There have been a lot of Kaiju parodies coming out of Japan lately.
I suppose it is inevitable as it has been six years since Godzilla stomped through Tokyo in Shin Godzilla and Godzilla: Final Wars premiered over a decade before that, while the last Gamera entry fizzled badly at the box office in 2005.
Clearly, the desire for more Kaiju action still exists (consider the recent successes of the American Godzilla and King Kong franchises), but no one at Toho or Kadokowa seems all that interested in them at the moment.
Well, there is that anime series. And a fancy mock trailer.
But that’s about it.
However, as I’ve written elsewhere, with the big guys sitting on their big green…I mean, taking a very long coffee break, a lot of talented filmmakers have taken this as an opportunity to make their own Kaiju films on budgets way out of scale with their towering creations. We’ve seen quite a few interesting recent Kaiju films, although most of them are parodies. The vast majority of these are deliberately silly — like Big Man Japan, Monster Seafood Wars, The Attack of the Giant Teacher, and the most recent entries in the Raiga series — but a few, like Nezura 1964, The Great Buddha Arrival, or Howl from Beyond the Fog somehow created films which could redefine the genre.
What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? falls somewhere between the extremes: it has its share of goofy moments, but it has a very clever idea or two in the mix and enjoys playing little games with the audience. Like Shin Godzilla, it gives us a look behind the scenes at those who had to fight the oversized menace, and who now find themselves facing a new problem. Only they are not like Hideaki Anno’s bureaucrats who not only struggle with understanding what is happening in the midst of great confusion and to overcome technical challenges and supply problems but also have to deal with the snarls of bureaucracy. Instead, the bureaucrats in this film fight for political advantage, worry about public perception, make decisions for foolish reasons, and face silly questions from the public (for which they are perfectly willing to give silly, face-saving answers).
Two years ago, a giant monster attacked Tokyo. The army threw everything they had at it, but couldn’t stop it. But then a mysterious blast of light came out of the sky and killed the beast.
The army has sent the draftees home, as have the elite special force set up to deal with such problems. Only a small force remains to guard the creature’s corpse, while the bureaucrats decide what to do about it at the normal speed of government.
I.E., very, very slow.
Only, while the bureaucrats argue about how to profit from the Kaiju’s corpse something is happening deep inside it: it is getting warm, and starting to swell. Its hide may be too hard for our weapons to penetrate, but that doesn’t mean that it is immune to putrefacation.
And the results of the creature exploding will be devastating.
As will be the stench.
Oh, and there’s yet another threat, which the Prime Minister is keeping secret, even from the rest of his administration…
Now if you were hoping for lots of slam bang Kaiju mayhem, you’re at the wrong movie. We never even get a glimpse of the Kaiju in action. Instead, it is a monstrous, dead presence which just…lies there. I found the creature quite impressive: I suppose, as they didn’t have to worry about animating it this gave the special effects people the opportunity to put their efforts into making it look good.
Part of the fun here is the sheer pettiness of the some of the problems the government has to face during this massive crisis: like the soldiers in the Special Force bemoaning the fact that their only job now is to “swat the flies” by shooting down the occasional drone someone tries to fly over the big corpse to get pictures; or the huge public demand to know whether the gasses released by the creature smell like vomit or poop, a debate which the bureaucrats ultimately answer in the silliest possible way.
There is also a curious little love triangle among three of the major characters, which really doesn’t add a lot to the proceedings. After all, in a Kaiju comedy, we all know that the plot and characters are just there to keep the jokes apart.
Another nice little touch (although many of you may find it somewhat frustrating) is that there are certain moments which hold out tantalizing prospects — like the shadow of the massive air defense vehicle called “The Second Ship” passing overhead at the beginning of the film — which are never paid off.
Or, for that matter, seen.
But these little touches, along with our glimpses of people being sent home after the war and the background struggles of the Army and Special Force to redefine their roles now that the war is over, help give What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? the feeling that it takes place in a much larger universe than what we see on screen, as if there was another epic Kaiju movie before this one which we somehow or other missed.
Now I’ll admit I love Kaiju films. I have since I was a child and the classic Toho monster films ran over and over again on TV on Saturday afternoons. I’m sure that shades my perspective on this film and that many of you will not share my childlike love for a movie which takes the kaiju film into such strange territory.
But then, we are talking about a movie which tells us up front that it is deliberately playing around with the conventions of that subgenre, so it you watch it at all, it is probably because you share at least some of that same sense of wonder and awe I felt back in third grade.
Yeah, an edit here and there might help What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? and there are a few slower moments which could have been punched up a bit, but on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It gives us a serious threat, a struggle to find solutions, the usual failed attempts to resolve the problem, and a final countdown to destruction which leads ultimately to an unexpected revelation.
Well, maybe not quite so unexpected if you misspent your childhood the same way I did.
If you love Kaiju Eiga as much as I do, then yes, you need to check this one out. It may not be perfect, but then none of those classic Godzilla epics ever were.
Just don’t expect it to smell like Ginkgo Biloba.
Trust me on this one…