Having a Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: Coronavirus Comfort Food

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 14, 2020 03:40pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi.

When you work at Amoeba, the world is your media oyster. A copy of pretty much any new DVD, Blu-ray, or CD shows up used within the first couple of weeks of its release. Employees are allowed to use Amoeba as kind of a library for used stuff. On an average week at work I watch anywhere from five to ten new release movies. Some are movies made that year, others reissues of films from decades past. It makes it really easy to write a new release column like this. Well, that spigot shut off three months ago along with the rest of human civilization. Sure, I’ve got a huge movie collection and have had no problems keeping myself entertained during the shutdown, but new releases? Well, I’ve bought one new Blu-ray since the shutdown. The supply lines are jacked. Titles have been delayed. The prices for them are expensive even on discounted sites like Amazon. I only have a couple of new releases left to review. So this column is less of an overview of things that came out this month and more a review of the last things I bought from Amoeba before the world collapsed. They were good movies for this time because all of them are FUN. They’re coronavirus comfort food and they helped get me through these dark times.

The Return of Ultraman, Mill Creek Entertainment:
I bought this the week before the shutdown. I wasn’t going to review this because I’ve already devoted a Return of Ultramanlot of ink to these Ultraman releases in previous columns but as I said earlier, the slush pile is pretty much gone these days. Mill Creek Entertainment’s official Blu-ray releases of Ultraman are some of my favorite releases of all time. I’ve bought this stuff on horrible overpriced bootlegs for decades and am overjoyed that I can throw all those old copies away. Some of those bootlegs didn’t even have subtitles but I watched them anyway. These Mill Creek Blu-rays are the official prints direct from the Toho and Tsuburaya vaults. They are gorgeous and the sound is great. I’ve watched these shows over and over and have been utterly entranced watching them because they are so sharp it is like watching each episode for the first time. Plus, since they are subtitled, I’m frequently actually understanding what is going on for the first time. Usually in the past when I reviewed a big TV box set like this, I had watched anywhere from six to eight hours of the set by the time I wrote the review. Well, I’ve actually watched all twenty-one and a half hours of this set as I’m writing this. It’s one of the things that’s been instrumental in helping me psychologically survive the past three months.

I was talking to my coworker Dave Aberdeen one day at work right before all this shit went down. We knew a storm was coming. “You know, I’ll survive,” I said. “I’ve been through some really dark times in my life already, times that would have made people want to commit suicide, but in the end I always found that as long as I could still just sit in a room doing some writing or art and have Ultraman or a Godzilla movie playing in the background, I would be fine.” That’s exactly what got me through the present crisis, writing things like this column and watching Ultaman.

Return of Ultraman is the fourth Ultraman series. After the dark serious adult themes of Ultraseven, Tsuburaya Productions returned to basics with Return of Ultraman. It is more of a kid’s show like the original Ultaman that eschews the lofty themes and instead returns to a good old monster mash. Race car driver, Hideki Go is the human that Ultraman inhabits in this series. Hideki joins the Monster Attack Team or MAT. Each episode is a deliriously entertaining little science fiction story with an ever more surreal rubber suit monster. The best part of this series is that Tsuburaya decided to focus on what they did best: destroying Tokyo. They do it almost every episode and if you’re into that kind of stuff, this is over twenty hours of pure zen. There is an episode in this set where a giant jellyfish with hurricane powers attacks Tokyo that is one of the most surreal things I have ever seen.

Gappa the Triphibian Monster, Tokyo Shock:
This is the kind of movie Blu-ray was made for. I’ve probably seen this movie hundreds of times because Gappa the Triphibian MonsterI’ve liked it since I was a little kid and they always used to show it on television when I was growing up. It’s just a fun little men in rubber suits Japanese monster movie, but it’s always had a special place in my heart. It’s a simple story about a scientific expedition to a tropical island that discovers a dinosaur egg that hatches into a baby winged dinosaur. The scientists take the creature back to Tokyo where it will be the star of a new amusement park. What the scientists don’t know is that the baby has a mom and dad, and when they get home and find their child gone they become very angry. The parents follow the scientists to Tokyo where all hell breaks loose. This is a classic kaiju that has one of the best destructions of Tokyo that has ever been filmed. It is a public domain movie that is also known as Monster From a Prehistoric Planet in the United States. A lot of public domain horror and sci-fi DVD anthologies have a copy of this movie, but the prints on those tend to look god awful. Sure, I’ve seen this movie a lot but most of the viewings were washed out pan and scan prints that looked like shit. All that changed when Tokyo Shock originally put out their DVD version of this many years ago. It was easily the nicest looking release of this on the market. But this Blu-ray blows every previous edition of the movie out of the water. It’s just gorgeous. You can’t believe it looks so good. Special thanks has to go to Tokyo Shock for the love and care they give to these old kaiju films.

Tokyo Shock is one of my favorite companies of all time. They specialize in classic Japanese monster movies. A large chunk of my favorite Blu-rays and DVDs were released by them. They were the first to release Destroy All Monsters on Blu-ray. They released the first official version of Godzilla Verses Megalon. But my favorite movies they did were the non-Godzilla monster movies that Toho created. Dogora, Atragon, The Mysterians, Frankenstein Conquers The World... these films are even weirder and more fascinating than the Godzilla films. There’s an oddball beauty and strangeness to them that has beguiled me my whole life ever since I saw Attack of the Mushroom People on TV when I was five years old. I have a huge collection of movies, but the ones I watch most frequently are the ones that Tokyo Shock released. Along with the films of Ray Harryhausen, these have been my favorite movies since childhood. Gappa is the perfect addition to Tokyo Shock’s catalog. It is a classic film beautifully packaged. You get the most complete remastered edition of the film. You can watch it with the original Japanese language track or the remastered and recreated English language track. As I mentioned earlier, the remastered picture looks stunning. It’s not completely flawless, there are a few washed out scenes, and a little bit of wear and tear in the film emulsion here and there, but most of the film looks just breathtakingly sharp. I’ll never watch it on TV or one of those public domain collections again. This is a reasonably priced edition of a classic film I’ll watch over and over. Thank you, Tokyo Shock.

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Jon Longhi (27), Cult Film (26), Cult Films (21), Film (184), Blu-rays (13), World Cinema (8), Japan (42), Monsters (15), Ultraman (1), Toho Studios (4), Tsuburaya (1), Dave Aberdeen (1), Gozilla (1), Ray Harryhausen (7), Tokyo Shock (1), Tokyo (1), Kaiju (2)