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Friday, July 18, 2008

'Guilala no Gyakushu — Toyako Summit Kiki Ippatsu'

Attack of the monster chicken


Political comedy is conspicuous by its absence on Japanese TV. Where are the shows that skewer politicians in the manner of American news satires "The Colbert Report" or "The Daily Show"? One might as well as search for the habitat of the Japanese unicorn (a bird that never flew).

Guilala no Gyakushu — Toyako Summit Kiki Ippatsu Rating: (2.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Is it a bird? Yes, it's a big ugly alien chicken monster.

Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Running time: 98 minutes
Language: Japanese
Opens July 26, 2008
[See Japan Times movie listing]

So Minoru Kawasaki's monster pic parody "Guilala no Gyakushu — Toyako Summit Kiki Ippatsu (Guilala's Counterattack: Lake Toya Summit Crisis)," which unfolds during the G8 summit in Hokkaido and lampoons Japanese and world leaders, deserves credit for violating the unspoken offend-no-politico rule.

The film, however, is about as satirically sharp and taboo-busting as the monomane taikai (impersonators contest) shows that are a local TV staple. That is to say, not very. The impersonators playing ex-prime ministers Koizumi and Abe (the present one, Fukuda, does not appear) nail the former's self-importance and the latter's indecisiveness to risible effect, but they soon exhaust their limited shtick. Wickedly inventive, ever-resourceful Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat), these guys are not.

Their problem is that of the entire film. Kawasaki rose to cult fame making low-budget parodies, including "Nihon Igai Zembu Chinbotsu (The World Sinks Except Japan)" in 2006, a take-off on the hit disaster epic "Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks)" in 2006, but given a chance to move into the mainstream with "Guilala," he decided instead to go meta — that is, make fun of his model, the notoriously bad monster pic "Uchu Daikaiju Guilala (The X From Outer Space)" in 1967, by being — um — worse.

This is a common-enough ploy of Japanese TV skit comedy — with the show's comic hosts and their noncomedian guests performing crude and under-rehearsed parodies of popular shows and films, with the laughs supposed to come from the corny gags, blown lines and embarrassed giggles. The badness of the whole enterprise is the joke — get it?

In the case of "Guilala," I got it as soon as the opening credits rolled — with primary-colored Chinese characters flashing and a military-march style theme song blaring — all very 1967.

The story, however, is set in the present day — the present month, in fact. The G8 summit is getting underway in Hokkaido when the assembled leaders receive word that a monster from outer space, who hitched a ride on a fallen Chinese rocket (scratch one export market) is rampaging in nearby Sapporo.

In one of the film's funnier bits, a fat kid who has somehow wormed his way into the conference room suggests they call it "Guilala," because it flashes fire out of its mouth (gira-gira being the onomatopoeic word for "flashing").

The leaders are about to flee for their lives, when the blow-hard American president (who resembles Bill Clinton more than the current occupant) insists that they stay and fight. (He does not, however, say "Bring it on!") So with elderly Japanese generals offering advice and logistic support, they try one counterattack after another — each less effective and more hare-brained, than the last. Finally, a former prime minister, the gray-maned Oizumi (Akira Matsushita), takes over from the dithering current prime minister, Ibe (Hide Fukumoto), who is indisposed with bowel problems. But the battle against Guilala goes no better.

Meanwhile, an intrepid reporter for a Tokyo sports paper, Sumire (Natsuki Kato), and her worrywart cameraman (Kazuki Kato) stumble upon a remote village where the locals are performing a strange, if absurd, ritual dance somehow related to Guilala. The villagers angrily chase away the outsiders, but Sumire is determined to learn more — and finds an unlikely source in a village boy. Back at the G8 summit, a shocking, if asinine, development throws the battle against Guilala into disarray.

As did its 1960s monster-movie models, "Guilala" spends much on-screen time in the conference room, where stern-faced men mouth jargon and plot strategy, and relatively little on Guilala — a guy in a rubber suit — and the city he is so enthusiastically tromping.

That choice may have been driven by more than budget — or rather the lack of it. With a square head that looks like a flattened origami chicken, a lumpy pear-shaped body and big floppy hands, Guilala is a monster as designed by Woody Allen. He doesn't destroy cities so much as flail through them, like a 2-year-old who has taken a dislike to his building blocks. No wonder Kawasaki wanted to limit his camera exposure to this lamest of kaiju (monster) creations (which, given the competition, means very lame indeed).

Watching Guilala's antics — and mentally reaching for the Ritalin — I began to long for the monstrous spawn of the Toho studio — Godzilla! Mothra! King Ghidora! — who may not have appeared in cinematic masterpieces, but were at least kaiju one could respect. Guilala — and Kawasaki — are mildly amusing fellows, but they're not ready for prime time, let alone the summit.


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