Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)

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*. When it comes to enjoying grade-D level camp, too much emphasis is given to low budgets and poor performances, and not enough to crappy dialogue.
*. Admittedly, I watched this movie with subtitles. So maybe something was being lost, or corrupted, in translation. I find it hard to believe that in the scramble for the exit from the airplane Mr. Mano actually says to the co-pilot Sugisaka “I don’t want to die! You die instead!” Even so, the few English lines delivered by Mrs. Neal are bad enough to make me think that the Japanese dialogue is perhaps no better.

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*. An appreciation of wild, over-the-top, and downright stupid dialogue is essential for enjoying this movie. One wants to quote so much of it. I particularly love the psychologist warning of how the plane crash has created “a fascinating scenario for a psychiatrist to ponder” because it will let egos run wild and turn people into beasts!

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*. Adding to the hilarity of the lines and the hamminess of their delivery is the way so many of the characters lose their shit at the drop of a hat. The politician Mr. Mano seems to be the only one who gets thirsty (after Mrs. Neal has used up all the water on the plane to wash her hands), but his DTs come and go. Even without the aid of booze, however, people routinely go crazy over nothing.
*. Why does Tokuyasu smash the radio as soon as he hears that the search for plane survivors has (somewhat prematurely) been given up? Why does the radical bomber (with a thing for surrealist painting) become unhinged and attack the psychiatrist for eliciting the stewardess’s story? I guess Mrs. Neal has some reason for freaking out over Hideo Ko’s cleft face (her dead husband had been wounded in the face too, when napalm blew up in it), but even the fellow passengers are mystified by her hysterics. When one of them asks “What’s the foreign broad so worked up about?” they are told that her husband had had his face ripped open “like a pomegranate” by napalm. This is surely a poetic embellishment (how the hell would Sugisaka know this anyway?), but it’s not out of keeping with other such moments in the film.

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*. We’re over ten minutes in before we get the credits. This isn’t too extreme, but the movie is only 84 minutes long, which makes it seem exceptional.
*. The action is very cheap, but in a fun sort of way. When the original Gokeman is doused in fuel and set on fire, we only see flames leaping up in the front of the screen. It’s obvious he isn’t burning. When the next Gokeman is swept away by the avalanche the same “trick” is used and we don’t even see him being struck by a fake rock. Meanwhile, when the vampire is shown feeding on his victims’ necks we never see any blood, and indeed in one of these scenes it’s clear that his mouth isn’t even touching his victim.

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*. The plane crash looks silly, but the wrecked plane is actually a pretty realistic mock up. I also love the whole premise of the small, eclectic group stranded and having to use the plane’s fuselage as a kind of fort.

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*. For all its obviousnes, I’m still not sure what the anti-war message is, beyond the fact that war makes people miserable (as Mrs. Neal so eloquently puts it). What does the atomic bomb, or Vietnam, have to do with the invasion of the Gokemidoro? Does it make us seem weak, or more worthy of extermination? We are told at one point that “our senseless wars have given extraterrestrials an irresistible opportunity to invade our planet,” but if that were the case why wouldn’t they have invaded right after World War 2, or some earlier time?
*. There’s something delightful in the psychadelic visuals, absurd script, and whacky, almost improvisational plot. Is it ever sorted out who the political assassin was? What was that acid doing in the suitcase? Did the bomber have a cause, or was he just someone who wanted to stir up some trouble? Did the plane really go down just a short walk from a big city, and nobody could find it?

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*. Or was everybody on Earth already dead? I love the apocalyptic ending, though again I can’t see where it makes any sense. Who killed all the people when the invasion fleet hasn’t arrived yet? Why are some corpses frozen in place (even standing), while others are turned to skeletons and others crumble to dust?
*. This is a crazy movie. And yet it stays just this side of the kind of all-out bonkers sensibility found in some Japanese cinema, a madness that I find alienating. As random as this movie is, it does manage to maintain some coherence. Given the apparent sincerity of the anti-war message I don’t want to say that we’re not meant to take any of it seriously. But still, you have to laugh.

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