With a title like Monster Seafood Wars, you pretty much know what you’re in for. And yet, prolific director Minoru Kawasaki’s movie, the script for which he co-wrote with regular collaborator Masakazu Migita, from an original idea by Eiji Tsuburaya, is cleverer, funnier, and just plain better than it has any right to be. This thing starts off looking a bit like the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” video, but somehow it manages to be more charming than even that description suggests. In fact, Monster Seafood Wars is over much too quickly and if the hinted-at sequel doesn’t materialize, I’ll never eat seafood again (okay that’s a lie but just know how serious I am about getting more of this).
Kicking off with documentary footage that hints at some kind of mysterious disaster, something the film utilizes to forego exposition dumps – a clever idea, mostly played for laughs here but that also fills in the necessary, energy-sapping army lingo required of a film like this – Monster Seafood Wars quickly swivels to focus on our hero, Yuta (an adorable Keisuke Ueda), a J-pop looking kid whose specially made meal of an octopus, squid, and crab ends up wreaking havoc on the city when all three become supersized after falling into the river thanks to his own scientific concoction. Yuta is fingered as the culprit but sets about helping the army, who are stumped because conventional weapons do nothing to dent the monsters’ power, to combat the threat.
Meanwhile, Yuta’s love rival, Hiroma, whose sexual energy is as high as his collar, is buzzing around trying to steal Yuta’s childhood crush from under his nose. The two actors are well cast, with Hiroma towering over Yuta so that every time they square up, it’s visually pleasing and also unintentionally funny. The two have to join forces, of course, as part of the hastily formed SMAT or Special Monster Attack Team. But after the government names all three monsters (tradition?) and rice vinegar is used to battle them, it soon becomes clear that, actually, giant seafood monster meat is delicious. The crab is the toughest to beat, and its claw are pretty vicious, but there’s a suggestion that these guys could cure world hunger and, soon, monster meat is more popular than bubble tea and is even blowing up on YouTube.
Monster Seafood Wars does a good job keeping its energy up throughout, but it lags ever so slightly whenever the monsters aren’t onscreen. Kawasaki’s movie is lovably low budget, light on its feet, and fit to burst considering that, over just under 90 minutes, it juggles the typical beats of a classic kaiju movie, including army interference and mad scientists trying to protect their creations, a mockumentary about the events unfolding onscreen elsewhere, a blossoming romance, a professional rivalry, and the hilariously on-the-nose modern touches, such as when the monsters, essentially, become viral stars. There’s also plenty of food porn so absolutely do not watch while hungry.
The belly laughs border on non-stop, whether it’s a justification of how shellfish probably think we all look alike too, or the idea that the monsters won’t be gone long because there’s lots of food for them in Tokyo. It’s an absolute joy to see all three genetically-modified beasts onscreen together, their delightfully unconvincing, old-school suits only adding to the charm. This is a throwback through and through but the filmmakers are more interested in honouring the classic kaiju movies than in making fun of them. The suits are enjoyably clunky, the performers clearly finding it hard to control the arms so they simply flail about everywhere while they do “battle.”
All three have distinct personalities too, outside of their given names. The squid has girly eyes and lashes while the crab, the most visually inventive and arguably the easiest costume to move in, does a hilarious crab walk that somehow gets funnier the more often it shows up. Shots of their arms, or claws, or tentacles coming into frame while characters act terrified are equally unconvincing, but such is the fun of a movie like this that’s self-aware enough to know what it is and yet never snarky about it. Just when it seems like Monster Seafood Wars can’t get any better, something happens that won’t come as a shock to fans of the subgenre but that I shan’t spoil here just in case. But it’s a perfect twist, and really, properly funny too.
If you’ve ever seen a kaiju movie before, or even watched one of the brilliant Kaiju Big Battel wrestling events, then you’ll know what to expect with Monster Seafood Wars (there’s less cardboard involved though, thankfully). And yet, although the movie proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, the likable characters, clever modern touches, and hilariously wild, soon to be iconic monsters ensure it’s also its own thing. There will be those drawn to the film purely for its kitschy value, but this isn’t so-bad-it’s-good territory; Monster Seafood Wars is just good.
WICKED RATING: 8/10