Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell: How do you say “fun stuff” in Japanese?

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell directed by Hajime SatoGoke, Body Snatcher From Hell directed by Hajime Sato

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell directed by Hajime SatoOn the first day of August 1968, Toho Studios in Japan released a film that would go on to be embraced by generations of monster-movie lovers around the world. That film was Destroy All Monsters, and was of particular interest to “kaiju-eiga” fans around the world by dint of the fact that it featured no fewer than 11 famous creatures in one mad monster mash-up, including Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. Destroy All Monsters has today been accorded the Criterion DVD treatment, a recognized imprimatur of quality. But less than two weeks later, on August 14th, 1968, another Japanese film would be released that — despite the fact that it is more serious and more artfully produced than the Toho movie — has seemingly sunk into relative obscurity, even though it, too, has recently been given the Criterion AND Janus Film treatments … a double imprimatur of aesthetic quality! That film is Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (or, as it was originally known, Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro, or Vampire Gokemidoro), itself a crazy mash-up of sorts, combining the vampire, alien invasion, and disaster film into one mind-boggling stew. A recent watch of this truly bizarre horror outing has served to impress upon this viewer how remarkable an experience it is.

In the film, a Japan Airlines flight en route to Osaka is beset by multiple problems. The sky surrounding it has become an intense blood red, birds have begun to smash themselves against the windows in suicide panic, and a message from the control tower has alerted them that there just might be a bomb on board their craft! To make matters worse, a whizzing UFO causes the unfortunate plane to crash-land on what appears to be a deserted island, leaving the 10 survivors to their fate. Those survivors include the copilot (played by Teruo Yoshida), the stewardess (Tomomi Sato), a politician up for reelection (Eizo Kitamura), an arms dealer and his wife (Nobuo Kaneko and Yuko Kusunoki), a psychiatrist (Kazuo Kato), an expert on alien biology (Masaya Takahashi), an American war widow (Kathy Horan), the bomber himself (sorry, I never learned his name) and, as if this flight weren’t troubled enough, a hijacker (Hideo Ko).

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell directed by Hajime SatoOnce on the island, the desperate 10 learn soon enough that they are not quite alone, as that UFO has also landed near them! After doing a little exploring, the hijacker is somehow brought aboard this alien craft and encounters its occupant, an iridescent puddle of gooey slime, which cracks the unfortunate hijacker’s forehead wide open, enters inside, and turns him into a blood-seeking vampire! As the rest of the survivors are attacked and drained dry one by one, the alien makes its intentions known, speaking, in one truly creepy scene, from the lips of the arms dealer’s wife: It is one of the Gokemidoro, an alien race that has begun its conquest of planet Earth. And as the number of plane survivors continues to fall, it would seem that the Gokemidoro have already gotten well under way…

Halfway through this Japanese outing, the alien biologist (how fortunate to have had one in this group!) proclaims to his fellows, “I think we’re in for something that will blow our minds,” and boy, is that ever a prescient statement! Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is a film that grows wilder and loopier and crazier as it proceeds, culminating with one truly unexpected and deliciously downbeat ending. The special effects throughout range from occasionally clever to sometimes lame, but they are always trippy and capable of engendering a truly outré atmosphere. The look of the alien spaceship is particularly effective, a glowing, orange hemisphere that looks like a sunny-side up egg with four rotating smaller balls beneath it, and the alien itself resembles nothing less than a multicolored glob of viscous mercury. The film manages to please with throwaway bits of grossness, such as the sight of Goke’s two cat’s-paws having their foreheads split open so that it can crawl inside; the scene in which the arms dealer’s wife utters Goke’s announcement, then falls from a clifftop and turns into a desiccated mummy upon landing; and the manner in which the bodies of those whom Goke inhabits and then leaves turn to crumbling clay afterward.

Unsurprisingly, the characters who turn out to be the least savory are the hijacker (Goke’s first victim), the would-be bomber, the arms dealer, and, particularly, the politician. Indeed, I cannot imagine any viewer NOT bursting into applause when that character gets his near the film’s denouement. The film also tries to throw some social commentary into the mix, telling the viewer that it is the sorry lot of mankind, and our propensity for constant warfare, that make an invasion from the stars so easy and convenient. In an early remark from the politician that could have been written yesterday, and not half a century ago, we are told, “The world’s a mess. International conflicts escalate while terrorism runs rampant around the world…” Director Hajime Sato, cinematographer Shizuo Hirase, and composer Shunsuke Kikuchi all turn in solid work here, I must also add. (And by the way, I know that these Japanese names will mean little to Western viewers, but the fact remains that all these actors and filmmakers have very extensive filmographies to their credits, as a little bit of research will readily reveal.)

Anyway, I don’t want to oversell what is in essence a somewhat silly sci-fi/horror outing, but darn it, this one really DOES rise above the usual ilk by dint of its eerie atmosphere and expressionistic effects. It is surely the more adult film, as compared to Destroy All Monsters. As it turns out, 1968 was a very good year for Japanese sci-fi and horror, especially inasmuch as December of that year would see the release of The Green Slime, another fan favorite that just might be the most fun of the bunch. Of the three, Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell might be the least well known, but hopefully, this Criterion DVD will go far in changing that perception. Does anyone out there know how to say “Fun stuff” in Japanese?


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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