Saturday, September 12, 2020

Yôkai tengoku gôsuto hîrô (1990)

... aka: 妖怪天国・ゴーストヒーロー
... aka: Ghost Hero
... aka: Ghost of Building
... aka: Grost of Building
... aka: Monster Heaven: Ghost Hero
... aka: Youkai tengoku: Ghost Hero

Directed by:
Macoto Tezuka

A ghost girl (Kaori Mizushima) plays a flute in a graveyard as a bulldozer approaches. The burial ground will soon be the site of a high rise office building. They've even displayed one of the gargoyle-looking grave markers in their lobby in a glass case. A blind, toothless, white-eyed old man (Hideyo Amamoto) rolls over to it in his wheelchair, chants something and the receptionists shriek whenever they see him. We then cut to a (great!) little musical number from some dark-wave / goth / punk band performing in a club fronted by female singer Aya (Syoko), who looks like the Japanese version of Siouxsie Sioux. A drunk, dull man named Satoshi (Masao Kusakari) passes out at his table watching them and has a nightmare involving a rolling ball, the grave marker and the (now red-eyed) flute girl, which ends with his getting his throat cut with a sword. He awakens in the club.

Satoshi's late father is the one responsible for the building of the skyscraper, which now houses a tech firm called the Adachi Corporation, who are working on a big project that has something to do with virtual reality / holographic gaming. Though he doesn't own the company, Satoshi still works there managing the game developers. Aya and the rest of her band, including the flamboyant Bug, guitar shredder Hon and the immature and giggly Chibi show up, inform them that they're actually yokai monsters and then leave. An evil guy dressed in a white suit (Masatô Ibu) and his two butch Caucasian female bodyguards show up in a BMW. The man, who we will call White Suit from here on out cause I didn't catch his name, is always seen using a gold-plated electric razor and the first thing he does when he exits the vehicle is kick a little dog across the street. He then smashes a cockroach with his hand and throws it on the receptionists. White Suit is somehow in cahoots with the company president, Shinji (Shôji Nakayama), and demands a meeting the following evening.

Staying late at night to work (i.e. watch some VR porn), one of the developers hears a female crying out in the hallway. He finds the woman, throws her on his back and starts walking. Suddenly, he's in a country house. The girl transforms into a long-necked monster, he's chased through the woods by other monsters and is then back in the lab where he finds Satoshi, whose head splits open to reveal yet another monster. He faints. It turns out to just be a nightmare. I think. They just show the same guy the next day no worse for wear.

Just as the building is being locked down for the night, White Suit shows up for his meeting. To kill time, he tries to rape a leggy secretary but she puts up more of a fight than he was expecting so he strangles her, beats her against a wall and then throws her over some railing. After crashing through the ceiling, she lands right on top of the gargoyle statue. Lightning strikes the building. Shinji, who was playing around with an ancient samurai sword rumored to have been made from a magic stone, spits up white foam and becomes possessed. He immediately gets to work slaughtering people, starting with four businessmen. One has the top of his head chopped off, another is impaled, a face is split on two and one guy is even cut in half. White Suit manages to get the sword from Shinji and kills him with it but then transforms into a big demon warrior himself and continues to rampage.

Both the old white-eyed man and the punk band show up again. The latter finally reveal their yokai forms, with Aya being a grim reaper type with a scythe, Hon being a human-sized raccoon (!!), Bug having multiple eyes and arms and Chibi having big anime eyes and a cat face. Unfortunately, none of them are given a whole lot to do other than stand around and occasionally provide some comic relief. During the finale, the geeky male programmer creates a holographic Power Rangers-style female sword fighter in a helmet and silver catsuit to do battle with the demon. And if that fails, they can always sit back and hope a random hungry giantess just stops by. Oh wait.

So this is one of the craziest flicks I've watched in awhile. If the incoherent plot doesn't confuse the shit out of you then the inconsistent tone surely will. Needlessly loaded with various nonsense (holograms, computers, nightmares, possession, friendly monsters, unfriendly monsters, demons, ghosts, music videos, hallucinations, time travel...), this often seems geared toward children or young teens yet has some pretty graphic gore and brutal violence, attempted rape and even a pinch of nudity. The special effects are highly uneven (the design on the demon warrior is at least very good), there's some great music and it's atmospherically photographed with lots of fog, silhouette, shadow and backlighting. Even though I threw in the towel trying to make sense of the plot after awhile there's still a lot to enjoy here.

I was going to rate this two stars but the English subtitles were so bloody awful that I felt I needed to give this the benefit of the doubt and a slightly higher score. After all, it's not this movie's fault that trying to auto-translate the Japanese frequently gave me sentences like...

As a result, I may have some of the character names and a few minor plot points wrong here but I'll correct these if needed if I can get a proper English translation. The cast also includes Noboru Mitani as a security guard and manga writer Kazuo Umeza. I think the guy playing Hon was a member of the Japanese rock band Bakufu Slump. There were VHS, laserdisc and DVD releases in Japan and a Thai VCD release under the title Grost of Building (!?) I've seen an English subtitled DVD-R being sold on the grey market but can't vouch for its quality. Or lack thereof.

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