Japan Prepares for a B-Movie Renaissance



The only thing we have to fear is Ebola. Or island-destroying volcanic eruptions. Or…?

By Roberto De Vido

A couple of years ago, legendary B-movie director Roger Corman, who has produced classics such as Swamp Woman, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Dinocroc, Supergator, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Sharktopus, Piranhaconda and Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader served as chairman of the Tokyo International Film Festival competition jury.

Corman started his career in the mid-1950s, just when the original Godzilla was hitting the screens, but prolific as the director has been, Ishiro Honda’s monster has been the world’s most successful B-movie character, appearing in nearly 30 films over the past 60 years.

I thought of Corman when in my news feed the other day I spotted the cheery headline “Poisonous red-back spiders feared to have started breeding in Tokyo.” That irresistible clickbait led me to the story, of course, where I learned that victims bitten by a female red-back spider can suffer headaches and feel nauseous. I learned also that it’s even more dangerous to have sex with a red-back spider than to be bitten by one. After mating, the female usually consumes its male partner.

This plague of red-back spiders follows the outbreak of dengue fever that recently felled a pair of models (wink, wink) engaged in a photo shoot (that presumably bared enough skin to tempt the disease-carrying mosquitoes) in Yoyogi Park. Another 150 or so people have been infected, but none of them were “models,” so media coverage of their fates has been nonexistent.

Looming just over the horizon, of course, is Ebola. As I write this I’m about to take off on a week-long business trip, and as a foreigner, I expect I will be thoroughly scrutinized on my return, as everyone knows foreigners are the leading importers of disease (and drugs and other vices, but that’s another story). I’m not traveling to Africa, but that won’t matter, and I am traveling to China, which you may remember gave us SARS a few years back.

All of which makes me think the time is ripe for a B-movie renaissance in Japan.

The media fearmongering that has so wildly distorted our perceptions of mortal risk offer an opportunity for enterprising filmmakers to scare the pants off Japanese audiences with a range of disaster-themed sci-fi/horror features.

Yes, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla was conceived (at least in part) as a metaphor for the atomic bomb explosions that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yes, the 2014 American remake referenced a nuclear reactor leak, but today, three years on from the Fukushima reactor meltdown, most people living in Kanto and Tohoku have accepted their daily irradiation as an unavoidable fact of life, and moved on to more pressing concerns.

I think the time is ripe for filmmakers to create titles such as Gyoza Fillings from China, A Gaijin Sat Next to Me on the Train, and The Obasan Who Got Lost in Costco. For those who haven’t managed to put Fukushima completely out of their minds, perhaps The Endlessly Leaking Nuclear Reactor would strike a chord. That last one, of course, would be a documentary.

Not only would films such as these provide a welcome boost to the Japanese film industry, but also they could restore the reputation of the industry overseas, where some of the “horror” films (though perhaps not “Gyoza” or “Nuclear Reactor” ) could be repackaged as comedies.

The American playwright and screenwriter David Mamet replies to the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” with a terse “I think of them.” The seeds of a Japanese film renaissance are even easier to find: just read the news headlines.

Roberto De Vido is a corporate communications strategist who lives in a small fishing and farming village in Miura Hanto. He is the producer and host of The American Radio Show

Image: angusmcdiarmid/Flickr



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