Sunday, September 25, 2016
Black Lightning: Kamen Rider Black episodes 37 - 40 + Movie 2
37 - A stab at getting a little more grounded and personal; Katsumi and the others are in Yubari for a friend's wedding, when Shadow Moon coldly uses Katsumi by manipulating her into capturing the newlywed friend (a teacher), all to give Koutarou a taste of what it's like to see the fall of a loved one (as if he hasn't with Nobuhiko), to see the loved one cause misery, and to be powerless to stop them. It's interesting to think that maybe Shadow Moon chose Katsumi in hopes that she'd be harmed or killed, maybe that he's aware there's feelings for her deep within him, and he needs to be rid of them, but the show doesn't make that clear.
Katsumi actress Ayumi Taguchi is good at playing bad, though. Makes you wonder what it would have been like if Katsumi had long ago decided to join Golgom for Nobuhiko's sake and become a new villainess for the show. I also think she might be wearing Yellow Mask's shirt from Maskman in this episode.
Something that always sticks out for me about this episode: Pink Flash actress Mayumi Yoshida pops up for one scene as an acquaintance at the wedding. Why is it Pink Flash? Why get somebody toku fans are going to recognize for an absolute nothing role? Why couldn't she have played the friend getting married? It's weird and distracting.
38 - Another welcome stab at being grounded, right down to bringing back Golgom's politician Sakata, who (believe it or not) was last seen in episode 8. I loved when the show used Kuromatsu, Sakata and Oomiya regularly, giving the show that realistic vibe of Golgom's influence. I always figured they would keep adding characters like them throughout the series, more and more officials who follow Golgom, but they instead sweep those three guys away pretty quickly. Oomiya only gets a photo cameo here! Still, it's nice to bring them back into the mix, and try to recall those early episodes.
Here Sakata creates an organization (the EP Party) for the sake of world peace and charity. It's all obvious bullshit, but people eat it up, anyway, and it quickly finds success. (Oomiya backs the organization in a press release via an assistant.) The key to winning over people in this episode is the opening of a care facility that has a machine that is said to speed up the body's healing ability to the point where it can quickly heal severe injuries and even cure disease. Really, the machine was stolen, and is an abandoned idea, the inventor finding out that the machine looks like it works, but it really ultimately ends up KILLING people rather than helping them. But that works for Golgom, they don't want the sickly in their new world. So, the promise of curing people, only to really be killing them, is damned awful. It's really surprising that this is a Baraom plot, because it's a nefarious one.
It's weird, though, that Baraom disguises himself as a human in this episode and he's not played by JAC suit actor Toshimichi Takahashi, as he should and usually would have been. It's not like Takahashi hasn't had a bunch of face roles, so it's weird that it's not him. (It's instead Kenjuu Hayashi, who played Megiddo in Dynaman.)
MOVIE 2 - This was the first time I've watched this movie. I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one, but it's OK. It's interesting that it ties into the series a little more than toku movies at the time tended to do; Shadow Moon's here, talking of his plans to build the Golgom empire, and choosing to do so in the city of Yubari. (So, we know what episode they were filming at the time of this movie -- 37.)
From there, the plot becomes real '70s Rider-y, in that it's about an escaped scientist and Koutarou coming to the rescue of the scientist and his family. ('70s Rider LOVED random scientists needing saved. And hikers. But especially: scientists' kids and hikers' siblings.) In a really bizarre and random turn of things, Golgom is having this scientist (played by Flashman's Tokimura, aka Shin's dad in Shin Kamen Rider) BUILD THEM A GIANT ROBOT! What the fuck?!? That's so un-Golgom like. They want a giant robot to guard this big old Golgom Mansion Shadow Moon plans to build, and it just doesn't fit...
And the robot's design makes it even worse. Is it something cool, like a big gargoyle or dragon or something? No, it looks like a giant Johnny Five from Short Circuit. Can you imagine Shadow Moon piloting this thing? I guess they WOULD be successful in defeating Black, because he'd die from laughter if he saw that thing coming his way. But there's a reason the robot looks the way it does...
The first movie had the Ishinomori cameo, this one has an extended cameo for the real life (then) mayor of the city of Yubari, Tetsuji Nakada. Nakada made a brief appearance in episode 37, spamming some of his city's virtues, but he's more involved here. As for that goofy robot, it's actually something real called the U-BAROT, which was an attraction unique to the city of Yubari and the Robotic Science Center of its History Village tourist spot. So, this whole movie is a travel brochure for Yubari, which is strange, but...they really wanted to be put on the map, dammit!
The best part of this movie, without question, is the fight scene between Black and Shadow Moon. The show's making you wait for it, but if you got your ass to the theater for Toei's Manga Matsuri, you got to have a little taste. Kids probably had bragging rights over those who didn't get to see the movie; be there or be square, man.
39 - I could never tell if this episode is meant to be taken completely seriously or if it's seriocomic. It seems like a goofy idea, especially for this show, but it's also presented to be a serious threat, so...
Whatever, I think it's a fun episode. It might not fit Black or even what my idea of Black is or should be, but it's fun. Call me crazy, but I think if you're an evil organization out to conquer mankind and ruin civilization, there's worse ways to go about it that manufacture a pop star who has subliminal signals in their videos. Jesus, look at the state of music now! People are buying into pop acts hook, line and sinker. A sinister Golgom plot being behind Adele and Taylor Swift is the only explanation I can think of for their popularity, how about you?
This episode COULD have been played completely straight. The villains backing a pop star who relies on a mysterious image -- she never attends events or performs live, adding to her mystique -- to add incentive for her subliminal-message-packed videos to create a frenzy in their demand...that could all be done seriously and cool and creepy, with some serious real life commentary! (The episode does try some commentary, I think, by insinuating that otaku types who lock themselves up and worship an idol are under that idol's evil influence, that it's beyond their control.) But the way it's presented, with Japan's love for mid-teen idols who can barely sing or dance and have such a manufactured, scripted persona, that all plays as just kind of goofy. (I hate Japan's teen idol scene.) Especially when someone like Koutarou loses his shit over her, and that's even BEFORE he's hit with the subliminal signal.
My favorite part of this episode is the way Kyoko and Battle Hopper step up when Koutarou's out of it. Kyoko's the first one to realize that the hit song Mogrog is Gorgom (Golgom) backwards, The Shining style. With the way Koutarou's so eager to blame everything on Golgom, you'd think he would have noticed that immediately. ("The weatherman said it was supposed to be 75 degrees today, not 74 -- this is Golgom's doing!" -- Koutarou's standard line of thinking. Poor paranoid bastard.)
Just when Koutarou's embarrassed himself enough, Battle Hopper is shown reacting back at Koutarou's garage/base, and dashes out after him. First, he stops to pick up Kyoko. Battle Hopper is awesome, and like this show's second Rider. I keep calling Battle Hopper "he," but...what's Battle Hopper's actual gender? Maybe Battle Hopper is female. Battle Hopper gets killed in the finale, which is the tradition of female Riders, so I guess Battle Hopper could be a lady.
The pop singer is Yuko Ooi, which is the name of the actress playing her, who was also a pop singer. So I guess she's playing "herself" in the same way that, say, Matt LeBlanc plays "himself" in Episodes. Googling her, it seems like she's a one-hit wonder, and a lot of the top results are about this Black episode. Still, gotta hand it to her for being an idol just starting out and playing a evil version of herself, a monster disguising itself as a pop star.
40 - A pretty unnecessary episode, especially this late in the game, but it's one that I like for guest star Masashi Ishibashi, in one of his rare good guy performances in a toku. There's barely a story in this one, it's just Koutarou chasing a monster into hiding within the mountains, where Koutarou comes across Ishibashi's kindly old hermit and his kid pupil.
The kid is under the impression that Ishibashi's character is a karate master, but Ishibashi's character is really just a fraud. He's not coming from a place of malice, he's really just an easily frightened guy, somebody who never stood out much and whose biggest failure in life was failing to save his grandson from a dire situation. The kid pupil believes in him, though, and gives the guy encouragement he needs. Koutarou's afraid these two are in danger, so he just hangs around until he's through with the monster and onto the next episode's adventure.
Ishibashi's character is just kind of pitiful, initially afraid that the obviously more capable Koutarou's come to unmask him as a fraud. Wouldn't you know the monster shows up and attacks the kid, and when the old man freezes in terror, the kid finally realizes he's dishonest and turns on him. Ishibashi's character finally finds courage to take on the monster so the kid can run to safety, putting his life on the line, and once again ends up as a hero in the kid's eyes. Ishibashi's just likable, and as a real-life karate-ka, he probably had a chuckle over playing a guy who was a fake and knew nothin'.
All in all, this is one of those kid-friendly, lesson-learnin' episodes. Hokey, but not offensive.