asylum therefore focus more on athleticism, though at least one contest here is much more graphic in terms of its level of bloodshed than I’d ever expect to see in the states. Commentating on the card is provided by the (yawn) duo of John Watanabe on play-by-play and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski providing color commentary. These two seem generally lackadaisical, even when Watanabe starts excitedly blurting out and repeating the names of moves he’s seen in an apparent attempt to win a cracker from the viewer. Announcing on these FMW programs was a problem since day one, and though I like the non-scripted, less jokey commentating provided by Lovranski and Watanabe better than what was heard on the first half dozen FMW discs, the pair simply doesn’t add much to the program. All in all, few of the FMW DVDs would be ones that anyone aside from hardcore Japanese wrestling fans would really need to check out: they pale in comparison to any of the programs released by the then-WWF or ECW promotions.

now that is impressive
Now that is impressive: Ultimo Dragon with a ridiculous amount of gold. Sheesh!

Here’s the rundown of matches featured on Rule the Asylum:

1. The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura (12.11.1996) – Independent heavyweight champ Kanemura takes on Brass Knux title holder Mike Awesome in this contest from the Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium that would unify the two belts and establish the double championship. I was a bit skeptical about this match from the get-go considering the language barriers between the American Awesome and Japanese wrestler Kanemura, and the contest does seem quite awkward at times. Complicating matters further is the fact that these two had very different styles of wrestling: Awesome relied on his power and agility, generally avoiding the most violent matches while Kanemura was more a brawler who reveled in excessive brutality. The fact that the first five minutes or so mainly deal with Awesome getting his foot caught up in the ropes so as to bring him down to the skill level of Kanemura due to the “injury” speaks volumes about the contest, and as a whole, it has a sputtering quality to it. When one guy is firmly in control, it’s ok: Awesome gets to show off his power, Kanemura demonstrates his more rough and gritty style. In the standoffish moments however, it’s clear these two don’t quite know what to do: witness several herky-jerk segments in which moves barely connect – the worst of which is when Awesome gingerly taps Kanemura’s head with a piece of broken table. C’mon Mike – this is FMW: had something like this happened during his ECW days, Awesome would’ve been booed out of the arena. I suppose the match is actually better than I would have thought, mainly due to the fact that Awesome sells the leg injury pretty well, but it’s plenty sketchy at times… Three stars.

kanemura fired up
A bloody Kanemura getting fired up during his battle with The Gladiator Mike Awesome.

2. The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) vs. Masato Tanaka (9.27.1997) – From the Kawasaki Stadium, these two powerful rivals square off in a match that was previously seen on The Enforcer compilation; full match rundown can be found in my review of that DVD. It’s an outstanding match for sure (I gave it four and a half stars the first time around), but I’m disappointed and frankly, flabbergasted that TokyoPop would re-use a match that’s already been seen in the FMW video series – even if they are trying to reveal the history of the double title.

tanaka v. awesome
…and this is why fans still remember matches between Tanaka and Awesome.

3. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Gannosuke (1.6.1998) – Tanaka defends the title against the absolutely brutal Gannosuke in this contest from the Korakuen Hall. After a standoffish start to the match, the two combatants wind up brawling through the crowd (cue a few table spots including one where Tanaka misses the table and lands lower back first on the floor OUCH), and when they finally get back to the ring, Gannosuke uses a broken broom handle to rip the hell out of Tanaka’s bicep. This gaping wound is pretty nasty, even compared with the types of things seen in the most gruesome FMW stipulation matches, and Tanaka proceeds to lose a rather excessive amount of blood throughout the rest of the contest. Gannosuke appears to almost be in Jerry Lawler mode here: doing as little as possible to win the match while obliterating and bloodying his opponent. This of course is a technique used to turn Gannosuke into even more of a villain, but his overall performance doesn’t speak well to his actual in-ring abilities and I would have expected more out of him. Irregardless, Tanaka’s gutsy performance makes this match memorable: even with all the punishment he takes, he’s still able to pull off many of his signature power moves. Down the stretch, a match that was pretty uninspired at times starts to get exciting, and in the end, I’d give it four stars.

no
No handshakes in the double title match between Tanaka and Gannosuke – it’s ugly.

4. Mr. Gannosuke vs. Hayabusa (4.30.1998) – Another (surprisingly dull) recycled match; this one featured on TokyoPop’s Flying Assassin compilation: see that review for a full match description. Interesting to note that Lovranski and Watanabe seem to have recorded new commentary tracks for the pair of recycled matches seen on Rule the Asylum, which makes about as much sense as including them in the first place. I gave the match a generous three stars the first time around, but it’s forgettable and not worth watching for a second time.

gannosuke v. hayabusa
Gannosuke with Hayabusa locked up in a headscissor.

Hayabusa vs. Kodo Fuyuki (11.11.1998) – A classic hero (face) versus villain (heel) match from the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium, this match pits the barrel-chested wily veteran Fuyuki against the fan favorite Hayabusa. Another obvious clash of styles in this match: Hayabusa dazzles crowds with his technical ability and high-flying moves, while Fuyuki plays the quintessential bad guy, doing as little as possible to win while showing off gritty technique and letting loose with his trademark, high-pitched war cries. A fairly slow, methodical match, this more or less drags through its opening section before getting into some sort of rhythm around the halfway point. Fuyuki eventually lands a pretty gnarly brain buster on the floor against Hayabusa, who retaliates with his showy aerial moves. I almost got the idea here that Fuyuki just wasn’t going to sell Hayabusa’s moves like his typical opponent would: the more popular wrestler was going to have to really work to get the win here, not just land a couple somersault splashes. Towards the end of the contest, this becomes a botch fest, with both wrestlers missing moves and generally stumbling their way towards an unconvincing, lame-o finale: genuinely disappointing even if the announcers attempt to convince a viewer otherwise. Two and a half stars.

hayabusa v fuyuki
Hayabusa and Fuyuki in battle.

A final noticeable problem with this DVD is that its format makes it impossible to avoid spoilers in the matches featured: a viewer who reads over the match list here knows who is going to win each and every fight. Along with the fact that two matches here were carried over from other FMW DVDs, this makes Rule the Asylum much less enthralling than it really should have been. We’re told right off the bat that achieving the Double Title Championship was the ultimate goal of every wrestler in the promotion, but I’m not sure this hit-or-miss lineup of matches could actually convince a viewer of the title’s importance. As this program wears on, the caliber of matches here actually gets worse, and the retirement of the belts in 1998 doesn’t seem like an altogether bad idea. In the end, we’ve got another FMW DVD that ultimately does little to dispel the notion that FMW was at best, a second-tier Japanese wrestling promotion that never really could compete with either the outright insanity and violence of Big Japan Pro Wrestling or the spectacle of either New Japan or All Japan. Hardcore wrestling fanatics might want to check out this DVD, but those looking for honest quality in their wrestling entertainment would be wise to look elsewhere.

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Decent but not great quality, full-frame DVD from TokyoPop includes a trailer gallery and selection of wrestler bios as well as two bonus double title matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kintaro Kanemura – Champ Tanaka faces off against the always game Kanemura in a rough technical match. Shown in highlighted form only with no commentary, this match features bad attitude galore from Kanemura who power slams Tanaka through a table from the ring apron, then proceeds to use the broken wood fragments and even the ring bell against the champ. At one point, Tanaka delivers a ridiculous lariat that whips Kanemura around like a rag doll, and the match culminates in an exchange of brutal forearms. A decent match overall. Three stars.

2. Hayabusa vs. Hisakatsu Oya – Heavily edited match (16 minutes down to three) with intermittent Japanese-language commentary in which champ Hayabusa faces off against the technically gifted Oya. After an initial grappling exchange, Hayabusa demonstrates his usual, dazzling array of high-flying moves, including a vaulting suicide dive over the corner turnbuckle that lands on Oya outside of the ring. Final back and forth battle of suplexes is kind of cool, but these highlights don’t convey much about the quality of the match. One and a half stars.


5/10 : Though this DVD as a whole is not as rigorous as other FMW programs, it gets plain nasty at times


1/10 : Some rough language and vague threats

0/10 : Not even a single homely woman in spandex to be seen


5/10 : Fairly straight-forward Japanese wrestling disc, though more worthwhile and consistent than some.


“Whoa Dan – you’re starting to sound like some of these marks on the internet…”  HEY, WAIT A MINUTE….

R.I.P. Michael “Mike Awesome” Alfonso

Title Says It All – The Worst of the FMW Video Series: WAR OF ATTRITION

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: WAR OF ATTRITION

(1/5)

Pros: The one match shown in its entirety is pretty great

Cons: Heavy truncation of matches that seem very gimmicky; way too much (confounding) storyline material

Opening with a recap of the tenth anniversary show for Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (which was released on video as The Judgment), War of Attrition is the aptly-named twelfth volume in TokyoPop Home Video’s FMW series. While some programs in the series provided “best of FMW” style compilations and others (like the aforementioned Judgment) featured entire individual events, War of Attrition exists solely as a “clean up” (or filler if you like) program in which a hodgepodge of matches is screened for the viewer: its sole reason for existence is to tie The Judgment to the next major FMW card, entitled “Backdraft” that occurred roughly six months later in May of the year 2000. As such, Attrition mostly focuses on the soap opera aspects of pro wrestling, following various storylines that existed in FMW circa late 1999 and early 2000. Though the matches here do feature many of the top talents in the promotion, this disc as a whole is not something that I’d probably be all that enthused about recommending, even to fans of Japanese wrestling.

entertainment
Long before the WWE, FMW proclaimed itself as “entertainment.”

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a sort of hardcore or “garbage” promotion – most of the traditional rules of the squared circle were relaxed to the point of almost being nonexistent, and FMW matches frequently involved use of weapons or outrageous stipulations. FMW pioneered many so-called “death matches” including ones involving electrified barbed wire, exploding land mines, and more and this style of hardcore or “extreme” wrestling was eventually borrowed by various other promotions, and perhaps used most effectively in the United States by Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling. By 1999, FMW had entered into a sort of talent swap program with ECW in which American wrestlers would appear in Japan and Japanese performers would occasionally make tours of the states. Around this same time, FMW also was in the process of becoming more “entertainment-oriented:” instead of focusing on rough and often bloody hardcore action and stipulation matches, the promotion was attempting to become more similar to the mainstream American promotions WWF and WCW, a move that in my opinion was rather questionable.

this kind of match
One probably wasn’t going to see this kind of match in FMW circa 1999, which is kind of a shame really.

Nevertheless, drama seemed to take precedence over wrestling by 2000 and to that end, numerous feuds and storyline arcs were going on during this time period, with the main one revolved around a struggle for power in the organization between H (the wrestler formerly known as Hayabusa) and Masato Tanaka. Both these extremely talented performers had aspirations to be the best, most well-known superstar in FMW – and had the credentials to back up their arguments. By 2000, Tanaka had not only become a star in Japan, but also had a run as ECW’s Heavyweight Champion after a series of ridiculously hard-hitting battles with Mike Awesome, while H was easily the most popular figure in FMW. A clash between these two had been brewing for years and War of Attrition’s main goal seems to be to set the table for the inevitable showdown which would occur at the “Backdraft” event.

h&T
Hayabusa and Tanaka during happier times. By 2000, their feud was the biggest in the promotion.

Providing commentary throughout the program is the usual team of John Watanabe and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski who are tolerable but nothing more. Neither of these announcers really take the program to the next level, and neither are as compelling to listen to as guys like Jim Ross, Joey Styles, or (God forbid) Gorilla Monsoon. Adding to the problems on War of Attrition is the fact that virtually none of the ten matches included here is seen in its entirety. Clipping these matches down to shreds of “highlight material” ruins the flow of the action – as a whole, this plays more like an episode of than a honest wrestling tape. For my money, the truncation of many if not most matches was the biggest problem with TokyoPop’s FMW series: I was willing to look past individually sloppy wrestling to an extent, but the heavy editing on these DVDs makes watching them borderline on being absolutely pointless. War of Attrition is probably the worst volume of the FMW video series in this regard.

can be
Sloppy wrestling is sloppy.

Here’s the “matches” included on the program.

1. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Axl Rotten (12.11.1999) – One of the most rough and tumble wrestlers in FMW takes on Rotten, who was known as one of the most violent performers in ECW mainly due to his notorious battles with his “brother” Ian. As expected, this match gets ugly, with the use of a fork to carve open the head of Kanemura, both men being slammed into and through piles of chairs, and a pretty crazy senton bomb from the top of a ladder which puts Rotten through a table. What’s more shocking is the handful of technical moves in the match: I never thought I’d see Rotten pulling off a superplex in this match, but it does indeed happen. While the match seemed decent, I can’t give this collection of highlights any higher than a two star rating.

balls, tanaka, axl
From left, Balls Mahoney, Masato Tanaka, Axl Rotten.

2. Masato Tanaka vs. Balls Mahoney (12.11.1999) – Another match featuring an FMW standout taking on an ECW star. This match is a bit more technically-based than the previous one – Mahoney actually was fairly capable as a technician, though he usually adopted the style of a brawler. Both he and Tanaka take some pretty sick chair shots in the contest, which sees Axl Rotten join Mahoney at ringside to offer assistance. Lots of rough action, though again, heavy editing ruins the match. Two stars.

Tajiri
Tajiri, one of the more “eccentric” performers in ECW.

3. Kintaro Kanemura, Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. Balls Mahoney, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Super Crazy, and Axl Rotten (12.12.1999) – About as wild a group of wrestlers as one could get in one match, this out-of-control 8-man tag match sees the fight taken all over the arena and only intermittently being fought one-on-one in the center of the ring. The best moves here are (unsurprisingly) pulled off by ECW combatants Tajiri and Super Crazy – these two perform simultaneous, dual somersault presses flipping over the top ropes at one point and Tajiri also locks up his famous Tarantula submission. Very difficult to keep tabs on what’s happening during the match in these highlights; though I suspect the contest was pretty amazing to see, it pretty much stinks when edited down to smithereens. One and a half stars.

scamble fire match
The infamous “Scramble Fire Death Match” in which Kanemura was powerbombed into a pool of burning gasoline by Jado, resulting in third-degree burns on 75% of his back.

4. H and Mr. Gannosuke vs. Masato Tanaka and Tetsuhiro Kuroda (12.12.1999) – WEW Tag Team Title match that’s also a key moment in the feud between Tanaka and H. During the contest, a pumped-up Tanaka seems to be showing off his improved technique and raw power since this match occurred just after his first tour of duty in ECW. There’s some decent scientific wrestling here as Tanaka works over Gannosuke’s legs and arms, eventually unloading a wicked dragon screw that’s dazzling to say the least. Once H (finally) gets into the match, he’s like a house on fire for a few minutes, nailing Tanaka with a devastating fisherman bomb that shows Tanaka’s ability to absorb tremendous punishment. It’s Kuroda being abused late in the going, though Tanaka eventually empties the tank on his opponents by running through his repertoire of power moves. A really exciting match – but why wouldn’t the producers of the DVD just show the whole damn thing? Three stars.

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I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, but it looks like Hido (left), Fuyuki (middle), and Kanemura (right) are abusing and/or molesting Kuroda (legs spread???).

5. H, Mr. Gannosuke, Hisakatsu Oya, and Ricky Fuji vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Kyoko Inoue, Balls Mahoney, and Pitbull #1 (1.5.2000) – Eight person tag team match – labeled as such since female wrestler Inoue participates in this match on the ECW Japan team of Fuyuki, who previously had been “kicked out” of FMW but nonetheless was written back into the scr…I mean found a loophole to re-enter the promotion. This highlighted match begins with Fuji attempting to sing “Sexy Boy,” a.k.a. the entrance music of WWE star Shawn Michaels, in mangled Engrish. Cover your ears is all I have to say. Once the match gets going, it’s perhaps most notable for being one of the few times that H (now clearly established in the storyline as FMW’s chosen messiah) bleeds like a faucet. He’s absolutely covered in blood right off the bat after being attacked with (you guessed it!) a fork. Other than that, the match seems very gimmicky, with quick tags and decent pace, but not much in the way of genuine excitement. Again, the match is heavily truncated, making it difficult to really gauge its true quality. Two stars.

kuroda tanaka
Slapping contest between Kuroda (left) and Tanaka.

6. Masato Tanaka vs. Tetsuhiro Kuroda (1.5.2000) – Former tag team partners square off for the WEW Heavyweight Title. Though he’s a solid technician, Kuroda’s never much impressed me as a compelling performer. That said, he really ups his game here, showing his ability as a counter-wrestler. Both competitors attempt to “one-up” one another with a dazzling array of maneuvers; this is easily the most exciting and jaw-dropping match on the DVD, helped by the fact that it’s the only match shown in its entirety. After battling in the stands, Kuroda and Tanaka exchange big-time power moves in the center of the ring. Very tough, back and forth action with a truckload of near pinfalls; the ending of the match is a bit surprising (or maybe not). Either way, the highlight of the disc for me. Four stars.

spike
Some sort of spike being driven into the head of Kodo Fuyuki by Mr. Gannosuke.

7. Kodo Fuyuki and Kyoko Inoue vs. H and Mr. Gannosuke (2.25.2000) – Another gimmicky match for the WEW Tag Team Titles; remember, Inoue is a woman. She is pretty much pulverized early on by H and Gannosuke, but even when Fuyuki enters the match, his gingerly movements don’t do anything to improve the contest. Seriously – Fuyuki looks awful during this match and one has to wonder how in the world he was even being booked at this point. His story lines stank and he simply couldn’t pull it off in the ring. A thoroughly inconsequential match, with a dumb ending. Remember when actor David Arquette won the WCW Heavyweight Title? Like that, this is total soap opera. One star.

Fuyuki vs. Kuroda
Fuyuki and Kuroda battling it out.

8. Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kodo Fuyuki (3.27.2000) – For the WEW Heavyweight Title. Not so much a match (especially in this highlighted form) as an excuse to have a locker room clearing brawl, with virtually every wrestler in the promotion entering the ring at some point, thus nullifying the match. To give you some idea about the relative quality, Tracy Smothers gets involved. Oh my. Absolutely worthless, and doesn’t settle a thing. One star.

smothers
Tracy Smothers – the man who was once a respected wrestler was a complete joke by 2000.

9. Masato Tanaka and Balls Mahoney vs. H and Mr. Gannosuke (4.11.2000) – Fire thunder driver from top rope puts H out of action immediately in the match; he’s carted backstage, leaving Gannosuke to fight for himself. At least until (groan!) Kodo Fuyuki enters himself in the contest to fight Tanaka. Lots of dirty tactics from Tanaka, who’s clearly become a heel (i.e. villain) at this point in his career: check out the moment when he chokes Gannosuke with a TV cable. Eventually, who should return in the match but Hayabusa – mask and all – who proceeds to deliver his patented aerial moves and trades finishers back and forth with Tanaka. Decent enough even with all the drama, but I would’ve liked to have seen the whole match. Three stars.

uncomfortable
Tanaka appears to be in an uncomfortable position versus Mr. Gannosuke…

10. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Gannosuke (4.25.2000) – Borderline squash match designed only to create more drama and tension between Tanaka, Gannosuke, and Hayabusa leading into the “Backdraft” event. Match is almost irrelevant: edited down to a mere two minutes or so, most of which consists of Gannosuke bleeding heavily and getting beaten up by Tanaka. Post-match confrontation between H (no mask) and Gannosuke is confusing, and indicates that even the writers behind the scenes were starting to lose touch with where they wanted this story arc to go. It completely loses me, and the perplexing script only makes War of Attrition as a whole more disappointing. One star for the match.

Even if I could argue that some of the previous FMW DVDs were messy, none approaches the level of ineptitude which seeps through War of Attrition. As mentioned, the storylines that we’re supposed to be following throughout this haphazard collection of matches is inexplicable, and since a viewer doesn’t even see a whole lot of straight-forward wrestling on the DVD in the first place, I’m left wondering what the point of this DVD really was. Viewed in the chronology of TokyoPop’s FMW series, I suppose War of Attrition would have some value since it does chronicle a period of time in the bigger history of the promotion. Unfortunately, most everyone involved at this point doesn’t seem to have so much as a clue what’s happening in the bigger picture – and that’s doubly true for the writers behind the scenes. Their storytelling is starting to get noticeably muddled, and that’s dangerous in the often black and white world of pro wrestling. After viewing this DVD, it’s not surprising at all that FMW as a promotion would fold less than two years following these matches: the company seems disjointed and mismanaged, and it really seems like the writers were clutching at straws in an attempt to maintain audience interest. There’s simply too much soap opera shenanigans and gimmicks here, and not enough wrestling. For all but the most ardent fan of Japanese wrestling, the frustrating, confusing, and generally pointless War of Attrition would best be avoided.


Full-frame DVD from Tokyo Pop includes the usual trailer collection and wrestler bios as well as two bonus matches:
1. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Flying Kid Ichihara (1.5.2000) – Pretty typical FMW singles match with some rough action, pitting an almost jovial-seeming Kanemura against the more technical wrestler Ichihara. Action spills outside the ring almost immediately in the match highlights shown here, with Ichihara being slammed into a pile of chairs and the two combatants brawling into the bleacher area. Japanese commentary only is provided for this match, which I’d rate as a two star bout: it’s not especially exciting.

2. Hisakatsu Oya and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. H and Mr. Ganosuke – For the WEW Tag Team Titles, this contest seems a bit more substantial but is still seen only in highlighted form. An exchange of submission holds early on eventually gives way to a lot of power moves later. Many near pinfalls and good tag team dynamics between the combatants; the match also demonstrates that no one in FMW apparently knows how to sell the Kuroda Crunch (where Kuroda drops his opponent’s neck across the top rope). A decent contest, but not at all surprising. Two and a half stars.


6/10 : A few matches include some rather excessive amounts of bloodletting; there are also a few fairly violent moments including forks slicing into human flesh. Pass the potatoes!


5/10 : It’s all fairly tame until a promo scene in which FMW president Mr. Arai confronts a group of ECW wrestlers. Suddenly, the f-bomb quotient of the program goes through the roof.


0/10 : Inter-gender wrestling may interest some, but there’s not much here to get excited about.


5/10 : Too much soap opera and story to be of interest to anyone but the most hardcore Japanese wrestling fan.


Drama! Tension! Men in Spandex! Thems is Fightin Words! –  “It wasn’t a good idea to bite my head off. It pissed me off. He’s gone too far.”

Hayabusa – the Falcon!

No Gimmick Needed: FMW’s THE ENFORCER – THE BEST OF TANAKA

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: THE ENFORCER: THE BEST OF TANAKA

(3.5/5)

Pros: Another classic Tanaka v. Awesome match along with a pair of stipulation-loaded spot-fests

Cons: Doesn’t really seem to tell the whole story of one of FMW’s most talented performers

Behind Eiji Ezaki (who usually wrestled under the name and gimmick of Hayabusa), Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) arguably had no more talented performer than Masato Tanaka. Most well-known for his wars with Mike Awesome in the Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion in the late 1990s, Tanaka had first made a name for himself in FMW, debuting in 1993 and slowly but surely becoming a major draw for the organization. By 1998 however, it was clear that Tanaka would always remain a solid number two behind Hayabusa, easily the most popular wrestler in the promotion, and Tanaka made a move to ECW for a few years, eventually becoming the first wrestler not an American citizen to win that promotion’s Heavyweight Title. Upon returning to FMW in 1999, a more aggressive Tanaka would pick up where he left off, striving to eclipse Hayabusa as being the best and most popular wrestler in the promotion.


Early on in his career, Tanaka might have seemed a bit too “vanilla,” but this changed after his tenure in ECW.

Throughout his career, Tanaka was recognized for his incredibly stamina and resiliency. These traits were never more explicitly displayed than during his matches with Mike Awesome, who was billed in FMW as “The Gladiator.” These two had a feud fought on both sides of the Pacific that lasted for some ten years, and frequently showed off Tanaka’s unbelievable ability to bounce back after taking brutal punishment. I’m not sure that I could come up with a wrestler other than Tanaka who was able to literally be dropped on his head seemingly dozens of times, then come back to win a match. Along with his ability to absorb punishment, Tanaka also possessed quite a range of big-time power moves and his repertoire only improved over time: when he returned to Japan in 1999, he debuted a new finishing maneuver called the Diamond Dust and just decimated opponents with the move. Hayabusa may have been a more flashy performer with a crowd-pleasing gimmick, but Tanaka was certainly the no-nonsense wrestler who looked like he could take on the world.

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Tanaka delivering a particularly vicious chair shot.

Though he’d been featured on numerous volumes of TokyoPop’s home video collection of FMW wrestling, Tanaka was the sole focus of the 2001 DVD release The Enforcer: The Best of Tanaka. This program provided a brief overview of Tanaka’s career, highlighting several of his best matches in Japan. With John Watanabe and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski calling the action, I’d probably say this is one of the best, most consistent releases in the FMW home video library even if Lovranski’s “heel commentating” (i.e. he plays a bad guy) gets tiresome. Tanaka’s matches and performances overseas were almost unanimously excellent, and this DVD presents a well-rounded collection of bouts that showcased Tanaka’s ability both in violent stipulation matches and more technically-based contests.

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The scars tell the story of Tanaka’s pro wrestling career.

Here’s the match rundown:

1.  Masato Tanaka, Ricky Fuji, and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, and “Bad Boy” Hido (2.23.1996) – Typically bonkers stipulation match madness: this is a Steel Cage, No Weapons Barred, Bunkhouse War Games match in which two competitors start out battling inside a steel cage. As a timer clicks down, more participants are added to the match until all six men are in the ring, and there’s also various plunder around that can be used: a ladder, barbed wire baseball bat, and even handcuffs. Tanaka’s team here faces off against an invasion of wrestlers from the rival WING organization, including Matsunaga who may well be the most insane Japanese wrestler of all time based on the matches he was involved with over the years. As might be expected, there’s not much in the way of technical wrestling here: it’s one big brawl from start to finish, with use of weapons and some rather crazy individual spots. Dig the moment where Matsunaga is folded up inside the twisted metal of a mangled ladder; marvel at Kanemura proving his rep as a “good bleeder,” watch as Tanaka pulls off a never-ending series of finishing moves. Wild stuff, though it’s also sloppy and a bit of a mess; shown only in edited “highlight” form. Three stars out of a possible five.

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Matsunaga delivering a stiff kick into Tanaka’s chest.

2. Masato Tanaka, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, and Koji Nakagawa vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura, Hideki Hosaka, and “Bad Boy” Hido (3.30.1996) – An even more positively deranged stipulation contest, this is a “No Rope, Barbed Wire, Electrified, Explosion, Barricade Double Hell Death Match.” What does this mean? The ropes have been removed entirely from two sides of the ring and explosive barbed wire boards have been placed on the floor outside. The other two sides of the ring have been strung up with electrified barbed wire which delivers a powerful jolt whenever a wrestler comes into contact with it. Needless to say, the match is not at all technically sound, more about gasping in anticipation of who will either be thrown into the electrified barbed wire or exploding pits of death outside the ring. Still, we get a series of devastating power bombs in the ring and a ton of rough, gritty action. The wrestlers here really sell the explosions: once a wrestler hits the outside bombs, it’s goodnight for a full five to ten minutes. Thus, by the end of the contest, there are only a few participants actually left in the ring vying for the winning pinfall. As Tanaka says, “This is what the electrified death match is all about:” proof that Japanese wrestling promotions frequently go nuts with the stipulations. Three and a half stars.

Electrified barbed wire
The spectacle of an Electrified Barbed Wire match.

3. Masato Tanaka vs. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome (9.28.1997) – Singles match for the Double World Title Championship – both the Independent Heavyweight Title and World Brass Knux Championship belts are on the line. A pretty classic match between these two competitors who knew each other very well by this point in time, with literally a ton of power moves being exchanged back and forth. Awesome’s ability to fly over the top ropes is unbelievable – the guy was 6’6” and weighed some 300 pounds yet had moves to put some flyweights to shame. As per usual in matches against Awesome, Tanaka simply keeps on ticking after being absolutely brutalized through the match: at one point, he’s powerbombed from the ring apron through a pair of tables on the floor. The most eye-popping moment occurs however when Tanaka powerbombs Awesome from inside the ring through a table placed at ringside. The scariest part? Awesome doesn’t even hit the table flush – his skull bounces off the cement at ringside. How anyone would even be able to continue at that point is beyond me (“but wrestling’s fake, right?”), and the match features a crazy, super exciting build up to the finish. Really cool. Four and a half stars.

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East versus West: Awesome and Tanaka had some unbelievable battles over the years.

4. Masato Tanaka vs. Koji Nakagawa (1.5.1999) – Following his initial stint in America, a positively gigantic, very muscular Tanaka returned in this match and positively destroyed Nakagawa within about thirty seconds: a total squash match designed to make Tanaka out to be the badass he always should have been. Nakagawa doesn’t seem too happy to be doing a “job” (i.e. losing) this match – check out his body language before the match begins. Though it’s cool to see Tanaka’s first match back, due to the extreme brevity of the contest , I’m only giving it a half a star rating.

ye olde piledriver
Ye olde piledriver.

5. Masato Tanaka vs. “Bad Boy” Hido (1.11.1999) – A week removed from his obliteration of Nakagawa, Tanaka takes on the dubiously talented Hido in this match, which works out in much the same way. Lasting maybe 90 seconds total, Tanaka again rolls through an opponent without breaking a sweat. Gotta love the trash talking that goes down post-match; that alone bumps my rating up to one star.

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Laying in the remnants of a table.

6. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Gannosuke (8.20.1999) – By this point in 1999, Tanaka had come back down to Earth to some extent, and become embroiled in a feud with Gannosuke and wrestler-turned FMW commissioner Kodo Fuyuki. Fuyuki acts as the guest referee in this match, so you can probably guess how this turns out. Though it’s much more a storytelling device than a completely satisfying match, it’s easy to see that these two wrestlers have great in-ring chemistry with one another. Having to deal with the obviously bias referee and lots of outside interference diminishes one’s enjoyment, but I still have to commend these two for pulling out some highlight moves, including Tanaka’s running Death Valley Driver and the Fire Thunder Driver that Gannosuke pulls off in retaliation. Tanaka takes some ridiculous abuse during the course of the match, and there’s quite a bit of scientific wrestling on display in a match that culminates in a rowdy finish. Not outstanding, but worthwhile nonetheless. Three and a half stars.

2013
Tanaka’s still going strong in his wrestling career even today.

Considering that the matches featured on The Enforcer DVD were hand-selected to represent the best of Masato Tanaka, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised by the fact that this DVD is among the best of the FMW video series (the fact that most of the matches here are shown in their entirety instantly places it above most of the other discs in the series in which matches were frequently cut to shreds by video editors). What’s more surprising is that this program serves to demonstrate why many of the other FMW DVDs are so mediocre: good wrestlers can make even bad matches worth watching due to their ability to “sell” what’s happening, and I have to say that the vast majority of people on the FMW’s roster simply don’t do this effectively. While I could watch crazy stipulation matches all day and enjoy the spectacle if nothing else, FMW’s technical wrestling often doesn’t impress me that much – sloppy wrestling is sloppy wrestling any way you look at it. One has to wonder then why the producers of TokyoPop’s FMW DVDs didn’t simply create compilation videos of the overall best matches this Japanese promotion could offer. In 2001, the promise of ridiculous in-ring violence sold these discs on their own (aided by the fact that it was difficult to find any Japanese wrestling to watch outside of the gray market), but more than a decade later, the appeal of the blood and gore has worn off and I’m left craving more solid fundamentals. While many of TokyoPop’s FMW discs would be best appreciated by those who like Japanese wrestling in the first place, I can safely say that The Enforcer: The Best of Tanaka would be one FMW release that wrestling fans of all ilk might enjoy if they pick up. It’s not quite your typical WWE-style wrestling, but it is pretty darn entertaining.

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DVD from TokyoPop is full-frame format; decent picture quality transferred from the VHS masters. Extras include a photo gallery with wrestler biographies and two bonus matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kintaro Kanemura (9.5.1995) – Early match between these two who would have many battles in FMW rings. This is a more friendly, technically-based contest than might be expected given Kanemura’s reputation for being a “garbage wrestling” specialist and it’s a hard-fought, back and forth contest. Still, the match seems relatively low-key and unexciting; since there’s no commentary at all, it’s perhaps most interesting to notice how quiet the Japanese fans are – this is typically the case at most Japanese wrestling events. Three stars.

2. Masato Tanaka and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kodo Fuyuki and Hayabusa – Shown in highlighted form, this tag team title match is most notable for the slightly bizarre pairing of Hayabusa and Fuyuki. Fuyuki would later go on to become the “Mr. McMahon” like villain of FMW, but here, he’s presented as just another wrestler. Lots of screaming and grunting in the match – perhaps the wrestlers are making up for the quiet crowd. A surprising finish is about the only truly surprising thing to be found here. I’d give it two stars.


6/10 : Two pretty wild stipulation matches involving explosions and some heavy bleeding.


1/10 : Brief rough language; nothing major.


0/10 : Not a woman to be seen in the whole program.


6/10 : The stipulation hell death matches give this program some kick, but it’s actually probably one of the more accessible of the FMW video releases.


Tanaka Trash Talk: “This is your hometown isn’t it? Aren’t you ashamed…you getting a little too flabby?”

The Verdict Don’t Look So Good…FMW’s THE JUDGMENT

FRONTIER MARTIAL ARTS WRESTLING: THE JUDGMENT

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(2.5/5)

Pros: Tanaka vs. Fuyuki in an electrified cage

Cons: Highly-touted main event fizzles and the undercard is truncated to the point of incomprehensibility

By 1999, Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) had begun a transition to become more like what American organizations like the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were doing: in short, FMW was becoming based more on entertainment. This was quite a contrast to how things were when FMW was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a “garbage wrestling” promotion: where weapons, stipulation matches, and extreme violence were common place while rules were mostly thrown aside. In 1995, Onita sold the promotion to businessman Shoichi Arai, who toned down the violence (partly due to the fact that FMW was getting beaten at its own game by rival promotion Big Japan Pro Wrestling who sanctioned the most insane stipulation matches in history, including ones involving piranhas, scorpions, spider web barbed wire matches, and more) and set the company off in a new direction, though I’m not quite sure that focusing on pure wrestling and entertainment value was the way to go. Frankly, though the roster of FMW wrestlers was capable and many performers were undoubtedly willing to work incredibly hard during their matches, they didn’t have the “pop” or overwhelming technical prowess that would be needed to sell the promotion as a WWF-like organization.

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Atsushi Onita, on right, taking on one of the least talented, yet most famous wrestlers in Japan: Tiger Jeet Singh.

November 12, 1999 saw FMW mark its tenth anniversary with a show taking place at Yokohama Stadium. This event (billed as “Judgment Day”) would showcase numerous feuds that had been brewing in the organization over the previous months and in some cases, years. Unfortunately, the focus on entertainment value means that this whole card of action (featured in the TokyoPop DVD release entitled The Judgment) seems quite gimmicky. While I can appreciate technical wrestling if it’s done well, I’ve never been overly impressed with the technicality on display on any FMW DVD I’ve seen. Frequently, I might have described FMW wrestling as being downright sloppy.

NOT
NOT how you land a boot to the face…

I (and probably many other fans) first became interested in FMW due to the proliferation of violent stipulation matches: these were the types of matches that were usually avoided in the United States and, having grown up with Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling, a promotion that often focused on more hard-hitting and violent action, I probably was more blood-thirsty than the typical fan of World Wrestling Entertainment. Honestly, the stipulations contest and graphic violence were what put FMW on the map – and how the promotion was sold in the United States by TokyoPop. For Judgment Day to seem rather tame by the sometimes excessive standards of Japanese wrestling is a definite disappointment, but more damning is the fact that this DVD features heavily truncated matches that really weren’t all that great to begin with. These matches wrap up a few major soap opera-like storylines sure, but the overall program lacks punch.

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Kanemura swinging a barbed wire bat that’s on fire. Now THAT‘s FMW.

Commentary on this DVD was provided by the pairing of John Watanabe on play-by-play and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski doing color commentary. I suppose the announcing is passable, but neither of these two guys really “sells” the wrestling in a manner to benefit what’s being seen. A good announcer (ECW’s Joey Styles comes to mind) can make even a dud match seem exciting and much better than it actually is. The somewhat lethargic commentary of Watanabe and Lovranski doesn’t heighten the excitement of any of the matches here, and having Lovranski scream and holler every once in a while makes the program annoying rather than compelling.

ah yes
But wrestling’s fake…

The first six matches on this DVD (out of the eight total) are presented only in highlighted form, edited down to being only a few minutes in length. This, to me, is highly irritating: it disrupts the ebbs and flows of the match, making it almost impossible for a viewer to determine if the match really was worthwhile at all. With that in mind, here’s the match rundown:

1. Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. “Choco Ball” Mukai, “Flying Kid” Ichihara and Ricky Fuji – A ladder match for the World Entertainment Wrestling six man tag team title, in which the title belt is suspended above the ring. A wrestler must scale the ladder and grab the belt to win the match for his team. Considering that Mukai is better known for his porno movies rather than his wrestling ability (you don’t wanna know how he got his nickname) says about all one needs to know here, and speaks to the fact that FMW was more interested in spectacle and sensationalism than athletic ability by this point in time. High point of the match arguably occurs when two females at ringside perform competing strip routines, thus distracting the male performers, and eventually get into a catfight. Yawn. One and a half stars (out of a possible five).

Choco ball mukai
“Choco Ball” Mukai – not a wrestler.

2. Kaori Nakayama and Emi Motokawa vs. Miss Mongol, Jazz, and Maria Hosaka – 2 on 3 womens handicap match for the Womens Tag Team Title. ECW performer Jazz joins the mix here, which pits obvious “babyface” team of Nakayama and Motokawa versus the more rough’n’tumble Mongol and Hosaka. This match seems fairly fast-paced but again, it’s impossible to judge this since we’re only seeing match highlights. There are some slick technical moves here and it appears to be a decent but unexceptional contest. Two and a half stars.

nakayama
Kaori Nakayama (for better or worse) became the face of FMW Women’s wrestling upon the retirement of Megumi Kudo.

3. “Bad Boy” Hido vs. Willy Williams – Here’s a rather bizarre event on a fight lineup that was already somewhat wonky. It’s basically a mixed-martial arts fight, with pro wrestler Hido taking on famous boxer/martial artist Williams in a match in which both fighters wear boxing gloves. There’s a combination of pro wrestling moves and traditional martial arts seen in the match, with Hido being on the receiving end of some extremely stiff kicks and strikes coming his way. Certainly an interesting contest, though it’s not exactly a barn-burner. Two stars.

Hido
Hido, here utilizing what appears to be the ring bell hammer, in my mind was one of the least talented performers in the promotion.

4. Naohiko Yamazaki and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. The Funk Brothers (Terry and Dory Funk Jr.) – For the first time since 1987, the legendary Funk brothers make an appearance in Japan as a tag team. Unfortunately, by this time Dory (who had to be in his mid-to-late 60s at the time) doesn’t seem all that interested in being in a match in the first place: moving very slowly and performing the same move over and over during his limited in-ring time (“…and another forearm…”). Terry does most of the work here, taunting his opponents with trash talk and doing the patented Funk “stumble ‘n’ bumble” like only he can. Always great to see Terry Funk in action, even in a somewhat iffy contest like this. Three stars just because it’s the Funks.

funks
Unfortunately, this picture of the Funks was taken almost thirty years prior to their 1999 reunion.

5. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Balls Mahoney – Kanemura, a wrestler famous for his violent, hardcore wrestling style takes on ECW’s own “chair-swinging freak” Mahoney in this “anything goes” match for the WEW Hardcore Title. Fight goes outside the ring and into the parking garage, where a parked sedan is positively destroyed by the two performers. Watch out for the powerbomb on the roof of the car and use of the broken windshield to slice up Mahoney’s face. Despite the rowdiness, this isn’t as bloody as one might expect, though it does have a punctuation mark finale involving the ring entrance set and scaffolding. Wild stuff, though not a classic. Three stars.

car
There’s something you don’t see everyday: a powerbomb on top of a car.

6. Tetsuhiro Kuroda and Hisakatsu Ooya vs. Tommy Dreamer and Raven – Renegade Japanese wrestler Kuroda and seasoned veteran Ooya take on the unlikely pairing of American wrestlers Dreamer and Raven, who had a ridiculously intense feud in the mid ‘90s while wrestling in ECW. This match is for the WEW Tag Team Title, and is pretty hard-hitting and wild, as might be expected from the ECW team. Dreamer gets abused particularly badly during the match, taking shots with a ladder and even a piece of the guardrail that’s thrown into the ring. Also, ECW valet Francine (wearing an extremely revealing outfit) gets involved in the contest, if only for a brief moment. This match was OK, but nothing spectacular – one might have expected more from the usually reliable Dreamer and Raven. Three stars.

dreamer & raven
Dreamer and Raven had some outrageous matches in their ECW days, including this steel cage war.

Finally, we reach the co-main event, which is presented in its entirety:
7. Kodo Fuyuki vs. Masato Tanaka for the WEW Heavyweight Title. This match, billed as a “Loser Leaves FMW, Thunderbolt Cage Match” takes place inside an electrified steel cage: get sent into the metal and a wrestler gets a jolt of “15,000 volts.” Yeah, I don’t believe it either, but the spectacle is “sold” well through the use of explosive charges and neon-like visualizations of flowing electricity. Match itself is easily the best on this card: these two veteran fighters had feuded extensively leading up to this match, which showcases the pure power each man brought to the table. Tanaka is arguably one of the legit toughest wrestlers I’ve ever seen step in the ring: this guy gets dropped directly on his skull several times, then gets right back up and continues fighting. I realize wrestlers know how to take “bumps,” but there’s a point where one simply can’t fake gravity. A very effective build up to the finale means that this match is quite exciting and tense to watch, especially since (if you believe the storyline) “the future of FMW hangs in the balance.” Yeah, OK – I’m just glad there was at least one, definitively worthwhile contest on this DVD. Four stars.

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That’s what you call absorbing a chair shot – Tanaka’s head emerges looking better than the chair.

The main event here was a match between Eiji Ezaki (the original Hayabusa, the most popular wrestler in FMW, billed here simply as “H”) and Masashi Honda (known in the ring as “Mr. Gannosuke,” and here billed as “Hayabusa II” after adopting the Hayabusa gimmick in a story angle). These two “former friends gone wrong” had been feuding in FMW for years at this point – a match between the two also featured as the main event of FMW’s Yokohama Deathmatch program. Immediately previous to this match, they’d also taken part in the infamous “Anal Bomb Match” in which the loser had a firecracker inserted into his bum and exploded. Yes, that’s about as insane as Japanese wrestling has ever gotten.

anal bomb
The infamous “anal bomb” match.

Their “Judgment Day” match was officiated by none other than WWE superstar Shawn Michaels (“I wanna make sure Michaels can even count to three…do we know that for a fact?”), who (unsurprisingly) found himself getting involved in the contest at various points. After the insane lead-up to this fight, one might have been expecting something phenomenal…but that’s simply not what we got here. This match actually is rather sluggish; it’s much more about psychology than dazzling moves even if both guys show off their trademark superior wrestling technique. It’s not that the match is awful: it’s perfectly acceptable, and demonstrates the chemistry these two performers have with one another. Still, compared to the absolutely ridiculous main events that viewers expect to see in the world of pro wrestling, this is just a bummer, most notable for what occurs post-fight. I’m giving it three stars.

blood feud
Gannosuke caught up in one of Hayabusa’s submissions.

To be completely honest, The Judgment is one of the most painfully mediocre FMW DVDs in the TokyoPop home video series. There’s plenty of talent on this card, but the fact that so much of the card is truncated to the point of no return makes it iffy, with the somewhat sketchy main event only further sinking the overall program. I suppose the point could be argued that this tenth anniversary event was more about settling up various FMW storylines and not necessarily focused on delivering the best matches the promotion has ever seen – but that’s about a asinine statement to make: why wouldn’t one expect the bar to be raised to a high level at this much-anticipated show? It’s almost as if this card proved that FMW simply was expecting a bit too much from its performers in trying to compete with the WWF: there’s no way this semi-bootleg Japanese promotion could rival the classic Andre-Hogan feuds or any number of other classic American (or for that matter, Japanese) wrestling moments. In the end, The Judgment might be worth a look to fans of Japanese wrestling, but it wouldn’t at all impress those accustomed to the larger-than-life approach that’s frequently taken in regard to American wrestling. I’d only moderately recommend it.


TokyoPop’s DVD is presented full screen; decent picture quality transferred from the original VHS masters. Extras included a selection of trailers, a gallery of wrestler profiles, two minutes of backstage footage taken following The Judgment‘s main event (even more lines of b.s. from the two performers!), and two highlighted bonus matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Jado, and Kintaro Kanemura – 1 on 3 handicap match, mainly establishing the Tanaka vs. Fuyuki angle. Funny that Jado and Fuyuki all but vanish from this match at a certain point, at which time FMW president Mr. Arai shows up at ringside to aid Tanaka. All in all, the match seems very gimmicky, and since we only see clips of the action, it’s somewhat pointless. One and a half stars.

2. H, “Flying Kid” Ichihara, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. Hayabusa II, “Choco Ball” Mukai, Koji Nakagawa, and Gedo – A more fast-paced match; it should be considering there’s eight guys involved in this contest. Having said that, it’s really bizarre that at a certain point in these match highlights, this contest turns into a 4-on-1 match, in which the Hayabusa II team assaults Flying Kid’s valet. Match is interrupted by Kuroda, who storms the ring on a motorcycle – despite the fact the contest takes place at the crowded and cramped Korakuen Hall. As expected, it boils down to a slugfest between H and Hayabusa II, with stiff kicks being delivered by H. Has it’s moments, but the truncation doesn’t help. Two and a half stars.


5/10 : Some weapon spots, a few instances of blood, and violent wrestling action. The most brutal thing here is easily the Tanaka-Fuyuki cage match, and honestly, that’s nothing compared to the worst/best Japan had to offer.


4/10 : Intermittent profanity (usually delivered by the American stars appearing in the program). Gotta love that Terry Funk trash talk…


2/10 : A catfight breaks out at one point, and there are more scantily clad women than usual on this FMW DVD.


6/10 : Fans of Japanese wrestling would probably want to check this out, though it’s far from being the best compilation out there.


Shawn Michaels on FMW: “This is the reason FMW is the number one promotion is Japan – excellent athletes and one hell of sportsmanship.” Um, Engrish much? Also, your check can be picked up in the back office. Now go home.

“Did you have a Scary Dream?” The Trilogy Concludes in RETURN OF DAIMAJIN

RETURN OF DAIMAJIN

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See the or at Amazon

(3/5)

Pros: Gorgeous photography and stunning locations; more fantasy-like than others in the series

Cons: By this point, the Daimajin formula is extremely predictable; special effects not quite as good as in the previous films; geared more towards children

NOTE: The confusing titling of the English releases of the Daimajin films makes it very difficult to distinguish between the three series entries (the second and third films in the series often have their titles switched depending on which distributor handled the films). My review of Return of Daimajin covers the third film in the trilogy – the narrative of which mainly revolves around a quartet of young boys.

Final film in the series of period pieces about the giant stone statue of a god named Majin who comes to the rescue whenever the people who worship him are threatened, 1966’s Return of Daimajin takes place in feudal Japan and deals largely with four young boys who go on a journey through a dangerous mountain path in an attempt to rescue family members who have been enslaved by the obligatory evil warlord. While the previous two Majin films (Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin, both of which were made earlier in 1966 and based loosely on the Jewish legend of the Golem) existed more in the realm of samurai period dramas with a bit of sword-fighting and monster movie action thrown in for good measure, Return of Daimajin is more adventurous and fantasy-like, revolving around the boys’ trek through the rather inhospitable landscape. On this journey, the boys must navigate a treacherous river, survive in freezing conditions, and deal with a hawk that is a sort of protector of the mountain; the implausibility of the way this all plays out only adds to the mystical, almost dream-like atmosphere of the film. As might be expected, at some point during the film (i.e. the last fifteen minutes), Majin comes to life to seek vengeance against the evil warlords while also ensuring the safety of the boys and their families.

intrepid warriors
Intrepid warriors, or precocious brats?

The tone of Return of Daimajin (which reminded me a bit of the type of action and story featured in the two Ewok Adventure movies made following the completion of the original Star Wars trilogy) is decidedly different from other films in this series, being quite obviously more geared towards children. Both the Gamera and Godzilla film series around 1966 were sinking into absurdity due to studio mandates that the films operate in a less serious, more juvenile manner, leading to such ludicrous films as Gamera vs. Guiron, Son of Godzilla, and a flick that may be the crème de la crème of hokey Japanese monster movies, 1969’s All Monsters Attack (a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge). Knowing this, I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of the third Daimajin film heading down that same path, but even though the film does have some issues relating to its sense of flow and is downright goofy at times (particularly in the English dubbed version I watched), Return of Daimajin remained fairly focused on the task at hand and was certainly watchable.

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Majin seems to be more agitated than usual in this third film.

Direction here was handled by Kazuo Mori who previously had made several films in the famed Zatoichi series about a blind swordsman. Mori’s film, like the one immediately preceding it, is very nice to look at, with sweeping outdoor photography that has a great sense of scale to it. This is especially true in scenes taking place at the mountain fortress that the enslaved villagers are put to work building. I also rather liked the downright strange locations in which some of the scenes here are filmed: the area surrounding the fortress is desolate and positively hellish, with billowing smoke rising from the earth and there’s also a “sulfur spring” that’s drenched in pukish shades of yellows and greens. Though it was clear to me that this film was hampered a bit by budget limitations, Mori does a fine job of making this production look “bigger” than it actually was.


Cool finale finally offers up the monster mash goods.

Though the director does do his part to disguise this film’s shortcomings, his handling of the basic plotline has some flaws. It seemed to me that Mori was almost trying to juggle too many things: the story of the children on their journey through the wilderness, a subplot about the evil warlord and his ill-treatment of the enslaved villagers, and a wholly irrelevant substory about the boys’ parents being worried about them and eventually starting their own expedition. Much of the film focuses on the four boys, but the inopportune transitions linking their story with the other subplots are clunky and jarring. As much as there were many laughable elements in the story relating to the children (one boy’s constant repetition of the dim-witted youngest child’s name becomes extremely annoying – “Sugimo! SUGIMO!”), I would have rather the film concentrated its efforts on their story even if it sometimes becomes downright irritating.

SUGIMO!
SUGIMO! SUGIMO! Let’s Count Numbers…SUGIMO!”

Acting in the film is acceptable: nothing more. The child actors featured in the central roles here (Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, and Muneyuki Nagatomo) are frankly, pretty lousy, though the do boost the film’s “cute factor.” Aside from these characters, it’s difficult to piece together which actor played which part due to the foreign-language credits, but I did notice several familiar faces from other Japanese films. Generally, the cast does an OK job, but in the version I watched, their work was all but undermined by atrocious voice acting. Voice acting for the kids was sketchy enough (and plenty whiny), but especially poorly done was the voice of one definitively evil henchman who sounds like an Austrian body builder type – think early Schwarzenegger. The horrific dubbing and voice acting ensures that the film is frequently laughable, and the fact that the English language dialogue is none to conversational only adds to the schlock value, making this serious film fall more into the category of being “so bad, it’s good.”

ARGGH!!
ARGGH!

As was the case in the earlier Daimajin films, composer Akira Ifukube wrote the music cues here which are at their best during a scene in which a delicate bell melody is heard, adding significantly to the serene beauty of the moment. By and large though, the music sounds remarkably similar (read: identical) to themes previously heard in various Godzilla movies. This was somewhat disappointing for me: I’ve always been a huge fan of Ifukube’s music, but to hear him recycling the same themes over and over is a bit sad. Special effects in the film are decent but rather few and far between, mostly confined to the final ten minutes or so. It’s clear that this movie didn’t quite have the resources that the previous entries in the trilogy were afforded and I wasn’t altogether impressed by what was here. That said, the effects certainly give the film a BOOM! POW! climax in which Majin rampages through a village in the midst of a snowstorm – pretty cool.

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Majin – Friend to all children; still perennially pissed off.

In the end, I’d call Return of Daimajin a decent but unexceptional final entry in the series. Even if this flick has a lot of dumb elements to it, the unique approach undertaken here was appreciated considering that this is essentially a(nother) remake of the first film, and the superb photography and location work give this film a much-needed boost. Though this final entry is probably the least satisfying of the Daimajin series, I’d easily call this trilogy more consistent and more technically sound than the Gamera series of the same period – definitely worth a look for those who like monster movies or for curious fans of Japanese cinema in general.


Both the DVD box set from ADV films and Blu-ray package from Mill Creek contain all three Daimajin films (the original, as well as The Return of Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin) in widescreen, with multiple language options. There are no extras included on either set.


3/10 : A few, relatively minor instances of bloodshed and some violence. I was also a bit surprised by the death of one of the heroic characters.


1/10 : Very minor profanity – some of which comes from the mouths of the youngsters!


0/10 : These kids are too young for that sorta thing.


4/10 : Japanese period drama meets low-key monster flick. Less fun than the typical “suitmation” film of the ’60s.


Halfway through the film while searching for “the village people,” one boy discovers a new talent: “It’s a good smell…I have a special nose…I know it.
special nose

Trailer:

“If You Keep Up This Madness, He Will Crush You All…” WRATH OF DAIMAJIN

WRATH OF DAIMAJIN

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See the , , or at Amazon

(3.5/5)

Pros: Well-done visual and special effects; compelling story

Cons: Deliberately paced, English dubbing is iffy

NOTE: The confusing titling of the English releases of the Daimajin films makes it very difficult to distinguish between the three series entries (the second and third films in the series often have their titles switched depending on which distributor handled the films). My review of Wrath of Daimajin covers the second film in the trilogy – the only one in which Majin first appears on an island.

Second in the Daimajin trilogy of Japanese films from 1966 that dealt with a perpetually ticked-off stone statue who comes to life in order to protect villagers from tyrannical would-be dictators, Wrath of Daimajin plays almost like a remake of the first film (also from 1966 and simply entitled Daimajin) or an ever-so-slightly alternate version of the basic tale. This time around, the retelling of the Jewish folktale of the Golem deals with a group of peasants in the town of Chigusa being victimized by an arrogant samurai warlord named Mikoshiba. Mikoshiba ignores the villagers’ warnings about their vengeful god the Majin – a statue of whom resides in a nearby island shrine – and after the statue is blown to bits by the evil samurai, it appears all is lost for the townspeople. Lord Juro and Lady Sayuri, two of the Chigusa nobles, attempt to stand up for the village, believing that when all seems to be lost, Majin will appear to drive off the invaders, and when the sea begins to boil and nearby mountains start to crumble, it seems as though judgment day has arrived for Mikoshiba and his brutal regime.

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Majin is back and still permanently pissed-off.

One can probably guess how all this turns out, but what may be most surprising about this film is that the Majin doesn’t show up until very late in the going. The vast majority of this film plays very similarly to the swordplay (or chambara) films of the 1960s, even having a few fairly exciting sword fights and battle sequences, small scale though they are. Wrath of Daimajin wouldn’t stand up when placed against the classics of the genre (such as the epic films made by Kurosawa), but it’s surprisingly well-made for what it is. The direction here was handled by Kenji Misumi who would later go on to direct the outstanding (and fantastically violent) Lone Wolf and Cub movies of the early 1970s (two of which were edited into the notoriously gory cult favorite Shogun Assassin, released to American markets in 1980). Misumi’s direction is very assured: the film has a slightly ponderous pace, which seems very appropriate given the deliberate nature of Tetsuro Yoshida’s script. Photography throughout the film is excellent, with a few truly extraordinary sequences (such as a funeral scene that plays out in front of a glorious setting sun). I also really liked this film’s use of color – much of the film plays out in shades of brown and gray which effectively portray the film’s somber mood, but (much like Tarkovsky’s mind-boggling Stalker from 1979), Wrath of Daimajin is truly eye-popping when it captures the vibrant greens of the surrounding countryside during moments that seem to suggest that all is not lost for the townspeople.

goofy
The film’s amusing/baffling ending has to be seen to be believed.

Like some other Japanese films of this time period, it’s difficult to identify cast members who played in this film – the credits sequence on the print I watched was entirely in Japanese. Still, there are a few recognizable faces for those familiar with Japanese cinema, including Kojiro Hongo (an actor best known for his appearances in the Gamera series of films dealing with a giant, jet-propelled turtle) as Lord Juro and the strikingly beautiful Shiho Fujimura (who appeared in several chambara movies of the 1960s) as Sayuri. Takashi Kanda (whose credits included everything from crime films of the ‘50s to goofy sci-fi of the late ‘60s) plays the evil Mikoshiba much as one would expect: his main activity throughout the film is to cackle in the general direction of the heroic characters – though he isn’t laughing too much when Majin finally decides to lay the smack down on him. The print of this film that I viewed was dubbed (insert collective groan here) and the voice acting featured was of the same bark and holler variety as seen in the almost innumerable Godzilla films of the day. Personally, I didn’t find this dubbing to be as obnoxiously bad as that heard in films like Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (a film whose dubbed version provided many a chuckle due to its ridiculous voice acting), but the alternately disaffected or really gruff voice acting in the Daimajin film is probably its single worst element. The dubbing is particularly bad in crowd scenes where the illusion of a mass of people is created simply by having the supporting voice actors mumble under the main lines of dialogue.


Alternate poster showing another of the film’s cool effects scenes: an island exploding in the distance.

It seemed to me that Wrath of Daimajin may have been a little cheaper to make than the previous series entry, which perhaps is one reason why the relatively few destruction scenes in this film are confined to the final ten minutes or so. That said, I was pretty impressed by the special effects that are here, most of which look much better than one might expect from the typical Godzilla or Gamera film of this time period. Despite the fact that the Majin costume looks rather rubbery, the end of the picture features the stone giant stomping his way through a village, causing a literal wake of destruction in his path. The combination of special effects shot backgrounds with live actors scurrying around in the foreground is almost seamless during these scenes and looks a lot better than I’d typically expect from a Japanese “suitmation” film. There’s also a really nicely-executed sequence where a giant bell is pushed over the side of a cliff by Mikoshiba’s men; an elaborate effects set-up showing the bell careen down the mountainside and crack apart is pretty remarkable considering that it’s an isolated, almost unnecessary sequence. I should also point out that this film has some interesting Christian imagery (intriguing since this is essentially a Jewish legend being told in a Japanese film) including a few crucifixions and a scene where the Majin (who appears to have telekinetic-like abilities this time around) parts the sea as he travels from his island home to the nearby village. This scene in particular would almost rival the famous “parting of the Red Sea” scene from 1956’s The Ten Commandments.


Majin as Moses, parting the waters.

One can almost believe that the Daiei studio who produced and released Wrath of Daimajin was trying explicitly to compete with rival studio Toho in making this film since it’s an obvious combination of two of Toho’s most winning movie formulas: the period samurai film and the giant monster film. Daiei even brought in composer Akira Ifukube to score the Daimajin series and Ifukube’s music sounds remarkably similar to the ominous compositions he did for various Godzilla films. In the end, I’d have to call Wrath of Daimajin’s marriage of two popular Japanese film genres a success. It’s maybe not the slam-bang monster flick that some fans might want or expect, but it’s very competently made and certainly is compelling in its own way. Fans of Japanese genre cinema would undoubtedly appreciate this film the most, but it’d be a worthwhile rainy day flick for any audience who’s willing to be patient with it. Recommended.


Both the DVD box set from ADV films and Blu-ray package from Mill Creek contain all three Daimajin films (the original, as well as The Return of Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin) in widescreen, with multiple language options. There are no extras included on either set.


3/10 : A few sword fights, some of which end poorly for the heroic participants, and a few brief glimpses of gore.

stonefaced
0/10 : No profanity, though the English language dub is plenty sketchy


0/10 : Nothing going, even if the womenfolk do receive some rough treatment at times.


4/10 : Japanese monster flick meets period samurai drama, but this isn’t as much fun as the typical rubber creature feature.


“You murdered father, set up a tyranny, conquered our people, and banished my sister. Now, you blow up our god, but perhaps someday I will watch you die…”

Trailer:

Sourpuss Stone Giant Rumbles Through Feudal Japan: DAIMAJIN

DAIMAJIN

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The Complete Series or at Amazon

(3/5)

Pros: Well-done trick photography and special effects

Cons: Predictable; doesn’t satisfy either as a period samurai film or rubber monster flick

A sort of combination of a samurai period drama with Godzilla-style monster movie, the 1966 Japanese film Daimajin (also known as Majin, the Monster of Terror in its English dubbed version) fails to satisfy on either level: too predictable as a samurai flick and too downright dull to compare to the best of the Japanese monster films. Similar to the tale of the , the story takes place in feudal Japan and begins with an evil samurai (in case we’re not sure if this is the bad guy, he and his men address old women as “hags” and children as “brats,” frequently cackling maniacally for no reason whatsoever) staging a violent uprising against the lord of a small fiefdom. After killing all the family members of the ruling Hanabasa clan save a young prince and princess who miraculously escape into the mountains, the evil Samanosuke enslaves all the villagers, forcing them to pay exorbitant taxes and work tirelessly on the construction of a massive fortress. As they grow up in the mountains, the Hanabasa prince and princess learn about the mountain god Daimajin, who they believe will one day return to free the villagers from enslavement and restore the region to the rule of the Hanabasa clan. This legend doesn’t sit well with Samanosuke of course, and he sets out to capture the remaining Hanabasa family members. When he attempts to demolish the large stone statue of Daimajin however, it appears he’s finally crossed the line. The statue comes to life and embarks on a mission of vengeance, but can anyone – even the princess who willed its return – truly control the beast and stop it from destroying everything in sight?

hills
A really nice effects shot showing Daimajin resting in his mountain hideaway. Insert your own “the hills are alive” punchline here.

Produced by the Daiei Film studio as a sort of competition to the Toho studio’s incredibly popular Godzilla franchise, Daimajin attempts to combine the best elements of the popular films of the mid 1960s. Director Kimiyoshi Yoshida had previously made quite a name for himself in the Japanese swordplay film genre, having made at least six entries in the well-regarded Zatoichi series that dealt with a blind swordsman. Unfortunately, Yoshida seems to have been a bit out of his league in trying to make Daimajin into an entirely successful film on any front. The script by Tetsuo Yoshida is relentlessly slow to get going, utilizing the basic samurai film formula that, by 1966, had been thoroughly played out. The mid 1960s was a time when (in a manner similar to what Italian filmmakers were doing with the western genre) younger filmmakers were revisiting the classic samurai films and injecting them with new energy: simply copying the basic scenarios thought up by the likes of Akira Kurosawa and Hiroshi Inagaki wasn’t going to excite audiences anymore – especially since wild and violent fare such as Kihachi Okamoto’s Sword of Doom was appearing in cinemas at the same time. In the end, Daimajin simply offers up period drama that most viewers would have seen time and time again; it’s undeniably bland.

Complimenting the problems for a viewer is the fact that the actual “monster film” content of Daimajin is minimal: it takes a good 70 minutes or more of this 90 minute film for the much-discussed titular creature to even make an appearance. The fact that this film cries wolf too many times is the biggest single flaw of the production since, compared with what Toho was doing at the time (i.e. making ludicrous kiddie movies like Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla), Daimajin could have come across as a more adult-oriented alternative. Special effects in this film (courtesy of Yoshiyuki Kuroda) are surprisingly decent, particularly in terms of the trick photography and visual effects used to create the illusion of a giant (and extremely pissed off) stone monster. Obviously, the Daimajin is actually an actor wearing a suit, but the split-screen techniques in this film do a fine job of allowing the beast to interact with a live-action foreground. Too bad we only get about ten to fifteen minutes of the monster in the final film…

poop
Daimajin looking particularly constipated.

The version of this film that I watched was (gulp!) dubbed into English, though I have to say that the dubbing in this film wasn’t as atrocious as I expected. Certainly, the monotone voice acting alleviates much of the drama going on in the story and too often the actors voicing the villains of the piece simply made belchy, guttural grunts instead of reciting actual dialogue, but I can definitively say that I’ve seen worse dub jobs. Miwa Takada appears as the Hanabasa princess whose desperate appeal finally awakens the Daimajin and I got the feeling that her acting performance might have been pretty decent if it wasn’t for the English dubbing. Yoshihiko Aoyama portrays her brother, the prince of the Hanabasa clan, who exists as the (disappointingly lame) hero of the story. His performance was a little too wide-eyed for my taste – though in fairness, I think some of the problem was due to the weak script material he had to work with. By far, the most fun characters to watch in the film are the villains, including Ryutaro Gomi as the evil Samanosuke – check out the scene where he slices an old woman to death with a sword while contorting his face violently. I also really dug the performance of a larger actor (whose identity I can’t seem to pin down; one of the hazards of these older foreign films is that their onscreen credits are notoriously vague) as one of Samanosuke’s particularly nefarious henchmen.

Despite the fact that Daimajin is strictly mediocre as a film, it does have some noteworthy elements. I really liked some of the location filming, particularly extreme long shots of a large waterfall which the stone statue of the lifeless Daimajin overlooks. These shots, a combination of live action location footage with matte paintings, are stunning to look at. I also appreciated some of the (relatively brief) swordplay and battle sequences which are choreographed effectively and captured nicely on camera by cinematographer Fujio Morita. In the same way I would have liked more monster action, it would have been cool to see more of these skirmishes, but I suspect this production was right up against its budget cap. As much as these sequences are relatively bloodless, I was a bit surprised by an off-color torture sequence and one particularly gruesome scene that occurs near the film’s conclusion. Finally, it’s worth noting that the music score in this film was made by Akira Ifukube, the same man who composed the music for nearly every one of Toho’s Godzilla films and related monster movies. The truly shocking element about Ifukube’s score for Daimajin is that it’s very nearly identical to some of his other, highly recognizable themes. This struck me as being kind of sad – apparently, the man wasn’t given any room to really experiment when making this score – or perhaps, he was simply creatively exhausted. Either way, not a good situation for a guy who crafted some wonderful soundtrack cues over the years – Ifukube, in my mind, is the unsung hero of the entire Godzilla film series.


Just a thought…you might wanna GET THE HELL OUT OF THAT TOWER!

At the end of the day, the best I could say about Daimajin is that it’s a worthwhile but flawed experiment in combining popular Japanese film genres of its day. I could easily say that this film is better made than some of the other monster flicks of the mid 1960s – this production is leaps and bounds more impressive than any of the films in Daiei’s Gamera series for instance. That said, Daimajin isn’t nearly as fun to watch as the best that the kaiju (or Japanese monster film) genre had to offer. I truly believe that in making a darker, more violent picture, Daimajin’s producers could have tapped into a different core audience than was watching any of the other rubber suit creature features of the day, but the end result here is simply tiresome: predictable and unremarkable. Inexplicably, two additional films in the Daimajin series were produced in 1966 and released within months of one another, but as much as they may be worthwhile for fans of Japanese monster flicks who would know what they’re getting into, a viewer isn’t missing a whole lot by skipping them entirely.


Both the DVD box set from ADV films and Blu-ray package from Mill Creek contain all three Daimajin films (the original, as well as The Return of Daimajin and Wrath of Daimajin) in widescreen, with multiple language options. The original Daimajin is also available .


4/10 : Some rough swordplay and battle sequences; a brief torture scene and one gruesome death near the end. A bit of blood and gore.

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0/10 : Very minor rough language; no profanity.


0/10 : No sex, no nudity, no panty shots, nothing.


4/10 : Yes, it’s a Japanese monster movie, but this one is less downright enjoyable than most.


“The god of the mountain is angry. He will not permit this cruelty to go on any longer.” Oh, so you mean the movie’s ending soon?

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