Seafood Monster Wars (2020) review [Fantasia 2020]

Introduction

Minoru Kawasaki is the parody-master of Japanese cinema. Over-sized wrestlers, cute looking Kaiju’s, talking koala’s, goalkeeping crabs, … Kawasaki has always succeeded in turning the most ludicrous premises into charming and coherent stories. His talent of creating silly stories in a non-farcical way might, in our opinion, explain why he has, ever since his The Calamari Wrestler (2004), become a fan-favourite at the Fantasia Film Festival.

Fantasia2020-OfficialSelection-EN

Review

Every year, on the first lucky day of September, Yuta Tanuma (Keisuke Ueda), the only son of the owner of a sushi bar, visits the Namiyoke Shrine to make an offering to the gods. But this year, things do not go as planned. After falling from his bike, he discovers that the crab, octopus, and the squid he was going to offer have escaped and, much to his disbelief and surprise, have turned into kaiju (giant monsters).

Minoru Kawasaki 2

With Seafood Monster Wars, Kawasaki offers a crazy narrative that combines seemingly incompatible elements into a silly but consistent whole. Seafood Monster Wars does not only touch upon whistleblowers, home-brewed drugs, hacking, the joy of eating delicious food, and the desire to solve world’s food crisis, but also explores the power of the human’s oral drive and its link to cultural practices and the ease by which subjects put their own desires before the greater good. Kawasaki even found the time to insert some funny Japanese cultural references, like the reveal of the new era’s name, and to parody certain famous Japanese persons, like Yoshihide Suga and Prime minister Shinzo Abe.

But surprising as it may be given the silly premise Seafood Monster Wars does have a subtle message. Kawasaki does not only playfully highlight that technology, whatever its good intentions, can always be abused, but also how humans are, in fact, the orchestrators of the disasters that befall them.

Monster Seafood Wars (2020) by Minoru Kawasaki

Seafood Monster Wars has a rather uncommon narrative structure, a structure mixing the chronological unfolding of the events with faux-documentary segments where various characters (e.g. Yuta’s father, the Ex-SMAT (Seafood Monster Attack Team) commander Hibiki (-), The Chief priest of the Namiyoke Shrine, a pilot of the self-defense forces, the director of the institute of Super Physical and Chemical Research, … etc.) provide commentary on the Kaiju disaster that befell Tokyo. The alternation of both segments, by way of offering narrative variation and creating a pleasing compositional rhythm keeps Seafood Monster Wars interesting at all times.

One should not be put off by Kawasaki’s unbothered use of obvious fake (special) effects and his continued reliance on monster bodysuit. Far from imploding the pleasure one can have with the narrative, these ‘fake’ elements enhance the enjoyability of Seafood Monster Wars. Why? Because the very fakeness of these elements (and the cuteness of the monsters) visually reinforces the absurdity of the narrative – the visual silliness energizes the narrative silliness (Cine-note 1). This is – if there was really any doubt about it – not a narrative to be taken seriously, but a narrative to be enjoyed without much thinking.

Minoru Kawasaki 5

Other elements that reinforce the narrative’s absurdity of Seafood Monster Wars are the musical accompaniment, which often has an eighties vibe, and the acting as such. The acting performances are, as one can expect, marked by over-acting and (sometimes) a certain amateurism, but the subtle over-acting as well as the amateurism works and fits/supports the mood of the narrative – Yuuya Asato‘s performance as Shinjiro Hikoma is, in our opinion, the highlight of the narrative. While it might sound strange given the inherent ridiculousness of the narrative, the acting performances succeed in not turning this pleasant silly narrative into a bothersome farce.

Seafood Monster Wars is a silly Kaiju narrative that explores the selfish desires orienting male subjects, the centrality of the oral drive in the subject’s circuit of enjoyment, as well as the causal role human desires and drives play in the birth of (super-)natural disasters. While some will consider Seafood Monster Wars as a love-letter to classic Kaiju cinema – and in a certain way it is, Kawasaki’s focus on providing pleasing silliness also underlines that contemporary Kaiju cinema is unable or reluctant to replicate the political undertones that marked Kaiju cinema of the past in a meaningful way.

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Notes

Cine-note 1: There are some continuity errors present in the narrative that could have been easily avoided.

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