"You may notice some technical inadequacies in some of my performances—a hesitant beat here, a dodgy note there—these are of course entirely deliberate and reproduced as evidence of my almost painful sincerity." —Robert Wyatt, liner notes, Nothing Can Stop Us
Sometimes, clumsy earnestness and/or lack of technical means/skills can render a work of art more powerful, more emotionally resonant, than a piece possessed of sophistication and nuance—not to mention competence. How else to explain the peculiar lingering effects of a picture such as 1968's Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro (Goke: Body Snatcher From Hell) a Japanese sci-fi/horror anti-war parable replete with unconvincing special effects, broad performances, broader dialogue, and several other brands of aesthetic infelicity? This is a picture that hammers a chord of desolation almost as constant as that of Godard's Weekend, a picture not coincidentally from the same year.
Director Hajime Sato, working from a script by Kyuzo Kobayashi and Susumu Takaku, begins the film in medias res, as it were; an Air Japan plane flies through a mysteriously blood-red sky. Suicidal birds spatter themselves on the cabin and cockpit windows.
Our cast of characters, of course tailor-made-for-allegory archetypes, include a sleazy politician; his skanky toady who's whoring out his wife for the guy; a young American Vietnam War widow travelling to claim her husband's body; a scientist; a shrink; the sensible pilot and an equally sensible stewardess; and not one but two terrorists: a mysterious political assassin with a rifle, and a young nihilist with an explosive device. Before either the gun is shot or the bomb can go off, the plane goes down after an encounter with a mysterious glowing craft. The surviving representatives of mankind, stranded in a desolate landscape, immediately begin squabbling over the water supply.
Crucial issues of survival do not, as it happens, rule out taking time for philosophical arguments. As when the pilot asks the young incendiary enthusiast just what his point is, and he replies with no small vehemence that there's just no fun in the world anymore. Soon enough things take a turn, as rifle-wielding assassin Hideo Ko kidnaps the stewardess (to what end, we really haven't a clue) and is distracted while making his getaway by the nearby saucer (see first screen cap). Inside the craft, he gets one of the nastier forehead wounds of '60s cinema, and into that wound crawls some animated alien sludge that turns him into a vampire. Of course.
"I hate war!" the American widow Mrs. Neal screams, in English, as hostilities among the survivors mount after nightfall. Her pronouncement is deemed by the filmmakers of sufficient importance to translate into a Japanese subtitle. And to follow the pronouncement with an orange-tinted montage of stills depicting war's horrors.
It soon becomes clear that this alien invasion is a form of extraterrestrial...well, not quite retribution. When the toady's wife, now a widow and not too unhappy about it, is possessed by the alien intelligence, she stands atop a cliff and speaks for the invaders. Telling them, as is customary, that there's no chance to survive, make your time, that sort of thing, but also that the invasion is a direct result of the wretched warring sinkhole humanity has made of its world.
Then she...well, don't want to spoil it. It's a terrible effect, as are so many in the film. And yet one shudders anyway.
The inevitable face-off between the politician and the scientist is noteworthy largely for the politician's sickening refusal to see what's in front of his face. "These creatures know their best chance is when men are preoccupied with killing each other," notes the scientist. No, duh: the voice of the Goke pretty much said so fifteen minutes ago. "Intellectuals always try to mislead people by talking a load of rubbish," the politician says, before completely arbitrarily trying to shut the pilot and stewardess out of the plane. The movie's lack of faith in any kind of authority figure is staggeringly all-encompassing.
But as long as there's humanity, there's hope, opines the pilot, as he and the stewardess make their way to what they think is civilization. They come upon an scene that could in fact have come from Weekend.
The final twist will likely not come as a surprise, given the tone of what's gone before. But try laughing it off.
The Region 2 DVD reviewed here is of German issue, from New Entertainment, available via Xploited Cinema.