Fantasia 2020 Review: MONSTER SEAFOOD WARS Plays Kaiju Karnage For Laughs
Longtime Screen Anarchy readers will no doubt be familiar with the unique oeuvre of director Kawasaki Minoru. A lover and devotee of old school man-in-suit kaiju and tokusatsu madness, Kawasaki created a niche for himself as the premier spoofster of some of Japan's most recognizable pop culture exports. Taking the genres that have come to exemplify a large part of the way Japan's wild entertainment is viewed by the outside world and attacking them with his own absurd sense of humor has made Kawasaki's work instantly recognizable, and his latest, the insane Monster Seafood Wars, is exactly what his fans have come to expect.
Yuta used to be somebody, a scientist on the rise before he was shunned from the profession he loved and forced to work with his father at the family restaurant. Shortly after delivering an offering of delicious seafood to a local temple, Yuta, along with all of Tokyo, is confronted with the news of towering monsters threatening to destroy a local port. These monsters, one a giant octopus, the other a squid, seem dead set on destroying each other, with no regard for the damage they'll do to the seemingly abandoned factory on which their death match is taking place.
Luckily for the forces tapped to quell this kaiju konflict, Yuta seems to know quite a bit about these two beasts, and he is called in to help defuse the situation and send the monsters back to wherever they came from. However, he isn't the only person with ideas, and the battle to defeat Takolla (octopus beast) and Ikalla (squid beast) quickly turns into a pissing match between rival scientists, who also happen to be after the same girl. A love triangle complicates the battle to subdue the mighty beasts, but that's just the beginning of the wild adventures at the heart of Monster Seafood Wars.
The work of Kawasaki Minoru is nothing if not absolutely unique in the genre film world. He takes a very particular niche and exploits the craziest quirks it has to offer to create wildly creative tapestries of absurdist mania. For the uninitiated, Monster Seafood Wars will seem like nothing they've ever seen before, and that's wonderful! In fact, it's part of a decades long evolution of the filmmaker's work that brings together several of the most impressive elements of his past projects into a single bonkers experience.
Monster Seafood Wars is actually one of Kawasaki's more straightforward works, as it presents as a fairly obvious spoof of the Godzilla film blueprint. Giant monsters arrive, government panics, meetings, meetings, meetings, government tries numerous strategies that all fail, sporadic monster battle cutaways, more meetings, then big final battle. It's pretty standard stuff, except with Kawasaki, it's more about pitting the goofiest looking monsters against the most ridiculously inefficient military forces he can, and for the most part it works.
I would argue that Kawasaki leans a bit too much on the standard kaiju formula, as the monsters disappear for huge sections of the movie so he can focus on the ridiculous human love triangle, which - while accurate in its slavish devotion to following the formula - isn't why we came to watch Monster Seafood Wars. I would have loved to watch the silly monsters waving their silly foam rubber appendages at each other more, but there is surprisingly little monster action. Don't get me wrong here, what action there is definitely delivers, and the surprise twist finale (it involves a giant robot) is pretty amazing, it's just that there definitely should've been more monster action, but that's always my issue with kaiju films.
It's not just the formula that Kawasaki borrows from other films, all three of the kaiju in Monster Seafood Wars are slightly altered versions of creatures he's used before. Both Ikalla (squid monster) and Takolla are updated versions of characters from his breakout film, The Calamari Wrestler, while a third monster, Kanilla (crab monster) is an altered take on the protagonist from his film Kani Goalkeeper, in which a human sized crab takes over as the goalkeeper for a soccer team. The creatures are slightly different in design, but it's obvious that Kawasaki loved them enough to reinterpret them for this adventure, and the suits really are special.
It takes a certain kind of nerd to truly appreciate all of the elements that make Monster Seafood Wars really work, and thankfully I am that nerd. It's not Kawasaki's finest film, I'm still partial to Fantasia alum Calamari Wrestler and his criminally underappreciated Neko Ramen Taisho (Pussy Soup) and Executive Koala, but it definitely has his fingerprints all over it. With Monster Seafood Wars, Kawasaki Minoru maintains his distinctively absurd voice in one of his more successful recent outings. When the bottom dropped out of the export market a few years ago, I was afraid we'd never hear from him again, but I really hope this opens some new doors for this one of a kind filmmaker with a heart that is three size too big and made of pure foam rubber.
Monster SeaFood Wars
- Minoru Kawasaki
- Minoru Kawasaki
- Masakazu Migita
- Eiji Tsuburaya (original story)
- Asato Izumi
- Masami Horiuchi
- Masayuki Kusumi