Sunday, June 28, 2009

Toei Tokusatsu Hero Box - Disc 5

(I keep doing these reviews!)

Since the film MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978) was Toei's answer to STAR WARS, it is perhaps unsurprising that they used the same name for a spacefaring TV series. However, UCHU KARA NO MESSAGE : GINGA TAISEN ("Message from Space : Galactic Battle") has only superficial connections to its movie namesake. If the film is a Japanese STAR WARS, then the TV show is the Japanese BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. This disc includes a theatrical featurette of the televison version, which is sort of like when the pilot for BG found its way into cinemas. Sadly, I don't think either incarnation of MESSAGE went over even as well as the original 1970s iteration of BG.

Hiroyuki Sanada is back, but he isn't playing the same character as in the original MESSAGE. If anything, this series is flashier and has more action. The budget probably isn't as lavish, but they make due with what they have. I deeply enjoy the ape man (this show's "Wookiee" stand-in) and Tonto (the obligatory cute robot) for the low-budget charm. From what I've seen, this is a grand show, so it's a shame it went nowhere.

BATTLE FEVER J is an odd case. It is a sentai - in fact, the first to be branded as "super sentai" - and yet, it is presented in this collection. Why? Because it was omitted from the sentai movie set! I'm guessing Toei has lost the 35 mm elements for the Battle Fever J theatrical film (which was merely a cropped blow-up of the 16 mm Episode 5 of the series) and so decided to just skip it for the sentai box. Presumably, this was met with some outcry, as the "film" is included in this set.

The catch in this happy ending is that I don't think Toei miraculously unearthed a new print. It looks like they did some clever patchwork on a copy of the remastered episode's print and called it a day. Certainly, I have a lot of trouble believing that BFJ was not in widescreen in 1979, when ever other movie of this type was. It's not an outrage by any means - in some respects, it's a BETTER presentation. But it's not the "theatrical" presentation. Not exactly.

As for the movie/episode itself, it's a great one! It's the introduction of Battle Fever Robo in action, marking what would be a fundamental change in the sentai genre. Plus, we get plenty of hijinks with one of the more colorful teams of sentai heroes.

What is there to say about BATTEN ROBO MARU? It's another silly, slightly surreal cute robot show. I enjoyed this original theatrical featurette a lot - perhaps more than I did the ROBOKON ones. I especially liked the parodies of popular characters who turned up. The last thing I was expecting was a riff on real/fictional wrestler Tiger Mask!

We wrap up the disc with a double dose of SHAIDER, the third and final of the "uchu keiji" ("space sheriffs"). Well, a couple of subsequent shows were thematically similar, but SHAIDER is the last official space sheriff. It's still as technically proficient as its predecessors GAVAN and SHARIVAN, but it does feel as if the formula is wearing a little thin. It doesn't help matters that star Hiroshi Tsuburaya, while competent enough, is still a bit colorless at this stage in his career. Shaider manages the mean feat of getting upstaged by his sidekick Annie!

Ah, Naomi Morinaga. Someday, I will write more here about this incredible woman. I'll give you the short version by saying that Morinaga is both amazingly beautiful and an amazing stunt performer. She later developed into a decent actress too, but in SHAIDER, she gets by with her prodigious charisma and screen presence. If you can't tell, I'm a fan.

Both of the SHAIDER movies are acceptable entertainment for their purposes. I have a preference for the first one, which has a "mysterious cool character" named Omega. Omega is a great idea, which makes it all the more unfortunate that Toei squandered the opportunity to film flashbacks with Gavan and Sharivan for his backstory and elected instead to go with painted stills. If you want to know more, find the movie!

That's all this time, but join us for the overview of Disc 6 (whenever those particular planets align) and my discussion of what I consider the most bogus "sub-genre" of Japanese superheroes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Definition of Punk

A few years ago, we were watching TV at work and one of those "100 Greatest Whatever" shows was playing on VH-1. This particular one was devoted to "hard rock", and they naturally applied a liberal definition of that term. After all, they have a lot of time to fill!

Anyway, my co-workers were rather enjoying the program - that is, until the Sex Pistols showed up. My hapless work buddies wrinkled their noses and complained at how terrible a band they were. All I could do was laugh. Most of these people hadn't even been born when the Sex Pistols were breaking new ground for rock 'n' roll hooligans.

Thirty plus years later, the Sex Pistols still have the power to enrage and disgust. That is the definition of punk.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Batman : The Black Casebook

Since this book ties into Grant Morrison's recent storylines in Batman, you could argue that it's seriously belated. I won't dispute that idea. But I'm glad DC decided to publish it at all, as it's surely one of the quirkier Batman books to come down the pike in many a moon.

Here's DC Comics' page for Batman : The Black Casebook. Ignore that blurb about an Alex Ross cover, assuming it stays there. The actual cover is as depicted. I'm not certain how I feel about the "rough notebook" look from an aesthetic standpoint, but it does go hand-in-hand with the high concept behind this collection.

The conceit is that Batman keeps a journal of all his weirdest and most improbable cases - the so-called "Black Casebook". This is essentially code for those wacky stories from the 1950s and early 1960s where Batman fought monsters and aliens and found himself knee deep in some of the gimmickiest stuff of his fictional career. This book gives those tales their due, with special attention to ones Morrison referenced in his recent work.

I'm not going to rehash every story in this trade paperback. C'mon, that'd be silly. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find some genuinely interesting psychology at play in a few of them. I won't accuse them of being particularly deep, but they were a little more challenging than I might have expected. Nicely played.

In a wildly different sort of enthusiasm, I'm thrilled to FINALLY read the famous "Batmen of All Nations" story. The "foreign Batmen" are all rather corny national stereotypes, but that sort of nuttiness was and is exactly what I love about these old comics. It's so fun to get this story and its sequel from World's Finest in a single volume.

One of the things I usually don't like about these collections, and this book is no exception, is that it's darn near impossible to not get "repeats" of stories from other collections. I know I have at least two of them from this tome in other trades. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be to the hardcore buyer!

Also, maybe it's just my copy, but the contents page is a little blurry and hard to read. Off-register, maybe? I'm terribly behind in how these books get produced anymore.

Minor complaints aside, I still think this is an extremely worthy addition to my bookshelf. Perhaps you will agree.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bits of OWARI Business

For various boring/exciting (take your pick!) reasons, new content has been light both here and on my "Return of Jetman" site lately. This probably won't be changing anytime soon. However, neither site is going on hiatus. It's more of a slowdown period because of real life.

If you're curious, there are at least two original and (hopefully!) informative entries slated for this space in the month of June. There might even be more, but I'm not making promises. I'm also tentatively planning to return to work on ROJ in the coming days and weeks. That will involve wrapping up a few other things, though.

Meanwhile, I've added a link to my Facebook to the sidebar. I've resisted doing this sort of thing for years, but I have to acknowledge that my beloved LiveJournal (almost to 2000 posts!) may eventually go gently into that good night. The recent addition of authentic usernames to Facebook sort of sealed the deal. So now you can "add" me to your Internet friends list and we can...I don't know, read each other's status messages. I'm pretty sure there's nothing "secret" over there - it's just loaded with more personal type stuff. There is also a syndicated feed from this blog.

For those of you who have trouble with this sort of thing (and you know who you are), here's the link :

If it happens that you are reading these entries on Facebook, the blog's address is this :

Join me and together we'll turn this mother out! Uh, or something.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brotherly "Love"

The following panel comes from All-Star Archives Vol. 0. The original source is the Hawkman story from All-Star Comics #1, circa 1940. The writer is Gardner Fox, the artist is Sheldon Moldoff, and the panel is © DC Comics.

A word about Mr. Moldoff's Golden Age Hawkman art : a lot of the layouts were swipes from Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon work. I expect this panel is an example, but the context changes everything.


Luke & Leia got nothing on Jan & Margo.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tora! Tora! Tora!

I'm not a big fan of war movies as a general rule, but I saw a bit of TORA! TORA! TORA! on TV some time ago. It appealed to me because of my interest in Japanese films, since it was a U.S.-Japanese co-production and claimed to tell "both sides" of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It certainly does that, and it leaves the American viewer with a certain sense of schizophrenia about it. Well, this viewer anyway.

Because of its very nature, TORA! TORA! TORA! does not have any characters that you could call "villains." On the Japanese side (the side you would expect to be evil in an American war movie), I would say only Hideki Tojo (Asao Uchida) comes across truly poorly. Even his countrymen seem to regard Tojo warily. As for the rest, I would say they come across as men doing their duty for their country. Certainly, if I were to pick out one character in this film as the central figure and "hero," it would unquestionably be Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (So Yamamura). In Yamamura's excellent portrayal, the Admiral is an intelligent and honorable man trying to make the best of a situation that he does not think is wise.

By contrast, the Americans do not have a central figure around whom the story revolves. There are certainly "name" actors (Martin Balsam as Admiral Kimmel, Joseph Cotten as Henry Stimson, James Whitmore as Admiral Halsey, Jason Robards as General Short), but none of them really feels like the focus of the story. The closest I felt the Americans had to a sympathetic figure was E.G. Marshall's Lt. Colonel Bratton, who tries in vain to convince people that something will happen in the Pacific. His character pretty much fades away by the time the attack gets underway.

Not to say that the acting is weak. The American actors are all quite professional, but they suffer in that most of their characters are terribly restrained. The Japanese actors, on the other hand, get to inject a bit more passion into their side of the story. There is a great exchange between Admiral Nagumo (Eijiro Tono) and Admiral Yamaguchi (Susumu Fujita) that I thought exemplified "samurai acting" at its finest. There's also a profoundly odd character among the Japanese (his name escapes me) who I think would have benefited from more screen time. He probably gets it in the Japanese version.

The movie is very long, as you might expect. There are so many characters running around on both sides, and trying to give all of them their due necessitates that the movie be a bit longer than your average potboiler. I didn't so much mind the pacing, partly because of the knowledge that something big was going to happen, and it would be epic.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is an interesting thing. As we watch the Japanese prepare and then take off, I marvelled at how stirring it was. Then, I remembered that they were launching an offensive on the Americans, not on some space monster. Quite a sensation to know that a movie can make you forget exactly what's happening if you get swept into its POV.

The attack itself is a technical triumph, especially considering it dates back to 1970. It's quite lengthy and yet doesn't feel as if it is dragged out at all. There are attempts made to portray the heroism of the American forces, but they are blunted by the honest fact that the viewer hasn't seen these characters before. I can't find myself able to attach too much significance to a pilot who only appeared five minutes earlier, no matter how brave he might seem to be. I had more of a connection with Takahiro Tamura's Lt. Col. Fuchida, one of the Japanese fighter pilots.

The movie ends as it began, with the Japanese forces. Admiral Yamamoto reflects on the mixed victory of the day (the Japanese attack was only a partial success, and their declaration of war was delayed until after it was underway) and realizes that, perhaps, this was only the beginning of the end.

I really liked TORA! TORA! TORA!, partly because of some of its quirks that could be viewed as narrative flaws. An American movie giving a sympathetic portrayal of the Japanese, possibly even over the Americans, is just so bizarre that it's hard not to find it appealing. Of course, I'm sure that is what contributed to the movie's failure at the box office in 1970. How many people wanted to see this kind of movie less than 30 years after the event? As for me, I can't say it convinced me that the Japanese were the heroes (that doesn't seem to be the intent anyway), but it did give me a clearer understanding of what happened and why. There were mistakes made on both sides, and that was why things played out the way they did.

Besides the cast members I've already mentioned, Tatsuya Mihashi (WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY?) and Koreya Senda (BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE) are also featured, and there are bit parts by Japan-based Westerners Harold S. Conway and Mike Daning (Daneen?). Richard Fleischer directed the American side and Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukusaku (who finally managed to gain name value international fame in the last years of his life with the BATTLE ROYALE films) shared Japanese directing duties after the early release of famed director Akira Kurosawa. The DVD has commentary by Fleischer and writer Stuart Galbraith IV (whose name gets misspelled, poor guy). I found it rather interesting, but that's probably the film geek in me showing.

If you are interested in Japanese film or Japanese history, I recommend TORA! TORA! TORA! to you. You might not enjoy it the way I did, but you'll definitely learn something.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

SD Battle Japan

SD Battle Japan

This "SD" (Super Deformed, aka "Chibi") version of Battle Japan from the sentai series BATTLE FEVER J is probably the earliest example still in existence of my attempts at learning how to use CGI coloring. It dates back all the way to 2002. I actually still think it looks pretty good!

I've never posted this GIF on my deviantArt because I didn't draw the lineart. It is a blown-up scan from an advertising flier from the 1990s. But since there are no restrictions here as to what I can and cannot post, you can see this pic in all its glory. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Imperius Redux!

I don't buy a lot of single comics these days, so it takes something pretty doggone special for me to elect to pick up a whole BUNCH of books. Marvel is currently doing something just that special with a series of one-shots celebrating the 70th anniversary of the comics side of their operation. These books have been revivals of old titles from the Golden Age of comics, and they are a rare treat. They combine brand-new stories of vintage Marvel characters with reprints from the glory days they are commemorating. It's an almost irresistible package for someone like me.

Currently available as of this writing are four titles :

Captain America Comics #1

Sub-Mariner Comics #1

Human Torch Comics #1

Marvel Mystery Comics #1

(Boy, I sure hope those Marvel site links stay valid...)

Each of these books has something interesting going for it. My favorite is Sub-Mariner Comics #1, which boasts a new Namor story penned by Roy Thomas. His tale is spot-on with both characterization and action. Plus, it has what is in my opinion the best art of the books so far. There's also a previously unpublished inventory story by Mark Schultz and Al Williamson in there that is awesome indeed.

There are more of these books yet to come. I have no idea if I'll be writing about them in the future, but here's the current list of upcoming releases (again, via the official Marvel site) :

Miss America Comics #1 (June 10)

Young Allies Comics #1 (June 17)

USA Comics #1 (July 1)

All Select Comics #1 (July 15)

All Winners Comics #1 (Aug. 5)

Mystic Comics #1 (Aug. 19)

Of these, I'm most anticipating All Winners Comics #1. I'm eager to see what kind of story Karl Kesel will cook up for it.

I don't have any word on further books in this series, but it seems likely there will be some. Daring Mystery Comics is the most familiar Timely title that hasn't been dragged out of mothballs for this event. I will confess that I'd be perversely intrigued to see what Marvel would do with a revival of Comedy Comics!

These books are by no means essential reading, but they are a decent way to pass the time. Worth picking up for a reasonably entertaining comic book experience.