Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DVD Review: Demeking, The Sea Monster (2009)


"Terror Lies Beneath"
Cinema Epoch

DIRECTOR: Kohtaro Terauchi
CAST: Takashi Nadagi (Hachiya), Kohei Kiyasu (Kame)

SUMMARY: In 1969, a young man named Hachiya finds an anonymous letter in a glass bottle which foretold of the apocalyptic arrival of a cosmic monster known as Demeking. Since then, he has physically prepared himself in a lone struggle for that fateful day when the monster will arrive. (from CinemaEpoch.Com)

FILM: Demeking, The Sea Monster is a live action adaptation of Takashi Imashiro's 1991 cult manga Demekingu which I've not read as I'm not a huge manga fan, to be honest. As the film begins we see an ominous asteroid as it hurls through space, presumably on a collision course with Earth, setting up the expectation that some creature feature disaster further awaits us. The setting of the film is the early 1970's and  we are introduced to Kame (Kohei Kiyasu), an awkward high school student who just doesn't fit in with kids his own age, he's bullied and generally disliked by his peers. He lives in a sleepy port town where he works at his families tofu shop and has little aspirations other than spending his time with a trio of adolescents who look up to him. Together they form an exploration club and go off on fantasy filled expeditions in search of adventure and fun. While on one of these expeditions at the port they come across a "ghost ship" and decide to explore it. Once inside they are interrupted by the owner of the vessel, Hachiya (Takashi Nadagi), a young man who works at a local theme park.  He tells the exploration club of the Demeking - a creature he is destined to defeat before it can destroy Tokyo. When pressed to give more information about this creature he sends the group on a scavenger hunt that will lead then to the truth. It doesn't really, but it allows them to do what they do best - letting their imaginations soar with the possibility of discovery.

I really enjoyed the acting in this film, very subtle, it's not comedic but it has a definite streak of humor throughout. The two main characters give understated performances as Kame (Kiyasu) and Hachiya (Nadagi), two similar but different young men who seem lost in life with no direction, each filling the void with fantasy. There's a quiet desperation and sadness to their lives that the actors capture really well. They lose themselves in their fantasies. Kame avoids the stress of high school by taking on the role of a big brother to the adolescent exploration club. Hachiya is consumed by the notion that he has been tasked to defeat the Demeking which allows him to internally avoid the pressure by his father to do something meaningful with his life.  And what comes of the mythical creature?

Well, the titular Demeking does finally appear in the final 1/3 of the film, albeit during a fever dream Kame suffers. Dream or not it is a well rendered sequence, Gojira has nothing on this super-beast. As the previously mentioned asteroid slams into the Earth, a gargantuan, stalk-eyed, armored slug emerges and begins laying waste to the cityscape with an irradiated beam it emits from its mouth. It is a thing of beauty as the glowing eyed creature tromps through the village laying eggs and setting buildings on fire. Of note, the creature origins are outer space, not the sea as the title would indicate. I guess Demeking, The Space Monster sounded too much like a schlocky 50's era b-movie.

I really enjoyed Demeking, The Sea Monster and director Kohtaro Terauchi's handling of the material which while not at all what I expected, I did end up enjoying it.  This is much more a tale of two people entering young adulthood while trying to hold onto the delusional fantasies of childhood than a true creature feature though it does meet that criteria as well to some degree.

DVD: The Cinema Epoch DVD of Demeking, The Sea Monster is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with a 5.1 Japanese language surround sound mix with optional English subtitles. It's a good looking film shot on HDCAM and the cinematography wonderfully captures the sleepy atmosphere of this seaside village. On the downside, the only special features are trailers for other Cinema Epoch films and I would have loved a featurette that touched on the source material.

VERDICT: Demeking, The Sea Monster seems to be marketed as creature feature and this is really dismissive of the film's true nature as a offbeat character piece about two young men lacking direction in their lives. If you go into this expecting a creature feature/disaster film I think you'll be hugely disappointed, but as a dramatic, nuanced character piece it is a great watch that is punctuated by a brief but fun monster attack on a sleepy port town. The DVD from Cinema Epoch is available today, so check it out. *** (3.5 Out of Five Stars)