Looking back over DEATH KAPPA

This is a review for DEATH KAPPA, a film which can be only described as "horsepucky". It is, to an extent, a fun film, but also a boring film. You are either in the mood for this film or not. While watching it this past time, I was a "middle" mood, thus I am on the fence with this film. This film seems to have a message - since a JSDF member says that Kappa taught Japan something it forgot... well... the audience might have learned what he is talking about (not like all of Japan was following the main female protagonist's story like we are).

Oh yeah, here is the plot of the film.

Kanako is an unlucky young lady. Many a time in kaiju eiga have Japanese "idols" cast in a film, but this time around, our main character is... or atleast was an idol. The idol curse is the typicall Hollywood trajedy - people love you for so long and then they go on to the next thing. Idols are subject to the buisness side of the entertainment industry - they are products. Sooner or later, the audience will tire of you and go for the next thing. Either that or they will not buy your products at all, making you a bomb. Kanako didn't go anywhere. The materialistic life didn't work out, so screw it, it is time for her to get back to the old country to take care of her grandmother.

However, when she gets back to the country side, she has a couple of reminders of her life in the big city. Her town is just now getting her merch (which doesn't seem to be selling), and right as she meets her grandmother again, a couple of arrogant teens run over her grandmotheer and leave her for dead - along with bumping into the ocean (with their car) a Kappa shrine. For those who do not already know, the Kappa is a Japanese sprite of shinto belief in which is classified as a goblin with turtle like qualities.

To fulfil her grandmother's dying wish, Kanako has to take care of the Kappa. It is more of an act of devotion rather actually taking care of a sprite... the wish is like saying to someone to take care of the demon in the basement... until it turns out the shrine dumped into the ocean comes alive and eats the cucumbers which were left out for it.

This first act is a nice little metaphor for escaping the modern materialistic culture and escaping back into the more spiritual, olden cuture... of Japan.

Meantime, it turns out that there is a threat within this little town. Problem is, the threat on the surface seems to be good meaning, bringing back the pre-WWII Spirit of Japan. Kanako and the people who ran over her grandmother are kidnapped by decendents of Japaese WWII soldiers who want to bring an elden Japan back... with mutated fish-like creatures which were originaly going to be used in the war. Kanako is saved from these bad guys in a scene which is an amalgram of weird, Saving Private Ryan, and Texas Chainsaw Massacare. It ends with an interesting mix of prctical and CG effects of an atomic explosion. It's the perversion of the drama angle in 1963's ATRAGON.

Such an explosion releases a seemingly unrelated monster (or maybe related, it is not specified, but the main antagonist monster looks similar to the fish soldiers) named Hangyolas who ravages the big city, the JSDF, kills Shinji Higuchi (or rather a character played by him), and battles in iradiated Kappa - DEATH KAPPA - in a battle which mixes sumo, what we can see in a Bruce Lee film when he gets the nunchaku out, and a little kaiju volleyball from a 1966 Goji film.Afterwards, Kappa rips Japan a few new assholes until Kanako wets his plate (he is a kaiju that needs to stay moist).

I guess the message is this: Japan was better off idealistically back some time ago, and the modern materialism or the radical Showa-era spirit are pretty bad things. I guess.

Maybe this whole meta-kaiju movement where kaiju films have to be parodies on the genre is the way of feeling good about something like GODZILLA-FINAL WARS, which wasn't a parody but might as well can be. When it comes to directorial decisions, how do you deal with DEATH KAPPA's style? You try to make a live action anime evidently. That is what the direction seems to be like. An example of anime-esque direction which can be seen here as is the direction is not always logical, rather, acts to add dramatic substance. Sudden costume changes and the flying with the lance shots are evidence of this.

One has to wonder if this is something which was done to attract the audience. It would make sense.   DEATH KAPPA is so over the top like it's brother productions like THE MACHINE GIRL and TOKYO GORE POLICE. Maybe even more. Which brings to the next point to clear up (or maybe just wonder about), the American influence of this film. Of the three companies that worked on this film, the one which got top billing is Fever Dream Productions. Another company credited with producing the film is Tokyo Shock. Connecting these dots, it seems as if Americans cannot do kaiju right.

But you got to give it to Tomoo Haraguchi for going the extra mile in bringing us this film, seeing how he directed both the human drama and the kaiju action. He has experience directing both types of scenes, having been involved with the SFX of the Gamera and Godzilla series as well as a director of his own films (KIBAKICHI, which is a yokai film). If execution of certain styles shows the utility of a good director, then I guess Haraguchi did a good job. Just that the script which he was given... sucked. With the TWILIGHT ZONE and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE showing their heads of influence, one has to wonder.

DEATH KAPPA needs a bit, and only a bit, of praise for something though in regards to the SFX side of the production - the creation of Hangyolas. While the suit is meant to look fake, but the kaiju himself looks as if he could kick some major tail. Thankfully, for some individual shots, Haraguchi doesn't go for the documentary approach. It seems almost as if a crane was used for some sweeping shots (even though it could just be the camera moving on track). It is the bit of new wave which is welcomed wholeheartedly.

DEATH KAPPA isn't in need of much more discussion. It was a project to replicate the kaiju eiga of old while making fun of it. The score has to sound epic and Ifukube-like, the SFX has to show strings with all effort to cover them up thrown out of the window, and it doesn't need to be deep. This film, like most kaiju eiga, are products of a money making machine called the film industry, only DEATH KAPPA is more of this than the other products.

Death Kappa is a film which can be enjoyable to watch, but if you are not in a "Death Kappa" mood, forget about it. The bad just raises questions about how the poking fun/meta-physic aesthetic works with kaiju eiga and questions regarding the involvement of American companies involved with the production of kaiju eiga. At least the film can be fun though, with it's message of going back to your roots to save the world and in doing so becoming more spiritualistic (if I saw a Kappa, I'd convert to shinto) and crazy mix of anime direction of the human drama and good ole fashioned kaiju scenes (for the most part).


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