Review Date: October 21, 2010
Released by: Media Blasters
Release date: 6/30/2009
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
This past summer the city of Toronto found out what it’s like to be under siege. The instigators of the siege were not the generals of an invading army but the leaders of twenty of the world’s largest industrial economies, gathered in the city for the Group of Twenty (G20) summit. The assembled leaders brought with them countless aides, officials and innumerable security personnel for their protection. Adding a further layer of defense to the event were the Toronto police, the Royal Canadian Mounties and various other security agencies.
Preparations to protect the meeting were aimed not only at deterring would-be terrorists and assassins, but also the countless thousands of protesters who came to the event to demonstrate against war, the world financial oligarchy, unfair global trade practices and environmental destruction. Most of the protesters were peaceful, but a small group of anarchists managed to cause trouble by smashing windows and setting police cars on fire. The subsequent police retaliation came down on the heads of both violent and non-violent protesters, with even the peaceful finding themselves arrested and beaten.
In preparation for the event, the Toronto police had been given special – and very controversial - powers to arrest and hold people who might become troublemakers. Such obsessions with security are to be expected from global elites who find themselves trying to govern increasingly angry and embittered populations. Any country that wants to host a G-8 or G-20 summit needs to have a lot of riot police. In today’s America events like this are never held without having the National Guard in the streets to keep order. The focus is not only on providing for the physical security of those attending the conference but to also keep the attendees from having to see the unpleasant sight of people who don’t agree with them. Still though, I bet the security planners for these events have never envisioned being menaced by a giant extraterrestrial lizard/chicken, which is exactly what happens here in this follow-up to the beloved 1967 cult classic X from Outer Space
directed by madcap filmmaker Minoru Kawasaki.
Welcome to beautiful Lake Toya, Japan, home to the 2008 G-8 (Group of Eight) summit, where the leaders of the rich world can take in the scenery while issuing disingenuous resolutions about their plans to fix the world’s problems. In attendance this year are President Burger of the United States (Jon Heese
), Prime Minister Brightman of Britain (Wayne Doster
), Chancellor Lowenbrau of Germany (Inge Murata
), Prime Minister Harris of Canada (Cristo Pietro
), President Sarkogy of France (Ingo
), Prime Minister Pietro of Italy (Roberto Colasanti
), President Puttin of Russian (Anatoli Krasnov
) and, of course, hosting Prime Minister Ibe (Hide Fukumoto
) of Japan. The hapless Japanese leader is fighting gastrointestinal discomfort and struggling to explain his country’s policy on global warming when an aide comes in and delivers shocking news – there’s a giant monster running loose in the nearby city of Sapporo! The Japanese military offers to evacuate the foreign dignitaries, but President Burger refuses: the American people expect him to help kick the monster’s ass, and if the other foreign leaders stick around with him their approval ratings will inevitably go up once the creature is defeated.
As it turns out, the giant monster running loose in Sapporo is some sort of an extraterrestrial creature, whose spore stowed away on a Chinese space probe that came crashing down to Earth in the city’s center. Now the beast, dubbed Guilala, is running loose. The Japanese military attempts to use a new type of guided missile to destroy the creature, but Guilala snatches the projectile out of the air and eats it! The Italian Prime Minister suggests digging a giant pit to trap the behemoth in, but the creature is able to escape from it after falling in. The President of Russia orders a rocket full of the highly radioactive Polonium-210 shot into the monster, which only succeeds in putting it to sleep. The German Chancellor orders poison gas used to finish off Guilala, but only succeeds in waking it up. Finally the British Prime Minister orders a giant device dropped on the creature in an attempt to destroy it’s mental functioning and kill it. The device destroys Guilala’s psyche and causes the beast to become even more aggressive!
The leaders of the developed world wring their hands at their inability to stop Guilala, and Prime Minister Ibe is taken sick with more bowel trouble, causing former Prime Minister Ohizumi to take over for him. But Ohizumi is actually the “Dear Leader” of North Korea in disguise, and he has plans to hijack the summit and destroy Guilala with a nuclear weapon. But all is not lost yet; the local villagers living by the lake have summoned their deity, the god Take-Majin, to save them from the monster. They know that Guilala has been to Earth centuries before, and the last time it came it was Take-Majin who saved them. But can this multi-armed deity stop both Guilala and the nuclear missile that has just been launched, or is Japan doomed to complete destruction?
Of the four Minoru Kawasaki films that I have watched recently, Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit
is the one that I have enjoyed the least, and by a very wide margin. Unlike The Rug Cop
and Executive Koala
, here Kawasaki's sense of the absurd falls flat, and unlike The World Sinks Except Japan
his attempts at satire and social commentary are failures. It is a comedy that is not funny and a monster movie that is not thrilling or exciting. Released barely two years ago, it is already outdated and anachronistic. Thus, despite its cinematic failings, it is a fitting obituary for the demise of the Group of Eight (G8), a relic of a past era that is on its way out the door as I write this.
A little history. The G8 started out as the G6 in 1975. Its original charter members were the United States, Britain, Italy, France, West Germany and Japan. The following year Canada joined. The idea was that it would be a meeting forum for the richest, most industrialized countries in the non-communist world. In 1997 it became the G8 after Russia was allowed a seat at the table. Russia, which had seen its economy implode and standard of living tank after the end of communism, did not exactly fit the profile compared to the other seven members. I remember a television reporter once referring to the group as the world's seven most industrialized countries, plus Russia, driving home the point that the only reason the newest member was being allowed into the clubhouse was because it still had thousands of nuclear weapons. The rapidly growing economies of China, Brazil, India and other nations were still not allowed. Thus going into the new millennium the G8 proved a useful forum for the seven richest members to continue excluding the global south, and for the Russians to still feel important.
While the G8 still technically exists – its most recent meeting was this past June in Huntsville, Ontario, before the eight heads of state went to join the rest of the G20 in Toronto - but the global economic crisis of the past two years has shown it to be so outmoded that the G8 nations were last year forced to concede that the G20, which includes the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, the Mexicans and many other large unrepresented economies, will replace it as the developed world's economic council. Monster X Strikes Back
may not be a good movie, but it was released in Japanese theaters to coincide with Japan's hosting of the forum in July of 2008, and thus it depicts the impotence of the satirized G8 leaders to deal with a catastrophic situation at the same moment when the impotence of the real G8 leaders to deal with the unfolding economic catastrophe was about to be revealed. Rarely has a movie been so perfectly timed to events in the real world.
One of the fundamental problems with the movie is that it demands a high degree of political literacy for the satirical aspects to be understood. Foreign citizens, who have consistently scored better than Americans in tests measuring knowledge of foreign affairs, may have an advantage over my countrymen when watching the movie, but I suspect that advantage will be limited. Men as hated as George W. Bush, or as feared as Vladimir Putin, are not likely to be forgotten anytime soon. But in five years is the average man on the street in Moscow going to remember who Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was? Is the average citizen in Ottawa still going to remember Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?
The second fundamental problem with the movie is that, even if you know who all these people are supposed to be, their antics are not funny. The actors playing the heads of state (several of whom had equivalent roles in The World Sinks Except Japan
) were clearly chosen for their ethnicities and their ability to speak the required languages, not their acting ability. The script takes a few commonly known traits from the more prominently featured world leaders (such as the macho attitude of George Bush and the lecherousness of Nicholas Sarkozy) but nothing else. Nor can the cast do much – Jon Heese, for example, is a terrible actor, and he fails to capture the cocky, belligerent swagger of the real Bush. The most humorous moment in the G8 conference room has nothing to do with the world leaders, but rather happens when a precocious young Japanese boy with a big lollipop suddenly and unexpectedly appears in the room and tells the assembled generals that they need a name for the monster, suggesting Guilala. The generals scream that no civilians are allowed in the room and two soldiers remove the boy, kicking and screaming. If you're familiar with the old Gamera films, where child characters are usually allowed to attend and speak at even the most sensitive scientific and military meetings, you'll appreciate the humor in that moment.
Of course, if you're reading this review you probably aren't interested in how effective the political satire is Monster X Strikes Back
. You're probably interested in how good it is as a monster movie. Well, it fails even as that, and if you're a monster fan like me that failure is the bitterest pill to swallow. The one bit of good news is that the Guilala costume - that quirky, charming and utterly adorable alien chicken design that made the original X from Outer Space
so fondly remembered - is virtually unchanged here. In fact, it's so close to the old monster that I wouldn't be surprised if Shochiku still had the molds for the original costume in storage somewhere. Unfortunately the suit is so close to the original that the movie actually lifts a fair amount of monster footage from the 1967 film. Even the lame fight between Guilala and Take-Majin comes too late in the film and is too short and drably shot. At ninety-eight minutes the movie is already long compared to some of Minoru Kawasaki’s other films, and it feels much longer. Which is a real pity, because a lot of American fans were looking forward to this one. While other Japanese monsters like Gamera and Godzilla have been successfully re-booted, it sadly seems that any further attempts to revive Guilala will be stillborn.
Monster X Strikes Back
is given a 16x9 enhanced presentation that is letterboxed at 1.78:1. This progressive scan transfer is quite good. Though still a low budget movie, Minoru Kawasaki was clearly working with a larger budget than he had on previous films like The Rug Cop
and World Sinks Except Japan
and the movie looks very professional. The film was shot in high definition and the image is razor sharp by the standards of the regular DVD format, with great colors and pure blacks. Video noise is kept at a minimum and the 35mm inserts from the original X from Outer Space
are also in very good condition, with above average colors and no damage noticeable.
I guess you could say that this is technically a Japanese language soundtrack, since Japanese makes up the largest portion of the dialogue, but there is also plenty of English spoken, as well as snippets of German, Russian, French, Italian and Korean. The non-English dialogue is translated by optional English subtitles, while the non-Japanese dialogue is translated by Japanese subtitles burned into the frame.
Overall audio quality is quite good, with the only sound option being a 2.0 Stereo track. The mix is neither too loud nor too quiet, and once I set a comfortable audio volume on my speakers during the film’s opening minutes I didn’t have to make any changes. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, and the music and sound effects are reproduced without any audible background noise or distortion.
Special features are limited to a lengthy stills gallery and trailers for Gappa
, Varan the Unbelievable
, Great Yokai War
and Gamera the Brave
, all of which are available from Media Blasters.
I have no hesitations about telling viewers to avoid Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit
. There is little here to satisfy a hardcore kaiju eiga
fan, and even less to satisfy those looking for a worthwhile comedy. Minoru Kawasaki has done much better, and certainly I hope that this film never becomes something that his career is remembered for. Medias Blasters’ DVD looks and sounds good, but the $19.99 MSRP is certainly far too high for a movie this bad.
Movie – D
Image Quality – A-
Sound – B+
Supplements – C
- Running Time – 1 hour 37 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Japanese/etc 2.0 Stereo
- English subtitles
- Burned-in Japanese subtitles (non-Japanese scenes)