Friday, December 24, 2004

More odds and ends...
First up, I saw the New Godzilla Movie last night.

This is supposed to be the last Godzilla movie ever (although they've said that before, so I guess you have to take it with a grain of salt). Anyway, having been a big fan of the franchise in my youth, I thought I'd see Godzilla's last appearance for nostalgia sake.

apparently Godzilla hasn't been doing too well in the box office lately, so Toho studios decided to make one big final movie and then lay the series to rest. The new movie brings back all of the old monsters from all of the previous movies, as well as aging actors from some of the early films. I'd go on about it, but since The Japan Times has a series of articles about the new movie already, there's probably no need for me to repeat it. A review and description of the new movie can be read here. There is also a short history of Godzilla available here.

Did you ever have it where you had a really cool idea for a movie, and then you saw a movie that was just like your idea, and you thought to yourself, "Dude, it's like these producers are reading my mind!" That's pretty much how I felt about this new Godzilla movie.

I was a big fan of Godzilla in my middle school days. I think I was at the right age where the idea of a big lizard stomping on model sky scrapers was pretty cool. In fact I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I had been a few years younger, but my parents were pretty strict about TV. Even by the age of 14 it was sometimes still a battle to be able to watch the movies.

But the thing about Godzilla movies is that there is only so much of a man in a lizard suit stomping on model cities that you can stomach in one sitting. Even as a 14 year old boy it would get boring after a while, and as an adult you would almost prefer to get kicked in the balls than sit through the whole movie. Which is why the Godzilla movies of the mid-60s (in my opinion the golden age of Godzilla) were so brilliant. Because there was always a sub-plot going on that was more important than the actual monsters themselves. The sinister Aliens from Planet X would sometimes show up to try and conquer the earth, or there would be the story of a princess trying to escape from assassins, or those miniature twin fairy priestesses would always be getting captured and then have to be saved. In some of the older Godzilla movies, Godzilla would sleep through almost the whole movie, then wake up and make a brief cameo appearance at the end and stop on some buildings before the ending credits rolled.

Unfortunately, after Godzilla was revived in the 1980s, the movie studios seemed to have forgotten about this. The movies would go back to the format of big giant lizard spending two hours stomping on buildings, and really, there is a limit to how much of that you can watch.

I used to think that if I was ever put in charge of making a Godzilla film, I would go back to the 1960s format. Sure, Godzilla's in the film stomping around somewhere, but you almost forget about him as you get absorbed in watching all these other gun battles and car chases and kick boxing or what ever. The main focus on the movie would be on the human action. Or you could bring back those aliens from Planet X, and they and the humans could have a big battle and the monsters would just be fighting in the back ground.

And when I watched the new Godzilla movie it was just like what I had imagined. They even brought back the aliens from Planet X, just as I had planned to. My only complaint was there was no scene were the twin priestess fairies were kidnapped. How can you have a Godzilla movie without those those two being kidnapped? Although they did make an appearance, I thought they should have been utilized more. I mean, there just so small and cute.

To be perfectly honest it wasn't a great movie by objective standards. Much of the action sequences seemed ripped off from "The Matrix". Japanese special effects can't quite compete with Hollywood. And, as the Japan Times review indicates, "`Godzilla: Final Wars' is less an integrated film than a series of gonzo action-sequences that, after the initial rush, have much of a sameness".

And yet it is nice to see a Godzilla film done right for a change. Almost a pity they are laying the series to rest just when they are remembering how to do it right. When they revive Godzilla again in another 10 or 15 years, they'll probably go back to the "2 hours of stomping on buildings" format.

anyway, moving on to other topics...
Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan is a bit of a contradictory affair, as I suppose everything is when compared to Western Standards. Christmas isn't really a holiday over here, since Japan isn't a Christian country. People don't even get the day off of work on Christmas. Children might get gifts, but there are no family celebrations like in the West.

And yet they really go all out on the Christmas lights and decorations. The Malls in Japan are even worse then they are back home, and city parks become little mini-tourist attractions as people come to see all the Christmas lights. I went to a park in Gifu city last night with friends to wander around and look at all the decorations.

Why a country that doesn't celebrate Christmas gets so excited about Christmas decorations is a mystery to me. And I think a mystery to many of the Japanese themselves, since I have had Japanese friends pose the question to me, "Don't you think it is funny that we have so many Christmas decorations in a Buddhist country?" It does seem to fit the stereo type of Japan as a country obsessed with decorative and shiny things, however, and that's the best explanation I can think of.

What is interesting to me is a lot of Japanese friends will indicate a desire to experience "Christmas in America". The conversation, like many of my conversations in Japan, will often follow a predictable pattern. I'll usually say that, yes, Christmas is very impressive in America. But than the Japanese friend will usually indicate a desire to see all the Christmas lights in America, at which point I usually have to say, "Well, if it is just the lights you're looking for, I think Japan has us beat." And the response is invariably, "But isn't New York city decorated with a big Christmas Tree and lots of lights?" And I say something like, "Yeah, I guess it is."

I've never been to New York city around Christmas time, but my guess is it must be absolutely packed with Japanese tourists. Perhaps someone else can fill me in.

Video Version

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