MONSTER VS. NINJA MONTH: Kaiju galore in MAGIC SERPENT

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 1

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.

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!!!

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.

A little MAGIC SERPENT to start things off

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 3

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

MAGIC SERPENT (part 2)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

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.

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

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

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!