This week I have a review of the live-action film that inspired Doomed Megalopolis, which I reviewed earlier – Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis, featuring creature design by H.R. Giger.
Cast and Crew
Shintarô Katsu as Eichi Shibusawa
Kyûsaku Shimada as Yasunori Kato
Mieko Harada as Keiko Tatsumiya
Junichi Ishida as Yoichiro Tatsumiya
Tamasaburo Bando as Kyoka Izumi
Haruka Sugata as Yukari Tatsumiya
Directed by Akio Jissoji
Written by Kaizo Hayashi based on the “Teito Monotogari” novels by Hiroshi Aramata
Available on DVD from Amazon.com
During the Taisho period, Yasunori Kato, a malevolent spirit cursed to walk the earth until Tokyo is destroyed, sets in motion a plan series of plans to destroy the city. His efforts will span the entire Taisho period, and will clash with the attempts of the government of Tokyo to build a new modern metropolis.
The director did an excellent job of taking advantage of Kato’s look. Specifically, Kato is a tall, thin man wearing a military uniform. He’s still intimidating looking, and the actor does an excellent job of making him imposing, but here we get something more.
What the director does here, and which “Doomed Megalopolis” would fail to do later, is to use the uniform to build tension. Kato occasionally appears in scenes, but we don’t always see his face. We’ll occasionally see him from behind, possibly after an ill omen has occurred, or the music will suggest that the figure is him (plus the fact that he’s the focus of the shot). The director takes it a step further, and occasionally puts extras wearing military uniforms in the back of the shot, and not always with their face in the frame. Thus, even though Kato isn’t always in the scene, he remains an almost omnipresent force, due to this constant reminder of his threat. This is, frankly, something that a lot of horror movies fail at.
Also, the look of the film itself is wonderful. The film does an excellent job at drawing the audience into the Taisho period and keeping us there. While for budgetary reasons the depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake isn’t as dramatic as it could be, it’s still more dramatic than it is in Doomed Megalopolis, and gets across the damage of the quake better, with more then a few miniature shots of the ruined city, and images of destruction in the streets.
For some reason that doesn’t make any sense, here Kato has bizarrely costumed cultists working for him, wearing outfits which don’t make any sense at all for something people would wear on the street. Considering the rest of Kato’s work is done completely under the radar, and without notice, you have to wonder where the cultists are coming from.
Also, Kato’s plans seem more one-note in this movie. In Doomed Megalopolis, which I suspect hewed closer to the book in certain respects, Kato’s adjusted his plans to reflect setbacks. Originally his plan was to awaken the spirit of Masakado, a samurai warrior who was executed for treason, and whose vengeful spirit occasionally awakens and causes great destruction in Tokyo. In the anime, when that didn’t work, he messed with Tokyo’s Dragon Lines (similar to Lay Lines in western mysticism). When that didn’t work, he essentially went “Frak it, I’ll just drop the moon on Tokyo and be done with it.”
In this film on the other hand, it’s just about Masakado. After an earthquake didn’t do it, he tries using the Dragon lines to do it. It’s kind of like the supernatural equivalent of Emperor Palpatine’s obsession with planet-busting death rays. After the first one was destroyed, rather then try a different plan, he just goes and builds a bigger planet-busting death ray.
Also, while the incest subplot (related to Yoichiro getting Yukiko pregnant with Yukari) occurs in both Doomed Megalopolis and this film, the film heavily downplays this portion of the plot. In the anime it’s clear that Yoichiro is not totally right in the head to be having such feelings for Yukiko, and that the act of incest is wrong. In the film, the fact that Yukari was sired by incest instead of being sired by Kato’s dark magic leads to Kato’s downfall and defeat making it a good thing.
There is some minor violence here, but no major blood or nudity. However, there is a sub-plot related to incest between two characters.
Originality: This is an adaption, but one that takes some liberties with the source material, though some of these tone down the film. 3 out of 6.
Effects: The effects for the various magic powers and effects are fairly basic for film and behind the times for effects when the movie was made (as is often the case with Japanese live-action genre films), but what we do get is very well done. 4 out of 6.
Story: The story is rather episodic for a film, and suffers some because of this. It’s similar to some of the problems experienced when several episodes of an episodic TV series are edited together to make a movie. The four novels the film is based on were paced to work as four distinct entities. When combined together into one narrative as in this film, instead of the action working as one big curve, it is instead divided into several smaller spikes, none higher than any of the others. 3 out of 6.
Acting: Here things shine. All the performances here are very well done, with Shimada as Kato absolutely stealing the show. Yasunori Kato has become my new favorite horror villain, largely due to Shimada’s performance as the character. 6 out of 6.
Production: As mentioned before, the film looks wonderfully period, and the transition from 20s Tokyo to 30s-40s Tokyo is very well done. The aging effects for the characters are also handled very well. 5 out of 6.
Emotional Response: This film does a wonderful job of building a sense of forboding about Kato’s plans without having to have Kato be on the screen all the time. When present, he commands the scene. When he’s discussed, the way he’s discussed gives his name a power and menace normally associated with Voldemort and Sauron. While I realize that Kato is a copyrighted character and a character no-one in the west knows about, I’d love to see a Western horror or urban fantasy writer do something with the character (or an homage of Kato). 5 out of 6.
Overall: While the plot can be very weak a times, the director and actors do an excellent job of letting the character of Yasunori Kato carry the film, and to the character’s credit, he’s more then able to do it. The film’s ending credits cap off with a card reading, essentially, “Yasunori Kato Will Return.” The phrase triggered the sense of anticipation and dread that the best villains, like Dracula, Voldemort, and Professor Moriarty, inspire. 5 out of 6.
In Total, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis gets 31 out of 42.