Genre cinema in Japan continues to evolve in new and exciting ways, and Kaiju films are no exception. Giant monster movies are a major part of Japan’s cinematic exports, and there are a surprising number of them that sometimes take years to close distribution deals in the West, if ever. If word or 怪 怪 獣 の あ と し し つ つ! (translated: What to Do with the Dead Kaiju?) organically makes its way overseas, giant monster fans are eager to know more about this clever new take on the genre.
As seen in 2016’s Shin Godzilla and the upcoming Shin Ultraman, Japanese filmmakers are following a trend of hyper-realism toward the Kaiju genre, and it’s awesome to witness. What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? deals entirely with the country’s waste disposal unit tasked with removing the dead carcass of a giant monster who has dropped dead in the center of a major metropolis. Partially inspired by the biological science of beached whalesif left to nature, fumes can build up inside these enormous carcasses causing massive, bloody, and dangerous explosions.
Applying that science to a monster the size of a mountain presents an extremely dangerous scenario for the surrounding community. The film is a human drama built around characters struggling against the politics and bureaucracy in the face of a ticking time bomb in the form of a dead Kaiju whose deceased gaseous eruption could be akin to a nuclear bomb. Here’s everything we know about the film and a spotlight on other Kaiju films that have taken unconventional approaches to the genre.
Deceased Kaijus Attack!
While the dead bodies of Kaiju have naturally been a part of the genre since the beginning, a full exploration of everything the disposal process would entail has always been left to the imagination. What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? dives deep into the process while exploring the interpersonal relationships of those involved. Directed by Satoshi Miki, this is the filmmaker’s first venture into Kaiju-related cinema. Prior to this project, most of his work has been comprised of light-hearted comedies and dramas.
Bringing these kinds of artistic sensibilities to Kaiju films has helped evolve the genre in recent years. While balancing the drama of human characters against monster action has always been one of the most challenging aspects of giant monster cinema, audiences are sometimes divided over how much screen time we spend with humans compared to the more baseline thrilling eye candy of Kaiju battles. Here, however, there is no battle to speak of, only the aftermath of one dead monster. The premise turns the giant monster movie on its head, fully committing to the human characters and the challenges they face in a world where enormous creatures occasionally strike.
Possible US Release
With Mill Creek having recently released a treasure trove of Ultraman content in the states, it’s possible they will continue to become the go-to physical media distribution channels for Japanese TV and cinema that would otherwise remain in the Eastern regions. While there is no word about What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? getting a US release, hopefully, demand for this kind of content continues to increase, and the US is treated to more premiere status Japanese cinema. As theaters compete against streaming services and online addiction, the more international cinema options we have in our theaters, the better.
Other Monsterous Oddities
What to Do with the Dead Kaiju? is not the first time Japan has tinkered with the giant monster formula. In 2007 Big Man Japan made international waves as the first Kaiju parody (or satire). It’s an odd film filled with scathing commentary on Japanese pop culture that is definitely worth a watch. The US has also played with the genre in unique ways with films like 2010’s Monsters and 2016’s Colossal. Monsters, directed by Gareth Edwards (who would go on to helm the 2014 Godzilla), uses giant monsters as a backdrop to explore the subtleties and complexity of the human condition. The film is a brilliant dramatic experiment loaded with subtext and irony.
Colossal blended giant monsters and romantic comedy in a truly original work that was an international effort by Spain, South Korea, Canada, and the US. The film stars Anne Hathaway as an alcoholic writer who realizes a giant monster attacking South Korea may be an extension of herself. The film explores themes of domestic abuse, addiction, and buried childhood trauma – very unlikely topics for the Kaiju genre.
If anything, these experiments are proving giant monster movies can be more than cool creature battles and pyrotechnic effects. Finding themes in monsters is a fundamental lesson for aspiring screenwriters, but more and more, we’re seeing these projects come into fruition as the Kaiju genre evolves in exciting ways. If huge monsters can serve as a mass audience beacon to draw people in, filmmakers will continue finding new ways to play with audience expectations and sneak unlikely themes under the umbrella of what has been historically criticized as a kind of childish form of cinema.
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