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Monster Seafood Wars
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by Jay Seaver

"Minoru Kawasaki, rubber-suit comedy auteur."
2 stars

SCREENING VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Minoru Kawasaki has been making movies along the lines of "Monster Seafood Wars" for years if not decades, and though I've missed most of them, I get the impression that they've been just good enough and just profitable enough that he's been able to keep working and maybe upgrade his resources over that time. The movies haven't necessarily been good, per se, but they've apparently been consistent enough in quality and tone to get him a fanbase. This one's like that - not good, but he's got enough of a voice that it's kind of interesting.

It's a giant monster movie, with 50-meter tall sea creatures - an octopus, a squid, and eventually a crab - attacking the city and suspicion falling on Yuta Tanumu (Keisuke Ueda), who was bringing a basket with those three animals personally selected by his sushi-master father to the local shrine, as well as Setap-Z, the super-growth serum he helped to develop (at great expense) while at the Institute for Super Physical & Chemical Research. Japan quickly organizes a Seafood Monster Attack Team whose leader Hibiki (Ryo Kinomoto) recruits Yuta's childhood crush Nana Hoshiyama (Yoshina Ayano Christie) and ISPCR rival Hikoma (Yuya Asato), the latter of whom suggests they use bursts of rice vinegar to soften the molluscs up so they can be blasted with missiles.

The upshot of all this is that Takella the squid and Ikulla the octopus start dropping chunks of meat after that first battle which are incredibly delicious. It's a fun idea that pretty much everybody who has seen a giant monster movie has probably at least jokingly thought about, and it seems like like Kawasaki and co-writer Masakazu Migita have put a little thought into it (working, perhaps loosely, from a story by monster movie special effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya). Not a lot of thought, which is a shame; you can see the outlines of something cleverly satirical when you connect the offscreen marauding of giant monsters with meat only affordable for the wealthy - especially galling considering Yuta developed Steap-Z to help feed the hungry - but not only does it not really go anywhere, but the filmmakers just grind through the same exact bit what seems like ten times in a row, and it is dreadfully boring. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a little bit more fun for Japanese or J-phile audience who can spot cameos and parodies that others might miss, but if you're not getting that, it's a killer.

It also highlights how weirdly uninspired so much of the rest of the movie is: There is shockingly little kaiju action, which is kind of surprising - the suits never feel realistic, but once the movie is committed to that bright, cartoony look for the giant monsters, they look kind of good, and it can't cost too much to shoot them once you've got everything built (I'm also mildly curious about what kind of miniature city you could create with a little effort and a 3D printer these days). The story is rote as can be, from Yuta's jealousy to the inevitable heel turn, and they don't even try to be coy about what they're foreshadowing in terms of what will fight the monsters in the last act.

Granted, my Japanese is practically nonexistent and there are moments when it certainly seems like there are a few moments when the cast hugs the line between flat acting and deadpan irony, enough to maybe give the cast the benefit of the doubt - Keisuke Ueda and Yoshida Ayano Christie are just good enough when they've got actual jokes to work with that they're probably not actually bad those other times, and longtime character actor Ryo Kinomoto is deliciously dry. There are a fair number of bits that are funnier than they have any reason to be, from Ueda and Christie doing a great job of not winking at the camera for a gag about the goofiness of silly comic misunderstandings to the way the giant crab walks into every scene sideways.

There are enough of those bits that it's not hard to see how Kawasaki has developed a fandom for his affectionate, absurdist parodies, but not enough to impress someone who is not already on his wavelength.

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originally posted: 08/24/20 06:18:01
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