I have just returned from the Japanese Monster Madness Cereal Party at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Houston, and despite consuming tons of extremely sugary cereal (which is all you can eat for free), I lived to tell about it. I’m actually swimming in kind of a sugary haze, perhaps it’s a partial sugarcome. I didn’t know that they started putting marshmellows in Froot Loops.
It started off with an episode of the Japanese Spiderman.
I must say right now that a good amount of Japanese tokusatsu (monster and sci fi) tv shows had no narrative flow. A lot of them are really just a bunch of action scenes cobbled together without much rhyme or reason (even the most narrative ones tend to look like they were edited with a meat cleaver). The Japanese Spideman takes this to a new level. You almost can’t tell where the show’s intro ends and the show begins. Spiderman leaps out of bed, sucks his suit on (?), and does a weird, twitchy dance, then leaps out of his window. We’re then treated to multiple scenes of him climbing on walls- up one side of a building, and down another. Over and over. At some point, he leaps into a criminal’s secret hideout (?) and begins fighting masked villainous henchmen before chasing an evil villainess until she unleashes a monster. Spiderman calls his giant Spider Mecha Robot and fights the monster in it for a couple of minutes, until it is defeated, then the episode ends. After that we were exposed to a couple of weird Japanese commercials for some products which I had trouble discerning exactly what they were or were for. Then a vintage commercial for Stretch Armstrong’s nemesis Stretch Monster.
Then they showed an episode of Johnny Socko and His Flying Robot. This is a legendary but short lived late ’60s tv show which is pretty easy to find on dvd and youtube now. It’s about a surprisingly unannoying kid who controls a giant robot (named Giant Robot) who fight an evil organization called the Gargoyle Gang. The scenes of Giant Robot fighting the monster of the week are generally recycled in each episode (and shown in the opening credits) but the monsters are suitably wacky. The main thing that sticks out upon this viewing is the absolutely horrendous dubbing (which the crowd found quite amusing)- they evidently gave up trying to make the words come close to matching the lip movements or even the length of time the lips move. I never cared much for the look of Giant Robot- kind of an Egyptian look with a permanent irritated stare (including furled eyebrows). Still this show is highly entertaining.
They showed a commercial for the old Shogun Warriors toys, truly some of the coolest toys of the time (and worth big bucks nowadays). Then we launched into an episode of the early 1970’s tokusatsu tv show Spectremen. In this show two gorillas (one a super intelligent one with blue skin and yellow hair who excessively talks with his hands named Dr. Gori and his henchman, a bumbling regular looking (but talking) gorilla named Rah) use pollution to create mutant creatures to attack the Earth.
A man named George, a member of a group of scientists who fight pollution and monsters, changes into Spectreman on the orders from a consortium of aliens from the Nebula Star to combat them. Yes it’s all a bunch of hooey thrown together to show giant monsters fighting, however Spectreman is probably the most traditionally narrative and storyline based of all the man-in-a-suit cyborg fighting giant monsters (who are also men in suits) tv shows.
Unfortunately this episode wasn’t very good, featuring a truck driver turned into a garbage eating monster who doesn’t want to be a monster. The audience got a kick out of the bumbling Rah and Gori’s hand gestures and some of the howlers of dialogue (example: when the truck driver leaves for work his son cheerfully tells him “Bye Dad- try not to drink too much beer after work!”), but much better episodes exist.
After some more vintage commercials (including one for Micronauts) they showed an episode of the late ’70s American cartoon Godzilla (by Hanna-Barbera). The series is similar to Johnny Quest, but with Godzilla’s son Godzooki tagging along as comic relief (instead of Bandit I suppose). When in trouble they can summon Godzilla to help them. Godzilla looks kind of similar to the Godzilla in the movies, but doesn’t really act much like him, have his charisma, or his distinctive scream. Godzooki doesn’t look anything like Minilla from the movies, and can fly. In this episode a pyramid is discovered, but when disturbed it unleashes it’s guardians- two stone lions that can breathe icy cold breath.
Next up they show an episode of the kookiest tokusatsu yet, Super Robot Red Baron.
This one has to be seen to be believed. I haven’t the foggiest idea what exactly was going on, however it was a lot of spastic, goofy fun. I’m not sure if it was the whole episode, because it seemed to end rather abruptly and kind of in the middle of a storyline, but once again since this is one of those shows that doesn’t have much narrative flow (just a bunch of scenes hyperactively edited next to each other) I can’t be too sure. It was just as entertaining (perhaps more so) as any others we saw that night (and the audience quite liked the inspector who was turned into a goose and back again who kept quacking in between his lines).
Lastly, they came to the most famous of cyborg-man-in-a-suit fighting monster men in suits shows, Ultraman. There have been so many permutations of Ultraman over the years I’m not sure which one this one was (tho I believe it was from the original 1966 series, which was actually part 2 of the overall Ultraman saga (which started with the Ultra-Q tv show)). Once again, this was a pretty average episode, with a decent monster but nothing much to set it apart from any other episodes (he didn’t even do his signature crossed hands Spacium Ray). But the event was still a success, and sold out (but they didn’t run out of cereal, so that’s a big plus).
They usually do cartoons at their Cereal Parties, but I’m glad they chose to do tokusatsu for this one. Next up: they’re doing a marathon of sword and sorcery movies (3 to be exact, including a 35 mm print of Conan the Barbarian) leading up to the debut of Zero Charisma, a movie for D & D geeks that looks to be pretty damn cool, on Sunday August 11th. I’m excited.
UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that the above mentioned sword and sorcery marathon has sold out. Damn…