October 31, 2010

Toku Spotlight: Akumaizer 3

Akumaizer 3 was a tokusausu series airing from October 7, 1975 to June 29, 1976 for 38 episodes.

 The Akuma Zoku (Demon Clan), a magical cyborg race living deep within the earth, plans to invade the surface world. One of these clan members, Zabitan, a half-human half-demon, deserts the clan to defend the humans. The two demons sent after him, Evil and Gabura, decide to instead join him in his mission.

 Zabitan (the black and red demon) has many powers and abilities, including making himself invisible. He's armed with "Zarado", his sword, and his miniature cannons "Zabitan Nova". In many episodes he disguises himself as a human.

 Evil (the yellow demon) is armed with his sword "Erado", which transforms into his "Jo Gun", and he also uses the combat technique of "Evil Finish". He can also transform into an inanimate object. His weakness, however, is the sight of his own relection, which immobilizes him.

 Gabura (the red and blue demon) has a sword called "Garado", which transforms into "Denburu", a spiked ball and chain weapon. He also has the ability to change into an ostrich-like bird.

 Akuma Zoku leader Mega Lord sends relatives and friends of the Akumaizer 3 to fight them as monsters-of-the-week. One of them named Darunia (a mouse-like demon), however, joins them because of her love for Zabitan.

 From the Akuma Zoku, the Akumaizer 3 took the Zeidabeck, a helicopter resembling a whale. Their motorcycles are capable of combining into the Gari Bird.

 The series was followed by a sequel, Choujin Bibyun, which is noticeably different in tone.

 Here's the theme song:

Toku Spotlight: Kaiketsu Lion Maru

Kaiketsu Lion Maru, or literally translated as Swift Hero Lion Maru, was a tokusatsu series that aired from April 1, 1972 to April 2, 1973 for 54 episodes.

 Like Henshin Ninja Arashi, Kaiketsu Lion Maru is set in feudal Japan. In the late-1500s, three orphans, Shishimaru, Saori, and Kosuke go around defending people from Akuma Gosun (Devil Gosun).

 Shishimaru carries two swords, an ordinary one used in combat and another which transforms him into Lion Maru. This sword is locked in its sheath and will only be removed when Shishimaru recites the words "Kaze O! Hikari O! NinpĆ“ Shishi-Hengen!" ("Wind, Light, Ninja Skill, Lion-Transform!"). After slashing the monster-of-the-week with this sword, he runs his hand down the back of it, and in doing this he causes the monster to explode. Once he puts the sword bak in its sheath, he changes back to Shishimaru.

 Saori is quite capable in combat as well, as she is often able to fight two handed with her sword and a sword taken from the enemy. Kosuke can play his flute to summon a pegasus named Hikarimaru. He also uses a portion of his supply of black powder to produce small bombs. Hikarimaru is often ridden by Shishimaru or Lion Maru.

 The leader of Akuma Gosun takes a human second-in-command, Jonosuke, who, with a magical sword of his own, can transform into Tiger Jo, a tiger equivalent of Lion Maru. Jonosuke was initally played by Kozi Tonohiro, but after he died in an accident, Yoshitaka Fukushima took over the role for the rest of the series run.

 The series was followed by a similar series titled Fuun Lion Maru, which featured a similar plot and characters, but whose story is not connected to this series.

 Here's the theme song:

Toku Spotlight: Kaiketsu Zubat

Kaiketsu Zubat, or Swift Hero Zvatt, was a tokusatsu series that aired from February 2 to September 28, 1977 for 32 episodes.

 A cowboy-attired private detective, Ken Hayakawa "transforms", just by putting on a red and black "Zvasuit" that is hidden in his guitar. After his best friend is murdered by the criminal organization Dakker, he creates a suit that gives him super strength, speed, and agility. The villains in the series are many, but the series has no monsters-of-the-week. Ken works secretly as Zubat, with only his friend, police detective Shingo Toiyo knowing his secret identity.

 Zubat has a whip that collapses into a dagger as his main weapon, and after subduing the episode's boss, he finishes each off with his "Zubat Attack" kick.

 The "Zvasuit" has an unfortunate side effect. As soon as the mask's closed, a timer on the mask's side starts running, which indicates that Zubat must defeat the Dakker boss in five minutes, or else the suit will explode. This mechanism was tested in one episode with a dummy inside the suit.

 Ken Kayakawa is played by Hiroshi Miyauchi, a familiar face in '70s tokusatsu, as he's played characters such as Kazami Shiro in Kamen Rider V3, Akira Shinmei/AoRanger in Himitsu Sentai Goranger, and Soukichi Banba/Big One in J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai. Creator of Zubat (and these aforementioned series) Shotaro Ishinomori guest-starred in one episode.

 Here's the theme song:

Toku Spotlight: Henshin Ninja Arashi

Henshin Ninja Arashi, or Transforming Ninja Storm, was a tokusatsu series that aired from April 7, 1972 to February 23, 1973 for 46 episodes.

 One of the many works created by Shotaro Ishinomori, it was one of several tokusatsu series set in feudal Japan.

 With Japan at peace following many years of civil war, this peace is threatened when an evil force rises up to conquer all of Japan. Hayate, a member of the Blood Wheel Clan, learns that the mysterious clan leader Devil Sai is planning to conquer Japan using ninja magic. Not wanting this conquest to happen, Hayate's father uses his magic to transform his son into Henshin Ninja Arashi to fight Devil Sai's ninja mutants. He transforms with his sword Hayakaze ("faster than the wind") and also throws "feather shurikens".

 Hayate is often assisted by Tatsumaki, a veteran ninja sent to stop the Blood Wheel Clan, Tatsumaki's children Kasumi and Tsumuji, and later Tsukinowa, who turns out to be Hayate's brother. In later episodes, the two brothers would merge to defeat the enemy-of-the-week. Other characters added in later episodes include sisters Kageri (who bears quite a resemblance to Edwige Fenech) and Tsuyuha, and bumbling priest Kenji Ushio.

 Here's the theme song:

October 23, 2010

Toku Spotlight: Jinzo Ningen Kikaida

Jinzo Ningen Kikaida, or Android Kikaider, is a tokusatsu series that ran from July 8, 1972 to May 5, 1973 for a total of 43 episodes.

 Created by mangaka Shotaro Ishinomori as a tribute to his mentor Osamu Tezuka's creation Astro Boy, the series also was influenced by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It was also one of the first tokusatsu series to air in the United States.

 Jiro, also known as Kikaider, is a humanoid robot secretly created by Dr. Komyoji to stop DARK, an evil organization that has held him prisoner. When Professor Gill, the head of DARK, discovers this, he sends androids after Komyoji, and a fire separates Komyoji from his children and Jiro.

 With DARK steadily pursuing Jiro, Komyoji's children Mitsuko and Masuru, and a now-amnesiac Dr. Komyoji, Jiro transforms into Kikaider to protect the children and fight the androids-of-the-week.

 A problem Kikaider has is that due to the incompleteness of his conscience circuit (named "Jiminy", a reference to Jiminy Cricket), great pain can be caused by the playing of Professor Gill's flute. Kikaider combats this by using a louder sound to overpower it. To announce his presence in a battle, he plays a guitar and uses a motorcycle called the Sidemachine.

 The main characters are also joined by a comic relief P.I. character by the name of Hanpei Hattori (descended from the real-life ninja Hanzo Hattori), nicknamed "Hanpen" (Japanese for "pounded fish cake"). He wears crazily comical clothing, and has a Subaru 360 that constantly breaks down (in real life, the Subaru 360 was exempt from regular automotive safety standards due to it weighing under 1000 pounds), using ninja magic and other techniques to keep the car functioning. Reminds you of Inspector Clouseau and his Silver Hornet, doesn't it?

 Later on in the series, Dr. Komyoji was recaptured by DARK and forced to make another robot, called Hakaider, also known as Saburo. The twist is that Professor Gill had Dr. Komyoji's brain placed in Hakaider under the control of an evil circuit. The cyborg needed periodic blood transfusions from Komyoji's body to survive. Upon discovering this, Jiro feels he cannot fight Hakaider.

 The series was (and still is) exceptionally popular in Hawaii. In the comments section of a Kikaider YouTube video, you're way more likely to find commentors who watched the series in Hawaii than those who watched it in Japan (okay, there's also the language barrier, but still...). Daisuke Ban, the actor who played Jiro/Kikaider, has made public appearances in Hawaii for the show's DVD release.

 The series was followed by a sequel series, Kikaider 01, which sees Hakaider reawaken with the brain of Professor Gill, and Kikaider returning to fight him, alongside a new android, Kikaider 01 (also known as Ichiro) and later Bijinder, a female android. In 2000, an anime adaptation combining the stories of the two series (with a few minor changes) was aired. To conclude that series, a team up OVA with Inazuman (a character also created by Ishinomori and played by Daisuke Ban) was released, though unlike the anime series, it was not aired in the United States.

 Here's the original's theme song:

 Kikaider 01's theme:

 And the Gemini theme from the anime:

Thanks to damicuis for uploading this video.

Toku Spotlight: Robotto Keiji

Robotto Keiji, or Robot Detective, was a tokusatsu series that ran from April 5 to September 27, 1973 for 26 episodes. 

 It was created by the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori, the man behind Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and many others.

 A scientist builds a robot detective with a human personality to combat a group of murderous robots created and led by her crazed brother. Robotto Keiji K (or Robot Detective K) has no human form, so when not in battle, he dresses in human clothes to blend in. His car seems to resemble one of those ambulances from the '70s but modified to break the sound barrier.

 Here's the theme song:

Before There Was Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, There Was...

Kyoryu Sentai Koseidon

 Kyoryu Sentai Koseidon, or Dinosaur Task Force Koseidon, was a tokusatsu series that aired in 1978 for 52 episodes.

 The plot centers on six people (four guys and two girls) from the year 2001 who travel back in time to rescue scientists studying dinosaurs but end up fighting alien invaders threatening to change history. The six all wear the same red uniform (which is reminiscent of the ranger suits of Power Rangers Turbo). The baddie in the above photo reminds this blogger of the footsoldiers from Himitsu Sentai Goranger (the first Super Sentai). Let me be clear, though, that despite the similarities, this is not an incarnation of Super Sentai.

 The series was also aired in Italy, where it has gotten quite the following.
 Here's the theme song:

October 16, 2010

Film Review - "Blood and Black Lace"

a.k.a. Sei donne per l'assassino

 Now before I get started on this here review, let me say that this film was viewed in very unusual conditions, namely by file sharing download on an iPod in a moving vehicle going down B.C. Highway 1. No matter what's being watched, those conditions make for a helluva case of carsickness. That aside, I couldn't make screen captures from an iPod, so here's a link for another review of this film (with great captures).

 As a newbie to giallo treading through the genre's golden age of the '60s and '70s, it was absolutely form-fitting to start with one of the granddaddies of full-on giallo. Blood and Black Lace is considered as a landmark in the genre, combining rich imagery and color with liberal amounts of sex and nudity. Okay, "liberal" is not the right word here, since this film's only got smidges of what at the time would have been absolutely forbidden from American-made films (though one should note it would only be four more years until the Hays Code was offically dead).

 The print I watched was the English language VCI DVD print, with a bit of a sub-par image quality, but that did not really deter the colorful atmosphere (I mean really, what other supposed fashion house has red mannequins?).

 After the jazzy opening credits, we suddenly cut to the sign of the film's setting, a fashion house, erratically swaying in the wind, which then swings out of shot to reveal the fountain at the front of the house. This sets the atmosphere of the film, putting jarring danger and death against a haute couture backdrop. SPOILER ALERT, ladies and gentlemen...

 With the death of the first victim, Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), the other models discover a diary she kept documenting the shady dealings of the house. Soon, it becomes apparent that pretty much everybody has a reason to worry about (and an itching to read) the diary, including the proprietors, Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) and Contessa Christina Como (Eva Bartok).

 One of the models, Nicole, (Ariana Gorini) takes the diary, telling the others that she plans to take it to the police, when really, she intends to read it first. During a runway show, however, another model, Peggy (Mary Arden) manages to take it unnoticed. Nicole is then lured in the middle of the show to Isabella's boyfriend Frank (Dante di Paolo)'s antique shop where, after being terrorized by strange sounds (and majorly creative lighting) in a showroom, is attacked and killed with a spiked glove mallet by the same faceless figure in black who murdered Isabella. The killer steals Nicole's car and flees when it's discovered she doesn't have the diary.

 Meanwhile, Peggy comes home with her boyfriend Marco (Massino Righi). The maid, Clarice (Harriet White Medin), is dressed in similar garb to the killer, in a bit of a red herring, and soon leaves for home after Peggy and Marco arrive. After Peggy sends Marco out, she takes out the diary and proceeds to read and then burn it in her fireplace. Soon enough, the killer, in an effort to locate the diary, arrives and kidnaps Peggy. When Peggy discovers his identity, the killer then burns her to death by putting her face to the red-hot surface of the basement furnace.

 Frank discovers Nicole's body and goes to his friend Richard Morell (Franco Ressel) to plead with him to supply an alibi. Initially Morell refuses, until Frank threatens to expose his theft of money from lover Isabella. This alibi fails to convince Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner), who, to keep more murders from happening, arrests all five of the male suspects (Max, Frank, Richard, Marco, and dress designer Cesar Losarre (Luciano Pigozzi)).

 That night, Morell's fiancee Greta (Lea Krugher) drives home and upon opening the trunk discovers Peggy's body. In fear, she hides the body in her house, but is then smothered to death with a pillow by the black-clad killer.

 The next day, the Inspector concludes that all five of the men he arrested cannot be guilty due to having the best alibi they can have: being in jail the entire night. He has no choice but to let them go.

 When Max comes home to Christina, things take an interesting turn when it is revealed he is the murderer after all. Before the film's events he had assisted Christina in murdering her husband. Isabella had discovered this, and blackmailed him, among others. When her demands became too much, she was murdered, Max not realizing she had written every scandalous secret down. He also killed Nicole and Peggy, but when he was arrested, Christina donned the outfit and mask, killing Greta to throw suspicion off him. To further frustrate the Inspector, Max asks his lover to kill another model. Cut to Christina, in the black outfit, drowning Tao-Li (Claude Dantes) and cutting the model's wrists to suggest suicide. A knock at the door forces Christina to try and escape down the drainpipe, but she falls. The door knocker happens to be Max himself, who had decided to double-cross Christina and sabotage the pipe, in hopes of her being killed while making it look like she was the real murderer.

 Seeming that all is well for him, Max, confident that he will now inherit the fashion house, loots through Christina's desk. One of the first things he takes out is a gun (dumb idea, Max). A noise startles him and he looks up to see Christina, mortally injured. As she confronts him, Max tries to convince her otherwise of the truth, and they seemingly embrace. Suddenly, a shot rings out, and we see Max collapse, dead of a gunshot wound. Christina then succumbs to her injuries when trying to call Inspector Sylvester. The last shot we see is of a red telephone receiver swinging back and forth.

 Blood and Black Lace introduced many elements that would become quite prevalent in the genre, like the black glove of the killer, use of vivid imagery, and an incompetent police force. Even though Inspector Sylvester is pretty much the ideal inspector, he fails in the end to catch the killer(s). In most giallo films, the murderer usually dies, and only if the protagonist is a police officer is a lawman good at his job.

 Acting is passable, with Eva Bartok definitely conveying the best range out of the cast. Dubbing does not suck by any means, though female voices pretty much fall into the same vocal range. Lower voices with Christina and Tao-Li would have worked wonderfully for their characters. It would have been great, though, to hear Bartok and Cameron Mitchell's real voices in the film.

 Mario Bava's creative cinematography really stands out during the fashion show, when the scene continually switches between a certain character and the diary, until the diary's gone, as well as the minutes leading up to Nicole's murder, as we sense the tension stirred up together by the score, the pacing, and the set, which randomly lights up sections of the antiques showroom.

 Fright-wise, the scariness and very slight gore is tame by today's standards, though anyone just passing by and not expecting it might just jump at those parts. The score by Carlo Rustichelli fits the groove of the film, though in murder scenes it gets a bit cliched, but not so much that it detracts from the sequence.

 Probably the most brilliant aspect of the film is the MacBeth dynamic between Max and Christina. There's no doubt that Christina first thought to kill her husband (though at the least, she and Max plotted it together), but then it switches to Max being the dominant one, killing off those who stood in his way of getting the diary (sure, it's not the Scottish throne, but it's a lot more relatable). But then, when he's released, Christina gets a bit tipsy and describes when they killed her husband, making him a bit uneasy. In the same scene, however, Max convinces a now hesitant Christina to carry out one last murder. He stays in that position when he traps her into escaping and she falls, but in surviving she gains the upper hand and kills Max, but at the expense of her own life (on a side note, Lady MacBeth is also the only character to not die by murder, though with Christina Max arranged for her to fall). 

 So there you have it. The prototype of a murder mystery giallo. Simple, yet well made, Blood and Black Lace is worth a definite recommendation for those wanting to watch something new in their movies.