KaiJune - Raiga: God of the Monsters
Did you ever wonder what the results would be if your local PBS station put together its own kaiju movie?
Yeah, me neither. And yet, Raiga: God of the Monsters does indeed show us how this sort of endeavor might turn out.
All right…that might be a little harsh. Like the film preceding it, Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters…and Reigo is indeed the prequel to Raiga…there are some positives here. But also like Reigo, there are plenty of pitfalls and failings as well. So, is Raiga able to overcome those shortcomings, as its predecessor did? Read on…but first, the plot blurb.
The film primarily focuses on a widower and his three daughters in Asakura, Japan. He wants to move on with his life and see another woman while the girls want him to continue to honor their mother’s memory. As this 'drama’ unfolds, all the usual trappings of a kaiju film are happening around them as Raiga terrorizes the town, leaving government officials baffled as to how to not only defeat the monster, but save as many lives and cause as little damage as possible. I’ll be honest, there’s probably stuff I’m missing here, but you get the point.
There are a couple of things that need to be stated right up front. First: this film is a parody nearly every step of the way. And while some of the humor translates, some doesn’t…or at least didn’t for me. As such, I’m going to try really hard not to judge the film on whether or not the jokes landed because, as an American, I’m likely not the intended audience. Second, like Reigo before it, this film, while having just been released stateside, is much older than that, having been released in Japan back in 2009, so it's a little unfair to call it a 'mockbuster' in the same vein as what The Asylum usually serves up.
With that out of the way, well, it seems natural to follow that revelation the same way I did in the Reigo review: the age still really doesn’t forgive the shoddy special effects. Again, I will admit my own biases as this, like Reigo, was shot on video and thus instantly looking cheap to me. I appreciate what they were trying to do with the effects: take video of the actual locations in Japan and insert the more fantastical elements such as tanks, jets and destruction…but the way that they did it, mostly through superimposing these effects on top of the regular footage…it just simply doesn’t work well. Look, to be fair, Raiga is trying to be pretty ambitious in attempting to do a large scale kaiju movie on a shoe-string budget, and they give this creative work-around the old college try but it just falls short. Now, as I said before, I’m not going to judge the film on its parody nature, so the fact that pretty much every characters is a buffoon…meh, fuhgeddaboutit. What I can’t forgive though is the sluggish pacing. Sure, I can admit that I don’t wanna linger on jokes I don’t understand, but there are a few segments were you almost forget that these are scenes in a kaiju film…the threat is totally vanished. There’s one segment where our main characters are in a restaurant celebrating the sale of their t-shirts based on Raiga that just serves no purpose and goes on for entirely way too long. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that a vital component of a foreigner (such as myself) to understand the humor lies in the translation and sadly, the subtitles are kind of a wreck here…devolving into ‘engrish’ at times.
That’s not to say all is lost here. First off, the fact that there is a close tie with Reigo is definitely appreciated. And it’s great that filmmaker Shinpei Hayashia learned the biggest lesson he could from Reigo and righted it in Raiga: the monster is a full-on guy in a suit and it looks great. Sure, I mentioned their shoe-string budget before, but man, I don’t think they spared any expense on the monster suit. Even the ‘bone fish’ preceding him look great. Sure, those are cg from time to time, but when they’re actual creature effects, again, leaps and bounds of improvement. Also, I have to admit that a kaiju parody is really a novel concept and one that’s certainly worth exploring as there are many tropes that can be exploited and overdue for ridicule. And there are some successful examples here, such as pointing out VERY clearly that this is NOT Godzilla. Other notable gags involve fast food, Ultraman and how the problem of Raiga actually gets solved…certainly unlike anything we’ve seen in a kaiju film before or since!
For as great as the monster looks and the improvements that they did make, sadly it’s the pacing issue that holds me back from recommending Raiga: God of the Monsters to anyone. The monster really is well designed and expertly executed…I just wish I could say the same for the story, the pace and some of the jokes…and…well…most of the acting. When you look at Raiga in the context of a sequel to Reigo, this really does feel like a case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ and that’s a shame because the thought of a kaiju parody in the vein of Airplane or The Naked Gun sounds amazing. This one just…isn’t. If I’m being honest though, you can still see Hayashia’s love for this genre in this film and I hate to give him bad marks for this because I really want to see what this guy could do on a kaiju film that had a proper budget. If you find it for free or are in desperate need of a film to drunkenly riff on MST3K style, then it might be worth a watch but otherwise, Raiga proves to be a false god at best and a solid pass for most.