Saturday Frights – Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein (1981)

Saturday-Frights-Sean-Hartter

Thanks to The Retroist Vault being buried under 4,694 tons of snow; attendance is a little slim around here this week. But fret not oh fiendish ones, while Vic Sage, Doug McCoy, Claymation Werewolf and Phisbon3s are all outside fending off our air dropped shipment of nacho “cheese” from a horde of salivating yetis, I have selflessly volunteered to stay locked tightly inside and make sure that the projector is threaded properly…I know, it’s a burden but what can I say; I’m just that kind of ghoul!

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So, what creature feature am I going to watch while my erstwhile co-workers are goofing off outside? Why none other than Toei’s 1981 anime flick “Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein”; an adaptation equal parts Mary Shelly’s iconic novel and Marvel’s comic series from the early 70’s (which is no surprise as Toei also adapted Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula a year earlier).

If you can’t join us in the Vault all is not lost! The entire opus is available in 10 (un)convenient installments on YouTube (the first of which I have posted below). So, turn down the lights, wrap up in a warm blanket, and let the depressing tale of violence and doomed monsters magically teleport you back to the 80’s; when visiting trauma upon your children via uninformed VHS rental habits was a weekly occurrence! Now if only my inconsiderate co-workers would knock off the blood curdling screams out there, I could enjoy my movie in peace!

Saturday Frights: Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned (1980)

Saturday-Frights-Sean-Hartter

Hey you creeps, remember that time Dracula ate a hamburger while fraternizing with Satan who may I add showed a marked propensity to not wear pants? What? No, I’m not insane! Strap on your disco shoes and sharpen up your neon fangs ‘cuz we are headin’ back to the Satanic Seventies with tonight’s feature, Dracula Sovereign of the Damned!

Thirsty for more info o’ demented Drac fans? Well, you see back in the 70’s Marvel Comics had a hit book on their hands with the masterfully macabre magazine The Tomb of Dracula that ran for 70 issues from 1972 to 1979. And while a feature film or television show was never produced here in the States, Japan more than ably picked up the slack. Released in 1980 for Japanese television by Toei, Dracula Sovereign of Darkness (or Yami no Tei?: Ky?ketsuki ) boiled down the essence of the series into a 90 minute animated feature (although a lot of elements from the comic were dropped including everyone’s favorite streetwise slayer Blade). The film was dubbed into English in 1983 by Harmony Gold (who released Robotech as well), and was played sporadically on cable TV.

But tonight you are in luck, as my boss, Violent Vic Sage has given me permission to rock your socks off with this long forgotten gem! So, allow Phisbo3ns to punch your ticket, Doug McCoy to sell you some treats (although those nachos are clearly a trick), and Claymation Werewolf to take you to your final resting plac…err I mean seat as we begin tonight’s frightful feature!

Arrivederci, Robo! Hunting for Anime on an Italian Holiday

As a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was presented with many options for watching Japanese animated and live-action programming. Kids on the playground in elementary school would invariably cross their arms to imitate Ultraman’s specium ray or cross a wristwatch over their chest and yell “transmute!” to become one of the bird-themed heroes from Battle of the Planets. Local kids were also lucky enough to live in a place where Pacific Rim-based commerce brought imported Japanese vinyl dolls and die-cast metal robots to specialty stores. Kids of my generation are likely to reminisce as fondly about Captain Harlock or Derek Wildstar as they would about Batman, G.I. Joe, Spider-Man—or any other American heroes.

This early love of what I would learn to properly regard as Anime (animation) and Tokusatsu (live-action) Japanese entertainment has always fueled my tv/vhs/laserdisc/dvd/blu-ray watching habits. I have amassed a decent collection of home videos, CDs and LPs from my favorite series over the years. What’s more, as a man of the ripe old age of 40, I have a glass display case in my living room that is chock full of Orguss (never came out in the States), Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers), Science Ninja Team Gatchman (Battle of the Planets) and Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer) memorabilia.

When my wife and I took one of our presciently planned pre-baby trips to Europe (you should really travel before you have a crumbgrinder to chase around, if you can), I made the most interesting Anime finds over in Italy. Some European countries tend to have their own favorite Japanese-imported programming that we never ended up getting in the United States (I’m not counting Hawaii, as they got a LOT of programming that never made it onto the mainland). For instance, in France, contemporaries of my age have a fondness for a Japanese series called UFO Robot Grendizer—which they call Goldorak.

While scouring the once-weekly (Sundays) Porta Portese flea market in Rome, I came across a DVD that I thought would really be wonderful. Helmeted, big-eyed team of space explorers? Check! Big-old mecha I had never seen before? Check! (cover image here: http://www.euroanime.it/open2b/var/catalog/b/4330.jpg) The video was titled “Gli Avventurieri Della Galassia” (The Adventurers of the Galaxy). I couldn’t wait to rip of the cellophane and plunk this find into my laptop after my wife fell asleep from our long day’s wandering. Oh heck, it wasn’t even worth switching over the region code on my MacBook. So bad. Not even Japanese, I later learned. South Korean amalgamation/blatant rip-off of many giant robot animation series of the era. It’s in the public domain here in the States, and it is (unfortunately) hosted on archive.org as the English-dubbed “Raiders of Galaxy”. Watch at your own peril.

A few days later, after a lovely train and bus trip through picturesque Tuscany, we ended up at the magical medieval walled city of Siena. A stroll along the cobblestone streets one afternoon led me to a round-shaped newsvendor’s kiosk, well-stocked with newspapers, magazines and DVDs hanging in shrinkwrapped packages on color backing boards stating the titles. I passed over music video titles, movies dubbed in Italian from all over the globe, and….anime! I bought a DVD called “L’Imbattibile Daitarn 3,” (the original Japanese version is called Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3) which turned out to be awesome! It features a central character who’s a bit like a ’70s super spy/cop called Haran Banjo. He’s got two gorgeous sidekicks-in-arms, an Alfred-like butleresque tactician and a goofy kid (who for all intents and purposes is comic relief). The giant robot, Daitarn 3, is a multi-vehicle combiner who fights with chain-connected fans and a solar blast from a circle on his forehead. The baddies are very reminiscent of the armies and Ro-Beasts from Voltron. Campy, but really fun to watch. There was a die-cast Daitarn 3 toy released recently, too rich for my blood, but lovely. Perhaps when I win the Lotto.

Perhaps, in a handful of years, I’ll be able to have my baby girl help me some new European anime hunting. A dad can dream…

RIP Peter “Speed Racer” Fernandez, 1927-2010

Fernandez

Peter Fernandez passed away earlier today from lung cancer. You might not know Fernandez’s name, but you know his work — he was instrumental in first bringing anime to America, well before it was called anime or even recognized as Japanese. Fernandez was the voice director for countless anime series in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as a scriptwriter and voice actor. He will be best remembered as the director, writer and voice of Speed Racer, as well as the composer of its American theme song.