Ancient Astronauts and Stone Age Samurai in ZIPANG (part 2)

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Alright, so Japan’s burliest sword goon and the cutest pistol-packin’ bounty huntress EVER have been whisked away to the magical land of gold along with a hundred ninja, their spy master, a circus troop and a lunatic cave man. Time to really mix things up with some hulking warriors right out of an archeological dig!

Based on Jomon Period ceramics, these costumes are just beyond cool. One of them is rather Dai Majin-like, no?

In the midst of these martial artifacts is this Egyptian-y, Sumerian-y who-knows-what-y warrior woman who under that stone mask is quite the barbarian babe!

But the king of Zipang takes the cake. His bulky armored battle suit is modeled directly from “Dogu” god statuettes from Japan’s prehistory. These things are universally attributed by ‘Ancient Astronaut’ theorists to be space suits worn by extraterrestrial visitors, but Zipang provides a more sound and logical explanation – they were MECHS!

DUH! Ancient Astronauts my ASS… Why wouldn’t stone age Japan be populated by stone age giant robots?

This suit was pretty damn huge, and must have been a bitch to move around in on set. He doesn’t exactly sprint around or get into a Douglas Fairbanks-level acrobatic duel or anything, in fact the movement is right up there with the best of classic sci-fi cinema’s clunky metal men.

And the unlikely mech/tech doesn’t stop there. Hanzo’s demented arsenal of  espionage gadgetry is unrivaled in ‘Bamboo Punk.’ C’mon, this is a movie about a magical land of gold populated by mythical monsters and immortal cave men… there really isn’t a need for historical credibility here.

The ratchet-and-wire-sprung claw thing above is a replacement for a hand lost in combat. It can launch off his arm like a Shogun Warrior’s missile hand, with grappling line and everything. Even more absurd (read: awesome) is a binocular/camera rig which codes color photos onto shuriken-shaped discs, which are then thrown into the wind where they home in to HQ. Note the ray skin on the housing, like a katana handle. Nice detail… on an absolutely ridiculous prop!

Sums up this movie pretty well, actually…

The homing messenger shuriken is the most high tech 'ninja star' ever. Ironically in the same movie that uses the most low-tech effects for other shuriken throughout, like these hung on fishing line to simulate flying towards our heroes.

‘Hanzo’ ends up being a pretty fun character (although his outfit looks like it’s made of lawn bags). He’s obsessed with completing his mission to steal the sword to a fanatical degree. His army has all sorts of silly skills, like burrowing through the ground ala Bugs Bunny. But they also move as a cohesive and well-disciplined unit. When the inter-dimensional vortex opens, they try to snag their master out of it by forming the biggest ninja human pyramid ever.

So yeah, Zipang has enough wacked-out shit to keep you guessing throughout what is (inevitably) too long a movie. It gets mired down in the third reel with a lot of conversations and emotional conflicts. However up to then there’s enough cool ninja stuff, beautifully filmed fights and Yuri the Pistol cuteness to carry me, and then some. The stone age Japanese warriors are a rare treat, and the make-up effects and costuming are just great.

Plenty of grey market editions floating out there, including subbed prints from Britain and Taiwan, but the best looking, longest running and best translated is Kurotokagi‘s.

Ancient Astronauts and Stone Age Samurai in ZIPANG (part 1)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 1

Colorful, crazy. Ambitious as hell. All over the place. Fun. Frustrating…

All describe Kaizo Hayashi‘s 1990 epic  Zipang, a positively wacked-out genre bending inter-dimensional adventure littered with exotic warriors and fantastic costumes. This thing is either hitting on every beat of jidai-geki pop culture or can’t decide what it wants to do and won’t commit. Either way, the first-time viewer is left guessing what’s coming next and is pretty exhausted by film’s end.

For out purposes (especially this month), Zipang features an obsessed ninja armed with high-tech Bamboo Punk spy gadgets, his horde of shinobi cannon fodder, a crew of pre-historic warriors in stone and wood armor, and an absolutely amazing Steam Punk “Dogu” god armored suit!

The skinny: Zipang in the mythical land of gold that lies somewhere beyond this plain of existence. A magic sword is said to have the power to transport one to this affluent dimension, so everyone’s after it; from a warlord’s loyal ninja Hanzo to a primitive cave man/prophet to the most colorful swordsman in Japan.

Enter Jigoku (played by the imposing and expressive Masahiro Takashima) part time Kabuki actor, part time square-jawed adventurer, and leader of a band of circus performers with outre warrior arts of their own. One of them is a caddy, carrying around his master’s myriad gimmicked swords, doling them out by number. They also have a pet baby elephant so creepy I don’t even want to mention it again… ever… Brrrrrrrrr…

The film begins with a dizzying assault of genre parody, wherein Jigoku takes on just about every franchise sword hero out there and slashes through as many chambara cliches as time will allow.

A Kurozukin knock-off is the first to go down...
...followed by a not-so-blind ersatz Zatoichi...
...a Tange Saizen and even, what? Who is that? D'Artagnon? Cyrano?

Besides this pretty-damn-funny sequence, there’s also a phenomenal battle with a horde of basket-hatted soldiers on a rather familiar narrow bridge. Jigoku finally meets his match, though, in the form of the cutest damn bounty hunter EVER, Yuri the Pistol!

Narumi Yasuda plays this perky little go-getter armed with a double-barrelled musket pistol and the cutest bangs in Japanese history. Swoon! The impossibly adorable Yuri is the real gem of this movie, chasing the sword, trying not to fall for Jigoku, and ultimately serving as the level-headed catalyst who makes sure everyone’s fighting for what’s right.

The pursuit of the sword spans two dimensions, the mythical blade changing hands from the circus troop to Hanzo’s ninja army (a rather disciplined and impressive group) to a screaming stone-age primitive thrown from his own time.

It's like a whole army of Eagle Force SAVITARs!

And then they’re all whisked away to a place where it rains gold and armored behemoths walk the land…

We’ll look at some rarely, if ever, portrayed figures out of Japan’s ancient past tomorrow, as well as Hanzo’s wacky arsenal and yet another cute chick!