Film production in Japan shut down in early April as part of the response to the outbreak of COVID-19, and as weeks passed with no signs of an immediate revival, filmmakers began to adapt to the situation by making “isolation” films.
Among them is the zombie-comedy “One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote,” a short sequel to Shinichiro Ueda’s sleeper hit “One Cut of the Dead” that had all the laughs, energy and charm of the original.
“Shin Godzilla” co-director Shinji Higuchi has now thrown his hat into the ring with “Kaiju Defeat Covid,” an “instructional video” with English subtitles that instructs fans on how to post a video selfie with their favorite kaijū (monster). The idea is to “catch” an invisible monster (Higuchi thoughtfully demonstrates), “magically” fuse it with your own monster and send the now strengthened beast hurling toward the camera (but not, Higuchi reminds us, hitting it) to crush the virus.
In all, it’s more of a meme than a film. Dozens of folks, from celebrities to ordinary fans, have joined the game, sending clips to be assembled with others into short films for viewing on YouTube. Some are quite funny, while others impress with the huge size of their kaijū collections.
One participant, director Shunji Iwai, has taken Higuchi’s meme a few steps further. He has joined forces with actor/director Takumi Saitoh to make a 12-part series of short films titled “The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8.” The series stars Saitoh as his real-life self in isolation after receiving three tiny “capsule kaijū” (round balls containing mini monsters) from an unnamed sender. The reference is to the “Ultra Seven” tokusatsu (special effects) sci-fi series whose hero, Dan Moroboshi, uses three capsule kaijū to battle baddies.
Day after day, the kaijū grow and change, though they remain clay-like figures Saito can hold in his hand. On the third day, they become the COVID-19 fighters Avigan, Remdesivir and Ivermectin, with the last shaped like a cashew, for some reason.
They begin to morph into little monsters and, on the fifth day, two flee, leaving one behind. Things take a sinister — and ridiculous — turn as Saitoh worries that the kaijū may be transforming into an enemy of humanity. On the eighth day, he decides to kill the beastie, with the actual deed pixelated to spare the sensitive. On day nine, however, it revives.
From here the series makes a transition to a different and more topical, if still gently wacky, plane. When the creature eventually makes its final transformation, I found myself misting up, for a reason I’d better not reveal. Kudos to Saitoh for walking the fine line between straight-faced sincerity and sly meta comedy.
I also lamented my own “Ultra Seven”-less childhood. Instead of playing Godzilla and stomping defenseless ant hills, I could have been imagining myself, monsters in hand, as a brave defender of Earth. But there’s still a chance for all of us: Head over to “Kaiju Defeat Covid” and join the battle to save the planet, one kaijū at a time.
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