TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS (1988)
Updated: May 31
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)
Studio: Exe Co. Ltd.
Introducing Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
How Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis got rave reviews upon its release in Japan is beyond comprehension. It was even hailed as the «best Japanese science fiction production of all time» by Peer Magazine Japan and was nominated for awards by the Japanese Film Academy.
Science fiction thrived in the eighties, an era marked by an infectious enthusiasm for special effects. Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis was no exception. Considering the film’s overall output, however, the special effects are the least of its problems. Today it stands as an enigmatic piece of Japanese film history, a testament to the dissonance between perceived worth and actual quality.
The film is indeed a product of its time, rooted firmly in the neon-tinged landscape of the 1980s. But such temporal affiliation hardly absolves it of its numerous shortcomings. While nostalgia may tint our perception, it doesn’t even begin to excuse the worthlessness of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis.
The Background for the Megalopolis Backlash
Imagine a film imbued with an exciting premise and tantalizing backdrop derived from the successful book Teito Monogatari by Hiroshi Aramata. The idea seemed the apparent recipe for a cinematic masterpiece. But instead, it resulted in a catastrophic muddle. Such was the fate of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis.
The film's success is an enigma. It indicates that Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis balanced a compelling storyline, engaging characters, and solid technical execution. In reality, the film grievously mishandled all of these things and left little to be desired other than involuntary comedy.
Another element that adds to the film's confounding mediocrity is the significant budget. With an extravagant investment of 1,000,000,000 Yen (approximately $9,400,000), it's perplexing to see the end product that is Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis.
The production value is evident in some areas. For instance, the meticulous detailing of the set pieces and costumes, designed to mirror the aesthetic of 1920s Japan, offers a fleeting glimpse of potential brilliance. These flashes of competency, however, are rare oases in the barren wasteland that is the film's overall quality.
The Story of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
The story of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis plunges headfirst into the realm of the supernatural and orchestrates a frenzied symphony of arcane mysticism set against the ultramodern backdrop of Tokyo.
The story revolves around a general whose mind teeters on the brink of insanity. His quest is to awaken ancient spirits interred deep beneath Tokyo's sprawling graveyards. Haunted by a warped sense of righteousness, he seeks to obliterate the world as we know it.
The general sees contemporary society as a nasty parasite, feeding insatiably on nature's bounty, perpetuating a brutal cycle of exploitation that leaves the Earth ravaged and desolate.
His crusade is just one thread in the complex tapestry of the film's storyline. Beneath the surface, a dark conspiracy simmers among the echelons of city officials, a covert plot that further stokes the chaos.
Thrust into this maelstrom is our unlikely protagonist - a priest driven by an undying resolve to preserve the fabric of society. Waging a two-front war, he battles against the conspiring city officials but also against the malevolent general.
Despite the potential richness of the narrative, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis suffocates under the weight of its own complexity. It drowns in a deluge of ceremonial offerings, each more elaborate and convoluted than the last, losing sight of its core narrative amidst the pomp and spectacle.
The conspiracy subplot, intended to add depth, becomes an anchor, pulling the storyline into a quagmire of pretentious verbosity and diluting its impact. As such, the story of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is a testament to the dangers of narrative overindulgence, a tragic miscalculation that completely obscured its potential for becoming worthwhile.
The Making of a Cinematic Catastrophe
Some social criticism might be hidden between the lines of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis, but the general’s monologues are impossible to take seriously due to his ridiculous persona and style. The acting is not problematic per se, but the dialogue accentuates the overconfident narrative.
The characters are never fully developed, and the large ensemble cast only increases the distance between the audience and the actors. The protagonists are not clearly defined, and the few characters that do express relatable emotions are only marginally allowed to explore them.
Furthermore, the manuscript failed to engage, and the narrative momentum only added to the already weak foundation. Many scenes are dragged out unnecessarily by pompous dialogue and predictable plot points.
The camera and production techniques are also highly questionable. Constant use of close-ups quickly becomes a source of annoyance. In addition, throughout the film, there are countless clips where the actors’ heads are cut halfway out of the frame.
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis could have been a canvas for an epic tale about good and evil, but it floundered amidst a sea of ill-conceived shot selections and lackluster camera work. The potential grandeur of the futuristic city was squandered, lost amidst murky visuals and uninspiring compositions.
The film's editing was convoluted, creating a dissonant rhythm that disrupted the narrative flow. Sequences were chaotically stitched together, creating a patchwork of scenes that felt like discordant notes in a symphony. This all gave the film a distinct «straight to video» feel, although it was relatively successful at the Japanese box office.
Pop Culture & B-Movie Parallels
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis clearly took as much inspiration from the book it was based on as the makers of Street Fighter did. At least, this appears to be the only explanation as to why the demonic general bears an uncanny resemblance to the video game character M. Bison.
Street Fighter was released a mere six months prior to Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis. Unfortunately, the perplexing M. Bison resemblance was the most memorable aspect of the latter. Yet, it was only one of many comedic incidents that inadvertently peppered the film's narrative.
Moreover, 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 - a film characterized by its frantic energy and a smorgasbord of eccentricities.
Stop-motion goblin-like deities, cheap effects, and a brief encounter with a giant multi-armed deity made Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis feel as cheap as a McDonald's Happy Meal toy. However, these connections to pop culture and its B-movie aura added comic effect, inadvertently salvaging the viewing experience of an otherwise disastrous film.
Final Verdict for Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
Despite its opportune setting, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis neglected to delve into the rich tapestry of futuristic themes. Concepts like technology's impact on society and the cost of rapid urbanization, though fueling the general’s raison d'être, were notably absent, robbing the film of potential depth and relevance.
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis had the opportunity to reflect on the socio-cultural implications of a rapidly growing city. Yet, it bypassed this chance, choosing spectacle over substance and missing the chance to provide a meaningful critique of urban life.
As such, it isn't good for much more than a few good laughs. Its outdated antics and ludicrous seriousness leave no chance of standing the test of time. Having a sense of humor about itself might have helped its durability somewhat, but in all sincerity, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is so bad it is not even worth making fun of.
Alchetron: Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
Infinmata Press: Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
Toho Kingdom: Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
Due to its cult following, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis has become somewhat of a collector’s item. It is only available on second-hand DVDs in 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!