Garaga [ギャラガ] (1989)
AKA Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga
Starring Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Keiko Han, Megumi Hayashibara, Michie Tomizawa, Eiko Yamada. Eiji Maruyama
Directed by Hidemi Kubo
Garaga tries to deliver an action-packed sci-fi epic, and to its credit it is filled to the brim with tons of robots, aliens, and spaceships that are all in a massive tangle of conflict. Honestly, all the parts are there for a great adventure. Unfortunately, they aren’t put together well enough to make it work. It’s too jumbled to make a good story, and the action scenes come off too bland to be viscerally entertaining. Add in a few plot holes and you have a thoroughly lackluster film. A lack of any quality animation doesn’t help matters either.
It starts with the crew of the spaceship XeBeC making a special delivery. They’ve got a general’s daughter in cold sleep, and they need to take her… somewhere. It obviously isn’t all that important since the film never mentions where they are taking her or why. But the ship has been sabotaged, and they crash-land on an unknown planet (OK, not really, it’s actually the planet Garaga) filled with violent ape monsters that want to kill everyone. And this is where the original destination ceases to mean anything, especially since it seems like everyone on the ship was headed to Garaga anyway. I almost thought they were stranded at their destination.
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Riding Bean [ライディング・ビーン] (1989)
Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Naoko Matsui, Mami Koyama, Kei Tomiyama, Megumi Hayashibara, Chieko Honda
Directed by Yasuo Hasegawa
Another relic from my high school days, Riding Bean is about as action packed as you can make a movie without becoming a simple montage of action scenes. It’s short, but full of shootouts and car chases and shootouts during car chases leavened with plenty of lighthearted humor. It’s all about Bean Bandit, the Roadbuster, the best and craziest getaway driver in Chicago with a scar on his face and a jawline to make Jay Leno jealous. He’s a lot like a ’90s anti-hero, and his badassery oozes off the screen. His partner is a sexy gun expert named Rally Vincent, who knowledgeable anime fans might recognize as the main character of Gunsmith Cats, though here she is blonde instead of brunette.
Bean will take on any job as long as he gets paid, and while Rally is more of a good guy, she is still pretty much in it for the money and has no qualms about the illegal nature of their jobs. As with any rebel car chase story, there are plenty of car crashes and incompetent police for Bean to make fools out of. And trust me, these are some flat-out ridiculous car chases that could only have been brought to life in an anime. His car may not be as tricked out as James Bond’s, but has Bond ever had a car that can drive sideways? And of course it has the requisite “driving off an unfinished overpass” scene as well; you can’t have a car chase film without one of those.
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Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie [戦国奇譚妖刀伝 Sengoku Kidan Yōtōden] (1989)
AKA Legend of the Enchanted Swords; Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period; Wrath of the Ninja – The Yotoden Chronicles; Blade of the Ninja
Starring Keiko Toda, Kazuhiko Inoue, Takeshi Watabe, Tomomichi Nishimura, Masami Kikuchi, Kazuki Yao, Kaneto Shiozawa, Norio Wakamoto, Reizo Nomoto, Shōzō Iizuka, Ritsuo Sawa, Eken Mine
Directed by Osamu Yamasaki
Ninja action is awesome, right? Especially when there are lots of demons and illusions, and martial arts showdowns scattered around, right? The more the better, right? Well, sadly that’s not the case for Wrath of the Ninja which proves that you can indeed have too much ninja action in a movie, as hard as that is to believe. I think (hope) that this is the result of compressing down the longer original story into oblivion. The film version of Wrath of the Ninja is a compilation of the series, and it’s got all the usual problems of such a film cranked up to eleven.
The plot, what’s left of it anyway, revolves around three ninjas from different clans who each own a special weapon with a legend attached to it. They’re up against the commonly used historical figure of Oda Nobunaga, who was also the villain of Black Lion as well as other anime. Here, as is common in stories set in feudal Japan, Nobunaga is a demon bent on conquering the world. I think. I’m actually not sure what he’s after. The story doesn’t have enough time to bother with something as trivial as the objectives of the main villain. But whatever he’s trying to do, it involves the massacre of the protagonists’ hometowns, which obviously unites them in an unstoppable ninja team-up out for revenge.
Continue reading Stephen reviews: Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie (1989) →
Starring Samuel Fuller
Directed by Emil Weiss
As its title suggests, Tell Me Sam is a film where Sam Fuller tells stories. You can imagine the director Emil Weiss, just off camera, asking Fuller things like, “Tell me about your days in journalism, Sam,” or “Tell me about I Shot Jesse James.” Fuller doesn’t seem the type that needs such provocation to tell these stories — I can only imagine the kinds of things he discussed over the dinner table — but the idea that the questions are in the air informs a lot of the experience in Tell Me Sam. Frankly, I’d have preferred these questions to be heard, so that the film was a document of a conversation instead of a 75-minute monologue from the aging director.
Tell Me Sam is a companion piece to Weiss’s 1988 documentary about Sam Fuller, Falkenau, the Impossible. Where Falkenau focuses specifically on Fuller’s experiences at the end of World War II when his unit helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, Tell Me Sam broadens out its focus to the entirety of Sam Fuller’s working life. One of the most interesting tales comes from before he was in the film industry, and it’s one that helped shape the way he made films and looked at the world. During his days in journalism, Fuller worked the homicide beat and was only allowed to write the facts without the use of any adjectives. Fuller relates that this specifically made him well up with unspent emotion, as he felt all kinds of intense feelings about the cases he saw and wrote about, but was unable to express them.
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Cybernetics Guardian [聖獣機サイガード Seijuki Cyguard (Holy Beast Cyguard)] (1989)
Starring Takeshi Kusao, Hiromi Tsuru, Hirotaka Suzukoi, Kiyoshi Kawakubo, Shozo Iizuka, Tessho Genda, Wakyo Sogabe, Yusaku Okura
Directed by Koichi Ohata
This is just a short little action romp. It’s not a very special anime, but then it isn’t trying to be one. It has a very B-movie feel to it. The creators basically threw a bunch of cool stuff into a pot and mixed it up hoping for something awesome. The story is pretty minimal, but still manages to be convoluted thanks to all the random ideas they used.
A robot test pilot named John gets his big trial run sabotaged by Adler, a jealous scientist who wants his own projects to succeed instead. Then some random demon worshipers show up and kidnap John. They do some bizarre black magic science experiment and turn John into the robot avatar of their evil god. Demon John goes on a rampage across town, which only convinces Adler to hate the guy even more. Meanwhile, John’s hot scientist girlfriend tries to fix everything, and the cops run around getting ripped apart by the monster.
The film operates solely on the premise that demons, giant robots, explosions, and hard rock are cool. The plot is nothing more than the mortar that holds those bricks together. It’s not really all that well put together either. Obviously the character development is pretty shallow, but the action scenes don’t have a lot of visceral impact to them either. The film gets by because the creators were right: giant demon robots blowing stuff up to a rock soundtrack is in fact pretty damn cool.
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