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Doomed Megalopolis (1991– )
Difficult to recommend...but that won't stop people from watching it.
20 July 2011
The animated adaptation of TEITO MONOGATARI (Tale of the Imperial Capital, aka DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS here in the US) is an interesting specimen. Many anime enthusiasts consider this some kind of fan favorite and assume that's all there is to the franchise. Well...maybe it has become some kind of cult favorite here in the West due to some violent imagery and all, but the franchise it's based on had been going strong eight years prior to the anime's release.

The original novel DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS is based on began being published in 1985. The novel became a huge success winning it's author (Hiroshi Aramata) the National Science Fiction Award of 1987 (the same award Hideaki Anno's EVA series won), and sold over 3.5 million sales in its first few years on the market. It's success immediately inspired a blockbuster motion picture in 1988 (TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS) which was arguably the most expensive Japanese fantasy film that had been made at that time. After the success of the live action film, many other commercial adaptations and spin-offs of the franchise began to pop up, including manga, spin-off books, and of course, this anime adaptation.

Because Japanese SPFX films tend to be less popular in the US and interest in Japanese fantasy literature is practically non-existent, the live action film and its source material were overlooked by distributors in favor of the anime adaptation (called DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS in the West). Very sadly, the anime has become extremely notable in the West for its dark content more than its story. In the anime fandom, it does have some merits having been directed by animation director Rintaro and crafted by Madhouse studios, responsible for classics such as NINJA SCROLL.

But what many anime enthusiasts fail to grasp is that it was the book and the live action film which started the franchise rolling--NOT the anime. The anime was a commercial byproduct of the novel's success. Sadly the fanatic anime following here in the US has prevented the truth from emerging. For example when the live action adaptation of TEITO MONOGATARI was exported to the West under the title TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS, many English reviewers mistakenly thought THAT was an adaptation of the anime instead of the reverse!

This is a problem. The anime is an incomplete and loose adaptation of the novel delivered in a violent manner. However it's prominence in the West may fool people into thinking that it's some kind of definitive adaptation of the book. But to judge the original novel based purely off this adaptation would be like judging the entire LORD OF THE RINGS saga based purely on Rankin-Bass's cheap TV adaptation of RETURN OF THE KING. Except whereas that adaptation "kiddified" the source material too much, this adaptation goes the opposite route and pushes the subject matter past the bounds of good taste into the realm of "adults only".

That's not to say DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS is a cinematic disaster. There are some rather taut, suspense filled scenes in here. The compression of the story allows for events to push along at such a rapid pace as to constantly keep the viewer entertained. The soundtrack is surprisingly moody, despite the fact that it's filled with inappropriate modern enhancements (heavy metal riffs for a Meiji era setting??).

The problem lies with the story. The anime was designed as a supplement for the original novel, NOT as a replacement for it. In an interview, the director of the anime even implies that he EXPECTED the viewer to have read the novel before he even approached his production! The anime doesn't even tell the story of the whole novel; it just covers the first 1/3rd of the book. Also, due to time constraints, the story the anime tells is very compressed, cutting out a lot of exposition in favor of action scenes. Such an approach will easily confuse those not familiar with the source material. This is evident in the fact that there are references to plot points in the original novel all throughout, but hardly any of them are expanded upon. For example, the origin of the villain Kato's superhuman prowess and immortality is never explained in the anime, only hinted at. But the novel delivers many answers.

Compounding this problem is the fact the anime also aims for more shock value than any of the previous adaptations, upping the grotesque imagery and sexual content. There's a lot of unnecessary and disturbing violence in the early episodes (obviously an attempt to cash in on the craze of adult anime like LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND which were being produced around the same time). This is extremely distracting and may easily frustrate viewers trying to just understand the story. It also completely contradicts the tone of the source material, which gave much more focus to the drama between the characters and the historical background.

It is impossible to recommend to any English viewer to just "read the books instead" as they have NEVER been translated. Unfortunately because the story doesn't make much sense, English viewers to this day will continue to watch the anime just for its violent/sexual content...completely ignoring the source material's award winning roots with its intricate mingling of real history and folklore.

I can at least recommend that the viewer watch the English subtitled version over Streamline's dub as the dub removes historical and cultural references required to properly interpret the story. But this is only a minor salve. There's simply too much of a cultural gap between the intended audience in Japan and the audience in the West, and the anime is simply too stylized to be a good introduction to the franchise. Until the TEITO MONOGATARI novel gets translated or everyone learns Japanese (unlikely), any viewer who watches the animated adaptation cannot gain complete fulfillment from it as it is simply a fragment of something much greater.
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Unknown Epic...the Japanese Excalibur
16 November 2009
First of all, this review is for the live-action film, not the anime one. The anime one was made in 1991.

Before I begin, I just want to acknowledge that this is a VERY confusing movie and difficult to recommend to average English viewers. It's based on an extremely long and complicated novel released only in Japan known as "Teito Monogatari" ("Tale of the Imperial Capital") by a scholar Hiroshi Aramata. The original novel is basically a huge retelling of the history of Tokyo from the turn of the century all the way up to the next millennium, but done from an occultist viewpoint. It was notable for being a pioneer of the "fantasy occult boom" that dominated Japanese pop culture in the late 80's and early 90's and was hugely influential (see the ONMYOJI films, which were based on books written in the wake of this novel's popularity).

The novel is composed of 12 volumes each around 250--500 pages in length. But that's not all. There is an unofficial 13th volume which serves as a side story (and was also made into a movie). Is that it? No. There are also prequel, several spin-off works (such as THE GREAT YOKAI WAR, made into a film by Takaashi Miike) and "series analysis" books, and a another huge retelling in the form of "Shin Teito Monogatari" ("New Tale of the Capital"). So yeah...this series has its roots in Japanese literature far more than it does in films.

The movie is very ambitious in that it attempts to adapt the first four books of the series (1000 pages covering 20 years of history) to the screen in only a 2.5 hour time span! So if the story feels like it's moving along too fast; it's because there's WAY too much ground to cover. For example the characters that populate the story will not have much identity unless you know their historical origins (many of them are based on real famous people who lived during that time period) and their roles in the original novel.

The main problem is the film is that it wants to be a profoundly entertaining blockbuster, but doesn't know how to properly balance the exposition and entertainment value. From the moody overblown intro sequence with its stirring Wagner-esque orchestral score to the explosive pyrotechnics filled finale, it's clear the movie was looking to cash in on big budget Hollywood SPFX extravaganzas like ALIENS and POLTERGEIST. But the source material it's adapting is extremely dense and simply unfit for such a production. The world the story is creating is too big, and the film simply does not give enough time or background introducing the audience into it. The only way this movie can be really enjoyed is as a supplement to the original novel, but since that has never been translated, English speakers are kind of screwed. And despite the budget, the SPFX also really need some refinement too; even for the time, some of the effects were terribly primitive. Thus, I cannot lie, but to many people the movie simply will NOT be a satisfying experience.

But I love it.

For one thing, it's a unique film. Many of the guys responsible for this flick also were responsible for other classic J-horror and Japanese SPFX flicks, but here they're dealing with something quite different. Although advertised as a horror flick by ADV's misleading promotional material, I should point out it's really a genre-bender of a movie: a horror, fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction film all at once. Thus you get a few scares, a lot of whimsical fantasy, and even some education to boot.

Second of all, it's a visually absorbing film. A lot of money was spent on this movie, and that's no more apparent than the meticulously constructed costumes and sets (an entire 150 meter avenue was reconstructed, buildings, people, cars and all, for use in the movie). The movie just goes to great lengths to recreate Tokyo as it was during the 1920's.

I'm also quite serious about the parallels I find with this film and John Boorman's Excalibur--both are fantasy films helmed by directors with uneven track records and stylistic eccentricities (John Boorman and Akio Jissoji), both feature epic stories which take place over several years, both feature some great classical actors (Nicol Williamson, Patrick Stewart, Shintaro Katsu, Ko Nishimura, etc.) in primary and supporting roles, both films have make heavy use of classical music for key dramatic points, both feature stories which are darker modern representations of classic mythology, and both are visually sumptuous, romanticized views of the past.

The horror is borrowed from classic vampire movies such as F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU and the Hammer films. There is also some influence from more modern supernatural thrillers such as EXORCIST. Kyusaku Shimada, the actor who plays the main villain, became famous overnight due to his performance here. Imagine Christopher Lee's "Dracula" with a monstrous chin and bodily movements reminiscent of Max Schreck and you will get something akin to his portrayal of the villain in this movie.

And apparently I wasn't alone. The movie itself was a box office hit in Japan when in it was released. Some magazines even went so far as to call it the "best Japanese science fiction production of all time" (wow...) Many contemporary stars of Japanese cinema got their start here and owe a lot to this movie.

But that doesn't translate into immediate recommendation over here. For various reasons (especially the lack of the source material's availability), the film is quite difficult to recommend to Westerners and I would not pressure anyone to watch it.

On the other hand, if you want something uneven historical fantasy epic that challenges you with an overabundance of modern Japanese history and classic Japanese (and Chinese) folklore references, then by all means give this film a try. :)
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Super Sleazy Take on the "Teito Monogatari" Series
4 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
For those of you who have been dutifully following the "Teito Monogatari" film series in all it's various incarnations including that ever-so-popular anime "Doomed Megalopolis" (yeah, "lots" of fans), you might be surprised that this last entry in the cinematic series is actually not so much a sequel, but rather a revision of the chronology of the series. Hence the subtitle "Gaiden" denoting it as a separate story independent of the main chronology, and actually taking place in an alternate universe. This final entry was not distributed by Toho, unlike its two predecessors "Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis" and "Teito Taisen". It was directed by Izo Hashimoto, of "Evil Dead Trap 2" fame and is VERY loosely based on another of Hiroshi Aramata's own novels ("Teito Monogatari Gaiden" or "Karakuri Doushin"). Coming from a director like Hashimoto, this is the sleaziest and perhaps goriest entry in the entire series; even sleazier than the infamous anime adaptation (whose content was already bordering on hentai). Endless sex scenes, instances of necrophilia, and even the phallic-headed worm from the anime are all on display in this erotic nightmare. Fancy camera-work and an ever-present aura of blue hue permeate the depressing atmosphere. It's hilarious that the primary antagonist of the series, Yasunori Kato, would next be used in the family fantasy film "The Great Yokai War".

The plot is a rewiring of the ending sections of the first "Teito Monogatari" movie. If you seen "Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis" or the entire "Doomed Megalopolis" OVA series, you should have a solid grounding plot-wise for this film. I can't understand Japanese, and the movie hasn't been subbed, but this is what I've been able to glean: In this universe, Keiko (the valiant shrine maiden) failed to stop Kato. Yoichiro Tatsumiya stopped Kato and ended Masakado's curse by committing seppuku. Depressed (or maybe just lost), Keiko lives the rest of her life in poverty as a homeless person. In 1995, a male nurse who's a necrophiliac working at a Tokyo mental hospital becomes obsessed with Kato's spirit and curse of Masakado. Slowly he becomes possessed by the evil spirit of the demon, who wants to use him as a host for revival. One of the patients of the hospital is Junichi Naru-taki, one of the unfortunate heroes from the first film and the anime. He realizes something evil's afoot and goes to rouse up Keiko and get her to do her priestly duties. There's also the nurse's sex therapist(?) Michiyo Oshima, who's actually a character from the books (a reincarnation of the famous writer Yukio Mishima). She has some spiritual ties to Masakado, but exactly what, I wasn't able to glean. Inevitably, Keiko and nurse-possessed-by-Kato have another battle and the spiritual war starts up again.

This was obviously a low-budget flick, as it has none of the grand sets or Tokusatsu-level SPFX from the previous two movies. We see some explosions and a lot of blood, but that's about it. The sex comes in huge doses and never lets up. I won't rate this movie simply because I'm not a big fan of sleazy exploitation flicks and so I don't want my biased opinion to have any weight on this record. For fans of sleazy cinema and exploitative horror flicks, this is right up your alley. This is more explicit than any of the two movies preceding it or even the notorious anime. You might need a translator as the movie hasn't been subtitled yet, but even without it, there's plenty of grotesque action on display here. It's a well-made pure horror flick which (from what I understand) killed off the "Teito Monogatari" films because it was too, well, nasty. For horror and sleaze fans, that's fine; but anyone familiar with the whole series will know that there's A LOT MORE going on in the story than just sex and gore. Apparently, the producers of this film didn't understand that.
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Teito taisen (1989)
The Return of Kato
1 November 2005
For those very few of you who have seen "Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis" (or the more renowned anime version "Doomed Megalopolis") and enjoyed it, you might be interested in seeking out this continuation of the story. Apparently IMDb got things mixed up here, and they're displaying the "Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis" cover in the section for "Teito Taisen" ("Tokyo: The Last War"), which is the official sequel to the aforementioned movie. Somebody needs to fix this quick! Right now, I'm reviewing "Tokyo: The Last War", not "Last Megalopolis".

Alright, I admit that this film has not been subtitled, and I don't understand Japanese. So how do I know what's going on in here? Repeated viewings and lots of translated summaries. However, even if you don't know Japanese, this film has just enough action and scenery to make it worthwhile.

The story starts out at the end of World War II. Tokyo lies in ruins due to repeated fire-bombings from the American army. However, one surviving magic-user brings together a new group of mystics. His plan is to "turn defeat into victory" by using spiritual psychic powers to assassinate the evil world leaders from a distance (I know Hitler's involved). Unfortunately, the surge of spiritual energy along with the repeated horror of all those who endured the nightmare of the fire-bombings, rouses up all the souls of the dead, whose resentment and anger come together and revive...Yasunori Kato. Now it's up to a young apprentice of the psychic magic user to stop Kato before the evil sorcerer ruins their plans for victory. Kato also seems intent on torturing and gaining revenge on Yukiko (his "daughter" from the previous story), whose all grown-up now and works as a nurse in a hospital.

It should be noted that this is the only film that I've seen that Takagise Ichise (the producer of "Ringu", "Ju-On", and "Dark Water") directed, and it definitely shows in the style. "Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis" was going for an exotic fantasy atmosphere, while this movie aims to be more of a dark and gory horror movie. The silly creatures that Kato summoned in the original film have been completely dumped here. The only magic he really uses in this movie is throwing stuff around with psychic energy like Darth Vader. He even acts differently, coming off more like a slow-moving and leering "Terminator" rather than the more dynamic way he was portrayed in the original. Strangely enough, the sets aren't as varied as they were in "Last Megalopolis" either. Everything's dark and brooding, putting a greater emphasis on the grim historical setting. The beginning of the film felt like a docudrama or just some historical war movie. It's not until Kato arrives that the film begins to explore it's fantasy roots more.

I liked this movie. The story is easily more comprehensible than its predecessors, the characters are better defined, and the production just feels more taut this time around. But I can only enjoy it as a standalone production. When viewed as a sequel to "Last Megalopolis", it's an incredible disappointment. "Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis" was a very unique production in that it was a genre bender of a film: an epic that was equal parts fantasy, horror and historical fiction. This film feels more like some commercial horror film in a historical setting. It didn't even try to follow up the promises of its predecessor (for example, many plot threads left hanging at the end of that film are not resolved here). From an entertainment perspective, it's decent, but not in the same way.

Two years later, Rintaro would take the story of "Last Megalopolis" and the dark atmosphere of this film and make the anime "Doomed Megalopolis". Ironically, since the atmosphere between the latter production and "Last War" is more consistent, "Last War" serves as a better sequel to the anime than "Last Megalopolis".
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