(aka Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters)
This one came as a surprise.
Mostly because I did not expect much from it.
Not long ago, I reviewed Raiga: The Monster from the Deep Sea [Shinkaijû Raiga] which was this film’s…perhaps “follow up” is closer to the mark than “sequel.”
Frankly Raiga isn’t that great. Particularly since it is meant to be a comedy and really isn’t all that funny.
Well, at least not to Western audiences.
Nor did it help that the brief flashback to the earlier film looked very, very CGI.
And I do mean cheap and very, very shiny CGI.
Both films were in fact, quite cheap — basically fan films, only with professional actors, made in the wake of the Big G’s apparently final performance in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). They were passion projects by director Shinpei Hayashiya, an actor who is a sort of Kaiju legend for his fan film Gamera 4: Truth.
However, don’t bother going to look for that one. It can only be seen at rare free showings in Japan. If you are very lucky.
Hayashiya has help from a number of familiar Kaiju actors, including the original Ultraman himself, Susumu Korobe, and Ultraman Cosmos, Taiyo Sugiara.
Reigo has one of the most unique settings for a Kaiju Eiga film I’ve ever seen. It is the Second World War, and Japan’s greatest Battleship, the Yamato, is on convoy duty.
An old man warns one of the crew about the legendary monster who lurks in these islands, but no one pays any attention. Not until it attacks and eats some of the sailors.
Soon, the Yamato finds itself battling not just the Americans, but the giant sea monster Reigo as well.
Reigo has a particularly impressive design: a fully aquatic beast which reminds me a bit of a Mosasaurus or perhaps a particularly athletic Right Whale in a Kaiju suit, with a Godzilla-like head and a long, somewhat snaky tail. While some of the shots of Reigo do appear to be CGI in this heavily CGI movie, it comes as a bit of a surprise that it is the classic guy-in-a-suit in many of the shots, particularly when we get a close-up, or see just the head and upper body.
I am impressed by how well Reigo tells its story — yes, there is a lot of talk, but it takes itself seriously and works hard at creating its setting. The end result is mostly tense and interesting despite its flaws and it comes to a somber, downbeat ending, complete with a symbolic Kubuki actor.
And that’s not something you see in most Kaiju films.
Where the CGI is at its weakest is the Yamato and its fleet which are very shiny. And yet, ironically, their digital model of the Yamato is a thing of beauty, with a reasonable amount of detail, so much that Hayashiya gives us a virtual tour of the ship’s exterior at the end credits. It could have been quite impressive — if they’d had more money.
I really liked this one. Yes, the editing is a bit rough, it drags a bit in places, particularly around the middle, and the effects leave a lot to be desired. But despite its flaws and low budget, it offers us a strong combination of two very different genres — the Giant Monster movie and the Naval War Drama. It’s quite impressive, and a worthy addition to the world of the Kaiju Eiga.
It is one of the best, non-Toho Kaiju of the Millennium era (or perhaps the best as there was so little competition!) and it is well worth a look.
If you can accept the fact that it was made for a fraction of what the real thing costs.