TV Show of the Day: Karei naru Spy (2009)

Country: Japan
Directors: Otani Taro, Iwamoto Hitoshi, Ishio Jun
Cast: Nagase Tomoya, Fukada Kyoko, Sekai no Nabeatsu, Fujiwara Kazuhiro
Guest Stars: Inoue Mao, Tezuka Toru, Shirahane Yuri
Producer: Sato Atsushi

Karei naru Spy is a Japanese television show which aired in 2009. Apparently there were ten episodes in the series, and a spin off movie that aired later.

Link to the official website.

TV Show of the Day: Karei naru Spy (2009)

Liner Notes: Andrez Bergen

Everyone loves movie music, don’t they? That fusion of images and sound can create true cinema magic regardless of genre.

Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?

With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.

Today I am joined by author, Andrez Bergen, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.

* * * * *

Inception by Hans Zimmer. Let it be known that Zimmer’s work with Terence Malick (The Thin Red Line) and Christopher Nolan (the Batman movies) were scores I loved so much I had them on repeat hundreds of times, I sampled them in my own music, and they have influenced some of my writing. He’s also done a lot of crap. The German composer’s soundtrack for Inception therefore had to be insanely good to win me over – and it did. Sad, nostalgic and rousing all at one, there’s a rough, raggedly layered quality to the work. Superb stuff.

The Third Man, by Anton Karas, who single-handedly (with his zither) scored Carol Reed’s 1947 film noir classic. Word has it the Austrian worked up to 14 hours a day for twelve weeks to produce the soundtrack, using a stringed central European instrument until then largely unknown. Definitely most memorable here is ‘The Harry Lime Theme’ — which is used as the train platform melody at Ebisu Station in Tokyo. It’s a remarkable, mesmerizing tune that conjures up images of, well, Orson Welles (in his younger days) with a smug smile as he settles back to talk cuckoo clocks. And there’s nothing better than that.

Ran, by Toru Takemitsu. I love most of the soundtrack music utilized by Akira Kurosawa, especially from Fumio Hayasaka (Drunken Angel & Seven Samurai), but for Ran (1985) he inducted Takemitsu, a man who composed music for over 100 films in 40 years. Renowned as a hands-on composer who acclimatized himself with the on-set action during filming, Takemitsu’s work on Ran is a piece of art that fully compliments the movie it defines. Most striking are the moments of absolute silence while all hell breaks loose on-screen. The “found” sounds of reality, here, are soundtrack unto themselves.

The Italian Job, by Quincy Jones. You know, I very nearly slotted in the score for the 007 film You Only Live Twice in here, which I do cherish, until I noticed that Todd Stadtman had already done so in his version of Liner Notes. So let’s look at another British production from the swinging ’60s, made two years after Sean Connery hit Japan. Instead we get Michael Caine (as Charlie Croker) waltzing around Italy, and swap Bernard Lee’s M for Noel Coward’s Mr. Bridger. But it’s the theme music — put together by the great Quincy Jones, 36 at the time – that makes this film stand out. Jones has worked with people as disparate as Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Michael Jackson, and he did the soundtracks for In Cold Blood and The Anderson Tapes. The opening credits song here, ‘On Days Like These’, with lyrics by Don Black (a regular on the James Bond movies) and vocals by Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love), is a sublime number that lulls the senses — cue suave gent in wraparound shades and a cigarette in his mitt, heading out for a Sunday drive along a scenic mountain route. That is, until he heads into a tunnel and collides with a carefully placed Mafia tractor. Later on, after a successful, often hilarious bank heist, the film winds up with the bus hooning around corners and mountainous cliffs to the dulcet tones of the Cockney-inspired ‘Get A Bloomin’ Move On’. Perfect bookends to a perfect movie.

Mothra, by Yuji Koseki. Again, this was a last minute decision as I originally thought to field Akira Ifukube’s rousing score for 1954’s Godzilla. But there’s something enchanting about this wildly original soundtrack put together by Koseki, otherwise most famous for composing a baseball song for Japan’s second most-popular team, the Hanshin Tigers. Probably this enchantment has much to do with vocalists The Peanuts (twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito) who also star in the flick. Their song ‘Mosura ya Mosura’, with an extra-added Polynesian influence and the lyrical handiwork of Ishiro Honda (director of both Godzilla and Mothra), is all tribal drums and a reverberating vocal hook, making it one of the catchiest riffs to hallmark a movie.

Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, photographer and ad hoc beer and saké connoisseur who’s been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 11 years. He published the noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat in 2011 and just published his second tome, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude through Perfect Edge Books.

He’s currently working on #3, titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Bergen has also published short stories through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, ‘Pulp Ink 2’, Another Sky Press and Solarcide, and worked on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by Mamoru Oshii, Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani.

Liner Notes: Andrez Bergen

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

Country: Japan
Director: Teruo Ishii
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Eiji Gô, Yutaka Nakajima, Etsuko Shihomi, Kanjûrô Arashi, Ryô Ikebe, Tetsurô Tanba, Makoto Satô
Music: Hajime Kaburagi
Original Title: Chokugeki jigoku-ken: Dai-gyakuten

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno is a broad comedic caper film, with a pinch of extreme violence added at the end (which may be somewhat jarring to Western audiences). As for the ‘Karate Inferno’ promised in the title, it is more of a ‘Karate Camp Fire’. There is very little fistic mayhem in this film compared to many other Chiba films. However, if you ignore the title, and enjoy caper movies, then you’ll find this film is very entertaining.

As the film opens, Lady Sabine, a rich heiress, is preparing to exhibit her jewel collection in Tokyo. The price piece is a necklace called The Star of the Pharaoh, which is valued at one million yen. However, before the exhibition, the necklace is stolen, and Sabine’s young daughter is kidnapped. The criminals want one million yen for the necklace, and the girl.

The insurance company – through a shady intermediary named The Commissioner (Ryo Ikebe) – recruit three super crooks to steal the money back from the criminals once the exchange has been made. The super crooks are Ryuichi Koga (Sonny Chiba), Takeshi Hayabusa (Makoto Sato), and Ichiro Sakura (Eiji Go).

The exchange goes wrong. Sabine’s daughter is rescued, however, the money and necklace remain in the hands of the criminals. As a result, the super crooks don’t get paid. Further more, Sabine deals directly with the criminals, paying an extra million yen to have the necklace returned.

Koga is not happy about being stiffed his fee, and decides to steal the necklace from Sabine. He scales the side of high-rise building, cuts through the window and steals the necklace, but only to find it is a fake. The real necklace is in a vault on the nineteenth floor, of a high-security building. The super crook team re-assembles to break into the vault – with the usual, caper film tropes in place.

As I mentioned at the top, the film, which is so light in tone for most of its running time has an extremely violent ending – with eyeballs popping from their sockets, and a liver being torn from a body.

The sexual content is playful, but puerile (in an Animal House kind of way). There are upskirt shots and leering in high-rise windows scenes. It would also appear only half of Japanese women wear panties. It should be noted that Japanese movies and television have a different concept of what is offensive and/or adult. I remember when I was a teenager, visiting Japan in the mid 1980s, and flicking on late afternoon children’s television – and discovering a delightful little animated show, where a cheeky little bird would swoop down on young ladies, and rip the girls top off with its beak – thereby exposing the lady’s breasts.

I found The Executioner II: Karate Inferno to be a great deal of fun – if somewhat uneven. Now having said all that, I must point out that I have not watched the previous film, The Executioner – which is said to be almost the reverse of this feature. It is full of violence and nudity – and light on for comedy capers. So, if you were to come to this film from The Executioner, and were expecting more of the same, I could see how this film may disappoint. After all, Chiba does have a reputation for in-your-face actioners, and Karate Inferno never really delivers on that score.

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974)

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Country: Japan
Director: Shûsuke Kaneko
Starring: Tsuyoshi Ihara, Akira Onodera, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitano
Music: Kô Ôtani

I still consider myself a Keigu Eiga novice. Over the last couple of years, I have sampled a good number of Godzilla films – not as many as I would like, only around eight – but I haven’t really branched out into the other monsters. Today I rectify that (well it’s a start) with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. As far as monsters go, Gamera, as giant turtle, isn’t really as threatening as Godzilla, or even King Kong. And although I have never seen them, the early Gamera movies are generally derided for being pretty cheesy. But this feature, Guardian of the Universe isn’t too bad at all. I enjoyed it immensely – only slightly hindered by a slow start – it is over thirty-five minutes into the film, before Gamera really makes his first appearances.

As the film begins, the Patrol Boat Nojima is escorting the freighter Kairu Maru off the Indonesian coast, heading up, back toward Japan. The Kairu Maru’s cargo, and the reason for the escort, is one ton of plutonium. All hell breaks loose, when the Maru runs aground on an atoll – the weird thing being that they were in 3000 feet of water at the time. Of course, every fears an environmental disaster of epic proportions – but thankfully the ship’s hull was not breached. But this uncharted atoll is a mystery – especially when it is discovered that that atoll is actually moving – also heading towards Japan. A young scientist named Yonemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara) joins a research team to find this atoll.

Seemingly unrelated, Professor Hirata, an ornithologist, is called to the island of Himegami, off the Japanese coast, as there have been reports of a giant bird causing havoc. But after a storm, and the disappearance of the entire population of Himegami, including the Professor – the police are called into investigate. They contact his first assistant, Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama), to pick up the pieces. She flies out to check the scene.

The island has been trashed – and the only sign of the Professor is found in (sorry folks) a giant turd. It can be assumed that the monster bird, which made the deposit, has eaten the Professor. Later Nagamine and the police venture further into the jungle interior of the island searching for the killer bird. As they wander aimlessly, it flies overhead. The bird’s size – it has a 15 metre wing span – panics the police chief who then exclaims that this job in no longer in his jurisdiction. He wants to get off the island he becomes a snack for the giant flying fiend.

But the bird is not after them. It is migrating to the Goto Archipelago, where food (people) is more abundant. Nagamine and the police follow the bird in a helicopter – and while in pursuit, she takes a photo of the creature in flight. Inadvertently, when the flash goes off, she discovers that the creature does not like bright light. But that is the least of her discoveries. As the creature circles around, they discover that there are two more of the flying killers.

Of course, these beasts aren’t birds at all – as they have no feathers, and they have fangs. They are, in fact, Gyaos, a creature that is ancient and evil.

Meanwhile Yonemori and his team, have been busy with their atoll research. They have tracked the moving atoll, and launch a team to investigate the floating, rock covered anomaly. The team land in an inflatable dinghy, and begin a search. Among the rocks they find a series of small comma shaped beads – I won’t tell you what the beads do, but I can assure you, they come into the story later. Next they find a large carved stone tablet, half buried amongst the rocks. The research team break out the picks and shovels and begin to dig it free.

Finally the tablet is free and Yonemori arranges for a helicopter to fly over from the research vessel, and airlift it out of there. But before this can happen, the tablet shatters, and the atoll begins to move once again. The rocks covering the surface of the atoll begin to crumble and fall away. Yonemori and his team and thrown from the atoll into the churning water – and there they see that the atoll is in fact a giant creature that had been encased in stone. I probably don’t need to tell you, this is Gamera.

Back at Gyaos central, Nagamine has been asked by the Japanese government to come up with a plan to capture the flying fiends. And that plan is to drive them forward, with spot lights ained at them from helicopters, towards Fukuoka Baseball Stadium which has a retractable roof. Once the creatures are driven inside, the roof will be closed, and Gyaos will be trapped. The army will then tranquilize them, and cage them.

While all this is being prepared, Yonemori returns and at monster HQ, informs everybody that they have another problem – and that is a giant sea creature heading their way – yes, Gamera. But the powers that be, are too busy with their Gyaos problem, and ignore the giant turtle that is on a collision course with the city.

Nagamine’s plan almost works. However, the tranquilizer shots are fired before the roof is fully closed and one of the Gyaos gets away. As it flies out over the sea, Gamera leaps out of the water on his hind legs. Then he proceeds to stomp through the city, causing the expected (and quite welcome, by this viewer) monster mayhem.

The question is – is Gamera a friend of the Gyaos, only in town to reek more destruction? Or is he an age old rival, and humanity’s only hope at stopping the flying forces of evil?

Gamera; Guardian of the Universe does everything a giant monster flick like this should do, and does it all pretty well. There is some CGI, but mostly it is miniatures being trashed – and that’s the way it should be – it is a part of the film’s charm. Gamera would return to save the earth one year later, in Gamera: Attack of the Legion.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Into The Sun (2005)

Into the SunCountry: United States
Director: mink
Starring: Steven Seagal, Matthew David, Takao Osawa, Eddie George, William Atherton, Juliette Marquis
Music: Stanley Clarke

Into The Sun, is another gratuitously violent spy thriller from martial artist Steven Seagal. What small enjoyment that comes from this picture is derived from the depiction of Japanese culture, particularly underworld culture. But that alone isn’t enough to lift this film above any of the other similar films that Seagal has done in the last ten years.

The movie opens in a small village in the Myanmar Jungle, within the Golden Triangle. Life appears normal in the village. The women are cooking exotic dishes; the children are playing, riding elephants, and the men are in the fields picking poppies. Apart from the villagers themselves, the small community also plays host to a ragtag army of dealers and would be drug-barons. They spend their days smoking and cursing, whilst waving around their AK47’s. Watching all this, hidden in the jungle are Travis Hunter (Steven Seagal) and his partner. They are a C.I.A. surveillance team. As they watch, a young village girl ventures into the jungle to answer nature’s call. Two armed thugs follow her in and attempt to rape her

Hunter can’t just sit there and watch the violation happen, so he breaks cover and ventilates the attackers. The other drug dealers hear the shots and swarm into the jungle firing their weapons. Hunter and his partner flee and make their way back to a pre-arranged extraction point, fighting a running battle as they go. The chopper touches down and picks them up. Just as it seems that they have made it to freedom a bullet hits Hunter’s partner in the chest. The titles roll.

After a stylised title sequence, in Japan a diplomat is assassinated at the US embassy. The head of the CIA in Japan, Block (an out of character performance by William Atherton), calls in Hunter to help out. They need Hunter because they believe the Yakuza are involved. Even though Hunter is American, he grew up on the streets of Tokyo, and is familiar with the local customs and traditions. Speaking of traditions, this film borrows one from Dirty Harry. Before Hunter is allowed to go out on the streets and solve the crime, he is partnered with a rookie agent, Sean (Matthew Davis). You’ve seen it all before, so I won’t go into the dynamics between Hunter and Sean, but suffice to say, they don’t get along.

After a bit of preliminary investigation, Hunter finds out that many of the young Yakuza are working with the Chinese Tongs. The ringleader for this merger between the two rival underworld groups is Kuroda (Takao Osawa), a slightly unhinged gangster from the Tony Montana school (or Carmonte for you traditionalists).

The film starts off promising enough, but half way through the story flounders, and we are left waiting for the climax, between Kuroda and Hunter. While we are waiting it gives Kuroda’s henchmen an opportunity to be violent and unpleasant to the other supporting characters. This is supposed to make us want to see Hunter extract retribution, but in the end, seeing him stoop to gratuitously violent methods of revenge, makes him barely any better than the villains of the piece.

I don’t think there is much point in me slagging off this movie, after all it is a Steven Seagal film. People who choose to watch his films know what they are in for, and he delivers. But as a spy film it doesn’t really stack up. It is what it is – another B-grade action film.

Into The Sun (2005)

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs MegalonCountry: Japan
Starring: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi, Robert Dunham, Kotaro Tomita, Wolf Otsuki, Kanta Mori, Shinji Takagi, Hideto Odachi, Tsugutoshi Komada, Kenpachiro Satsuma
Writer: Jun Fukuda
Director: Jun Fukuda
Cinematographer: Yuzuru Aizawa
Music: Riichiro Manabe
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Original Title: Gojira tai Megaro

As a highly paid professional writer – you believe that don’t you? – I am expected to do a modicum of research before I present a film review.  But there is one huge gap in my cinematic knowledge that needs to be rectified. Now don’t get angry at me – don’t throw anything at your monitor – but I have only seen three Godzilla films. Firstly, a hacked version of the original (Godzilla: King of Monsters) and Godzilla: 1985, both watched as practically a kid. Then of course, the American 1998 version – but it is probably best that we ignore that. What I am clumsily saying my knowledge base of kaiju eiga is quite poor. So taking the bit between my teeth, I ventured out of my darkened hovel, shielding my eyes from the sunlight, and made my way the largest shopping centre in the area. As I scoured the multiplex, I found (ignoring the American version once again), only one Godzilla film – Godzilla Vs Megalon.

Now I may be new to kaiju eiga but the general consensus is that the Godzilla films of Jun Fukuda from the early 1970’s are despised by many hard-core Godzilla fans. But as you have read, I am not a hard-core Godzilla fan – I am a tourist, and when watching Godzilla Vs Megalon, after a protracted opening, at the forty-five minute mark, when Godzilla arrived on the scene to battle Megalon and Gigan, shaping up like a punch-drunk prize fighter, a small tear welled up in my eye. The tear wasn’t because I had been dragged emotionally into the story or at the simple beauty of a monster taking a stand on behalf of humanity – the tear was because I thought ‘what have I been missing?’ Godzilla Vs Megalon is considered one of the worst in the series and there I was thoroughly enjoying myself as the Big G took on two bad-ass monsters. But no doubt I am preaching to the already converted. Let’s have a brief look at the story.

The film starts with another nuclear test. This pisses of the inhabitants of the underground kingdom of Seatopia. You see, Seatopia used to be a continent on the surface of the planet – it is hinted that it may have been the fabled lands of Mu or Lemoria – but an earthquake rocked the planet and sent the land to the bottom of the sea – and somehow beneath the earth. Somehow they managed to create oxygen and manufactured an artificial sun to sustain life. Now they Seatopians live in peace – well they did until us surface dwellers started nuclear testing. The tests have destroyed over a third of their land, and now they decide it’s time to strike back. They choose to send Megalon to the surface to destroy the surface dwellers.

Megalon, like most monsters, is a pretty ugly beast. He looks like a giant cockroach with two huge drills on his arms. On his head, he has a weird antenna, which looks like a five pointed star, which is turned upside down. From this antenna he can shoot energy beams. His mouth is unusual too. He seems to have four lips which roll back so he can fire, or spit out red hot cannon balls.

On the surface, a scientist, Goro Ibuki (Katsuhiko Sasaki ) has been building a robot called Jet Jaguar. Jet Jaguar is a silver robot with a pointy head who is jet propelled – he can fly. The purpose for this robot is never really explained, but the Seatopians send up a few human agents to take control of Jet Jaguar. They use Jet Jaguar almost as a homing beacon to direct Megalon to Tokyo where he can do the most damage.

With a miniature remote control Goro Ibuki takes control of Jet Jaguar once again, and tells him to fly off to Monster Island and get Godzilla. You see, in this film, Godzilla is a good guy. The Big G responds and makes his way to Japan. Meanwhile, Jet Jaguar races back to Japan, but upon his arrival, something strange has happened. He no longer responds to Goro Ibuki commands. It appears that Jet Jaguar has gone into survival mode and become sentient. No his own master, somehow – never really explained – Jet Jaguar transforms himself into a larger robot – the same size as Megalon. While waiting for Godzilla to arrive, Jet Jaguar takes on Megalon. Now the Seatopians are privy to the battle going on, up on the surface, and decide that Megalon needs a little backup. So they send Gigan up to help. Now Jet Jaguar is in an unfair two on one situation. Not only does he have to counter Megalon but also the cybernetic chicken with the buzz-saw belly, Gigan. Natually these two monsters start to give Jet Jaguar a kicking, that is until Godzilla arrives. The last third of this movie is monster fights – and for me that perfect entertainment.

According to Wikipedia, Jet Jaguar was created as the result of a contest Toho studios ran in 1972 for fans to come up with a new super robot hero for them to use. The winning entry was a drawing of a robot called Red Arone. This robot was renamed Jetto Jagā ( Jet Jaguar) and was set to star in his own film – Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon. After much deliberation, Toho decided that Jet Jaguar would not be popular enough on his own, so the film was rewritten to include Godzilla and Gigan.

All in all, I found Godzilla Vs Megalon to be an enjoyable adventure. It is slightly on the childish side – in fact it has often been labeled a kids movie. But in the end we are talking about a giant monster – and is there anything that appeals more to the cult film lover (or a child) than a man in a giant monster suit destroying miniature cities – I think not!

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)