If a tribute manages to be better than its inspiration, is it still a tribute? Or has it become something else entirely? Negadon: The Monster From Mars, a twenty-minute film released recently on DVD, is an homage to ’60s-era Japanese monster classics like Godzilla and Ultraman, but it ultimately becomes a more convincing endorsement for the genre than the original movies themselves. I’ve never really been a fan of movies of this sort–apparently called kaiju–but I love this film.
If you check out the trailer (this one’s better than the one on the official Negadon site), you’ll notice that the film is remarkable-looking. It’s entirely computer generated, but it never looks it; rather, the movie seems the product of some 1960s special effects wizard who has managed to execute flawlessly using the technology available at the time.
More noteworthy than the film is how it was made. The movie was created by a Japanese man named Jun Awazu who spent three years fashioning it almost entirely on his own. It feels like one person’s vision. Every monster cliché is here–purposely–and rendered pitch-perfect. Every scene rings completely true to its genre. And its visuals are truly stunning: Mr. Awazu somehow manages to make his planes, tanks, and monsters straddle a thin line between looking completely real yet looking like tiny models, a deliberate nod to ’60s-era kaiju effects. The film is a beautiful demonstration of the power of what one person can do with computer-generated imagery.
The story, while not exactly stunning in its originality, manages to be mildly compelling, a feat I suspect this film’s forebears rarely achieved. Its twenty-minute length allows the plot precisely enough room to develop, mature, and climax, with very little waste. (Has anything ever happened in a kaiju film that merited it being longer than twenty minutes?)
Of course, by doing such an excellent job, Mr. Awazu may also have unintentionally sounded the genre’s death knell. With its essence crystalized into such a perfect little package, is there any more to be done?
Buy it here.
P.S.: It’s worth noting that I enjoyed the film the second time I watched it more than I did the first. The first time I was distracted by the dubbed English dialogue–it’s hard to tell whether the English voice acting is bad, or the dialogue as written would simply be better left unspoken–and kept wishing the DVD would offer Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. Lo and behold, a quick search under the “Extras” menu revealed this exact option, and the film plays much more elegantly with its Japanese dialogue.