Judge Paul Pritchard is a part-time monster slayer. Having defeated Godzilla and Gigan, his next targets are Elmo and Cookie Monster.
Terror Lies Beneath.
Question: When is a monster movie not a monster movie? Answer: When it's Demeking: The Sea Monster.
Facts of the Case
For reasons that will hopefully become clear in the main body of the review, I will quote the official plot synopsis for Demeking: The Sea Monster verbatim.
"In 1969, a young man named Hachiya finds an anonymous letter in a glass bottle which foretold of the apocalyptic arrival of a cosmic monster known as Demeking. Since then, he has physically prepared himself in a lone struggle for that fateful day when the monster will arrive."
Despite what the official plot synopsis may tell you, and regardless of the title and cover art, Demeking: The Sea Monster is not a monster movie. Does the film feature a monster? Yes, and it unleashes a good amount of chaos and terror, but again, I must stress, Demeking: The Sea Monster is not a traditional Kaiju in any way.
The first clue that Demeking is not the film you're expecting arrives when it becomes clear that Hachiya, the man who will battle Demeking, is not the main focus of the film; instead that honor befalls Kameoki, or Kame as he is better known. The two characters first meet when Kame and his friends search what they believe to be a ghost ship, onboard which they discover a number of weapons. Wondering aloud as to who might own such an arsenal, the friends are interrupted by the arrival of Hachiya. Hachiya isn't one for big introductions, so simply announces to the boys that he is preparing to fight the Demeking, before making a sharp exit. Curious as to who or what Demeking is, Kame begins following the older Hachiya around. Until, without warning, Hachiya vanishes; apparently headed for Tokyo, but not before leaving behind a series of clues for Kame that will unlock the mystery of Demeking.
It is around this point that it should begin to dawn on most viewers that we're a million miles away from titles such as Godzilla: Final Wars, as the film settles into an altogether different genre. So, if Demeking: The Sea Monster isn't a monster movie, what exactly is it? Well, as Kame and his friends begin following the clues left behind by Hachiya, the film reveals itself as a character study, focused primarily on the struggle of its two leads to leave childhood behind and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Director Kohtaro Terauchi achieves this through clever use of the traditional children's adventure movie narrative, while utilizing the threat of a devastating monster attack to add a fantasy element to proceedings.
It is made abundantly clear from the outset that Kame is an outsider. He hangs out with boys clearly two or three years his junior, and appears too old to be a member of the exploration gang that he apparently founded. He is lost in a world that he neither understands nor has any stake in. Whenever he is around his peers Kame is ritually humiliated or beaten, and clearly feels uncomfortable in the presence of other adolescents who are racing toward adulthood. Similarly, the seaside town he lives in fails to engage his active imagination, only worsening his flights of fancy. By regressing to his childhood—or perhaps more fittingly, by refusing to grow up—Kame is somehow able to find an escape from the harsh realities of the real world. And, by hanging out exclusively with boys a few years younger than he is, Kame is able to fulfill his desire to be taken seriously, even being looked upon as an authoritative figure by the younger boys. In Hachiya, Kame finds something of a kindred spirit, albeit one that wears far more scars and is, as is made clear as the film progresses, damaged. Both characters appear eager to prove themselves to others and find meaning to their lives, though both are desperately misguided in their attempts. While Kame's fantasies feel, at most, childish, there is something darker about Hachiya's. Hachiya, both lacking purpose and real friendship, has convinced himself that he is destined to defeat the Demeking; his dead end job and failure to meet his expectant fathers' demands have pushed him to find something, anything, to prove to himself at least that he has some value.
Crucially, while Kame is able to see something of himself in Hachiya, and is therefore given a chance to reflect on his life and affect a change, Hachiya has no one. As witnessed in a scene where his father berates him, Hachiya has nobody to guide him, or perhaps more importantly, nobody to offer up a mirror on how he is wasting his life by refusing reality, thus rendering him a lost cause.
Though it is never explicitly answered, leaving open the possibility that the Earth really is in danger, Demeking does certainly suggest that Hachiya is a fantasist; the notion of battling a space monster being his way of finding meaning in his otherwise mundane, directionless existence. Indeed, during the film's final moments, Kame informs a friend that he is writing a book about Demeking, but slyly points out it's not really about the monster at all—perhaps this being director Kohtaro Terauchi's slightly heavy handed way of explaining the true nature of his film to those who are a little slow on the uptake. However, as previously stated, there is a monster, and boy does he unleash hell. During a dream sequence, Kame is witness to the Demeking's arrival. Following a meteor striking the Earth, a colossus rises from the ashes and begins an aimless assault on Kame's hometown, laying waste to anyone or anything in its path. The entire sequence, though clearly offering a kindhearted wink at the Kaiju genre and in no way attempting to be taken as anything but a parody, is frankly excellent. The creature (imagine the offspring of Gamera and a snail) is a magnificent creation, with huge glowing eyes and staple Kaiju powers including the ability to breathe fire.
Demeking: The Sea Monster contains a cast predominantly filled with young actors who all offer excellent performances, helped no end by the natural dialogue they are given. Kame's younger friends, who are obviously influenced by the older, and, in their view wiser Kame, are particularly noteworthy. In one scene there's a lovely exchange of dialogue where the possibility that Demeking is real comes up, which perfectly translates the way the younger mind is susceptible to ideas, no matter how fanciful. Both the film's leads, Kohei Kiyasu (Kame) and Takashi Nadagi (Hachiya) give wonderfully nuanced performances. While Kiyasu is able to instill a little humor into the role of Kame, in part due to his character being afforded the most likely shot at salvation, the role of Hachiya means Nadagi isn't granted such luxuries, and instead turns in a desperately tragic performance that sees his character on an increasingly downward trajectory; unwilling to accept the wasted years he has spent preparing for something that will never happen, and unable to change even when reality is thrust in his face.
With Demeking: The Sea Monster director Kohtaro Terauchi has marked himself out as a talent to keep an eye on. Whether dealing with moments of childlike wonder, desperation, or a full-blown monster attack, Terauchi is equally adept.
Both the 5.1 Japanese soundtrack and 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer rarely dazzle, but nevertheless contain few flaws. Sadly the extras consist solely of trailers and a stills gallery—particularly disappointing considering the film's engaging premise.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Demeking: The Sea Monster has been tragically mis-sold by all involved in its creation and distribution. Pretty much everyone who picks up this film will do so expecting a Gojira style disaster movie, and most will end up feeling ripped off when the reality of the situation kicks in. I understand the filmmakers' desire to hold back on the true nature of their creation, but in doing so they risk alienating their audience when, 50 minutes in, no monster has appeared.
Director Kohtaro Terauchi has crafted a thoughtful movie that skillfully blends a number of genres, yet still creates a perfectly cohesive whole. A quite original film, Demeking: The Sea Monster deserves to be seen by a wide audience, rather than left neglected in DVD store bargain bins as I fear will be the case.
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