Studio: PAL Entertainment
Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Writer: Minoru Kawasaki, Masakazu Migita, Eiji Tsuburaya
Producer: Minoru Kawasaki
Stars: Keisuke Ueda, Yuya Asato, Ayano Yoshida Christie, Hide Fukumoto, Kei Grant, Masami Horiuchi, Gota Ihashi, Tomotaka Imamichi
An unexpected combination of an experimental serum and sushi-grade mollusks creates a giant squid, octopus, and crab that terrorize Tokyo.
Each summer, a daunting task resurfaces regarding how best to select Fantasia Film Festival movies for screening. Montreal¡¯s premier program features dozens of titles from all over the globe, many of which have not yet released or else don¡¯t have preexisting coverage in English. With nothing more to go on than maybe a single still frame and a copywriter¡¯s media summary, it can be a difficult challenge to choose titles that¡¯ll hit a personal sweet spot for entertainment or prove popular with genre film fans.
Sometimes you luck out though, and find a blurb so perfect, you instantly know you absolutely have to see a certain movie. In looking for info on Minoru Kawasaki¡¯s ¡°Monster Seafood Wars,¡± I read this synopsis on IMDb (attributed to Avery Guerra) and my mouth immediately touched each ear in a delighted grin:
¡°Yuta, a young master at the Tsukiji Fish Market, accidentally drops his meal of mixed seafood into the Sumida River. Some time afterwards a gigantic mutated squid monster arises from the depths and begins to wreak havoc upon an awe-stricken Tokyo ¡ As it seems things couldn¡¯t get any worse an enormous mutant octopus monster emerges from the deep and heads into a clash of the titans with the gargantuan squid. As a last ditch effort, the government forms the Seafood Monster Attack Team (SMAT) ¡ But just as the tide appears to be turning in humanity¡¯s favor, a colossal crab monster appears, joining in the Monster Seafood Wars and plunging the world into culinary chaos.¡±
You mean to tell me there¡¯s a comedic kaiju movie out there that starts with someone fumbling his sushi lunch into the ocean and it somehow turns into colossal creatures that attack Japan? If that Futurama meme weren¡¯t played out, I¡¯d insert the gif of Fry gripping a wad of cash and excitedly ask, how soon can I get this in my eyeballs?
Taking care of some housekeeping first, while the gist of that summary hits the major notes, it isn¡¯t entirely accurate. Yuta isn¡¯t a Tsukiji sushi master. He¡¯s a young scientist who was ousted from his employer for blowing their budget on research intended to enlarge living things as a food shortage solution. Yuta¡¯s father is a seafood chef however. Each year on September 1st, he provides Yuta with three of his finest specimens so Yuta can take them to a shrine as ceremonial offerings.
This year, someone steals Yuta¡¯s squid, crab, and octopus on his way to the shrine. Two of those aquatic animals resurface, but as massive monsters duking it out over the city¡¯s skyline. Yuta¡¯s friend Niimi warns that he¡¯ll be suspected of creating the creatures since the coincidence of Yuta¡¯s research and the missing mollusks looks like a conspiracy. To Yuta, the fishy smell indicates the conniving work of Hikoma, who wasn¡¯t just Yuta¡¯s rival at the lab, but also vies for the affection of Yuta¡¯s childhood crush Nana.
As a Defense Ministry analyst, Nana teams up with SMAT commander Hibiki to tackle the concerning creature crisis. Yuta and Hikoma work with SMAT too, but can¡¯t help butting heads over competing plans to take down the behemoths and win over Nana. Between Hikoma¡¯s rice vinegar cannons and Yuta¡¯s idea to turn a stadium into a gigantic soup bowl, the only thing anyone can agree on is that meat from these mutated monsters tastes unbelievably amazing.
¡°Monster Seafood Wars¡± brings back the brand of good-humored B-movie silliness we used to see out of outfits like Troma, but from when that kind of cheap cheesiness was still charming and not swimming in unflushed toilets of lowbrow irreverence. You¡¯ll see seams like outlines around actors against blue screens, yet the movie doesn¡¯t try to overblow its low-grade look. ¡°Monster Seafood Wars¡± simply stages everything almost identically to a 1960s ¡°Godzilla¡± classic and lets camp value come naturally.
Throwback tricks give off a goofy vibe without the film feeling like it screams, ¡°look at how bonkers I can be!¡± The monster suits look like cartoon incarnations of the creatures they represent, but not much more so than vintage Gamera or Minya. The costumed actors also emulate old school tics like doing excited little hops and generally appearing uncoordinated without any buffoonish Tor Johnson bumbling. The camera gets in on the retro act too, slipping in a few sudden zooms and filming at a higher speed so fights have that slowed movement effect.
Caution to kaiju fans though, ¡°Monster Seafood Wars¡± contains moderately more seafood than it does monsters. Octopus versus squid action occurs for maybe a minute in the movie¡¯s early moments, then doesn¡¯t happen again for almost another half hour.
When killer crab Kanilla steps into the ring (yes, the big beasts have names), it snips off several tentacles from Takolla and Ikalla. Cooking and eating the appendages creates Japan¡¯s unlikeliest culinary craze. The movie then launches into a nearly 15-minute montage of various tourists, YouTube personalities, celebrities, poseurs, and other people going wide-eyed at the tantalizing taste of mutated monster meat. This makes for a big detour from the main story that doubles as a generous bathroom break for unamused viewers. Although in fairness to 33% of the film¡¯s title, this sequence is appetizingly appealing for ¡®food porn¡¯ fans as it highlights scrumptiously sexy shots of ramen, dumplings, and other provocative plates worthy of making mouths water.
A couple of characterizations are lean. The romantic subplot doesn¡¯t have a whole lot of heat. I¡¯m also undecided about how effective the documentary frame featuring intercutting interview pieces actually is. But whenever you¡¯re in the mood to watch zany schlock, you can rarely go wrong with something weird out of Japan. And ¡°Seafood Monster Wars¡± serves up a delectable dinner of cool comic book conflicts, Saturday matinee mirth, and enjoyably frivolous fun.
Review Score: 75