Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)

One of the more intriguing programs that appeared on Nickelodeon back in the Eighties (aside from the obvious You Can’t Do That On Television) was a little gem dubbed The Third Eye.  It was a series of mini-series which I believe were produced in either New Zealand or Australia (I could be wrong, so an apology if that’s not the case).  Each story centered on a psychically gifted child or children and the dangers they come across/adventures upon which they embark, but all with a dark bent.  Out of the five stories aired, the two I remember anything about are The Haunting Of Cassie Palmer, about a girl who befriends a ghost (who, if memory serves, was dressed a lot like a Puritan) and Under The Mountain, about a couple of kids who go up against slimy monsters reminiscent of the Axons from the childhood-scarring Doctor Who story The Claws Of Axos (i.e. composed of so many intermingling tentacles it could almost be a gestalt creature made out of giant, pink slugs; the sweet spot for a monster kid who was forever searching for the next scare).  The Third Eye is one of those shows about which very little is mentioned these days (at least within earshot of me), and I don’t think that any of the episodes ever hit DVD in North America (again, if they did they remain well out of my line of vision).  I know Under The Mountain was remade a few years back, but I haven’t seen it, and my guess would be it’s far slicker than the low-fi series I first encountered in my youth (not that this is a judgment, mind you).  I bring this up as a tangent (par for the course for me) to an aspect of Hajime Sato’ s Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (aka Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro) I will get to in just a couple of short paragraphs.  Care to take a guess as to what it is?    

An Air Japan flight streaks through a blood red sky.  The various passengers, including a politician, his sycophant and the sycophant’s wife, a grieving widow, a psychologist, a teenaged punk, a man dressed almost exclusively in white (right down to the gloves), and a space biologist (yes, really), all pontificate the meaning of this ominous portent, as well as the fact that the whole world is basically going to hell in a hand basket (most likely shaped like an Air Japan jet in this case).  Birds smack violently into the plane’s windows, and after a glowing UFO buzzes past, one of the engines explodes, sending the aircraft down in parts unknown.  But surviving the elements and being rescued are the least of these folks’ obstacles, as they are all about to find out the hard way.

Goke is, to put it mildly, one of the most unusual anti-war films you may ever come across.  But it’s not the message that makes it stand out so much as the messenger.  There have been anti-war films almost as long as there has been cinema, and Sato uses some interesting visual techniques to hammer the point home.  For example, widow Mrs. Neal (Cathy Horan) carries a crucifix and a photo of her deceased husband in her luggage.  This photo, however, is not of Mr. Neal in his civilian life or even of him and his wife showing the bonds of their marriage.  No, the pic is of him in uniform over in Vietnam holding a puppy.   In other words, she remembers him as a dead soldier more than as a loving life partner (the puppy is an indicator of his good nature and the senselessness of his death).  After co-pilot Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida) is shot in the arm, his blood drips down onto this same photo, staining it with a reminder that violence begets violence.  There are multiple montages in the film utilizing some horrific images from real war footage, all tinted red (of course symbolizing blood again), for the purpose of shocking us (assumedly back to our collective senses).  But aside from these things, and the bald-faced philosophizing most of the characters trudge through (and which we expect from such fare), it is the most basic aspects of the plot which are oddest.  The Gokemidoro (the alien race piloting the UFO) came to Earth to conquer it and exterminate humanity.  Naturally, what better time to do so then when we humans are so busy killing ourselves, we are at our most vulnerable to this sort of attack?  And that’s just it.  It’s not just that we should end all wars because humans are killing humans (well, it is as a byproduct, I think), but because if we don’t, we may be killed by invading extraterrestrials (or whichever force for Evil you’d like) who can take advantage of our disunity.  

This brings me back to a discussion of the third eye (the concept, not the television series this time).  If you’ve seen stills from this film, I would hazard a guess that most likely they were of Hideo Ko as Hirofumi, the man in white.  After the plane crashes and he escapes with a hostage (stewardess Asakura, played by Tomomi Sato), he comes upon the incandescent UFO and is mesmerized.  Once inside the saucer, his forehead splits open, allowing the Gokemidoro to enter and take over his body.  From a perspective of spiritualism, the third eye symbolizes enlightenment.  It is supposed to be a way of seeing beyond normal human comprehension, of seeing the truth.  Normally, this is represented in the arts as a form of inner peace.  Yet again, the filmmakers here take an expectation and turn it on its ear.  Hirofumi was already a man of violence.  It is intimated that he shot an ambassador a day or so before the events of this story unfold.  He carries acid (and a rifle) in his suitcase.  Nevertheless, once he is bequeathed with a third eye, he does not become a man of peace.  Instead, he becomes a genuine monster, a space vampire.  Hirofumi and the aliens don’t bring harmony but devastation.  Conversely, it can be argued that this is the ultimate truth, not only of human beings, but of all lifeforms; destruction is the order of the universe.  It cannot be escaped on this planet nor on any other. In the long run, it makes for one of the most pessimistic pacifist films I have ever seen, because it doesn’t matter whether or not the people of Earth abolish war.  Apparently, there are entire universes of races out there just chomping at the bit to decimate us.  Doing it ourselves simply speeds the plow.

MVT:  I love the main idea of this film.  If nothing else can be said about it, it is unique and loaded with imagination.  The film’s structure does bog the pacing down a bit by going the formulaic route, but the ending puts a final and fitting bit of punctuation to the proceedings.

Make or Break:  The first sequence inside the Gokemidoro ship is the Make.  Aside from the repulsive special effects, the interior of the craft contains aspects of both order and chaos (rectangular frames formed with jagged edges, kaleidoscopic lighting schemes, et cetera) I find appealing for its creation of a sort of visual tension.

Score:  7/10           

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