Director: Hajime Sato
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Osamu Kobayashi, Wataru Yamagawa, Chako van Leeuwen, Emily Takami, Andrew Hughes, Koji Sekiyama
With many people already calling this year the summer of superheroes, with The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-man, and The Dark Knight Rises all being released with considerable fanfare, I thought I’d take a look at a classic Japanese superhero. Golden Bat was created in 1930 and started as a character in storytelling pictures but quickly evolved into the new mediums of film and even television, with a long running anime series. Missing in recent years, I think Golden Bat is a character that may have a revival sometime soon, considering the amount of classic Japanese works being adapted into TV and film.
When he sees Planet Icarus seems to be moving towards Earth, no one believes amateur astronomer Akira Kazehaya. That is until he is picked up by a group of men in black and whisked away to a secret base and organization, The Pearl Institute, created by the UN to monitor abnormal phenomena around the world. They are aware of Icarus’ flight path and enlist Kazehaya to join their ranks. Quickly falling in, he joins the team on a hunt/rescue mission to find a mineral that can help destroy the approaching Icarus and the previous team who had gone missing while on that same search. Tracing the last team’s steps, they find the mythical island of Atlantis, which has mysteriously risen from beneath the sea, but unfortunately the rescue mission is a bust as they have been killed.
Turns out that the space conqueror Nazo is behind the shifting of Icarus and it is he who had killed the previous team, fearing the new weapon for which the mineral would be used. Sending a team of henchmen down from his airship to make short work of Kazehaya and his new friends, Nazo drives them deep into ruins on the island. The Pearl team search for the mineral and find it in an Egyptian sarcophagus housing a gleaming body with a skeletal face. Finding the mineral, they try to make good their escape but find themselves surrounded when the body in the coffin awakens and fights to defend them. He is Golden Bat, a protector of the world who appears when there is a threat on Earth. With his chilling and booming laugh, Golden Bat and his human allies do battle with Nazo and his colorful group of lieutenants and try to destroy the planet hurtling its way towards the end of the Earth.
The film is a short one, running only 72 minutes, but content is high. The pace moves along at a breakneck speed, with my synopsis above only accounting for about 15 minutes of screen time. The pace helps to suspend belief since before you have a chance to question logic, the actors and story are already a few ideas ahead of you. Coming from 1966, the film utilizes a number of camera tricks for visual effects. From forced perspective, to lighting, and the use of miniatures, the movie is a pretty tight production and visually compelling a watch. Costumes are really odd and at times laughable, but considering the time period of the film, it is more endearing than detracting to the film. Simple musical tones and cues complement the film, but aside from the opening theme, were mostly forgettable.
Acting is hammy and laughable, but it serves its purpose and no one is awful. A nice spot was Andrew Hughes as the eponymous Professor Pearl, also known as ‘that white guy in many Japanese SF films.’ The main draw here to many audiences, is Sonny Chiba. He doesn’t really do any martial arts here aside from jumping and posturing a bit, his action is more in favor of laser pistols and the like. Golden Bat has most of the action in this piece, with him jumping, flying, and swinging his Scepter of Justice around. It’s a pretty physical performance and the image of a shiny suited grinning skull in a cape hitting things with his cane will surely stay with you for many nights. While on the subject of physical performances, I want to give special notice to Emily Takami, who plays Emily, Professor Pearl’s granddaughter; she gets punched, strangled, hypnotized, and strangled again and again. Her character really takes a lot of punishment, something you won’t see in many American productions.
In the end The Golden Bat is goofy and a lot of fun. Clearly made for children and quick diversion, the film introduces a lot of ideas but never dwells on them, it just is what it is. Things are simple for any viewer to understand no matter the age and the film moves at a brisk pace. The film brought me back to a juvenile way of experiencing movies, a nostalgic way which many times my overly adult mentalities and cynicism causes me to have an aversion towards. Though obviously not for everyone, I personally got a great kick out of the film and I wait, with baited breath, for the inevitable return of The Golden Bat.
You may like the film if you enjoyed: Ultraman, Infra-man, Kamen Rider, Batman: The Movie (Adam West) and Sonny Chiba’s beard