TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS (1988)
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
The worst successful Japanese film ever made!
Director: Akio Jissôji
Cast: Shintarô Katsu, Kyûsaku Shimada, Mieko Harada, Tamasaburo Bando, Haruka Suagata
Related films: Ultraman, Tokyo: The Last War, The Great Yokai War, Street Fighter II (Anime)
How this film got rave reviews upon its release in Japan is beyond comprehension. It was described as the «best Japanese science fiction production of all time» by Peer Magazine Japan, and was even nominated for awards by the Japanese Film Academy. It might be a product of its time, but that doesn’t even begin to excuse the worthlessness of this film.
Science fiction thrived in the eighties, even though most productions of that era were flawed by overconfident use of special effects. This was also the case with Tokyo The Last Megalopolis (TTLM for short). When taking into account the film’s overall output however, the special effects are the least of its problems.
TTLM was a slapdash production, which is somewhat strange when considering that the budget of the film was 1.000.000.000 Yen (Approximately $9.400.000). The set pieces and costumes imitating the look of 1920’s Japan are actually not half bad, but this is one of the very few highlights this film has to offer.
The story is of the supernatural kind. It tells the tale of a psychotic general who tries to revive slumbering spirits from the depths beneath Tokyo’s graveyards. The goal of the demonic general is to completely annihilate contemporary society. In his view, modern lifestyle is built on exploitation of nature and raping of the land.
The chaotic story also consists of an underlying conspiracy amongst the city officials. The antagonist is a priest who tries to take on said city officials and defeat the demonic general at the same time. The overuse of ritualistic offerings and elaboration of the conspiracy subplot buries the story under layers of pretentiousness.
The manuscript fails in engaging its audience, and the narrative momentum adds to the already weak foundation. Many scenes are dragged out unnecessarily by pompous dialogue and predicable plot points. There might very well be some social criticism hidden between the lines, but the general’s monologues are impossible to take serious, due to his ridiculous persona and style.
The acting is not problematic per se, but the dialogue certainly enhances the pretentious qualities of the narrative. The characters are never fully developed, and the large ensemble cast only increases the distance between the audience and the actors. There are no clearly defined protagonists, and the few characters that do express relatable emotions are only marginally allowed to explore them.
The camera and production techniques are also highly questionable. Constant use of close-ups quickly becomes a source of annoyance. Throughout the film there are countless clips where the actors’ heads are cut halfway out of the frame. Together with the other problems mentioned this gives the film a distinct «straight to video» feel, although it was relatively successful at the Japanese box office.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that TTLM was based on a science fiction novel, it would be a curios coincidence that the demonic general looks just like the video game character M. Bison from Street Fighter. The video game was released only six months before the film. No matter how they were connected the «coincidence» became an involuntary comedic incidence, of which there are many.
The slapdash atmosphere is comparable to Chinese adventure films of the same era. In particular, The Seventh Curse (Ngai Choi Lam) from 1986 is brought to mind. Stop motion goblin-like deities, cheap effects and a brief encounter with a giant multi-armed deity makes TTLM feel as cheap as a McDonald's Happy Meal toy.
This film isn't good for much more than getting a few good laughs. Its outdated antics and ludicrous seriousness leaves no chance for standing the test of time. Having a sense of humor about itself might have helped its durability somewhat, but to be fair, Tokyo The Last Megalopolis is so bad it is not even worth making fun of.
Due to its cult following Tokyo The Last Megalopolis has become somewhat of a collector’s item. It is only available on second hand DVD in both Europe and America, and the prices are as ludicrous as the film itself. I cannot speak for the US version, but the quality of the European DVD is terrible. Buy at your own risk!