I should know by now that you just can’t rely on the advertising.
Consider the movie 19: if you read the plot summaries of the film that are out there (and yes, the plot descriptions you find on a movie site are almost always written by the studio, particularly when every review uses the exact same words to describe a film) they will tell you 19 is about three time-travelling agents fighting vampires.
Then you see the posters, which show three masked figures standing in a dramatic group, wearing what look like Beduin robes and holding futuristic weapons.
And I’m sure the exact same thoughts just popped into your head that I had when I first encountered that plot summary and the poster.
But what Toho doesn’t seem to have mentioned is that 19 was a starring vehicle for…
A Japanese boy band.
I suspect that all important fact explains the huge divide that is in this film. After all, we start in the gritty post-Apocalyptic world the posters seem to suggest, but then their mission carries them back to a more or less modern day Japan (supposedly the film is set several years in the future, although it can’t be too obvious as I never noticed). There a pretty teen girl — whose parents are conveniently off on a trip — encounters the three, who call themselves East, South and West, and, after helping them escape the police, brings them back to her house to say.
Much of what follows reminds me of those teen comedies Disney used to make back in the Seventies: she helps them fit in — by buying them the most absurdly punk clothes you could find in a specialist boutique — while they track down the monstrous threat they have come to Japan to stop.
You see, somewhere in the not too near future, a mysterious new planet appeared in our solar system. Those who landed on the planet got taken over by whatever strange power lurked there, and became monsters who sucked the life out of their victims.
In other words, much like Mario Bava’s classic Planet of the Vampires.
The people in the future destroyed the planet, but somehow a large group of these creatures escaped, half into the past, half into the future.
The three boys were sent to track down the creatures in the past, and now only one of them remains.
Unfortunately, though, it is a girl they all love.
And one of their own was also taken over and is aiding her…
There is this strange divide within 19 that never gets fully resolved. On the one hand we have pretty young girls getting murdered and left emaciated corpses; a horrible, shaggy creature; and a final battle in dark tunnels. On the other hand, we have a bit of slapstick comedy; a comic police inspector (who even does the old door that opens the other way gag); goofy moments with the girl’s little brother; and one of the three time agents building a sort of “futuristic” super dunebuggy.
The boy band, Shonentai, does well enough in their roles even though this was only their second film. I’ll confess that I never really found their individual personas particularly notable. One is the leader, another a mechanical tinkerer, and I really can’t say what distinguished the third one. But they look cute, and that was probably what mattered.
I think the teen-centric tendencies of the film undermine what could have been an interesting and gritty time-travel monster hunting movie. At times it seems like it is about to take off, for example in the early part of the film when we have the monster stalking and killing beautiful teen girls, and the subplot involving the blue gems all the victims had.
But it never quite does.
Oh, well. I was hoping for another Gunhed, I guess, a grittier Tokusatsu film with a touch of the post-Apocalyptic.
And for a moment or two here I actually got it.
Well, at least a little bit of one.
But you can see why they never released this one in the United States…