BOLT (Kaizo Hayashi, 2019)

“We have to trust the bonds that tie us” intones a voice from the control room, “if you can’t tighten that bolt the water will pollute the future”. A series of post-Fukushima tales, Kaizo Hayashi’s tripartite portmanteau movie BOLT is less about the radiating effects of a nuclear disaster than their legacy, insisting that if you can’t pull together you can’t move forward but then in the end the bolt cannot be tightened or the deluge stemmed. It is perhaps too late, but still you have to live. 

Set in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, the first of the three tales follows a series of selfless engineers sent in to tighten a bolt on a leaking tank. They are informed their suits will protect them but not completely, they have only half an hour of oxygen, and should work in pairs for no longer than a minute before changing over. The older men tell the younger to wait behind, hoping to spare them from harm while the young men bristle wanting to do their bit. In any case, one of the young men later freezes, his feet rooted to the spot as if under some kind of spell while his friend begins to go quietly mad when a second bolt works it way out seconds after he’s fixed the first. The unnamed chief (Masatoshi Nagase) refuses to return with his team, staying to ensure he’s done all that can be done but in the end they cannot stop what is already in motion. 

A few years later the chief has apparently moved on, now working as a house clearer in the exclusion zone. His job is to tidy up and sanitise the home of a man who refused the evacuation order and has since passed away alone. As he’s been told, he carefully saves important documents and personal items such as photo albums for the family only to be told there is no family to take them, they were all taken by the tsunami. His cynical partner asks him why he got into this kind of work. He doesn’t have much of an answer for him save that someone’s got to do it and can offer only the declaration that he has to go on living for further direction of his life. 

On Christmas Eve 2014 however he’s still alone, living in an auto garage making some kind of metal device while a pair of children outside set the scene for a ghost story claiming there’s a mermaid living in the tank inside. Like the deceased man, the chief also seems to have lost someone, a black and white photograph sitting on the desk behind him, while apparently attempting to return to his former life as a nuclear technician only to be told he’s taken too much radiation already though the plant is short staffed seeing as many prefer to work on the Olympics, forging the future while neglecting the past. His Christmas gets off to a strange start when a beautiful woman in a red convertible bedecked with festive lights literally crashes into his life. An echo of someone else her arrival and subsequent departure hint at the strange and ethereal impermanence of post-disaster life in the continuing impossibility of moving on from irresolvable trauma. 

Beginning in science fiction with the high concept opener and its cyber punk design, Hayashi posits the nuclear threat as a kind of supernatural curse which can perhaps never be undone. Crackles of electricity take on a spiritual air while the permanent pinking of the sky seems to hint at a world forever changed as if something has been unleashed and can never again be caged. Tormented by cosmological unease, the chief chooses action, trying to his best to live even when action fails. The bolt can’t be tightened, the water pollutes the future, and all he can do is continue to stem the tide, tightening the bolts wherever they fray. With occasional flashes of psychedelic surrealism, Hayashi’s three tales offer a bleak and melancholy vision of life in the shadow of an almost supernatural disaster, but find finally a determination to live no matter how futile it may turn out to be. 


BOLT streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Images: ©L’espace Vision, Dream Kid, Kaizo Production

Monster SeaFood Wars (三大怪獣グルメ, Minoru Kawasaki, 2020) [Fantasia 2020]

Ever wondered what happens to a fallen kaiju? After Godzilla and friends have ransacked the city, there’s certainly a lot of cleaning up to do but disposing of kaiju corpses isn’t something your average monster movie gives a lot of thought to. According to Monster SeaFood Wars (三大怪獣グルメ, San Daikaiju Gourmet), there’s surprisingly good eating to be had in monster meat and when it comes to taking down a giant squid, perhaps it’s better to ask a chef rather than a scientist or the boffins from the Ministry of Defence. 

Switching between documentary sequences featuring talking heads looking back on the bizarre events and the events themselves, Monster SeaFood Wars follows scientist/sushi shop heir Yuta (Keisuke Ueda) who accidentally unleashes three giant kaiju on the city of Tokyo after he’s knocked off his bike while delivering some prize seafood to the local temple as an offering. In addition to being the heir to a sushi shop, Yuta is also a scientist apparently obsessed with giant monsters which he describes as “cute” and had been working on a serum, Setap Z, to turn ordinary foodstuffs giant in order to end world hunger. Before you know it, angry octopus Takolla and his frenemy Ikalla are on the rampage through the city. 

Of course, Yuta is the prime suspect which is perhaps why he somewhat arrogantly describes himself as the “biggest victim” while reluctantly agreeing to help out SMAT, Seafood Monster Attack Team, as they try to figure out how to mitigate the effect of Setap Z and stop the kaiju assault but is further irritated by being denied a spot on the team as a full member. Meanwhile, he’s also facing off against rival scientist Hikoma (Yuya Asato) who impresses with an obvious idea, vinegar, while charming Yuta’s childhood friend and unrequited crush Nana (Ayano Christie Yoshida) who now works for the Ministry of Defence and has only contempt for the weirdo monster geek. 

Yuta’s plan had been to let Takolla and Ikalla duke it out, assuming Takolla would win and then they’d somehow lure him into a giant octopus trap. Hikoma meanwhile suggests giant rice vinegar cannons, regular missiles already having proved ineffective against the sea creatures’ springy flesh. Hikoma’s plan would have worked, had it not been for the sudden and unexpected return of Kanilla whose hard shell protects him against the corrosive effects of the vinegar. During the fight, however, some of Takolla’s tentacles are chopped off, chunks of meaty white flesh falling to the ground as SMAT commander Hibiki (Ryo Kinomoto) unconsciously licks his lips. 

While very much a classic kaiju movie, Monster SeaFood Wars has its tongue firmly in its cheek, scaling back on the monster-fighting action for some gentle satire as the gang find they just can’t resist the urge find out what kaiju tastes like. The answer is surprisingly good, with the effect that kaiju meat becomes the latest culinary trend. “Forget bubble tea” one commentator says, monstrous squid is where it’s at. The TV news also comes in for a kicking with its placard unveiling confirming the kaiju’s name as well as a state of the nation address from an Abe-esque PM using the crisis to further his quest to “take back Japan” while speaking in a distinctly squeaky voice.

Meanwhile, drunk salarymen complain about their exploitative working conditions, joking that they’d need to be eight-armed octopuses to get through the amount of work expected of them only for Takolla to appear out of nowhere and slap them down seconds after they’ve made a few inappropriate remarks to some passing young ladies. Aside from the kaiju, the big bad does seem to be pervasive sexism with Ministry of Defence employee Nana often relegated to little more than eye candy and eventually the subject of an offensive bet between the icy Yuta and slick Hikoma whose equally sexist cheesy lines actually seem to impress her. 

Yuta, however, gets the chance to redeem himself by revealing that the really did make the formula to help starving people in Africa rather than just because he actively wanted to usher in the great kaiju apocalypse, owning his legacy as the son of a sushi shop while his best friend Niima (Shojiro Yokoi) has a few surprises of his own up his sleeve which prove that the best person to have at a giant octopus is a skilled chef. Of course Setap Z turns out to cause a few additional problems, accidentally spreading itself around after hitting the mosquito population, while it seems the villain is not quite done with their desire to misuse the serum, hinting at a possible sequel. A humorous but never mocking take on the classic tokusatsu, Monster SeaFood Wars pits culinary science against the giant monster threat and discovers that all you need to save the world is a good cook.


Monster SeaFood Wars streams in Canada from 20th August to 2nd September as part of this year’s online edition of Fantasia International Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Summer of Ubume (姑獲鳥の夏, Akio Jissoji, 2005)

Summer of the UbumeAkio Jissoji has one of the most diverse filmographies of any director to date. In a career that also encompasses the landmark tokusatsu franchise Ultraman and a large selection of children’s TV, Jissoji made his mark as an avant-garde director through his three Buddhist themed art films for ATG. Summer of Ubume (姑獲鳥の夏, Ubume no Natsu) is a relatively late effort and finds Jissoji adapting a supernatural mystery novel penned by Natsuhiko Kyogoku neatly marrying most of his central concerns into one complex detective story.

Freelance writer Tatsumi Sekiguchi (Masatoshi Nagase) and occult expert Kyogokudo (Shinichi Tsutsumi) become intrigued by the bizarre story of a woman who has apparently been pregnant for twenty months. If that weren’t enough weirdness, the woman’s husband also went missing a year ago and now her sister has approached the pair hoping they can investigate and figure out what’s really going on. Unbeknownst to him, Sekiguchi has a longstanding connection with several of the people involved and himself plays a role in the central mystery. Demons foreign and domestic, past trauma, infanticide and multiple personality disorder are just some of the possible solutions but as Kyogokudo is keen to remind us, there is nothing in this world that is truly strange.

The mystery conceit takes the form of a classic European style detective story complete witha drawing room based finale in which each of our potential suspects is assembled for Kyogokudo so that he can deliver his final lecture and tick them all off the list as he goes along. The tale takes place in the summer of 1952 and so the spectre of Japan’s wartime past, as well as its growing future, both have a part to play in solving this extremely complex crime. The original supernatural question concerns two otherworldly entities which have become conflated – the Chinese Kokakucho which abducts children, and the Japanese Ubume which offers its child to passersby. Needless to say, the answer to all of our questions lies firmly within our own world and is in no small part the result of relentless cruelty masked as tradition.

The opening scene includes a lengthy discussion between Kyogokudo an Sekiguchi debating the nature of reality. We only experience the world as we perceive it, seeing and unseeing at will. Everybody, to an extent, sees what they need to see, therefore, memory proves an unreliable narrator when it comes to recalling facts which may run contrary to the already prepared narrative.

Jissoji brings his trademark surrealist approach to the material which largely consists of interconnecting flashbacks often intercut with other dreamlike imagery. Filming with odd angles and unusual camera movements, Jissoji makes the the regular world a destabilising place as the strange mystery takes hold. The canted angles and direct to camera approach also add to a slight hardboiled theme which creeps in around the otherwise European detective drama though this mystery is much more about solving a series of puzzles than navigating the dangerously dark world of the noir. That said this is a very bleak tale which, for all its frog faced children weirdness, has some extremely unpleasant human behaviour at its roots.

Supernatural investigator Kyogokudo quickly dispenses with the demonic in favour of the natural but the solutions to this extremely complicated set of mysteries are anything but simple. Making space for the original novel’s author to show up as a travelling picture storyteller with some Shigeru Mizuki inspired illustrations on his easel, Summer of Ubume is not entirely devoid of whimsy but its deliberately arch tone is one which it manages to make work with its already bizarre set up. The enemy is the unburied past, or more precisely the unacknowledged past which generates its own series of ghosts and phantasms, always lurking in the background and creating havoc wherever they go. Occasionally confusing, Summer of Ubume is a fascinating supernatural mystery which takes its cues much more from European detective stories and gothic adventure than from supernatural horror or fantastical ghost story.


Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s source novel is available in an English translation by Alexander O. Smith (published by Vertical in the US).

Original trailer (no subs):