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Kaijyu Mono
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by Jay Seaver

"Grappling with Godzilla."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are a lot of things that are fun to mash up for a couple of minutes or a still image but whose appeal starts to flag as the joke plays out and the folks who like one thing have their fill of the other over the length of even a short feature. On the other hand, I'm guessing that there's a big overlap between the admirer sides of giant monster movies and professional wrestling, enough that there's more of an audience for something like "Daikaiju Mono" than might first appear. Those folks will have a fair amount of fun with this one, while the rest will most likely nod and say that looks about like what they expected.

As is de riguer when giant monsters are about to appear, Japan is besieged by calamitous weather and seismic activity, on top of plants that haven't been seen for millions of years reappearing. Disgraced Doctor Totaro Saigo (Ryu Manatsu), his daughter Miwa (Miki Kawanishi), and their research assistant Hideo Nitto (Syuusuke Saito) were on the right track but lost funding for their experiments, at least until the monster "Mono" starts tunneling from Monster Pass to Tokyo. Then, they have the chance to put "SETUP X" into action, injecting Nitto with a formula that scales him up to full kaiju size to fight Mono - and makes him more muscular and sexy, much to Miwa's delight! But don't worry, moviegoers - he's also perfected a fabric that allows Nitto's underpants to grow with him.

Director Minoru Kawasaki is an old hand at this sort of thing, even considering that having people dress up in goofy costumes and grapple is kind of a specialized line (he is, after all, perhaps best known for a movie by the name of "Calamari Wrestler"). More generally, he's built a career on skewed but fond takes on the pop culture of his youth, and here he takes giant monsters, pro wrestling, and sentai superhero adventures and sews them together in pretty much the exact way one would expect, but the shared DNA makes it work pretty smoothly, without distracting gear-shifts. He's canny enough to know when to go with decent effects and when cheap is funny, because while there's a giggle or two to be had from pulling out the obvious toy tanks from Mothra for a quick scene or two, Mono looking bad would get old fast.

As you might expect from this description, this isn't a film full of sophisticated, subtle humor - or if it is, is likely only evident to those more familiar with the source material - but broad parody, full of easy jokes and blatant absurdity. Kawasaki is pretty good at getting those jokes to land by now, with some funnier because they are delivers with utter straight-faced sincerity and others set up to be knowingly silly. Perhaps his best trait is that he's not inclined to run a joke into the ground, though he's got opportunities. He also seldom settles for the easy point-and-laugh "homage"; there's maybe not big laughs in what he does instead, but there's at least the feeling of an attempt to recapture something beloved, rather than get laughs over how weak movies used to be.

He's built it around some fairly funny people, too. It doesn't hurt that Kota Ibushi and Syuusuke Saito are able to match features and mannerisms well enough that is not initially obvious that a different actor is playing Nitto after his injection with SETUP X, both managing an enjoyable nerdy awkwardness even as Ibushi brings his pro-wrestler skills to the action scenes to make the fights entertaining even if they are far from realistic. Miki Kawanishiplays off both of them well as Miwa, playing her as plenty capable in her own but also kind of thrilled by the sweet Nitto getting all muscular (or embarrassed by her father's hobbies). Ryu Manatsu is amusingly dotty as the elder Saigo without overdoing it, while Shinzo Hotta kills by playing absolutely serious in a ridiculous movie.

I really admit, I'm not in the category that will lap "Daikaiju Mono" up because they love all of this stuff just as much as Kawasaki obviously does; I found it occasionally amusing. But that's actually a little better than this sort of spoof usually does worth me, and I'm sure that the folks who usually get into this material will be all over it.

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originally posted: 07/29/16 14:46:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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