Review: Films Set In Japan – Godzilla (2014)

Despite all the recent Godzilla features and movie location stuff on here I didn’t actually realise that this Gareth Edwards directed version was set in Japan (in part) until I saw it at the cinema the other day. I just assumed it was all set in the USA and though the second half of the film was in Hawaii, Nevada and San Francisco, the first hour or so was all set in Japan. As a movie locations geek it should be noted that the majority of this production was filmed in Vancouver, Canada.

Well, what do you know but it was the first half of this 123 minute movie which I preferred. A fair few people have complained of Godzilla getting very little air time but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, the beast does not need to be seen immediately but its appearance is built up whilst delivering a terrifying off-screen presence with a foot here and a tail there!

This incarnation of the the giant lizard is told from a human perspective and Bryan Cranston’s character Joe Brody seemingly gets all the character-driven stuff from the moment we first see him in 1999 working as an engineer at the fictional Janjira nuclear plant in Japan. Having been tracking oncoming tremors, a fateful event occurs at the reactor on the morning of his birthday which see his wife (Juliette Binoche) killed and the city sealed off for all eternity.

Fifteen years on and Joe’s son Ford (Taylor-Johnson), who is now a US Navy Officer living in San Francisco with a wife and kid, has to fly to Japan to bail out his father who has been arrested for trespassing. Joe’s still overcome with grief and is a crackpot conspiracy theorist living in a tiny apartment where the wall is covered in news clippings, maps and charts. Joe manages to convince Ford to accompany him to their old home to retrieve some vital information he recorded and whilst in the quarantine zone they find that it’s not at all contaminated thereby enhancing Joe’s opinion that the government covered up the true cause of the disaster. However, after recovering the data, soldiers appear and detain them within the plant’s ruins.

It’s thereafter that all the monster stuff begins to happen with “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) appearing on the scene which didn’t really catch my imagination but then again I’m not really a fan of kaiju (monster) movies. The rest of the film is carried out in the States with the US Navy task force getting involved which see’s the bad CIA guy (David Strathairn) from ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘ (2007) yet again in charge and standing in front of a wall of screens and monitors giving out instructions. Like so many other actors in this film though he was under-utilised which was perhaps a little surprising given how his distinctive voice was used in the promotional trailers.

British director Gareth Edwards is obviously a man with a great knowledge of, and affection for the previous works of Godzilla (stuff that I have actually slagged off a fair bit on this site throughout the years!) and there are plenty of nods of affection to the original 1954 film without any of the horrors repeated from the almost universally panned 1998 Roland Emmerich film of the same name.

The awakening of the MUTOs leads to the stirring of the pre-historic predator known as “Gojira” as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) says before reverting to the English name for the rest of the film. I particularly liked the opening titles with the grainy archive footage showing missiles and atomic bombs being used in the Pacific Ocean and we get to see them again as it later emerges that the existence of the giant monster has been kept secret by the U.S. government since 1954. The re-appearance of Godzilla results in atsunami and with this film also touching on another sensitive subject by way of nuclear power, things could be slightly uneasy for some Japanese people. It is quite clear that this movie could never have been made in Japan as local directors might be uncomfortable turning such matter into a big budget production.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Tokyo Joe’ (1949)

If you thought ‘The Barbarian And The Geisha‘ (1958) was old then this film is absolutely ancient and apart from the movies opening glimpse of Mount Fuji this is a very different Japan compared to its modern day incarnation. In black and white, this is a Humphrey Bogart film you don’t often hear about and though it desperately tries to recapture the winning formula of ‘Casablanca‘ (1942) it really is weary in comparison.

The story finds ex-soldier Joe Barrett (Bogart) returning to Ginza san-chome just after WWII to the nightclub which he once owned alongside his old Japanese partner Ito (Teru Shimada) who 007 fans may remember for his later role as Mr. Osato in ‘You Only Live Twice‘ (1967). Ito informs Joe that Trina (Florence Marly), the wife he left behind, who he believed to be dead, is alive and living nearby. On top of that, she has remarried an American diplomat and has a seven year old daughter of whom Joe is the father. Furthermore, Trina did propaganda broadcasts during the war for the Imperial Japanese government making her a traitor to America leaving her libel to prosecution from the US Military Government in Japan who were in charge of Japan at that time. This all makes Joe want to stay for longer than the 60 days he’s given by the authorities.

What happens next amid the ensuing complications is a tale of blackmail, threats, smuggling, kidnapping with the inevitable rescue attempt in a gloomy albeit brief exciting finale littered with a few randomly placed Japanese words. It sounds better than it actually was and ultimately I was fairly disappointed with this film.

Of course I am watching these ‘films set in Japan’ for the locations and that is about the only thing which kept me interested in this slow moving movie as its far more interesting than the plot. Japan is being rebuilt following WWII and the place is far off the Japan we see featured in flicks today. If you think the economy is bad at present then thats nothing compared to one particular point where Joe flicks his cigarette butt onto the street and several people go after it. I’m not sure if Bogart actually even came to Japan as whenever we see his face it appears that rear projection is being used but when you see a guy in a trench coat wearing a hat (and thereby don’t see his face) its obviously someone else who did visit Japan where the production crew must have come to get the location shots needed. It is pretty noticeable and does make the film seem a bit cheap but hey this was shot over 60 years ago! There is even one moment where Joe is practicing his Judo but its so clearly a stunt double as it looks nothing like him!

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Tokyo Fox Rating 3/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Hunted’ (1995)

Christopher Lambert’s character Paul Racine is a New Yorker who gets lucky with a mysterious oriental lady whilst on a business trip to Nagoya. After their night of passion he basically finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time having returned to her apartment just in time to see her decapitated for a transgression by the ninja assassin Kinjo whose face must never be seen by anyone. Incredibly Racine somehow survives the ninjas which really does transcend the bounds of realism given how easily they manage to butcher and savage far stronger opponents lying in their wake further down the line.

So Racine is in hospital and even watches my favourite ever TV programme The A-Teamfor a brief moment. He sure could have done with their help as he finds himself a man marked for death having seen the legendary Kinjo’s face and is interviewed by a rival ninja clan who protect and later teach him, by way of an older guy, some basic moves. There’s quite a few references to the Japanese code of honour and with Racine the witness in a murder he becomes the hunted (ah so thats how they got the title!) and how far this code goes is a recurring theme.

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A train journey turns out to be one of the films high points as a slew of ruthless and shockingly violent carnage begins. Unlike most other films where there is the constant clanging sounds of swords in fights that go on for all eternity these ones involve a quick stab here and a slash there. It’s brutal and gruesome and is moderately successful in blending the old samurai mystique with modern Japanese society.

It’s a movie which just about scrapes over the halfway mark in the ratings due to its simplicity, pace and the pure fact that when I watched this I may have just been in the right mood for some pointless and unnecessary blood and gut violence.

Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10