Saturday, September 17, 2022

Susuk (1989)

... aka: Charm Needles
... aka: Magic Implants
... aka: Susuk (Ilmu Pemikat)

Directed by:
Imam Putra Piliang

Film Indonesia gives the English translation of this title as "Magic Implants" but a far more accurate translation (also one used by most other websites) would be "Charm Needles." According to the National Library of Medicine, susuk are "metallic pins usually made of silver, gold or its alloys, measuring about 5-10 mm in length and 0.5 mm in diameter." The article continues, "It is claimed that susuk makes its wearers more beautiful, keeps them young, improves health, relieves pain and even help them attain an affluent career. A shaman would slowly rub the skin and gently insert the pins while doing some chanting. The procedure is painless with minimal or no bleeding and the pins remain in the soft tissues without causing any visible scarring or altered sensations." Susuk became a topic in various western medical journals when mystified doctors and dentists started spotting these pins in the X-rays of numerous patients who had emigrated from southeast Asia, particularly from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. When questioned about them, many patients refused to reveal what the pins were or what they were doing embedded in their flesh. That's because it's all supposed to be a secret between the recipient and the shaman who inserted them. Revealing any details about them is said to completely eliminate the charm's power.

Sounds like a potentially fascinating foundation for a movie, right? Sure... just not in the hands of this particular director. Instead of utilizing these magical pins in any kind of novel or interesting way, instead we get a tired, cliché-ridden, trashy soap opera about two warring factions of black magic practitioners.

In one corner, we have young businessman Permana (Baron Hermanto); a generally nice young fella happily and faithfully married to the devoutly religious Tania (Yana Achbarie). In the other corner we have actor Johny Indo (didn't catch the character name so we'll just refer to him as "Johny" from here on out), an evil man with appears to have mob connections and also Permana's primary competition at work. Johny is sleeping with the equally devious Nancy (Debbie Cynthia Dewi), who works as Permana's secretary but has aspirations to become a pop star and is first seen "performing" (lip syncing) Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" at a sleazy nightclub. In order to get a leg up on his co-workers, Permana has been going to shaman Ada Tamu (Mashud Pandji Anom) to get the pin treatment. Next thing he knows, he's the most successful (and wealthy) employee at his company.

Johny (who's both jealous and suspicious about Permana's sudden success) and Nancy (who's actually secretly lusting after Permana) go to the same shaman for help. Unlike most of the black magicians in these things, who tend to be dark, mysterious and live in caves or huts littered with human bones, smoldering cauldrons and various talismans and trinkets, this one is a goofball who lives in an apartment with his name on the front door and decorates the walls with posters of half-naked magazine centerfolds. He's also comically horny and gets random boners (accompanied by "funny" sound effects) whenever young females show up looking for help. 

Ada Tamu makes his lady visitors strip, gropes them and slaps them on the behind. When Nancy and Johny show up, he stares at her legs and cleavage the entire time, kicks Johny out of the room and then sticks pins in Nancy's chin and ass after making her strip down to her underwear and bend over. To increase her seductive powers, Nancy returns to Ada Tamu a second time and he makes her lie on her back spread eagle as he sticks pins directly into her vag. The process works and she's successfully able to seduce Permana and make him fall in love with her. She then starts fleecing him of his money.

Tania finds out she's pregnant, but the fact her once-loving husband is now starting to come back from work late every night, refuses to talk to her, refuses to have sex with her and is spending all of this time with his secretary makes it a little difficult for her to celebrate. While she goes to her trusted friend (Tien Kadaryono) for advice, Permana and his girl Friday are love montaging it up at a lake, a water park, a pool and the nightclub, where Nancy treats us to a "performance" of Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" while unsuccessfully trying to hide her closed mouth with the microphone. As he falls deeper into the spell, Permana then starts becoming verbally and physically abusive toward Tania and threatens to leave her. The confused housewife eventually turns to a cleric for help.

There's some kung fu fighting, a car chase, lizard eating, puking, a brief possession, an even-briefer wizard battle and a zombie (just a man with a bloody face), but nothing really seems to perk up this slow-moving, talky and uninteresting film. It's poorly acted, written and directed and so low budget they couldn't even afford any special effects or gore. The primary focus is more on the "sexy" soft-core elements, but they're too awkward and reserved to achieve the desired effect. The 78-minute VCD version I viewed strangely seems to have removed most of the nudity, but not all of it. Most of the time Dewi (who is best known for playing the younger Leák Queen in Mystics in Bali) goes to remove her bra, the film suddenly cuts away. However, in other scenes she's seen getting out of bed naked and is topless during a sex scene, so why they bothered cutting the rest of it out is anyone's guess.

The director also made the genre films Perjanjian Setan / "Contract with Satan" (1983) and Akibat Guna-guna Istri Muda / "A Young Wife's Witchcraft" (1988). Neither of those, nor this one, were ever released outside of Indonesia to my knowledge.


Gojira no gyakushû (1955)

... aka: ゴジラの逆襲
... aka: El rey de los monstruos (The Return of the Monsters)
... aka: Gigantis, the Fire Monster
... aka: Godzilla kehrt zurück (Godzilla Returns)
... aka: Godzilla Raids Again
... aka: Godzilla's Counterattack
... aka: Il re dei mostri (The King of Monsters)
... aka: Le Retour de Godzilla (The Return of Godzilla)

Directed by:
Motoyoshi Oda

Supposedly, this first GODZILLA (1954) sequel was given the green light after the original had only spent two weeks in theaters. That's how much money it was making and how quickly it was making it. Deciding to strike while the getting was still good, this was proposed, planned, filmed and went through post production in a matter of just months and was already in theaters less than six months after the original debuted! A quick cash grab, you say? That would be correct and, sadly, it shows. Due to the rushed schedule, Ishirô Honda was replaced as director, not because the studio didn't want him but because he was already busy making another film. Oda was then brought in due to his experience in special effects driven films, while Eiji Tsuburaya was again put in charge of the effects. The young leads from the original have been replaced, though Takashi Shimura (best known for his roles in Akira Kurosawa classics like Seven Samurai and Ikiru) was brought back to reprise the role of the paleontology professor in just one scene. In the canon of Godzilla films, this is mostly important for setting up the monster vs. monster premise that would be used in most of the later entries.

Fishery pilots Shoichi Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi) and Kôji Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki) are flying around the ocean scouting for bonito when Kôji's engine dies. He's able to make a successful crash landing near uninhabited Iwato Island. Shoichi swings in to rescue him and the two men witness a fight between Godzilla and a second giant ("150 to 200 feet high") prehistoric monster called Anguirus, who's part of the ankylosaurus (quadrupedal dinosaur with an armored, spiked back) family. That fight ends with both beasts disappearing after tumbling into the ocean. If you recall, Godzilla was liquefied and dissolved with the "Oxygen Destroyer" contraption in Tokyo Bay at the end of the first film. However, as Dr. Serizawa did not want his invention to fall into the wrong hands, he agreed to use it just one time to kill Godzilla. Kind of sad to think he sacrificed both his life and his life's work for the sake of mankind only for a second creature of the same species to emerge soon after!

I suppose since Tokyo has already been through enough, this relocates things to Osaka and lets them get stomped on for a bit instead. After the new Godzilla and Anguirus sightings, an emergency meeting of the Godzilla Task Force is organized. Seeing how he'd experienced the Tokyo attack first hand, Prof. Kyohei Yamane (Shimura) is flown in to help. After showing the board destructo footage from the first film, he then lets them know that Dr. Serizawa burned all of his notes before he died and thus they'll have to start from scratch coming up with another way to stop the creatures.

Here we learn that Godzilla is light sensitive and bright light sends him into a destructive rage because it reminds him of when he was repeatedly subjected to the underwater H bomb tests. Because of this, when there are nearby sightings of the monster, citywide blackouts are ordered, with plans to lure Godzilla back out to sea with the use of flares shot from jets. The plan seems to actually work as Godzilla makes a 180 and starts heading back out to sea. However, some criminals in a transport van manage to kill a few cops, escape, get into a high speed car chase and then crash into the cities electrical plant, which causes a series of massive explosions. And that means fire and that means light and that means Godzilla's about to make a u turn and head back to town.

As soon as Godzilla arrives in the city, Anguirus shows up and the two engage in a lengthy battle, destroying about half of the city in the process. That ends with Godzilla going for the jugular and then whipping out the ole atomic breath trick to fire roast its rival, before returning to the sea. Now I do have to give this film some credit. Usually films utilizing the monster vs. monster format make us wait until the very end for the showdown, while this puts the fights at the very beginning and middle.

Because the fishing cannery is destroyed in the attack, owner Koehi Yamaji (Yukio Kasama) sends pilot Kobayashi away to work at another branch affiliate in Hokkaido, while he, his daughter Hidemi (Setsuko Wakayama), Tsukioka and the other employees work at rebuilding what they've lost in Osaka. Once that's finished, Tsukioka and Hidemi head over to Hokkaido to join their friend. Tsukioka hooks up with some old college / military friends he hasn't seen since the war and it isn't long before Godzilla sightings are being reported there. Seeing how the military are already there, they try to devise a plan to bury the monster alive by triggering an avalanche.

This film is filled with nice, normal, everyday, working class people, but in stripping all of the human conflict and moral catch 22's that fueled the first film, the characters come off as bland and one-dimensional and this completely loses the dramatic and emotional weight of the first. In that same regard, eliminating most of the pointed WWII / Nagasaki / nuclear war allusions results in a far less conceptually interesting film.

I do kind of see what they were going for here though. The original was criticized by Japanese critics for being too dark, downbeat and gloomy. It was a film of unease and uncertainty on numerous levels. I suppose the next logical step was to depict the recovery process and a move forward. The characters are generally optimistic, love their country, band together to rebuild communities and are protected by a courageous gung hu military willing to die to destroy the enemy. While rallying the audience troops may be a more crowd pleasing approach, it's also far less substantive and intriguing, and downgrades this to straightforward monster movie that devolves into a three act piece with uninteresting dialogue filler used as glue to string together the monster stuff. All rather forgettable on the whole.

The film also shows the usual telltale signs of something conceived and spit out too quickly and with far too little planning. There are recycled clips from the original and many instances of time padding, including a musical number and lots of pointless, underdeveloped characters gumming up the works. Even the leads this time out come off like cardboard.

Here in the U. S., plans were made to shoot new footage around the Japanese special effects scenes as had been done with Raymond Burr for the Godzilla: King of the Monsters! version of the original. A script was written, it was given the new title The Volcano Monster and the monster suits were flown all the way over from Japan, but then the producers backed out. Instead, they added a different (recycled) music score, spliced in some stock footage, re-edited the film and had the whole thing dubbed, with Paul Frees, Keye Luke and a young George Takei among the voice over artists and narration from Marvin Miller. The title was changed yet again to Gigantis, the Fire Monster and it was released on a double bill with TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE by Warner Brothers in 1959.

For many years, the only version that was available to English speakers was the Gigantis butcher job (released under the Godzilla Raids Again title by Video Treasures in 1989). That was until 2019, when the original Japanese cut with English subtitles was included in the fifteen film Criterion Collection set Godzilla, the Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975.

Unrelated side note: My sincerest apologies for my absence. I truly hate when that happens but I got derailed by a death in the family and then having to travel out of state and then catching a nasty case of COVID and then, because we had a virtual revolving door of infections where I work, getting slammed having to fill in for others who were out sick. And some other stuff on top of that! I've just not had the time or energy to watch too many movies these past few months but I'll be working my way back into my usual groove over the next few weeks. While I do have two other trips planned (next weekend and another around Thanksgiving), barring any unforeseen new things popping up, I should be able to dedicate a nice chunk of time to reviewing for the rest of the year.

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