Monster Seafood Wars – Fantasia Film Festival

Written & Directed by Minoru Kawasaki

Japan/ 2020/ 84 mins

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Attempting to imitate the infamous Kaiju genre, known for giving the world GodzillaRodan and MothraMonster Seafood Wars leaps out of the gate with ridiculous strides, a ludicrous script, and lashings of exuberant Japanese enthusiasm. In part a mockumentary, Monster Seafood Wars frames itself with a news crew interviewing a survivor and lead member of SMAT (Seafood Monster Attack Team) as he recounts the events leading up to and dealing with the invasion of Inkala, Takolla and Kanilla, genetically modified squid, octopus and crab respectively.

What initially plays the part of a schlock B-movie wannabe seems to wildly stagger into distractions from its main attractions – as a narrative concerning two young geniuses, whose ideas include a revolutionary rice vinegar cannon to ‘tenderise’ the monsters quickly dilutes itself as it jumps to-and-fro from epic Kaiju battle to perplexing teen drama; even a 15-minute cookery montage.

The film’s structure unnecessarily divides itself between unusual subplots which the script fails to expand upon or take full advantage of. In a peculiar subplot which examines the political nature of Japan’s relationship with immigration and multi-culturalism encroaching on tradition, the film begins to take bold steps which are quickly cut off and never addressed again. All the while there is a severe imbalance with how blasé and flippant the film flops between comedic segments, sentai-style battles and an awkward, frankly concerning love triangle between the three leads Yûya Asato, Ayano Yoshida Christie and Hide Fukumoto.

This can be seen at its worst as the film comes to a complete halt as a two-minute joke suddenly refuses to dissipate; instead, serving up a prolonged sequence surrounding eating habits, monster food and the moral implications of eating the Kaiju meat. At first creative, turning the torn tentacles or limbs into delicious morsels which could end world hunger, the sequence overstays itself by another ten minutes.

Individually, the lead trio plays their respective parts well; Asato and Yoshida Christie as the magnificent young minds who disagree on how to deal with the threat, and a charming turn from Fukumoto as a head-strong and capable researcher. With the inclusion of a love triangle, it lowers the tone of the film. Yes, even in a film about giant seafood monsters. There is little chemistry in the romantic sense, and the whines and blackmail concerning the boy’s pursuits of Fukumoto’s character come across as grotesque, rather than cute or comedic.

Where the film finds its footing is when we dive back to the present-day recount of events where the serious, grave tone intensifies the comedic tone, embracing the ridiculous plot. Or when the focus shifts to the monsters duking it out, destroying the city and fighting off the armed forces, who come to the party armed with vinegar cannons and robotic chefs. The mockumentary aspect suits the less than stellar camera work, which relies on a lot of shaky-footage and ‘authentic’ camera techniques.

Strikingly imaginative, the monster costumes themselves are a key selling feature for the film and serve to demonstrate the creativity and history of Japanese cinema, particular the Kaiju genre. Creative enough to convey workshop designs, tacky enough to emanate the ‘vibe’ of the style aimed for, the four outfits, as well as the films general model work and costume has a clearer vision than any of the direction or writing. One thing can be said for the film, by lord you’ll crave sushi and a bottle of Umeshu as the credits roll. Food to satiate the hunger, drink to stave off the confusion. Monster Seafood Wars takes brilliantly inventive raw ingredients but finds itself too interested in pushing accoutrements to appreciate what this film, at its core, should have been.

Review published for The Wee Review

Under Heaven’s Eyes – Online@The Space

Written & Performed by Christopher Taja

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nearly three months on, the murder of George Floyd still sparks debate, fury and aggression on all sides of the conversation. While many have hoped and prayed that his murder marked a turning point, others are realising that the death of another black man at the hands of white police officers is merely another false dawning which will ebb into history.

Under Heaven’s Eyes, a new piece of writing by Christopher Tajah, is a solo production which directly challenges institutional racism forcing black and minority communities into tight corners. Tied directly into issues surrounding COVID-19 – where black people are four times more likely to contract the virus than their white counterparts – Under Heaven’s Eyes is additionally a father’s plea for his children’s safety.

Racial profiling, systemic racism and institutional racism are real, no matter how loudly some people claim otherwise. Beyond the atrocity of George Floyd’s death, Tajah’s work offers a glimpse into a potential powerhouse of a production. Though the work’s current structure is frayed and requires staging, what never wavers is Tajah’s skilful use of language. His powerful writing possesses a balance of logical premise with emotional and inventive creativity.

Just as Tajah’s script begins to feels stilted – needing an infusion of movement, for instance – the narrative strays back to a more personal touch. Under Heaven’s Eyes speaks with a righteous and raw voice, though Tajah’s reliance on statistics to emphasise the poignant notes already made is where the performance really hits home. The inclusion of a family dynamic emboldens the audience’s connection, though could be forged quicker to secure the plot. Tajah’s performance is an eloquent and articulate account of the blatantly rotten foundations of many public and elite institutions. 

Charles WottenEmmett TillRashan Charles and Breonna Taylor. Hopefully, these are names people will remember. If you don’t know them already, then they are ones to research. Through Under Heaven’s Eyes, Resistance Theatre Company Ltd illustrates the stagnant, rife root of racism in the world. Tajah’s ability to admirably convey a myriad of emotions in a 45-minute solo-show is a testament to his artistic talents.

Review published for The Wee Review

Until The Ad Break – Online@TheSpace

Written by Hugo Lewkowicz

Produced by Jack Dalziel

Directed by Emily Fitzpatrick

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The apocalypse may be upon us, but there’s always time for some day-time telly. In the lead up to the end of days, there’s not much else to do but sit back, watch crap and indulge in train videos, skateboarding budgerigars, and our favourite presenters – oh, and wait Until The Ad Break before tweeting our opinions of course. 

Hosts of ‘The Hello Show’ Francine Quick and Dale Maxton have the difficult task of entertaining the nation as the world crumbles around them. Difficulty? They don’t know the world is ending. Between climate change, murder hornets and quinoa, the hosts struggle to keep their cool as fellow doom-and-gloom spouting weather correspondent Gabriel Spring (played by director Emily Fitzpatrick) is preparing for doomsday.

Complete with unnecessary cutaways, segments and interviews, Until The Ad Break plays out like any other day-time chat show format, but where the real crux concerns itself is the behind-the-scenes action. The drama, the lies, the panics, and the sex, oh yes, all those times we paired off presenters? Well, they’re all at it. 

These transition sequences, where the show moves from a sickly over-the-top parody into a notably more brutal exchange of insults and emotions, demonstrate the makings of a strong production. The concept is far from new, but this back-stage setting before the apocalypse adds an enticing dynamic which the sadists among us can latch onto.

The opening moments, drenched in phoney smiles and over-the-top humour leads to concerns of fresh out of drama school performances, which are quickly gut-punched by Francine Quick’s (Ellie Stewart-Dodd) dark retorts to co-host Dale Maxton (Bradley Pascall). What follows is a layered format which swings between grim comedy, absurdist plotlines and visual gags.

This comedy takes bold leaps, and the gamble pays off when the cast refrain from shying from delivery – but it’s uneven across the whole production. Expectations of a skit-based show will inevitably have their strengths and weaknesses, unfortunately for Maverick Charles Productions, the digital format means that editing takes it’s toll in slowing momentum on occasion, with transitions to and from the ‘studio’ set up jarring pacing.

From Gabriel’s lyric dropping of BBC children’s classics to the forcible control of the scheduling from the producer, Until the Ad Break reeks of nostalgia for the late eighties right up to end of the nineties television. Stewart-Dodd’s revolting BBC grin pairs well with Pascall’s controlling lead mechanic, which amps up the tension between the two as the facades drop, the truths out themselves and the three work off one another as the energy builds into a climax.

Lewkowicz plays their best chips early though, cashing in the Armageddon angle early into the show which drags it out, before being lifted back up as Pascall and Stewart-Dodd lead into a sobering moment as the realisation of things to come dawn on the pair. There’s a wealth of material, an entire season or staged production’s worth, which dips itself too heavily into the revolution aspect too soon, peaking.

With some superb performances, principally from Stewart-Dodd and the brief, memorable irritations of producer Haris Nabi, the team manage to emulate a quintessentially British success in the vain of Dominic Brigstocke & Caroline Norris’ Horrible Histories programming with minor hints of Python influence. The world may indeed be ending, but at least we have some solid entertainment to see it through.  

Until The Ad Break is available to watch until August 30th here