Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (1987)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (1.5/5)
September 22nd, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Hiroshi Aramata's novel The Legend of the Capital (Teito Monogatari), has seen its fair share of adaptations, including the 1991 animated version, Doomed Megalopolis to the mid-1990's live action remake. Yet the largest scale of these is easily director Akio Jissoji's 1987 film Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis. Unfortunately, the amount of money thrown at a project rarely guarantees an entertaining product, and Jissoji's film ends up being fairly demonstrative of this. The movie's biggest dilemma is simply that it strives to achieve too much, crafting an overall storyline that seems to be trying to tell two different plots at once, of Kato's ambitions for conquest and a financial attempt to advise and reconstruct Tokyo, while introducing more than a dozen characters, none of which are developed and most of whom the audience will struggle to even keep track of. Thankfully other aspects fare a little better, with the acting being at least competent and the production values being noticeably high for a 1980's Japanese film. Although neither of these can hope to overcome the problems found at the story level, or make up for the overall pacing and Keiichi Uraoka's often sporadic editing.

For a quick summation of the movie's plot, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis covers psychic Yasunori Kato's attempts to level Japan's capital and restore the city's areas back to “holy grounds”. This leads him to try and resurrect Masadako, hoping that he will seek vengeance on Tokyo. After laying down a long-term plan to achieve this through impregnating Yukai, a descendent of Masadako, Kato waits a decade during the Meiji era before going about creating a small tremor in Dalian, China, which is magnified into a powerful earthquake by the time it reaches Tokyo. The seismic event ends up demolishing the capital, yet Masadako does not awake and instead lashes out at Kato. This turn of events leave Kato puzzled as he now focuses solely on his plan with Yukai, who has given birth to a daughter. Time transcends as the country rebuilds Tokyo into a more modern city during the start of the Showa era. However, it's not long before Kato locates, and kidnaps, Yukai's daughter: Yukiko. The plan to awaken Masadako is then put into effect while Keiko, the daughter of a local priest who has been training since Yukai was impregnated, ventures off to confront Kato in a final battle before Yukiko can be sacrificed.

Now if only the entire movie was as simple as the plot synopsis makes it out to be. Unfortunately, the summary only skims the very surface, as numerous other things run in tandem with the main story. The largest of these is an underground side-plot about energy veins running below Tokyo. This is further complicated by the on going story of a young man named Torahiko Terada, and how he wishes to develop an underground metropolis to protect Tokyo from earthquakes, which is of course a horrible idea. He ends up compromising, though, and getting involved with an underground subway that is being developed during the Showa era. The construction is meant with a roadblock due to the energy veins, as Kato has deployed Shikigami to the region that are attacking anyone who ventures too far down the tunnels. This leads to Terada requesting the aid of the recently unveiled Gakutensoku, a golden mech whose movement is achieved through air pressure. The mech is met with a great deal of resistance, but after utilizing its self-destruct sequence it manages to clear the tunnel of the Shikigami and disrupt the energy flow.

Again, that's only a side-plot, even though it's devoted an incredible amount of screen time and features a good number of its own characters, all of which aren't involved with the main plot at all. To that degree it's not hard to see where I'm getting at: the whole underground story within a story just doesn't work. It's far too divorced from the main plot, and the only time it does relate is very late in the film during the climax, which itself is oddly staged as someone apparently thought that the Gakutensoku sequence was important enough to have it run tandem with the final battle. Anyway, with the energy vein severed the Goho Doji is destroyed and one would assume that Kato's plans have now been ruined, right? Hardly, as he simply proclaims that he will “stimulate the underground dragon himself” now that the energy vein is gone, which only begs the viewer to ask what the hell was the point of all that then? Well, it seems that director Jissoji and the crew actually thought they were developing quite the character in the Gakutensoku machine, although the special effects revolving around it tend to be pretty limited and it doesn't really do much that would prompt the audience to care about it. Never the less the production team's affection for the machine are quite clear, as they have characters nearly worship the thing, with Terada even running after it when the self destruct plan is revealed while screaming “let me see Gakutensoku's last moments!” This kind of fanaticism over a machine that doesn't have a very great design to begin with, or did anything particularly memorable in the movie, just seems to turn off the viewer more than anything else.

The underground stuff aside, the actual meat of the story isn't particularly bad. However, it does tend to get very confusing due to trying to cover too much. For example, Kato's exploits are kind of set up as an epic plan: a battle that is meant to start in the Meiji era and last tell the dawn of the Showa. Unfortunately the pacing is far too sporadic to support a more engrossed story like this, especially when the viewer has to deal with wading through the Terada's underground ordeals. The ending result is that the audience is more than likely to get lost during the proceeding events. Of course, if one is willing, the story does tend to make a great deal more sense if the viewer has the patience to watch it more than once and keep track of everything. Even then, though, Uraoka's sporadic editing doesn't help matters, as he is fond of often making confusing and jarring cuts. The film also seems to hope about chronologically, often having years pass between sequences although it often does little to make it clear to the viewer when this is happening, beyond the obvious transition to the Showa era.

The movie really suffers, though, from trying to develop too large of a cast, while also making it unclear for the audience which they should be paying attention to. In total, the movie deals with more than a dozen prominent characters, most of which tend to drift in and out of the movie while usually only getting quick introductions. Consequently, it's very hard for the audience to keep track of them, and the fact that almost no one is developed makes this all the harder as one only tends to have a face and a name to go by without much behind that to help jog the memory. Of course the large exception to all of this is the movie's antagonist: Kato. A powerful psychic decked out in a Chinese military uniform, a design which would undoubtedly become the inspiration behind the later M. Bision (or Vega in Japan) character in Capcom's Street Fighter series, is a hard figure not to be impressed by. He pulls off a level of interest about him for his often-maintained attitude in the face of adversity, such as getting stabbed by a sword only to take the blade and run it through someone nearby, all while keeping a straight face. The character is also given small tidbit of history about him, as apparently he's a descendant of ancient “psychics” such as Enno Uzumu and Abe no Seimei (if that springs forth memories of Onmyoji [2001], then you are not alone). Beyond this stand out figure, though, there isn't much to recall from the rest of characters.

Thankfully, the acting tends to hold up better, although that's not saying much. In general, though, it tends to range from serviceable to down right poor. Of the cast, Meiko Harada as Keiko Mekata/Tatsumiya and Kyusaku Shimada as Kato tend to fare the best. Harada is aided mostly by her looks, but she still does a fairly decent job and doesn't have any sequences that make the audience cringe unlike a lot of the cast, particularly the bit players. Shimada also does a good job here as Kato, feeling very menacing at times while also putting a great deal of energy into his performance. His portrayal, in fact, is really the only thing that salvages the picture as a whole from not being a total bust, although even Shimada is responsible for a few bad scenes, like seeing him flop around unconvincingly after Masakado has zapped him.

Shintaro Katsu, of Zatoichi fame, is probably the only readily familiar actor amongst the cast, as he portrays Eichi Shibusawa. Unfortunately he isn't given a whole lot to do, as his character tends to monologue to other officials in front of his Tokyo models about how he wants to turn the city into the greatest metropolitan throughout Asia, before he is later “downgraded” to simply reappearing ever so often with only a word or so to say if that. Granted, there is nothing wrong with the actor's portrayal here, but those expecting Katsu's trademark comedic spin or outlandishness will be disappointed at the straight faced Shibusawa along with the fact that his role equates mostly to a cameo in terms of the movie as a whole, although his ending speech is nice if not a little out of place.

The last performance to address is that of Koji Takahashi, who plays Rohan Kado. I'm sure many are familiar with Takahashi for his role as Doctor Shiragami in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), where his straight faced mannerism and lack of emotion seemed to fit with the character. Here it seems much more out of place and awkward, though. To his credit there are a few sequences where he actually seems to get into the role, like his first assault on Kato, but these are pretty few and far between. Thankfully, his role isn't very demanding, so he is able to carry it to the movie's closure without much problem.

From a more technical aspect, the special effects tend to be fairly good for the period when the film was produced. The model work, for example, is excellent, particularly the pans over the Meiji era cityscape and the destruction of the bell tower in Tokyo. Sadly, a lot of the other stuff, while good at the time, is very dated by today's standards. The creature effects are a good example of this. It's very rare, though, to see claymation used in a Japanese film, presumably because the production schedules there tend to be so tight and the process so time consuming, and its actually used to great effect here. There are a lot of impressive sequences involving it, like seeing the creatures transform out of the paper Kato and his minions throw. It's when these creatures are brought to life by other methods, like suitmation or props, that the effects get embarrassing. The Goho-Doji, the creature designed by H.R.Giger, is one example of this. It's from this that the movie often tends to get the most press overseas, with foreign distributors often quick to tout this fact even though the Xenomorph designer for the Alien series had hardly any involvement with the project. His designs, though, were for a very organic and twisted sort of creature, while the end product is mostly immobile. More like a metal statue with blades and tentacles then something that was alive. The creature in general feels like it was wasted anyway and it's not hard to see why Giger has distanced himself from his creation for the movie.

In terms of its musical score, composer Maki Ishii does a decent job on the film. There are no standout themes, though, while the music as a whole is kind of a temporary score which sounds a little dated today. His biggest hurdle, though, is simply the size of the orchestra he has been given, which makes even his more action oriented themes sound rather meek.

In summary, it's sad to see this rather high scale Japanese production falter so thoroughly. The movie simply tries to cover far too much ground in too short a time, yet at present it feels like it stretches on forever as the viewer is left mostly confused and uninterested through out the film's duration. On a closing note, it should be mentioned that the movie's subject matter takes a strong stomach at points, from severed hands impregnating others to a women throwing up a more than a foot long “worm”. Normally I wouldn't bother to mention this, but the movie was promoted heavily on some of ADV's kaiju releases and might be attracting an audience that's far younger then it should be.