MONSTER VS. NINJA MONTH: Kaiju galore in MAGIC SERPENT

Originally published in two parts, October 2009)

Kairyu Daikessen was a 1966 Toei fusion of ninja revenge and giant monster magic. It delivered in spades on both fronts and was a fantastic movie.

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Then it was picked up by American International Pictures for English-language distribution, and has since wallowed in international obscurity. Does it have a cult following based on sporadic UHF TV airings and grindhouse circuit screenings? Sure. But it should be A LOT better known.

So why hasn’t this flick been one of the most exploited and re-issued titles of all time? It should have at least B-grade kaiju status, under Godzilla and Gamera for sure, but right up there with the Gargantuas at least. It should have been a staple rental during the ninja craze, but for some reason has never been marketed for it’s shinobi content.

The blame starts at the AIP re-title, which you may have seen in TV Guide listings and in DVD discount bins for years, never knowing what you were missing – MAGIC SERPENT.

Magic fucking Serpent???

No one could have figured out a way to glom onto some other genres and trends with a strategic retitle bearing a little more dramatic flair? How about Samurai Serpent? Shogun’s Serpent? The Dragon Ninja? War of the Ninja Monsters?

The fact that one movie can have THIS:

001

and THIS:

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AND be translated into English and still be widely anonymous to both kaijufiles and shinobimaniacs is just a crime of marketing and exploitation NEGLECT! Dammit all to hell, it ends here!!!

I will now assault you with images of this masterpiece until you find it and buy it and love it like you should have all these years…

013

Yep, that’s a big ass bladed boomerang! Early in the film, an assassin uses it to cut off the hero’s head.

017

Fortunately, Jiraiya (Hiroki Matsukata) has mad ninja wizard skills and can fully function decapitated. That’s his wise-cracking disembodied head on the left, taunting the ninja his body just captured.

018

He also throws around FX-laden trickery like the trusty old magic energy snare.

025

But his sworn enemy Orochimaru (Ryutaro Otomo) is not without special effects of his own. LOVE this animated energy cloud, despite the bad opticals.

005

But when the swordplay and shadow sills fail, it’s time to get down with some big time GIANT MONSTER SUMMONING! Orochimaru transforms into the film’s eponymous critter, one of the best kaiju ever put on screen in my opinion…

020

BUT WAIT! Who’s this uninvited peeing tom?

021

023

024

Oh yeah, our hero sure as hell can summon and embody a glowing eyed giant horny toad! Let the games begin!!!

022

The main-event of Kairyu Daikessen is an extended kaiju beatdown between dragon and toad, with a castle destroyed in the process.

030

029

032

This longshot actually begins a DIALOG scene between the monsters! They cut old-school rasslin’ promos on each other, then proceed to have fun storming the castle.

027

033

In Japan, dragons don’t breathe fire, toads do.

035

But the dragon is a big hoser himself, so it’s a pretty even fight.

036

It’s toad warrior vs. reindeer rex is the original MMA (Mixed Monster Attack).

039

040

041

This giant spider (species: Arachnus Deus Ex Machinatus) flies in at the last moment to save the day.

043

044

And in the fashion of all good movies, it ends with an explosion.

Kairyu Daikessen is actually more available now than it ever was back in the day. Beautiful widescreen subtitled editions are floating the trader seas under titles like “Dragon Showdown.” The only legit US release is burried on a double feature disc with a Gamera flick, and it’s the pan and scan AIP dub. The American version has it’s charm though, as all the monster “voices” were replaced by ones more familiar to US audiences (Godzilla, Rodan, Ebirah included).

gameras

Here’s some additional ephemera:

presspic

Japanese publicity departments were superb at crafting these staged press photos that would summarize the movie in a scene that never actually happens. Best use of this practice ever is in the press stuff for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Google it.

mag serp toys

I’d possibly be willing to trade a kidney (not necessarily mine) for this set of 7″ vinyl dolls from, I believe, Marusan or Marmitt.

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Posted in Film and TV October 18, 2013 at 1:33 am.

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A little MAGIC SERPENT to start things off

Surely the apex of shinobi-kaiju cinema, Magic Serpent (for the Sandy Frank/AIP-exposed) or Kairyu Dai-Kessen, is a no brainer to start of Monsters and Masks 2010!

This is a staged publicity shot, you rarely if ever get that clear a shot of the two dueling ninja transformed into giant pagoda-crushing critters. That is one loooong-legged toad…

Serpent is available in two different forms; the English-dubbed full-frame “Magic Serpent” cut is on a Gamera double feature disc, and a widescreen Japanese language print with grey market subs is circulating as “Dragon Showdown” or “Battle of the Dragons.” I recommend both, as I grew up with the former’s goofy translations and Godzilla sound-effects, but love the original’s kids chorus theme song and widescreen glory.

Hiroki Matsukata and Ryutaro Otomo posed with their amphibious alter-egos.

French market title MONSTERS OF THE APOCALYPSE ignores the ninja-ness of this masterpiece for some reason. YOUNG FLYING HERO is an un-official Thai sequel/knockoff.

This French market re-title of the above, cashing-in on the 80's ninja VHS rental boom, is THE FUCKING BOMB!!! Look at that misleading cover art. C'est magnifique!

Further reading:

We did a big write up on this last year: Part 1 / Part 2

The un-official Thai sequel sounds like a real blast, too. TarsTarkas.net

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Posted in Film and TV October 1, 2010 at 12:18 am.

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TOAD!

Damned if this isn’t the greatest drawing of a monster horny toad EVER!

This is just one ‘plate’ from a 19th century scroll of yokai and human oddities featured over at the superb Pink Tentacle blog.

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Posted in Art and Advertising April 8, 2010 at 8:47 am.

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Kaiju in AKAKAGE (part 2)

The Red Shadow kid’s TV series ran 52 episodes over two years. Six of those episodes were later cut together into movies released under titles like Ninjascope (The Magical World of the Ninjas) in Australia and Latin America.

They were also mis-labeled to cash in on the success of another ninja kid’s film Dai Ninjutsu Eiga Watari, so if you get a chance to see something like Watari the Conqueror, Watari and the Fantasticks, Watari and the Seven Monsters or The Magic Sword of Watari, the ninja boy in question is NOT the axe-weilding hero of the 1966 masterpiece, it’s just that twerp Aokage in rather grainy TV footage blown-up for the big screen.

Again, these were all over TV and theaters everywhere else in the world but here… So check out the monsters we missed:

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This were-cat-looking thing is my absolute fave!

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Red Shadow's jeweled mask, combined with his powered-up katana, produced these never-fail monster-exterminating lightning bolts.

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If you’ve never seen an episode of the original show or one of the dubbed composite movies, but the above seem strangely familiar, it’s because the character made a guest appearance in a time-spanning episode of Yokoyama’s landmark Giant Robo / Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot series.

READ MORE:

The Henshin Hall of Fame

Watari-Akakage fan page

Creepy human head mask from Japan

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Posted in Film and TV October 28, 2009 at 9:15 am.

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Kaiju in AKAKAGE (part 1)

Seems Japan has been beset by giant monsters forever, and luckily for us today heroes like Ultraman are around to fend them off. But in the fuedal era, centuries before any space-faring monster fighters, laser-weilding science patrols or little kids with watches that summoned giant robots were around, it was up to a select few NINJA to do these monsters in.

Enter multi-media shinobi superhero Red Shadow, the coifed creature killer of Kamen no Ninja Akakage.

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This government-charged agent of justice (played by Sakaguchi Yûzaburô) could fly, shoot eye beams, summon a magic twister, and all sorts of other jazz. He and partners Aokakge (Blue Shadow, the requisite snot-nosed-brat, played by Yoshinobu Kaneko) and the veteran Shirokage (White Shadow, another one of Maki Fuyukichi‘s several ninja franchise roles) also loved throwing really potent hand grenades at monsters until everything in sight exploded.

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With this flashy ninja vs. giant monster format, prolific shinobi creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama‘s “Masked Ninja Akakage” jumped from hit manga in ’66 to Toei’s first color tokustatsu series in ’67, and has since seen revivals in anime and live action cinema. It is the often goofy but eminently lovable kid’s show that is highest regarded in that chain… Looking at these images, it’s not hard to see why:

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Know what I love most about this shot of the main baddie of the series? It allows me to use a term like "Harryhausen-esque!"

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These optical printer composites were still pretty new territory, especially in color and on a television budget. Sometimes they're rather good, other times not so much, but they are never a deal breaker.

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The tried-and-true model stomping session is always good, though...

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Good use of rear projection. The color exposure differences sometimes hinder these shots, but again, the color format was new.

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Miniature figures and modestly-budgeted modelscapes were often complemented by fire or smoke spitting critters that lent increased dynamics to otherwise cheesy-looking scenes.

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This familiar giant toad is probably the very suit from MAGIC SERPENT, or at least poured from the same foam rubber molds - note the indent on the nose where in the previous movie the glowing horn would have been.

TOMORROW – a whole pile of sponge-suit monsters!


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Posted in Film and TV October 27, 2009 at 9:20 am.

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Ninja vs. Yeti in STRIKE OF THE JAGUMA!!!

jaguma1.jpg

The 1961 Satomi Kotaro adventure vehichle Kaiju Jaguma no Moshu (aka “Strike of the Jaguma”) is an absolute miracle of bizarre villains and over-the-top costuming. This has become cliche around here, but if the picture above isn’t enough to get you bouncing around the web in a buying frenzy, then you’re on the wrong site.

A gang of thugs is terrorizing local villages, but they aren’t just any hoodlums – their ranks wear ninja gear and masks, their leader is a whip-wielding fiend in an ornate demon get-up, and his number-one heavy is a white gorilla. Possibly a yeti. Or at least a guy in a yeti costume who’s REALLY dedicated to his gimmick and never takes it off. You be the judge…

jaguma1b.jpg

jaguma2.jpg

jaguma3.jpg

These Thai press kit stills, contemporary to the film’s release, show the superb range of costuming, even for the un-masked hero. The hour-long film (probably run as a double bill) is a fine example of a frugal “programmer” that while often silly delivers on action and character design in droves. Flicks like this made a lot of kids wide-eyed and happy.

jaguma4.jpg

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There are a couple of real ‘No f’n way!’ moments in this one – none more jaw-droppingly awesome than Kotaro’s dispatching of the white-gorilla-man-yeti-thing with, naturally, a gorilla-press slam that would make any pro wrestler proud.

For more, read Paghat’s review here, a French review here, and see a few screen caps here.

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Posted in Film and TV October 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm.

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MAGIC SERPENT (part 2)

022

The main-event of Kairyu Daikessen is an extended kaiju beatdown between dragon and toad, with a castle destroyed in the process.

030

029

032

This longshot actually begins a DIALOG scene between the monsters! They cut old-school rasslin' promos on each other, then proceed to have fun storming the castle.

027

033

In Japan, dragons don't breathe fire, toads do.

035

But the dragon is a big hoser himself, so it's a pretty even fight.

036

It's toad warrior vs. reindeer rex is the original MMA (Mixed Monster Attack).

039

040

041

This giant spider (species: Arachnus Deus Ex Machinatus) flies in at the last moment to save the day.

043

044

And in the fashion of all good movies, it ends with an explosion.

Kairyu Daikessen is actually more available now than it ever was back in the day. Beautiful widescreen subtitled editions are floating the trader seas under titles like “Dragon Showdown.” The only legit US release is burried on a double feature disc with a Gamera flick, and it’s the pan and scan AIP dub. The American version has it’s charm though, as all the monster “voices” were replaced by ones more familiar to US audiences (Godzilla, Rodan, Ebirah included).

gameras

Here’s some additional ephemera from the rare but beloved film:

presspic

Japanese publicity departments were superb at crafting these staged press photos that would summarize the movie in a scene that never actually happens. Best use of this practice ever is in the press stuff for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Google it.

mag serp toys

I'd possibly be willing to trade a kidney (not necessarily mine) for this set of 7" vinyl dolls from, I believe, Marusan or Marmitt.

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Tags: , , , , , ,

Posted in Film and TV October 16, 2009 at 1:00 am.

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The unsung kaiju-ninja epic MAGIC SERPENT (part 1)

Kairyu Daikessen was a 1966 Toei fusion of ninja revenge and giant monster magic. It delivered in spades on both fronts and was a fantastic movie.

009

Then it was picked up by American International Pictures for English-language distribution, and has since wallowed in international obscurity. Does it have a cult following based on sporadic UHF TV airings and grindhouse circuit screenings? Sure. But it should be A LOT better known.

So why hasn’t this flick been one of the most exploited and re-issued titles of all time? It should have at least B-grade kaiju status, under Godzilla and Gamera for sure, but right up there with the Gargantuas at least. It should have been a staple rental during the ninja craze, but for some reason has never been marketed for it’s shinobi content.

The blame starts at the AIP re-title, which you may have seen in TV Guide listings and in DVD discount bins for years, never knowing what you were missing – MAGIC SERPENT.

Magic fucking Serpent???

No one could have figured out a way to glom onto some other genres and trends with a strategic retitle bearing a little more dramatic flair? How about Samurai Serpent? Shogun’s Serpent? The Dragon Ninja? War of the Ninja Monsters?

The fact that one movie can have THIS:

001

and THIS:

004

AND be translated into English and still be widely anonymous to both kaijufiles and shinobimaniacs is just a crime of marketing and exploitation NEGLECT! Dammit all to hell, it ends here!!!

I will now assault you with images of this masterpiece until you find it and buy it and love it like you should have all these years…

013

Yep, that's a big ass bladed boomerang! Early in the film, an assassin uses it to cut off the hero's head.

017

Fortunately, Jiraiya (Hiroki Matsukata) has mad ninja wizard skills and can fully function decapitated. That's his wise-cracking disembodied head on the left, taunting the ninja his body just captured.

018

He also throws around FX-laden trickery like the trusty old magic energy snare.

025

But his sworn enemy Orochimaru (Ryutaro Otomo) is not without special effects of his own. LOVE this animated energy cloud, despite the bad opticals.

005

But when the swordplay and shadow sills fail, it's time to get down with some big time GIANT MONSTER SUMMONING! Orochimaru transforms into the film's eponymous critter, one of the best kaiju ever put on screen in my opinion...

020

BUT WAIT! Who's this uninvited peeing tom?

021

023

024

Oh yeah, our hero sure as hell can summon and embody a glowing eyed giant horny toad! Let the games begin!!!

Coming in part two, MONSTER FIGHTS!

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Posted in Film and TV October 15, 2009 at 1:00 am.

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