KaiJune - Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters
From the prince…the guardian…well…all the way down the totem pole. Now, I swore that I’d never review any kind of Asylum schlock on this website.
I might have lied.
My only saving grace is the fact that it’s not STRICTLY from The Asylum. Instead, today’s film comes to us from SRS Cinema. [And I gotta say, just from an editorial standpoint that the folks over at SRS are super easy to deal with and really rather friendly. – Ed.] Sure, that being said, as a reviewer that really can’t affect my opinion of the film in question here.
Fortunately…it’s not horrible.
Today, we’re looking at Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters. And while yeah, sure, bringing this film stateside likely was a chance to cash in on the most recent WB Godzilla film, in the film’s defense, it was actually made back in 2007. The fact that the film is 13 years old doesn’t excuse it from its issues though, but we’ll get to the negatives soon enough. First off, let’s just talk about what the hell we’re looking at here.
Reigo is actually a period piece. Taking place during World War II, the story follows the exploits of a destroyer group lead by the mighty Battleship Yamato (not THAT Yamato, anime nerds!) as it makes its way through the Pacific to engage the Americans. En route to the battle, the ship finds itself being attacked by large ‘bone fish’, which brings to mind a legend for some of the older crew members…one that tells of a great dragon often preceded by such fish. As the attacks increase and a large fin looms on the horizon, can the Yamato survive long enough to join the rest of the Japanese fleet and aid in the fight…or are the legends true and the King of the Sea Monsters has risen again?
The story is a bit of a long burn and honestly, given the limitations we’ll discuss in a bit, it turns out being a really good thing. First off, this allows you to get attached to most of the characters so that when Reigo finally does surface, there really is a sense of peril. Sure, given the setting, as an American viewer you can’t help but shake the fact that these guys, should the survive, are off to fight on the opposing side of WWII…but maybe that’s an unforeseen bonus to the film: its empathy…allowing the viewer to feel for what, historically, was the villain. Secondly, it has to be said given that this is a pretty low-budget production, the less Reigo is on the screen, the less time you have to make fun of it. We’ll get into this a little bit more later when we discuss the negatives, but it goes back to something Hitchcock said (I think) to which I’m going to paraphrase: the less the audience is shown, the more terrifying it is, since no director can capture the primal fears that each individual person brings to a movie and thus, what each individual imagines is happening. Now, the moments where we do see these creatures…when they’re represented by miniatures…the miniature work is quite good.
The problem is that I have the feeling that they had, at best, a day/day and a half with said miniatures. And that’s as good a segue into the negative as I can muster. You’ll notice right from the start that the film is shot on video and not actual film…and for me, that automatically gives it a cheap feel. While I praised the miniature work…well, that’s the minority of the film’s effects. Nearly 90% of the creature work is CG and very, very sadly, it’s not good. At all. It’s the quality of 90’s PS1 FMV cutscenes. That would’ve been fine if this was made in the 90’s…but, as I said, the copyright date is 2007 and by that point…these just should be better. This was when the first Transformers film hit, Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider…Battlestar Galactica was on TV screens and sure, it’d be foolish to expect this film to have those kind of special effects so to go locally, this is when the kaiju parody (and one of my favorites) Big Man Japan was released and its effects trump this a thousand-fold. Lastly, there’s the American sub-plot. You see, in the midst of all this, the Yamato comes across a shipwrecked American adrift at sea, his own ship having encountered the ‘bone fish’ preceding Reigo. While I could nit-pick that said American is clearly of Japanese descent and is fluent in the language…well, that’s not so much the source of the inaccuracy…but the majority of Japanese servicemen were actually in the Army and deployed to the European theatre. I’m not saying it would be impossible for this to happen…and, let’s face it, the casting was likely due to the low budget…but it’ll dig at any student of history. The biggest weakness with this subplot however is that it just disappears. Nothing is done with it. There’s minimal tension between the prisoner and the crew. There’s nothing that might lead to the potentially larger theme of the film; the old parable regarding waking a sleeping giant…certainly relevant in this time period, particularly from the Japanese point of view. Nothing. It’s like this little detail ends up getting forgotten except toward the end of the film when the writers suddenly remember ‘Oh, yeah, that guy,’ and bring him out for a couple of minutes during the final battle.
In spite of all of that, Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters, continues to be an engaging film. For all its visual weaknesses, and there are many, the strength of the characterization and the main story keep the viewer engaged until the end credits. If you’re a kaiju fan and can find this one on the cheap…or free…give it a look. At around 80 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and, oddly enough, ends up being pretty satisfying for what it is.