Friday, September 12, 2014

GENOCIDE (Kazui Nihonmatsu, 1968, Japan)

“The insects are singing about destroying humanity.” 

GODZILLA spawned the Kaiju genre which is literally translated as “Giant Beast” and the monsters quickly grew taller, nastier, campier and rubberier. Director Kazui Nihonmatsu shrinks the genre to the size of the insect world to complete the destruction of the human race.

I would like to write a short plot description but the narrative makes little sense and seems to be pieced together from disparate films. Or the story was remade each day before shooting and Nihonmatsu just shot whatever the fuck he felt like; presumably after ingesting hallucinatory drugs or Kaiju-ish amounts of alcohol. But this isn’t necessarily a criticism as much as it is a caveat lector so one doesn’t wander into this warped celluloid reality unprepared!

The film begins with a stark pronouncement (all in capital letters): THE MOMENT MANKIND HARNESSED THE POWER OF THE ATOM, HE IMMEDIATELY BEGAN TO FEAR IT. In the background mushroom clouds blossom and fold their fiery entrails inwards as if devouring themselves, harnessing their own energy as they grow taller and consume the heavens. Then the title and opening credits are shown over close-ups of insects, making these tiny creatures seem disarmingly creepy and savagely beautiful. The camera then slowly zooms earthward from the heavens and focuses upon a couple sunning themselves on a rocky shore. Nihonmatsu exploits the bikini blonde as he begins the point-of-view shot at her feet while it crawls slowly up her shapely legs, tight skinny waist and buxom chest until it reveals her full sensuous lips and dark mascara eyes. When the man turns over to embrace her she pushes him away and turns over on her back. It’s a bit surprising to see a bi-racial couple especially in a late 60’s Japanese film but the metaphor becomes exhibition by the final act: the American girl leads the Japanese protagonist astray in order to destroy the human race! Now the story gets weird.

The man looks skyward and we see from his POV a contrail from a jet plane. The camera slowly zooms in (this quickly becomes the director’s primary visual trait) to a model of a B-52 Stratofortress. Cut to the interior and five American airmen in orange jumpsuits and their payload: an H-Bomb. Suddenly, the black airman who sits at the controls directly in front of the bomb starts acting strangely. As he begins sweating profusely and rubbing his face and neck, he swats at an insect and looks towards the porthole: a wasp crawls sluggishly across the thick glass. Then he violently grabs his head and screams while WWII scenes are cut into the narrative as hallucinatory flashbacks. As his cohorts attempt to calm him he screams that he won’t go back to the Front and accidentally hits the bomb-bay door switch so it opens. Charley, the addled airman, is the only black man among the crew of five. He begs for drugs because he won’t return to the Front to fight anymore: he’s obviously lost his mind somehow. One crew-member gives him an injection (of what?) which he carries in his sleeve (huh?). Soon a black cloud of swarming insects attacks the plane, their buzzing mass causing the engines to flame-out and forcing the crew to abandon their airship. The Stratofortress bursts into flames and explodes in cool miniature effect and we see four parachutes descending to the island. The Japanese man forgets his blonde girlfriend and jumps up to investigate…which he will soon regret.

Now the film gets convoluted and very very strange. We soon learn that Joji, the Japanese man seen in the opening act, is married to a kindly Japanese girl who is being molested by an Innkeeper while he is out searching for poisonous insects to send back to his boss in Tokyo. Of course he’s having an affair with Annabelle, the voluptuous American blonde seen sunbathing with him. Three American airmen including Charley survive the crash and make their way to a mysterious cave where someone has been secretly trapping insects in bottles. There are some skulls and other human detritus cast about. Joji goes looking for the airmen but Charley goes berserk and stumbles off a cliff. Joji is arrested for murdering the other two Americans and injuring Charley since Joji was discovered trying to sell a watch belonging to one of them. As Joji is held in custody his wife and boss come to visit vowing to find evidence to free him. And it soon learned that Annabelle is a Russian agent who sells her poisonous venom (hence the bottles in the cave) to the Eastern Block but is also much more: she is a survivor of Auschwitz and seeks the destruction of the entire human race!!

Let us think about this for a moment. It’s bad enough that Charley is a WWII veteran with a drug habit as he looks to be in his thirties and still in the Air Force (which didn’t exist during WWII). The story is set in 1968 and the War ended in 1945 which is 23 years prior: Charley would have been a teenager during the War! Annabelle curses all humanity because she suffered terrible abuses while a prisoner of the Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz. She even shows her ID number which is tattooed…on her breast. Now that seems strange but Soviet prisoners were indeed tattooed on the upper part of their left breast in Auschwitz (a new fact I just learned researching this review!). But Annabelle is obviously American (blonde, dark eyes, curvaceous like an American movie star) but could she possibly be Russian? She is working for the Eastern Block. Well, the film never explains and she is out to betray mankind anyway! If Annabelle was indeed in the Death Camp 23 years prior she must have been a little child…but it’s possible. So because she is full of hate she is on the side of the insects and orders them to destroy the world. She must be some kind of Insect Whisperer because it’s never explained how the insects know this! And her proclamation comes out of left field as we’re only expecting her to be the “other girl” Joji is seeing. And the thought of casually using the Holocaust as a plot device in a cheapo horror movie is quite interesting because that would never be written off so easily in an American or European production. Even to this day it is not a topic for minor genre films.

In one of the strangest scenes in cinematic history, as Charley lays recuperating in the hospital he is interrogated by Joji’s boss who is looking for answers as to who (or what) really killed the other airmen to prove Joji’s innocence. And he does this by showing films of insects devouring one another! It’s fucking bizarre but played perfectly straight, as if this type of questioning is within normal parameters of any interrogation protocol. Poor Charley is mentally unbalanced and suffering greatly to begin with but he is able to remember that they were attacked in the cave by a buzzing mass of insects! Joji’s Boss leaves to search the cave for further clues and the American Officers, who have been hanging around looking confused, then slap and assault Charley because he doesn’t know where the bomb landed! How’s that for Patriotism.

So the bomb is discovered and the insects are taking control of it by crawling over its surface. To scare the creepy crawlies away, one of the guys fires his gun at the H-bomb! Yes, the story just gets more insane. Joji’s boss also injects himself with a small amount of the venom because he was working on a cure at the time of this disaster, and can suddenly understand all of the insects chanting GENOCIDE! at the top of their…ummm…little crickety legs (since they don’t have lungs). He survives and they track down Annabelle and her gang (whom she also betrayed) as the Americans wander around in a somnambulist daze totally incompetent, and want to drop a bomb on the island to kill the intelligent insects. We are occasionally shown stock footage of insects chewing on what looks like human flesh with their clacking mandibles. Joji’s wife jumps in a boat and rows out to sea to save herself and, yes you guessed it, her unborn baby belonging to Joji! The Japanese argue against the use of the bomb (again) because the fallout will destroy Tokyo but too late: the H-bomb is detonated by the Americans. We see a growing mushroom cloud reflective of the opening credits as the island is annihilated…and supposedly the insects too. The film ends with a white hot sun rising in a blood red sky; the inverse of the Japanese flag.

Director Nihonmatsu has made an anti-war, anti-American, anti-Capitalist, anti-human and eco-terrorist diatribe against the World that we have razed and spoiled in our quest for atomic fire. It’s an interesting concoction of seemingly disparate elements that creates a sometimes enjoyable but altogether insane science fiction film with faux-political sentiments. We end up feeling more sorry for the insects than the human race.

Final Grade: (B-)