|cast: Shintaro Katsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Mieko Harada, Jun’ichi Ishida, and Haruka Sugata
director: Akio Jissoji
135 minutes (15) 1988 widescreen ratio 16:9
In the Japanese capital between the World Wars, the Tokyo Improvement Project organised by Shibusawa (played by Shintaro Katsu, star of the Zatoichi movie series about a blind samurai), campaigns to build a better city by developing new tremor-resistant building designs, and – following the example of London – an underground railway system. But not everyone is in favour of this brave vision of modernity, and demonic soldier Kato (portrayed by the imposingly tall Kyusaku Shimada) plans to awaken the mighty sleeping spirit of warrior Masakado, a rebel executed 1000 years ago for crimes against humanity, intending to remake Tokyo into a graveyard.
Yukari (Haruka Sugata), the sister of westernised businessman and architect Tatsumiya (Jun’ichi Ishida), is kidnapped by Kato and psychically impregnated with his doomed offspring. Despite the contemporary values of 1920s society, it requires a fortuneteller, a student of sociology, and heroic priestess Keiko (Mieko Harada) to face the challenge to authority and order presented by Kato’s attacks on Tokyo – including a spate of brutal murders, and an artificial earthquake. The construction of Tokyo’s subway is delayed by dangerous gremlins, and a golden robot man drives an engine to exterminate them, but spiritualism, new science and technology, and even the female shaman’s magic fail, at first, to counteract Kato’s evil plot to resurrect Japan’s most accursed ancestor. “The most dreadful things have not happened… yet.”
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (aka: Teito Monogatari) has a screenplay by Kaizo Hayashi, based on the novel The Tale Of The Capital by Hiroshi Aramuta. This live-action film was followed by a popular cartoon version, the anime serial Doomed Megalopolis (1991-2), which elaborates on the story and themes of this probably unique movie, a blend of urban historical and fantasy horror centred on the great disaster of 1923, which plays like Capra meets Argento, with an oriental twist. Boasting impressive designs contributed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is a surreal yet always fascinating gothic urban nightmare, during which forces of psychic darkness are manifest in Lovecraftian proportions.
There are unearthly creatures in Harryhausen’s stop-motion style, a scene of gross unpleasantness as the raped Yukari pukes up a huge worm, symbolic vistas of seasonal change that are highly significant in Japanese culture, Indiana Jones style adventuring, philosophical theories concerning destiny and circumstances, and speculations about movements in geo-spiritual energy not unlike ley-lines.
Despite its erratic tone, seriocomic emphases, abrupt changes of mood, and the stumbling block of its somewhat unsophisticated visual effects techniques, this film is full of genuine surprises and moments of awesome cinematic power.
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As a principal shape of malevolence, the dark and sinister Kato (whose military uniform and rigid bearing suggest the hate figure of a maniacal Gestapo officer) makes a frightening villain, while the young heroine Keiko (eschewing feminist attire for her traditional Shinto robes), is nonetheless his equal – as the devoted protector of what Kato is so eager to destroy, though she must sacrifice herself to defeat such a formidable enemy.
An earlier video release of Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis in 1995 on the Manga Live label was a dubbed version, with a shorter running time of 102 minutes. This subtitled format DVD reinstates a missing prologue and sequences revealing the backgrounds and relationships of supporting characters, and adds the welcome feature of a second closing credits scroll (in ratio 4:3) with English translation of the Japanese text, extending the runtime to nearly two hours and 20 minutes. Disc extras: biographies of the director and main cast, stills and artwork galleries.