Signage outside the Laputa Asagaya in Tokyo, announcing its two-month-long Toho program. Photo by Brett Homenick.
The Laputa Asagaya is running two concurrent programs of great interest to me (and readers of this blog). The main program (featured above) is the Toho Bungei Eiga ("Toho Literary Movie") program, which will feature all kinds of classic Toho films from the Showa era. No tokusatsu or genre pictures are on tap, but there are several intriguing movies that will be screened that I hope to catch.
The other program only runs at night, and it's called "Into Nightmares." As you'd expect, the focus is on horror and other strange films, covering a 20-year span (1968 through 1988). Everything from Shochiku's The Living Skeleton (1968) to Toho's Bloodthirsty trilogy will be screened in the upcoming weeks at 9:00 p.m.
My tickets for tonight's films on top of a program booklet. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Tonight, I took in two films. The first one is called Zou (Elephant, 1957). It's a Toho drama directed by the legendary Kajiro Yamamoto (who mentored Akira Kurosawa and Ishiro Honda) and helmed The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942). A bevy of Toho regulars appear in the film, including Keiju Kobayashi, Momoko Kochi, Sachio Sakai, and several others. The setting is the Tokyo Ueno Zoo, and most of the drama centers around an elephant named Tonki (who's very popular among the locals) and an old zookeeper who's grown attached to the animal. Sadly, the animals at the zoo eventually become casualties of war. It's a real tear-jerker that would make any animal lover a little weepy. An interesting touch was that, in one scene, the elephant starts roaring like Toho's King Kong! Nice to find a tokusatsu connection in a film as far removed from fantasy as this one. Also a shout-out to the cute baby lion featured in the film named Katrina (whom some young schoolchildren repeatedly refer to by name).
The other film I watched was Kinji Fukasaku's Black Lizard (1968), a very bizarre film that almost defies description. I watched it many years ago (circa 2002), and it had such little impact on me that I hardly remembered anything of it! So it was basically like watching a brand-new movie tonight. It was certainly very stylish, perhaps the most stylish Fukasaku film I've ever seen. But it's very campy and outlandish, without being too laughable. Again, it's hard to describe. But it's an entertaining film, and I'm glad I gave it a second look.
I'll definitely be back for more!