Friday, March 31, 2017

Beyond Godzilla: The Secret of the Telegian

Like David Hedison in The Fly, a Japanese scientist has developed a teleportation device with tragic results. In this case, the invention works perfectly, it has just been used for evil purposes by a killer with a few scores to settle. Human nature combined with Promethean science inevitably produces mayhem in Jun Fukuda’s The Secret of the Telegian (trailer here), which screens during the Japan Society’s ongoing film series, Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema.

It is a case of bad karma dating back to WWII. In the chaotic days leading up to the Emperor’s surrender, Lt. Onishi and his corrupt unit intended to hijack a shipment of gold to set themselves up with a comfortable future. However, Corporal Sudo and Dr. Nikki, the scientist they are supposed to be escorting to safety, object to such villainy (Dr. Nikki’s area of expertise? Matter transference.). Onishi and his accomplices believed they had left Tsudo and Nikki for dead, but apparently, they were not dead enough.

Fourteen years later, Sudo starts picking off Onishi and his men, one by one. No matter what precautions they take, he always manages to reach his prey and avoid capture. It baffles the cops, led by the no-nonsense Det. Kobayashi, but his old college buddy, science journalist Kirioka is much better prepared to pursue a killer like “The Telegian.” He also develops a romantic interest in Akiko Chujo, the unfortunate high tech component sales associate handling Sudo’s account (set-up under an assumed name).

In many ways, Telegian is a close cousin of The H-Man. Both were produced by the same studio, featured special effects designed by Eiji Tsuburaya, and combined elements of the hardboiled crime genre with science fiction-monster movies. However, Telegian is much less judgmental regarding the inherit nature of scientific discovery. On the other hand, it unambiguously suggests human nature is basically rotten to the core.

Happily, Telegian also has its eccentricities, including scenes in a military-themed night club that presents dancers cavorting in Goldfinger­-style body paint. Yet, what most distinguishes Telegian is the WWII backstory and its cynical portrayal of the Imperial military. Frankly, Sudo’s victims mostly have it coming. He just gets a little too cocky in his execution—and a little too public, particularly during the clever opening sequence set in a carnival fun house.

Yumi Shirakawa (another H-Man alumnus) and Kôji Tsuruta develop such likably innocent romantic chemistry together, it is almost a shame Fukuda backburners them in favor of more Telegian terror. Tsuburaya’s teleportation effects look pretty cool for 1960, while the dodgy victims are appropriately colorful, in an EC Comics kind of way.

Look, if you can’t find enjoyment in films like Telegian and H-Man than we just can’t help you. They are products of their time, but they strove to entertain, playing it straight down the middle. In fact, films like these are really indispensable for anyone trying to understand the post-war Japanese collective psyche. Highly recommended, The Secret of the Telegian screens this Saturday (4/1) at the Japan Society, as part of Beyond Godzilla.