Nezura 1964 (2020)

In 1963, Daiei started production on their attempt to break into the market for movies featuring giant monsters.

However, instead of yet another giant lizard creature, they hit on the notion of something very different: a movie featuring a horde of deadly beasts.

Giant rats, to be precise.

But things didn’t work out as planned and the Ministry of Health shut down the production after they shot approximately half an hour of film.

It’s a strange story, strange enough that a group of filmmakers launched a kickstarter campaign to make a film about the legendary failed production.

The film would have been called “Giant Horde Beast Nezura.”  In it, the usual scientific genius developed a new animal feed which would end world hunger by making the animals eating it grow faster and get bigger.  If that sounds familiar, it’s more or less the plot of H.G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods, although the film was inspired in part by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Unfortunately, the rats fed the stuff turn into an oversized horde of rat creatures which overrun Tokyo and somehow spawn a truly gigantic Kaiju Eiga super rat as well (although exactly where it came from is far from clear.  After all, they never finished the movie).

The story of Daiei’s failed production has long been popular with Kaiju fans: it sounds like it had a lot of potential, and it has a major theme that was common in the genre at the time — science leading to unforeseen consequences.

Back in 2018, Nezura 1964’s director and co-writer, Hiroto Yokokawa, made The Great Buddha Arrival, based on a lost, 1934 film in which a giant Buddha statue comes to life, and has since made a series of short films and longer projects based on lost Tokusatsu projects.  While The Great Buddha Arrival was part remake and part sequel of the original film, it also told the story of the lost film (which was now supposedly  based on a real event).  Rather than attempting to create his version of Giant Horde Beast Nezura, he chose instead to create a “behind the scenes” documentary about the original, supposedly filmed by a young studio employee assigned to film the people making the movie.

I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that the film never actually shows any of the original footage.  To be fair, I’m not sure any of it still exists, although parts of the effects footage were reused in Gamera (which is hard to imagine!).  A few still photos do exist, and I half expected to see them during the end credits.  But they weren’t shown, nor did they include the trailer for the original film that Gamera director Noriaki Yuasa edited from the original footage.

Fortunately, though, we do get to see their own version of the footage, with rats swarming on the streets, rolling a train off its tracks, and threatening the female lead, while also getting a glimpse of how it was done

It’s not too hard to spot one of the major problems one sees in films featuring hordes of rats (like the Italian post-apocalyptic film, Rats: Night of Terror): it is very hard to get much of a performance out of a rat, and they tend to just stand around in most of the recreated shots.  The people who made these two films could have used that conveyer belt used in Rats: Night of Terror to push the rats at the camera in some of the shots!

Not that the results are really that much better.

I have to note one major problem with the English language version of the film, however: it gives all the dates using the familiar Western calendar, although it is fairly clear that, instead of “1963” the original date is “Showa 39,” that is, the Thirty-Ninth year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign.  Kaiju Eiga fans should be familiar with this form of dating as the original Godzilla series is generally referred to as the “Showa series.”

But then it wouldn’t be the first time that the fans were more savvy than the people releasing the film.

The end result is an intriguing look behind the curtain at a film that never was — and why the project failed.  While the budget for this Metafictional documentary must have been fairly modest, I’m not sure the original production would have looked that much more impressive if you’d got a look behind its scenes.  Certainly, in the surviving photos, the models aren’t any bigger, and the big sets must have been about the same size.

Or close enough that you really can’t tell.

I’m not sure whether Nesura would have been a Kaiju classic, or whether they’d ever have been able to make their oversized sewer rats look like vicious monsters.  The idea was intriguing, although that is no guarantee of how the actual film will turn out.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I would love to have seen the film.

And this interesting oddity of a documentary only makes that longing all the stronger.

Oh, well, I guess Nesura 1964 will have to do for now…

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