Saturday, April 18, 2009

106) Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)

106) Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968) Dir: Hajime Sato Date Released: 1979 Date Seen: April 18th, 2009 Rating: 3/5

There's something incredibly obtuse and yet tantalizingly definite about the semiotic mysteries in director Hajime Sato's Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968). While it's tempting to dismiss it as a braindead B-film that dabbles with current events but doesn't make much of them, the film's message is only bewildering, not unfathomable. While psychiatry is represented in the film by the spacey and cruelly cool Dr. Momotake (Kazuo Kato), its presence in the film is instrumental, especially considering how much of the film demands to be put on the couch--I dare anyone to watch this film and tell me that there's either no reason or no good reason for the film to be called "Koge," or "The Widow." Just as Momotake reveals truths to the film's panicked protagonists, so too will the most superficial analysis of the images on display show that there's a lot of murky ideas brewing underneath the Body Snatcher's troubled surface .

And what a surface it is. The first thing we see in Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is the blood-red sky that the soon-to-be doomed crew and passengers of a commercial flight are about to careen out of. The clouds are an impressionist's dream, as is the interior of the Bava-esque UFO that causes the Japanese plane to crash into the desert. They shelter an alien presence whose hostility is never explained outside of its malicious desire to destroy all human life. All we have to go on for substantive information regarding its motives are its looks, making the scene when it inexplicably lures one of the passengers, a would-be sniper (Hideo Ko, looking like a deflated Jo Shishido), inside its ship admirably unsettling.

Appearances however are deceptive in the film, considering that the characters' are denouncing their own Vietnam-inspired panic and the presence of a space vampire even when its space-craft is right around the corner from their plane. They're in denial because they almost know what's going on but they don't want to face it. The reality is that the space invaders have chosen this moment to strike because the world according to Goke is overwhelmed by a pandemic of senseless violence propagated by the American-led war. In fact, the first sign of violence in the film is a newspaper article read by Tokuyasu (?)*, about the assassination of an ambassador that sought to make peace in Southeast Asia. Tokuyasu, a sleazy, social-climbing weapons manufacturer, scoffs that the assassination as a trends looks to have moved from America to Japan. This makes the inexplicable violence behind JFK and King's murders a plague spread by the existential fear of sameness that grips the rest of the crew. All this in a film about space vampires.

The film's American representative, who incidentally is probably the film's titular widow,** is however also a victim of that no longer uniquely American violence. Her husband's was killed by friendly fire, making his death bitterly ironic as it wasn't even the "others" he was fighting that got him but a fellow American. By renouncing her claim to that violence, she becomes just another victim to the alien threat. She's not a suitable mouthpiece for them unlike Noriko (Yuko Kusunoki), Tokuyasu's formerly apathetic wife. In the film's convoluted but quasi-coherent logic, her gender difference and association with the war profiteer make her a perfect living sandwich board to announce the impending apocalypse on.

This is where things really go off-the-rails. Because, according to this film, arbitrary divisions are the psychological root to the outbreak of violence that Vietnam started, logically(?!), the best predator to finally snuff out what life remains on our planet is (wait for it) a hermaphrodite space vampire. The sniper, formally unable or perhaps unwilling to admit to his culpability in the assassination of the messianic ambassador, is invaded by an alien presence that leaves a bloody vaginal scar right between its host’s eyes. I shit you not, that scar serves as a reminder that the sniper is now both himself and “other,” a transsexual figure that, it has to be noted, we see suck the blood out of mostly male victims for longer periods of time than the one or two females he pounces on.

More so than the film’s bleak Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) type ending, his gender transgression looks to be the truly final sign that we have seen the enemy and he is us. Whether or not that works as a metaphor is open for debate but I swear, just like how Momotake swears that he did not make a crew member say anything under hypnosis that wasn’t the absolute truth, all of this is in the film just waiting to be picked over by both the generically curious and the psychically troubled alike. 

*He's not listed on IMDB. Help here would be appreciated.

**"Goke"="widow" in English.

Note: Speaking of Bava, the chintzy make-up effects at the end remind me of something from Lifeforce (1985) by way of Planet of the Vampires (1965). Strange mix for a strange film, I guess.

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