ADV Films // 1989 // 135 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 16th, 2004
Evil has a face and it has waited for an eternity for the chance to live again.
While it is quite common to see elements of anime in live action films, it is rare to find films resembling anime as closely as Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis. And now I know why.
About a thousand years ago, Masakado Taira was executed for trying to develop a nation in the middle of Japan. He was buried in what is now Tokyo, and has come to be worshipped despite the fact that every time his grave is disturbed, terrible things happen to the city.
Now, in 1912, Tokyo is changing. The rural spiritualism and clan system that has sustained Japan for so long is giving way to a new industrial ideal that is causing the city to grow at an exponential rate. While many people embrace this new ideal, spiritualist leaders fear that the loss of spiritual knowledge could lead to total chaos if the power of Masakado Taira is forgotten.
Chaos does ensue, of course, caused mainly by a mad psychic named Kato (Kyusaku Shimada, Princess Blade). For reasons that are not entirely clear, he wants to use Yukari (Haruka Sugata), the heir of Masakado Taira to awaken his ghost and generally destroy the entire city. A group of citizens bands together and uses the forces of magic and technology to save their beloved city. The film centers on the great earthquake of Tokyo in 1923, suggesting that it had supernatural origins. At least, I think that's what was going on.
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is a mess. On the front of the keep case, it is billed as "an epic experience in supernatural horror." Well, not exactly.
The makers of the film were definitely aiming for an epic feel. It has many characters who come together to battle a great evil over the course of a decade or two. A good epic needs to have a clear narrative drive, though, which is sorely lacking here. The plot and network of characters are so convoluted that continual exposition is required to understand what is going on, which bogs down the narrative. This problem is made even worse when the narrative jumps ahead a few years, and another twenty minutes of exposition is needed to reorient the viewer. While Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is long enough to be epic, it mostly just feels bloated and confused. I am sure the story makes a lot more sense when it has enough elbow room, as it would in the original manga format or in an OVA series.
While it fails as an epic, the film does have many supernatural elements. Some of these elements of the film work really well. The Shiki, pieces of paper that transform into creatures controlled by magic, are pretty cool. For everything that does work, however, about three things don't. The overuse of pentagrams seems out of place here, adding a European gothic feel that is inconsistent with Kato's hatred for the Western influence on Japan. By the time the tarot cards come out and the Buddha statue is wandering around attacking people, the viewer is so bombarded by these spiritual images that it becomes hard to take any of it seriously.
The only element remaining to examine is that of horror in the film. The case proclaims that H.R. Giger was involved in conceptual designs for the film. Anyone who has seen Giger's artwork will agree that he is an excellent choice for this job. His nightmare landscapes of the biomechanical are deeply disturbing and gruesomely fascinating. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of his involvement anywhere in this film. There are only a couple of bloody and disturbing scenes that horror fans are sure to enjoy. The cast and crew play the effects shots too straight for them to be enjoyed as camp, but the quality of the effects is not good enough for them to be taken seriously. While the cinematography in the film is acceptable, it is never used to develop the suspense or fear that is necessary in a horror film.
In the interest of fairness, I think the blurb on the front cover should be changed to "a lengthy experience in supernatural boredom."
The technical quality of the disc doesn't do much to help matters. The video transfer is poor, with bad black levels, a severe lack of detail, and enough edge enhancement to make it look like a coloring book. While it's hard to tell, a decent transfer may have done much to improve the experience of watching the film. The cinematography is good, but the detail and shadow are all but lost on this disc.
The sound is about the same. The stereo track is acceptable, but nothing more. One thing does need to be mentioned about the soundtrack -- the bizarre choice of music. It sounds very much like Wagner, which simply doesn't fit at all in the film. That's not to say it isn't good music, but it is used at thematically inappropriate moments and is often distracting.
The only extras are trailers for six other films, which seem to be quite similar to Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis in tone and quality.
While I have been quite harsh so far in the review, there are some good things about Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis. The conflict between ancient spiritualism and the industrial growth of Tokyo is fascinating, and it acts as a kind of predecessor to the uncontainable urban world of Japanese science fiction. Showing that this chaos was already present nearly a century ago is very interesting when placed in that context. The film does exist in a time of change, and the characters must give up something of the past in order to move ahead into the future. These ideas are never fully explored though, so they are pretty much wasted.
Unfortunately, a few interesting ideas aren't enough to salvage this mess of a film. Now that budgets are so much larger and computer special effects are starting to get better, it will be interesting to see whether live action anime adaptations will be more successful. While anime and B-grade horror junkies may choose to give this film a watch (against my recommendations), I think everyone would be better off staying very far away.
I banish this film deep underground where it will remain for a thousand years. Those foolish enough to unearth it will get what they deserve.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #41
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Bonus Trailers