The 12 Day Tale Of The Monster That Died In 8


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The 12 Day Tale Of The Monster That Died In 8
"Putting Covid-19 in a monster movie context is psychologically significant: it gives us the power to imagine its defeat." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

What do you do when you country experiences the devastating consequences of nuclear war? Introduce Godzilla. Japan has always found ways of using art – and monsters – to enable it to cope with existential threats. So when film director Shunji Iwai found himself living in lockdown and faced with the threat of Covid-19, he – together with a small group of artists led by co-writer and special effects designer Shinji Higuchi – decided to mount a fightback. How do you fight a monster like Covid-19? You need a special force of kaiju. Where do they come from? You buy them online – as with anything ese you need – and then hatch and nurture them at home.

As fans of kaiju movies will appreciate, raising them right is very important if they are to become friends and not foes. In this pseudo-documentary, created using home videos and recorded Zoom conversations, our hero – a fictionalised version of Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku star Takumi Saitoh – seeks advice from his friends and watches a popular vlogger (Moeka Hoshi) discuss, and sometimes directly show off, her own little monsters. Naturally, hers grow faster and take more interesting forms than his, and he worries that he’s not getting it right, but with eggs supplied at random there’s no knowing exactly what one will get. Kaiju hobbyists exchange information as if they were talking about trading cards or other collectibles, gradually building up expertise. There’s always the possibility that somebody’s monster could turn hostile, but just like the scientists working on vaccines, they take what precautions they can and strive to do their bit.

Copy picture

The idea of tiny kaiju – ‘capsule monsters’ as they are called – actually predates the pandemic, going all the ways back to 1967 TV series Ultra Seven, which is referenced here directly because every character is, essentially, a nerd. They are also, as gradually becomes clear, inhabiting a world where all that previous fiction is reality. Accept that Japan has a history of dealing with kaiju, alien invaders and ghosts and suddenly Covid-19 is itself cut down to size, understood as just another crisis which, whilst serious, will pass. Japanese culture is particularly adept at this sort of thing, as one can see in the way that films like Weathering With You address climate change. And whilst this may seem trivial, it’s worth noting that science fiction fans around the world were much quicker than most people to understand what a pandemic meant, acquire the right supplies, take the right precautions and adjust to their new circumstances.

Putting Covid-19 in a monster movie context is psychologically significant: it gives us the power to imagine its defeat. Early on in this film it’s noted that capsule monsters have never won a fight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful. They can buy time until bigger, more powerful friendly monsters arrive on the scene – something that will make sense to you by the end of the film even if it doesn’t to begin with.

This film, which screened as part of Fantasia’s 2021 line-up, sets out to remind viewers that none of us is entirely powerless in the face of this monstrous disease – that through our small individual efforts we really can make a difference. Perhaps you too could raise kaiju. Although this is a comedy, and peculiar in its form, it builds towards an unexpected release of emotion as it reconnects with our world. Watching a little monster flying free across the open sky will give you back a sense of hope.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2021
Share this with others on...
The 12 Day Tale Of The Monster That Died In 8 packshot
An actor buys capsule monsters online to defeat Covid-19.

Director: Shunji Iwai

Writer: Shunji Iwai, based on the story by Shinjo Higuchi

Starring: Shinji Higuchi, Moeka Hoshi, Non, Takumi Saitoh, So Takei

Year: 2020

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Japan


Fantasia 2021

Search database: