Friday, August 28, 2020

Fantasia 2020: 'Monster SeaFood Wars' Movie Review

Minoru Kawasaki’s Monster SeaFood Wars is a kaiju movie about a giant crab, squid, and octopus rampaging through Tokyo. And it’s as ludicrous and off-the-wall as that sounds. It’s strange and silly and upholds the Japanese dudes-in-rubber-monster-suits-wreaking-havoc tradition. There’s also the added bonus that it may well make you very, very hungry.

On his way to a shrine to make an offering, Yuta (Keisuke Ueda), a sushi delivery boy who was once a promising scientist, gets into a bike accident and the live crab, squid, and octopus he’s transporting get away. Shortly thereafter, giant versions of these creatures start stomping buildings and generally causing a ruckus. Hmmm. As it turns out, this all has more to do with Yuta than it initially seems. He created a serum to giantize things, both to solve the world food crisis and also because he thought it would be fun to make giant monsters. A true win win. Along with his crush Nana, old rival Hikoma (both a professional and romantic rival), gamer prodigy BFF, and a few others, he reluctantly joins the Seafood Monster Attack Team to prevent destruction and figure out who stole Yuta’s serum. 

Kawasaki, the filmmaker behind titles like The Calamari Wrestler, presents the story in two distinct timelines. There’s a faux-documentary, after-the-fact element, where people who lived through this share their experiences. He juxtaposes this with the more as-it-happened action, letting the story unfurl in chronological order that way. It’s an odd choice, one that becomes increasingly jarring as the movie goes and only uses this device sporadically. We’re going along with the Seafood Monster Attack Team, and it’s all good. Then we’re talking to some people giving backstory on what we’re about to see, giving details we’re about to get. It only derails the momentum.

Monster SeaFood Wars is more along the lines of Ultraman and Power Rangers than Godzilla. Yes, there are people in elaborate creature suits stepping on miniaturized buildings, but this is all brightly lit and out in the open. In fact, at times it feels more like watching an episode of that type of series rather than a movie. It can be both disjointed and crammed full of side threads that never develop. There’s an undercurrent of toxic bro shit as Yuta and Hikoma vie for Nana’s affection without her input or consent. And a lengthy digression about how delicious the giant monster meat is, and how it becomes a delicacy. While mouth-watering (I immediately looked up nearby sushi restaurants), it’s also much less interesting and entertaining than the kaiju mayhem. 

And that’s the biggest flaw with the movie. When it’s cheap foam beasts tussling in front of equally cheap green screen backgrounds, it’s an utter hoot. As manic and silly and wonderful as these scenes are, the surrounding film only has a fraction of that wild energy. The characters are bland and boring, and everything that’s not monster-related just kind of sucks to be honest. It’s fine, but it’s also so empty and slipshod that it’s obviously all an afterthought. Not that anyone going into a movie called Monster SeaFood Wars expects carefully crafted thematic depth and nuanced characters, but it would be nice if it felt like literally anyone tried on that front.

Actually, I take that back. The score, the score rules. Throughout, the music is best described as synth-driven adventure rock. It soar and gallops along as the monsters—named Takolla (the octopus), Kanilla (the crab), and Ikalla (the squid)—tear Tokyo to shreds. If if doesn’t kick your pulse up a few ticks per minute, you might be dead.

Monster SeaFood Wars is 100% as advertised. Patently absurd and wallowing in silliness—how to you trap a giant octopus? With a giant octopus trap, of course. How to you fight a massive crab? Why, by firing a giant vinegar canon at it, obviously—your mileage may vary. There’s absolutely nothing going on beneath the surface, but fortunately the surface it rad. If this sounds like a movie you’ll love, you’re probably right; if it sounds like a movie you’ll hate, you’re probably also right. Know that and you’ll be able to make the right decision. [Grade: B]

1 comment:

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