By Mariko McDonald | June 29, 2005

When we started the Den of Sin, there were some basic ground rules we established mostly so that we had an excuse when we told people to shut up about doing the goddamned Lord of the Rings marathon. Things watched at the Den of Sin were things that neither my husband nor I had seen. In some cases one of us had seen the film, but the other had not, but in any event we didn’t start this to just sit around and watch movies with our friends, although that is a nice side benefit. We started the Den of Sin to educate, to open ourselves up to new things, to encourage discussion by making interesting filmic parings. And like last week, to challenge our guests and ourselves.

But every once in a while, no matter how good we think a program is, some things just don’t work in the context of the Den of Sin. We’d learned by this point that older films tend to encourage talking, but judging from the success of our Val Lewton double bill last year, I figured that the quality of the material would overshadow any perceived problems with pacing. Then again, some movies were meant to be watched alone.

As with many of our programs, this week’s was at least partly inspired by the resident film guru at our video store: Mr. Sinister Sam. Some time ago he’d passed me a DVD-R containing “Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People” which he praised as a triumph of suspense and creepiness. And as usual it took me about 6 months before I decided to program it. But what to program it with? The DVD-R also contained another old Japanese shocker called “Goke”, but my husband had managed to acquire “The Mysterians” for the video store and had been dying to watch it. When we discovered that both “Matango” and “The Mysterians” had been directed by Ichiro Honda, director of the original “Godzilla,” we decided to put them together and call it a Toho night.

It was an unusually busy night with 16 people showing up before we even started. There were the usual faces, a few part timers, and lots of friends of friends. There was also a startling number of girls, obviously encouraged by my promise to actually show something without bloodshed and foul language. Normally I wouldn’t acquiesce to such demands, but that’s just the way it happened so I decided to play it up. Graeme had brought along a “low-alcohol” drink, purchased at the local Chinese supermarket, which boasted “fresh salty dog flavour”. Many took sips, but most agreed that it wasn’t particularly salty or doggy. Which I guess would be good things.

Right from the get go, people were excited. Karen squealed with glee at the sight of the Power Ranger-esq Mysterians on the DVD menu. Others cheered for the cheesy flying saucers. Owen noted that he usually prefers movie night when he has no idea what we are showing. My sister and I were pre-occupied by trying to remember which folk dance was being performed on-screen as we were pretty sure we’d done it at Obon-odori one year.

Like most good Japanese sci-fi movies from the ‘50’s, the plot of “The Mysterians” is a little hard to follow. We start off in a small maritime village and are introduced to a few of the major characters, including the young guy from “Godzilla” and the chick from “Godzilla.” Then later we are introduced to Takashi Shimura who played the nice scientist in “Godzilla” (as well as appearing in numerous films for Akira Kurosawa), playing… you guessed it, a nice scientist. Aliens come down from an asteroid that used to be a planet that’s been nicknamed (brilliantly) “Mysteroid”. They have a giant robot that looks kind of like an armadillo– if it were a robot-armadillo, and at first everyone freaks out and thinks they want to take over the earth. But it turns out everyone was overreacting and the aliens were just demonstrating how superior their technology was and what they actually wanted were some women to breed with. Then everyone in Japan freaks out even more until Takashi finally leaves with the Mysterians since he never liked women that much anyway.

Brendan made a point of explaining to Karen some of the finer points of a Toho sci-fi movie: “they’re really good at the long shots.” Graeme made a joke that all they really needed to put out the forest fire was Mothra to come by and flap her wings, which led to the requisite morbid comments regarding moths and flames. There were lots of “oooohs” and “awes” and a few “oh my gods”, particularly for the cave-in scene and the giant armadillo-insect robot. Rachael had a look on her face best described as horror.

The whole time the robot was on the screen, an electronic beeping was heard that sounded suspiciously like Graeme’s alarm clock. Brendan joked that this was kind of like what happens when he wakes up (civilians fleeing, get sprayed down with a hose…) Karen wanted to know why the robot looked like it was wearing a dress and oven mitts which led to us nicknaming it the Bubbe-bot. Trevor conceded that that would in fact terrify anyone.

It was at about this time that Owen finally recognized the doctor: “isn’t he relatively famous or something,” and was scolded for not paying attention. Nick was complaining that he wanted to wear a cape like the Mysterians but Graeme countered that he had to wear only the cape. Karl observed the colour-coded hierarchy of the Mysterians costumes and Graeme made the inevitable “Life on Mars” reference, but only I got it. He was just about to make a “Mars Needs Women” joke when the Mysterians revealed their true reason for coming to earth, which then lead to the observation that they only wanted Japanese women, (insert punch line here).

Bob was more concerned about the lack of boobies since his experience with older Japanese film has been limited to the “Female Convict Scorpion” series and a few Fukusaku Yakuza movies. Most of us pretended not to know him. There was some cool military action, involving a helicopter; the Snowbirds and what would best be described as a “stealth tank”. The score for these sequences was particularly awesome and it was not surprising to learn that the composer, Akira Ifukube had scored most of the Godzilla movies, including the original and “Final Wars”.

Although there was a lot of chatter during the movie, most people were very enthusiastic, even if they couldn’t really follow the plot. Then my mom called to let my sister and I know that their cat was sick with anti-freeze poisoning and would likely have to be put down. Although we were both upset we decided to keep going and enjoy the time with our friends.

The counter weapons were introduced. We called them “markalipefarps” since we couldn’t really understand what the guy who introduced them said. Karl noted their resemblance to Hibachi grills. Graeme was disappointed they didn’t go with his trained-monkey plan. Andria wanted another giant robot. Karen needed an explanation for the term “fire” (short answer: pirates). By the time it was all done we were elated and the Peanut Gallery demanded many sequels.

The evening continues in part two of ENTER THE DEN OF SIN: TOHO TERRORS>>>

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