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Kaiju review: REIGO: KING OF THE SEA MONSTERS

I recently came across another obscure kaiju movie on the Overdrive online library. While I’ve moved most of my reviews to my Patreon page these days, I figured I should keep my kaiju reviews together here (plus maybe seeing my occasional review for free will prompt some people to subscribe to my Patreon).

Anyway, the movie is known in English as Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters, originally titled Shinkaijū Reigō (深海獣レイゴー, Deep Sea Beast Reigou, with the “kai” meaning “sea” rather than being part of the usual word “kaiju,” though the pun is probably intentional). It’s a 2008 independent film (according to Wikizilla, though the credits say Copyright 2007 and IMDb says 2005) directed and co-written by Shinpei Hayashiya, a Japanese actor-comedian and kaiju buff who had a minor role in 1984’s The Return of Godzilla. Apparently he made a well-regarded fan-film sequel to the superb 1990s Gamera trilogy, which got him the gig making this film. The lead roles went to two kaiju veterans — Yukijiro Hotaru, who was the comical Inspector Osako in all three installments of said Gamera trilogy, and Taiyo Sugiura, who was the lead actor in the 2001-2 TV series Ultraman Cosmos (which, as it so happens, I’m currently watching).

This is an unusual kaiju film in that it’s a period piece, set in the early 1940s aboard Yamato, the iconic Japanese battleship from World War II. This is the only time I’ve seen Yamato depicted onscreen outside of Star Blazers/Uchuu Senkan Yamato, the classic ’70s anime in which the battleship was rebuilt into a starship.

The movie begins with a black and white sequence emulating a period movie, with scenes focusing on two soon-to-be Yamato personnel: head gunner Noboru Osako (played by Hotaru and named for his Gamera character) praying at a shrine for his pregnant wife to give birth to a son (though he phrases it more crudely), and Sub-Lieutenant Takeshi Kaido (Sugiura) talking with his pretty childhood friend Chie (Mai Nanami) about how he might not return from war. The movie goes to color once they’re out to sea on the battleship. Osako smuggles a girl onboard for hanky-panky, but she brings along her grandfather, who warns about a “dragon” (ryuu) named Reigo that’s recently reawakened in the sea due to all the naval activity, and whose arrival is heralded by some nasty “bone fish.” Osako shoos him off, having other priorities. Later, at night, the crew sights what they think is an enemy sub and opens fire, killing Reigo’s baby. Reigo — basically a giant plesiosaur with a Godzilla-ish head and an oversized, spiny dorsal fin that attracts lightning — cries out in mournful rage, and the crew assumes they killed a whale.

Unaware of their bad karma, the crew celebrate their victory with sake, and Osako tells those around him of the legend of Reigo, still not believing it. Later, while paying for his drunknness and leaning over the side, Osako spots and rescues an officer from a downed American ship; the officer turns out to speak “a little” Japanese (indeed, the actor’s Japanese is fluent while his “native” English is spoken with a thick Japanese accent) and introduces himself as Lt. Cmdr. Norman Melville (subtle). The captain, Yamagami (apparently a fictional character standing in for Yamato‘s first captain Takayanagi), insists that the prisoner be treated honorably, without violence.

The crew is soon attacked by the shark-sized bone fish, which kill around a dozen people. Melville tells Osako (a fellow gunner, to their mutual excitement) that his ship was also attacked by bone fish and then destroyed by a giant sea monster, and he alone escaped to tell them. Osako goes to warn the captain, who tries to let his crew hash out a strategy for dealing with it in an unsupervised meeting, but they just end up shouting at each other.

Yamato is assigned to lead a task force of ships, which come under attack by Reigo, with two destroyers being blown up (so I guess they were actually destroyees). The giant battleship’s huge guns are useless because they aren’t designed to work at short range. For some reason, Yamagami is randomly promoted to Secretary of the Navy and replaced mid-movie by Captain Matsuda (based on a real person this time), who’s studied marine biology and thinks they can dazzle Reigo with searchlights and then blast it. It fails disastrously, so Matsuda calls in Kaido, a former student of his who offered a wild theory rejected by naval engineers, that flooding Yamato‘s flotation tanks on one side could tilt the ship and allow aiming the guns below the horizontal. But Matsuda’s junior officers reject the plan as too absurd and dangerous, leaving Kaido embarrassed — though he’s cheered up by a letter from his girl Chie professing her hope to marry him on his return.

Reigo’s next attack on the fleet goes as badly as the previous ones, leaving Matsuda no choice but to try Kaido’s ship-tilting plan. Osako drags Melville out of his cell to help work the giant guns. Tilting the ship downward lets them shoot at the approaching monster, but the gun misfires and Reigo does an improbable twisting jump clear over the battleship, damaging the mast with its tail. It comes back around from the other side, and Osako and Melville rotate the gun around 180 degrees and blast it point-blank as it leaps out of the water again — meaning the whole business with tilting the ship was pointless and they just had to wait until the monster obligingly gave them an easy target. Well, anyway, the gunners on the surviving ships keep pouring on fire with the smaller machine guns until Matsuda and Kaido tell them to stop and let the poor beast die in peace. Matsuda gives the crew a speech about how they’ve won a major victory together and now must take on the far greater challenge of defeating the United States. Yeah, good luck with that, guys.

Indeed, we then get a very weird coda that depicts the 1945 destruction of Yamato by American planes through a mix of stock war footage and kabuki pantomime by the actors. It modifies history by showing Reigo returning from the dead to deliver the mortal blow that finally sinks the ship, getting its revenge at last. Finally, we see Chie and Osako’s wife and son praying at the temple years later on the anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths. (The movie implies that Osako’s young son has the same given name as Gamera‘s Inspector Osako, making me wonder if it’s supposed to be the same character, making this an unofficial, indirect prequel to the Heisei Gamera trilogy. However, the inspector would have to be nearly a decade older than he looked in that case.)

This was an odd film, and I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s basically a historical drama about life on Yamato with a monster story added on, but there’s a good deal of comedy and broad acting. The film is hampered by its poor visual effects; while the design of many of the shots is fairly good, the CGI is incredibly crude, with a resolution and frame rate well below the state of the art for the early 2000s, and even the close-up puppet version of Reigo seems to have been shot at a low frame rate or clumsily composited into the CGI ocean. So the action/FX sequences are murky, jerky, and unpleasant to watch. Thematically, its message is kind of vague, though I think it’s mostly anti-war; while the commanding officers are portrayed as honorable and decent, the crew of Yamato basically bring their destruction on themselves by firing blindly and killing an innocent creature, prompting nature’s retribution. Also, I’ve read that Uchuu Senkan Yamato tended to stress the unity of Yamato‘s crew, putting collective over self and working as one entity to achieve their goals; this film seems to subvert that by showing the crew degenerating into hopeless, ego-driven bickering when asked to solve a problem collectively, though they do eventually learn to come together at the end. I’m not sure what point, if any, is conveyed by having Kaido’s daring plan fail and Osako saving the day through dumb luck. Maybe it’s satirizing the clever, so-crazy-it-just-might-work plans of the heroes in other kaiju movies, or maybe it’s just clumsy writing.

All in all, I didn’t get much out of this one, aside from the novelty of seeing two familiar actors in new roles and finally seeing a production about Yamato in its original oceangoing form (though its CGI representation here looked just as cartoony as the one in the anime). I gather there have been two modern-day sequels to Reigo — Raiga: God of the Monsters in 2009 and Raiga vs. Ohga in 2019 — but they’re not available from the library and I don’t feel any pressing need to seek them out.

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Today turned out better than it started

That’s the headline I thought of, but I should begin with yesterday morning, when my building maintenance people told me I needed to move my car from the rear lot to the front lot so they could resurface the rear one. (I didn’t see the notice on the front door ahead of time since I don’t go outside much these days.) When I got down there, I was the only person, resident or building staff, who was wearing a mask.

And my car wouldn’t start.

I hadn’t driven in a while, so the battery had run down. So I had to get a jump start from several people not wearing masks, not caring who they breathed on. At least they had their own cables so I didn’t have to interact too closely with them. Still, things like this that would once have been routine are scary these days, especially because so many people don’t seem to get that they aren’t routine anymore.

So anyway, that brief, sudden bout of anxiety ruined my mood for the whole day, not only because of the mask thing but because I needed to get groceries either yesterday or today and wasn’t sure my car would start when I needed it. Plus, while I finally got a new novel advance check last week, thereby easing a lot of my financial anxiety, I was waiting for a portion of it to complete the transfer to my other bank so I could put some more money on my credit card before grocery day. And though yesterday was the expected completion date of the transfer, it didn’t complete.

So this morning I was still kind of uneasy about things — especially when I went out to test my car and it again wouldn’t start. The automatic door lock worked, and the wipers worked when I tried them, so I knew the battery was still viable, just drained. The few minutes I ran it while moving my car yesterday weren’t enough. And I still needed groceries. I might need to spend the extra 10-12 bucks to get them delivered. More than that, I had a tax appointment I’d need to drive out to next week, or so I thought (see below).

Tired of my dependence on jumpstarts, I decided to look on Amazon for one of those portable charger units you can use to jump your own battery. Now that I finally have some money, it seemed worth the investment. I found what seemed like a good and inexpensive one, at a discount and the last one in stock, so I snapped it up — but the delivery date was the end of the month, so it wouldn’t help with any car trips before then.

Meanwhile, I tried watching last week’s Agents of SHIELD on the ABC website, since without a cable provider I have to wait 8 days to see an episode. But it was glitchy. The first act or so had the audio description turned on with no way to turn it off (the second week in a row it’s done that). Then it restarted from the top without it, so I had to jump forward to where it left off. But not long after that, my laptop shut down! Sometimes streaming sites work it too hard and it shuts down to protect itself from overheating. And these days I routinely keep a cool pack from the freezer on top of it when I watch videos, just in case (at least from sites that I don’t know are free of that problem). Either the pack wasn’t cold enough or the thing was just running too hot in spite of it. I rebooted and tried again, but it still seemed like my laptop was running pretty hot, so I gave up rather than risk it. So that was pretty frustrating.

Anyway, a while later, I decided to walk to the nearest mailbox to mail a check, so I could try to clear my head with some exercise. But I gave my car another try, just to see if maybe it had recovered a bit more charge. No luck. But this time, another tenant came out (masked, yay) and I asked her for a jumpstart. Neither of us was very experienced at it, but we managed to get my car started. (She had an electric car with the battery in the trunk and an engine I couldn’t even hear when it was running.) So I drove to the post office, dropped the check in the drive-through mailbox, and then just motored around the neighborhood for a while, since a Facebook friend told me last night that a half-hour drive every so often would keep the battery charged. Still, I could only hope there wasn’t some defect draining the battery and that I’d be able to go pick up groceries after all.

So things were still feeling kind of iffy. On top of all that, I needed to call my tax preparers and ask about the appointment I have scheduled for next week. (I hate to say I’ve benefited from the pandemic, but I’d never have been able to pay my taxes on time if not for the 3-month postponement.) Since the main offices were closed for the summer, I would’ve had to drive a very long way to get to the place, and that would’ve been just to drop off my documents so they could prepare things without me present. And I didn’t know if my car would even work. So I called to ask if there was an online alternative, and the guy told me how to sign up for their website. So that was one step of that problem solved.

Also, my bank transfer finally went through, so I was able to take care of the credit card and also pay some bills, as well as order groceries for later pickup. So things were starting to fall into place. When the time came to pick up groceries, my car did start — and this time, the clerk who brought them out was wearing her mask properly, unlike last time. And though my phone had trouble logging into the website you’re supposed to contact on arrival — which last time meant my order wasn’t logged in properly and I had to go back hours later and figure out how to complete it on my phone so that my card would be charged and I wouldn’t be an inadvertent grocery thief — this time they seem to have improved their process and the order went through properly after all. (However, they were out of sandwich turkey and I forgot to order cheese slices, so I’m not going to be able to have my usual turkey sandwiches for a week or two.)

So stuff was pretty much working out now, and I was feeling better. But the best news came just a little while ago. My new novel outline was approved, so now it won’t be long before I get the second part of the advance. I’m finally pulling away from the brink after all these frustrating months, and hopefully it’s for good this time, if certain other things continue to work out.

Hmm… you know, I wrote this post to celebrate how relieved I was feeling that so much stuff worked out well after the rough start to the day. But writing about how I felt before has made me tense again. Well, it will pass. Things are starting to look up for me now, and hopefully that will continue.

Incidentally, one thing I’ve been enjoying these past few days is DC Universe’s Harley Quinn. I’ve avoided the show because I heard it was really violent and crude, but I’ve seen glowing reviews of its character work and plotlines, so I finally decided to give it a try. It definitely is far more gory than I care for, and I avert my eyes a lot, but otherwise it’s a damn impressive show, with mostly effective humor and fantastic, nuanced character work. There have been some very funny moments, but also some incredibly poignant, moving, and dramatically powerful moments. It’s the first time I’ve liked Kaley Cuoco in anything; she’s surprisingly good as Harley. (But the last thing I saw her in was the original Charmed, which was 14 years ago, so long that they’ve already rebooted it.) Lake Bell is fantastic as the best version of Poison Ivy I’ve ever seen. And Diedrich Bader is easily the best Batman voice actor not named “Kevin.” Remember how rattled I felt yesterday? I spent much of the day bingeing this show, and it was very comforting. (I’m only up to episode 8 of season 2 as of this writing, so no spoilers in the comments, please.)

So that’s where I’ve been. My personal sources of anxiety are finally working out for the better, so now I just have to worry about the ongoing collapse of civilization going on outside. Still, it did seem that a somewhat higher percentage of people were wearing masks today than the last time I went out for groceries. More people may finally be catching on. I just hope my building’s staff figures it out soon.

It’s Arachne Week on Patreon!

We’re probably less than a month away from the publication of Arachne’s Crime, my second original novel and the first half of a duology from eSpec Books. To promote the book, and hopefully to draw in some new subscribers to my Patreon page, I’m devoting this month’s fiction and behind-the-scenes content to Arachne’s Crime.

It begins at noon today with the release of the entire Chapter 1 of Arachne’s Crime for subscribers to my $10 Original Fiction tier and above. Tuesday will be the usual weekly TV review for subscribers at $5 and up, and on Wednesday, all Patreon subscribers at $1 and up will get an advance look at my design sketches for the three alien species featured in Arachne’s Crime, two of which are brand-new. Then on Friday, the $12 Behind the Scenes tier will feature an exclusive look at my worldbuilding notes about the featured aliens’ evolution, behavior, and culture.

If you haven’t tried out my Patreon page before, this is a great time to start!

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