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Review: Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell

The flight is far from uneventful. Blood-red clouds envelop the plane. Seemingly suicidal birds smash themselves against the windows by the handful. The radio crackles with unsettling reports of unidentified flying objects in Japanese airspace. Then, grim news from the tower: one of the passengers may have smuggled aboard an explosive. Sugisaka, the valiant first officer, conducts a search, and quickly discovers an assassin in their midst (who, ironically, has no knowledge of the bomb threat). Before he can act on this knowledge, however, a huge, luminous space nipple soars over the aircraft, frying the controls and sending it crashing into the ground.

Thus begins Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell, a delightfully weird sci-fi/horror tale from Shochiku, a studio better known for putting out Yasujiro Ozu’s domestic dramas and Yoji Yamada’s long-running Tora-san series.

Tensions escalate as Sugisaka gathers together the colorful cast of survivors: a corrupt, adulterous politician; a greedy defense contractor; an American widow, on her way to Japan to retrieve her husband’s remains from a military base; a psychiatrist, who appears to be a bit disturbed himself; and, conveniently enough, a researcher in the field of “space biology.” Unfortunately for the virtuous first officer, these people are motivated by their own selfish desires; each would gladly sacrifice the others to ensure his/her own survival. Meanwhile, the assassin, fleeing the wreck, stumbles into the space nipple, where he is possessed by a sentient puddle of quicksilver and transformed into–a vampire?

Even without my “humorous” embellishments, trying to describe the film’s premise makes it sound somewhat silly, but it’s honestly a very well-crafted genre piece, with a gorgeous color scheme, some impressive model work, and a compelling (if heavy-handed) examination of the human condition (director Hajime Sato touches on timely topics such as the Vietnam War and America’s spate of political assassinations, and ultimately blames the alien invasion on–what else?–the atomic bomb).

[Originally written September 10, 2012.]

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