WTFW: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

WTFW: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

If you look up to the slugline under the logo on this site you will see the phrase, “Saying Great Things About Terrible Movies”.  Night after night I have found the silver lining in films no matter how low budget, schlocky, badly acted or just plan incomprehensible.  I have watched some films from foreign lands without the benefit of dubbing, subtitles or even a passing knowledge of the existence of the language the actors are speaking.  I have watched films that are dependent upon knowing mythologies and legends that are so far removed from my Western world upbringing they don’t make any sense to me.  Through the benefit of YouTube and Freemake Video  Downloader I have tortured my family with films no person even remembers.  My wife picked the movie on the schedule tonight and the whole brood here at MMTV gathered around the home theater to watch, and watch we did for the entire painful 92 minutes, it took fours hours total with all the pausing and laughing but a good time was had by all.  I have never seen anything as schlocky, poorly made or confusing as tonight’s film.  A new low standard has been set, for this is the worst enjoyable movie I have ever seen.  To fully understand how bad this movie is we need to talk about the studio that made this abomination first, so here it is.

Toei Company, Ltd. is a Japanese film, television production, and distribution corporation.  Based in Tokyo, Toei owns and operates thirty-four movie theaters across Japan, studios at Tokyo and Kyoto; and is a shareholder in several television companies.  It is notable for anime, live action dramas known as tokusatsu which use special visual effects, and historical dramas.

Toei was a pioneer in the use of character transformation in live-action martial-arts dramas, a technique developed for the Kamen Rider, Devilman and Super Sentai series; the genre currently continues with Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.  Super Sentai most known as the source of the footage used for most of The Power Rangers fight sequences.  Toei is also responsible for the legendary odd live-action Japanese Spider-man series.

Toei Animation produced the anime versions of works by many legendary manga artists, including Go Nagai, Eiichiro Oda, Shotaro Ishinomori, Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, Takehiko Inoue, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Masami Kurumada, Akira Toriyama, Leiji Matsumoto and Naoko Takeuchi.  In addition, the studio helped propel the popularity of the magical girl and Super Robot genres of anime; among Toei's most legendary and trend-setting TV series include the first magical-girl anime series, Mahoutsukai Sally the anime adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's manga of the same name, and Go Nagai's Mazinger Z, animated adaptation of his manga, which set the standard for Super Robot anime for years to come.

Notable animation work from Toei includes Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Volton, Dragonball Z, Transformers, Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon, and not to mention most of the after school and Saturday morning cartoons from the 80s and 90s that weren’t made by Filmation Studios.  If it had a vaguely anime look it was probably Toei.

The pedigree of Toei Studios is beyond reproach, some of it campy and weird but still important to the entertainment world.  Which is why this film is so much more painful to watch.

Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (1977)

  • Original Title: Kyôryû kaichô no densetsu
  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Junji Kurata
  • Produced:
    • Keiichi Hashimoto 
    • Sandy Frank
  • Written:
    • Masaru Igami 
    • Isao Matsumoto 
    • Ichirô Ôtsu
  • Starring: Tsunehiko Watase, Nobiko Sawa, Shôtarô Hayashi, Tomoko Kiyoshima, Fuyukichi Maki, David Freedman, Maureen Peacock, Catherine Laub, Hiroshi Nawa, Ginji Nakamura, Masataka Iwao, Gorô Ôki, Yûsuke Tsukasa, Yukio Miyagi, Akira Moroguchi
  • Music: Masao Yagi
  • Cinematography: Shigeru Akatsuka
  • Editing: Isamu Ichida
  • Studio: Toei Company
  • Distributed:
    • Toei Company  
    • Celebrity Video Presentations  
    • Media Blasters  
    • Retrofilm
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 29 April 1977 (Japan)
  • Running Time: 92 minutes
  • Country: Japan
  • Language: Japanese

The year is 1977.  A young woman wanders barefoot in the lush Aokigahara, also known as the Sea of Trees region of Mt. Fuji, and suddenly falls into an underground cavern.  When she comes to her senses, she discovers that she is in an icy cave full of large eggs.  To her horror, one of the eggs begins hatching, revealing a large yellow eye within.  She goes into hysterics, runs for her life, and is eventually discovered by a construction crew.  Though she goes into a coma, the girl apparently managed to babble about what she saw to a reporter.

Her story airs on a televised news report that is seen by Takashi Ashizawa, an employee of the Universal Stone Company.  Upon hearing of the report of a fossilized egg, Takashi skips his plane trip to Mexico and heads to his office.  He packs his gear, leaves his boss in the lurch, and heads off to Mt. Fuji to get a look-see at the fossilized dinosaur egg.  When he arrives at the small village bordering Fuji's Saiko Lake, Takashi immediately heads into the heavily forested Jukai.  A sudden earthquake appears and is knocked out.  He later awakens in his father's old cabin near Saiko Lake, and discovers that he was rescued by Shohei Muku, an old friend of the family.

As the two converse, it is revealed that Takashi is intent on discovering, and making a profit from, any and all fossils he finds.  Shohei is not keen on the idea and refuses to help Takashi seek out the stack of fossil eggs.  Takashi decides to get back to fossil-hunting and heads toward the Jukai once again.  As he's cruising through the nearby village, he sees Akiko and Junko, and slams on his brakes.  Moments later, he's having a tender moment with Akiko in her Winnebago and it seems like Mr. Ashizawa is about to get a little action.  The mood is quickly ruined however, by a randomly placed box full of slimy eels, at least I think they were eels.  There was a reference to the giant lizards of Japan’s past (50,000 years was stated but that must be a translation problem, they did also make reference to modern humans evolving millions of years ago and that would make Flintstones a documentary) being destroyed by giant worms and they do kind of look like big centipedes.

Other bizarre things start happening around the Saiko Lake community.  A young couple in a paddle boat disappear without a trace, an injured diver is pulled from the lake, and livestock begin to mysteriously vanish. Takashi begins developing a theory that perhaps a dinosaur is alive and well in Saiko lake.  His theory gains a little more momentum after he rescues Junko on a foggy afternoon.  While chasing her dog Kuma down a dirt road, ends up falling in a large puddle of blood with a headless horse-corpse lying nearby.

She begins to scream for help, Takashi just happened to be in the neighborhood.  He brings Junko back to Akiko's RV, and waits with the two girls until nightfall.  Eventually two local schmucks happen by and tell the confused trio that they must have imagined the headless horse.  Takashi is baffled by this and decides to go see for himself.  He finds the exact spot and begins probing around with a flashlight.  Takashi doesn't see the horse anywhere, but he does discover some strange tracks in the mud and photographs them.  His photo shoot is instantly interrupted after some blood drips onto the back of his neck.  He quickly points his flashlight up and is shocked to see that the headless horse's remains are lodged in the branches above.

The following day, Takashi sits in his father's cabin and develops a possible theory as to what type of creature could bite off a horse's head, and then place the equine's remains in a tree for safe-keeping.  He decides that the creature must be a living Plesiosaurus and shares his minimal proof and hypothesis with a very skeptical Shohei. In the meantime, the annual Dragon Festival is being held at Saiko Lake with the highlight being a country folk band performing on a floating stage.  As the band strikes up a cheerful tune, the crowd begins clapping along. Everyone enjoys the occasion until a large, dark-colored ominous object is spotted in the water and the attendees flee in terror..

The object rams the stage, causing it to break apart, and several band members tumble into the water.  The confusion gets the attention of Takashi and Shohei, so they hightail it to the Dragon Festival to see what all the hoopla is about.  Its right at this time that Jiro and his friends make their move.  Jiro hops into a boat and points to the center of the lake, exclaiming that a monster is heading towards shore.  Everyone begins to panic and rush back to dry land, except for Akiko and Junko.  They hop into a small boat and begin photographing the lopsided fin that is slowly moving through the water.  Using her zoom lens, Akiko discovers that two men are pushing the fin through the water.

Once the crowd realizes that the fin is just a lousy stunt, they all get back into clapping mode.  Seeing that his prank has failed, Jiro rushes off to meet his two pals, Susumu and Hiroshi.  He arrives at the rendezvous spot in time to see his two buddies swimming to shore with the fake fin.  They take a short break, ditch the fake fin, then hop into a small raft and paddle towards Jiro.  Susumu and Hiroshi make it about halfway before they are stopped when a large tail rises out of the water and knocks them out of the raft, and both men are pulled underwater.  A horrified Jiro watches, from the relative safety of dry land, as the true monster rises its head from the bloodied water with one of his companions sticking out of its jaws.

Jiro rushes into town, charges into the mayor's office, and begins rambling about what he just saw.  Everyone thinks he is making it up and they all try to ignore him and/or chase him off.  Luckily for Jiro, a foreign news correspondent named Harold Tucker shows up.  Mr. Tucker has photographed the monster in Saiko Lake, and assures the mayor that "Nessie is in Lake Sai!  This is super big news!"

Elsewhere in the Saiko Lake area, the Plesiosaur heads to a summer camp.  The creature peeks in on a woman getting dressed, then smashes its face through the roof to snack on her.  Then the Plesiosaurus manages to get back into the lake, in time to feast upon Junko.  As the Plesiosaur actually seems to be toying with its victim.  It plucks her off her raft and dangles her over the water before releasing her.  After Junko plummets into the lake, she tries to swim to safety, but she soon finds that there is no escape from her prehistoric attacker.

Akiko comes back up on the raft but she is at first perplexed as to why Junko is missing, but she soon has a good laugh when she sees a hand grasping for aid at the far end of the raft.  Thinking that Junko merely fell in, Akiko grabs her friend's hand, and with a great heave, slings the Junko's upper torso into the rubber craft.  Junko's death finally gets the ball rolling, and soon a local chapter of the JSDF is combing Saiko Lake with the latest sonar and radar technology.  The search continues for three days, and surprisingly, no dinosaur is discovered.  The search is called off, and a conference is held.

It is at this conference, we also learn that Takashi's father, Bunkichi, had a theory that if dinosaurs were ever to walk the earth again, that would mean a cataclysmic event was about to occur.  To prove this point, a scientist that monitors earthquakes in the region claims that something very big is on the horizon: the eruption of Mt. Fuji!  The following day, Takashi decides to go looking for the Plesiosaur.  To make sure Akiko doesn't follow, he attempts to empty the air out of her scuba tanks.

When Akiko tries to stop Takashi, he slaps her around a bit, then makes a strange confession.  He is not seeking out the dinosaur for money, or to finally prove his father's crazy theories, but to see it and "burn the memory into his mind forever."  Apparently this is a good enough reason to risk his life, so Akiko sees Takashi off on his scuba run with no further complaints.  But wouldn't you know it, the local officials have decided to drop depth charges into the lake to see if they can scare the lake's unwelcome denizen up to the surface.  Akiko rushes back to her RV and puts on her scuba gear, then heads back to the lake in time to save her shell shocked lover.  But instead of heading back to the safety of shore, the adventurous duo continue the search for the Plesiosaurus.

They eventually discover an underwater cavern and decide to venture inside after a disembodied head floats by. Takashi and Akiko swim on through and find that the cave leads to the egg chamber from the beginning of the film. While this would seem like the find of a lifetime, Takashi's excitement is marred by the discovery of Shohei Muku's mutilated remains.  And how did Shohei meet such a messy end?  Well an unnamed gentleman with a random theory that a Rhamphorhynchus could also come out of suspended animation, hired Shohei as a guide.  They ventured into the cave, and were quickly mauled by a gigantic claw that burst out of an egg.

The winged terror descends from the skies above Saiko Lake and dive-bombs civil defense soldiers and helpless civilians that are crowded around a large stockpile of depth charges.  The Rhamphorhynchus causes a bit of collateral damage before being shot at by the panic-stricken soldiers below.  The assault on the scurrying humans ends after one unlucky soldier fires his weapon into a depth charge.  The resulting explosion causes a chain reaction and everyone around the explosive barrels is reduced to ash. 

The Rhamphorhynchus flies off in search for more prey.  Elsewhere on Mt. Fuji, Takashi and Akiko have exited the accursed ice cavern and run into the Plesiosaur.  They retreat back into the cave and put a row of stalactites between themselves and the drooling maw of the Plesiosaurus.  All seems lost until a strange sound outside of the cave distracts the hungry Plesiosaur.  As the long-necked beast pulls its head out of the cave entrance, Akiko and Takashi attempt to escape, only to find themselves trapped between two warring monsters.  Just then, Mt Fuji begins to erupt.  As the Monsters battle, they are thrown into a chasm where they apparently die.  The movie ends with Takashi reaching out for Akiko's hand while she's hanging on to a tree during the lava flow.

Despite its title, neither of the creatures in this film are actually classified as dinosaurs.  The Plesiosaur is actually classified as a marine reptile, while the rhamphornycus (then-classified as a dinosaur along with other Pterosaurs at the time of the film's production) is classified as a Pterosaur (flying reptile).  At the time of its release, this film itself was the most expensive feature ever produced by Toei.  There is a point early in the film where Takashi stops to ask directions to the “Fuji Windhole” which has created a new family inside joke and entertained me for days.

Even Joel and The Bots would have had a hard time with this one.


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