Humanoid Monster, Bem the Movie [Yôkai ningen Bem] (2012)

“We are the Humanoid Monsters,

“We cannot show ourselves to others,

“These bodies that look like monsters,

“We want to become humans soon,

“Blow away the Dark Fate,

“Bem!  Bela!  Belo!

“The Humanoid Monsters!”

“Yôkai” is a Japanese word used to describe a broad range of supernatural creatures:  it is sometimes translated as “demon” or “ghost” or “monster,” although it has a far broader meaning than any of those words.

This was the biggest grossing Japanese SF movie since the Space Battleship Yamato reboot.  It is the feature version of a live action Japanese series based, naturally, on a Anime.  Which was also a Manga.  Naturally.

In fact it is hard to look at the characters and not recognize that, particularly when you see the shark fin-like spike of hair on the head of the little “boy” Yôkai, Belo.

In fact, there are 3 Yôkai, forming a sort of family, with Belo; a beautiful, whip-wielding woman named Bela; and the hero Bem, who is one of those instantly recognizable Manga heroes, with beautiful long grey hair, a pale, sad, but youthfully handsome face, and big floppy hat.  You might almost mistake him for Vampire Hunter D – or a few dozen other characters.  Certainly, if you chose to portray him at a Cosplay convention there wouldn’t be many people who’d guess right.

And, of course, every time the three swing into action to fight injustice, they have their own theme song, which comes complete with each one calling out his name before leaping in front of a huge full moon.

Every time.

However, despite being called “Yôkai,” we are given a Science Fictional explanation of the origin of the three – as the accidental product of a failed attempt to create artificial humans.  And yet there are elements that are harder to fit within this SF explanation, like the mysterious staff Bem carries which somehow can absorb evil, or the visions he has of the mysterious “Man in the hat.”

He  is apparently the possessed corpse of the scientist who brought them to life:  the green goo he made somehow split into evil and good, with the concentrated evil taking over the “Man in the Hat.”and the three inheriting a spirit of “justice”.  

You might say it’s a sort of Jekyll and Hyde story, where Jekyll is the monster.

For all that we get monsters fighting bad guys, monsters saving people from terrible disasters – and even monsters fighting monsters – most of this plays out with the monsters helping a little girl and her father as if this were an episode of Highway to Heaven.

Only with monsters.

As I’ve pointed out before, SF seems to be a Western conceit and it is not unusual to find Asian films that mix SF and fantasy elements.  In fact, Godzilla, Ultraman and the many Super Sentai series are considered part of a genre called “Tokusatsu” in Japan, which is where this one should be filed I suspect.

Admittedly, it is hard to figure out just what audience they had in mind for this movie:  at first glance, one would say children, but there’s a fair number of intense moments, some bloody violence, a suggestion that the three may have eaten some of the bad guys they dealt with, and some very scary monsters (particularly The Man in the Hat, and the final creature they encounter).  But Tokusatsu isn’t necessarily just for kids and one can even point out the existence of a Tokusatsu series by the Japanese master of SF insanity, Keita Amemiya,  which actually includes topless scenes.

Go figure

On the whole, this is an enjoyable, light-hearted affair about tragic monsters.  I suspect it may play better with young audiences, as long as they can handle a few scary monsters.  If you’re expecting Space Battleship Yamato, you’ll be disappointed.

But if you want some Tokusatsu monster action with a little heart, you should enjoy this one.

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