Ever since I was a wee monster-loving kid, I’ve had a big heart for giant monster movies…
…Godzila. Gamera. King Kong. Rodan. Mothra. All of them were like weekend parents for me. Parents are going out to dinner, forget the babysitter, just leave Matt with his Kaiju films! I was good. Just like Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy, all I needed was these great beasts on screen to captivate my attention for hours. Which is why it is so exciting to see director Minoru Kawasaki bringing his old school Kiaju film Monster Seafood Wars to this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
Written by Kawasaki and Masakazu Migita, Monster Seafood Wars follows Yuta (Keisuke Ueda) a former scientist—and monster lover—now working for his dad’s sushi shop. While delivering some primo product—a crab, a squid, and an octopus—Yuta loses the little creatures and suddenly finds them transformed into enormous Kaiju, thanks to a serum of Yuta’s which was also stolen and used by a mysterious thief, Setap Z. Now it’s up to Yuta, his crush, Nana (Ayano Yoshida Christie), nemesis Hikoma, and monster fighting team SMAT (Seafood Monster Attack Team) to take the creatures down…while also enjoying snacking on their limbs!
Monster Seafood Wars is an absurd and often tasty dish of Japanese culture that, for better or worse, is unlike any Kaiju film you’ve ever seen.
It all starts off normally enough, with a clear passion for giant monster movies of old. Monster Seafood Wars takes little time to get to the good stuff, with a fight between Takolla (the octopus) and Ikalla (the squid) kicking off just ten minutes in. Unlike modern giant monster movies like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island, which present the creatures as neat but weightless digital creations, Monster Seafood Wars goes back to the person in a rubber suit style that whets my appetite. Creature designer Reijiro Kato brings a ton of charm to these aquatic behemoths, giving them big, adorable eyes, bright, eye-catching colors, and human legs poking out of the suits with a shamelessness that any Kaiju fan will adore.
There is no sense whatsoever of the film taking itself seriously, and that’s a good thing. That’s what we expect out of these movies. Just look at old clips of Godzilla hopping around, or Gamera swinging on a pole like an overweight gymnast. The first rule of Kaiju films is to have fun with them, and Monster Seafood Wars is anything but a bad time.
The filmmakers are well aware of how goofy the concept is and drizzle Monster Seafood Wars in decadent silliness. Taking into consideration that these creatures were all meant to be on your plate instead of bringing down buildings, SMAT fights them not with typical military equipment like guns and rockets, but a goddamn vinegar cannon designed by Hikoma, because, as he says, “there’s nothing more useful than rice vinegar to beat seafood monsters.” Sure, I guess! Add into that poorly choreographed monster fights, awful miniatures and monster suits that are clearly suits every time they give a little with each smack, and it’s hard not to be at least a little bit charmed by Monster Seafood Wars.
But Monster Seafood Wars is also a movie with some big problems.
For one, Yuta has to be one of the most unlikeable heroes in Kaiju movie history. No Kaiju fan is going to pretend that character development has much of any importance—I mean come on, we’re just there for the monsters—but you don’t want the characters to make you cringe, either. Godzilla characters rarely leave much of an impression. Gamera’s heroes are typically adorable kids. But Yuta is an immature, sexist, straight up dickhead that leaves a bad taste in your mouth which no amount of sweet, sweet Kaiju fun can wash down. The first time we see him with Nana, he tells her she can’t possibly understand the monsters because “girls don’t like monsters”. Excuse me, Yuta, but my wife would give her left hand just for the chance to freaking hug a Kaiju monster! Later, out of a jealous rage, he also calls Nana a slut for dating Hikoma and says she’s leading Hikoma on because…you think she’s secretly in love with you I guess, Yuta? Moments like Yuta using crayon drawings of the monster to explain plans to defeat them are fun but not nearly enough to prevent you from wishing he’d get crushed under a tentacle in reel one.
Monster Seafood Wars also steps on its own tentacles quite a bit with some serious pacing issues. Every time we’re starting to have fun with the film, footage from future interviews are spliced in in a found-footage style, with characters showering viewers in zero sweet and all sour exposition that just isn’t needed. These scenes are the film’s attempts to explain bits we don’t see, like Yuta being recruited by SMAT, but, this is a Kaiju film. Fans don’t love Kaiju films for their in-depth stories. Just the opposite. They love them because of their total disregard for plot. Not to say that Monster Seafood Wars is all that thought out either, but in place of unnecessary exposition, the film could’ve beefed up the monster fighting, as there’s only about fifteen-minutes worth as it stands.
At once the strangest yet most curious element of Monster Seafood Wars is its emphasis on Japan’s food culture. After Kanilla (the crab creature, my favorite by the way for his adorable crab walk), chops off a few of Takolla and Ikalla’s tentacles during a fight, SMAT decides, screw it, let’s cook them up and see what they taste like! I’ve never wondered what Kaiju meat would be like, but thanks to Monster Seafood Wars, it’s all I can think about now. Following a scene in which SMAT tries out various Kaiju dishes and contemplates their tastiness with Patrick Bateman-level inner monologues of divine passion, Kaiju cuisine somehow becomes a hit all across the country, with the film devoting a good chunk of its runtime to nothing but citizens eating Kaiju. Monster Seafood Wars belongs in its own category of Kaiju Food Porn. It’s a bizarre segment that has little to do with anything, but the whole thing seems to reflect Japan’s and the love of fans all over the world for Kaiju. Sure, they’re eating the creatures, but there’s a certain level of joy and excitement over the dishes made from the Kaiju that feels like a metaphor for our passion.
Sweet. Spicy. Sour. Raw. Fried. Kaiju fans adore all tastes when it comes to giant monster movies. Monster Seafood Wars over-seasons some aspects while under-cooking others, but it’s passion for the genre makes it worth at least one taste.
Monster Seafood Wars is available On-demand from Fantasia throughout the course of the festival.
By Matt Konopka