Starring Daisuke Ryu, Yoshiyuki Kubota, Mika Katsumura, Ayumi Tokitou
Directed by Kanta Tagawa
Back in 1963, a financially struggling Japanese movie studio named Daiei hoped to cash in on the atomic age monster craze with one of their own. While you’d assume they’d be turning their attentions to making a Godzilla knock-off, Daiei really had their sights set on making a schlocky knock-off of such American giant mutant bug movies of the day like Them! and Beginning of the End; their version would have Tokyo under attack by an onslaught of humongous rats. From what I’ve read online, the title of this film was to be Dai Gunja Nezura, which roughly translates to something along the lines of The Great Rat Swarm. Unfortunately, the black & white production experienced an unexpected crisis. The cheapo effects work would have used some puppetry for the human interaction and they even built a few Godzilla-quality cityscapes for certain scenes, but mostly it was going to be footage of live rats running about a scale model Tokyo. Those live rats ended up causing a real life nature gone amok problem as the entire studio where the film was being shot became overrun with fleas. So bad was the flea infestation that the cast and crew had to abandon the sets and Daiei was eventually forced to scrap the project entirely; whatever footage there was has since been lost to time. Facing a public embarrassment, Daiei saved face by announcing that work would soon begin on their very first Godzilla-style monster movie about a giant, flying, fire-breathing turtle named Gamera.
I tell you this quirky piece of little known monster movie trivia because, frankly, it’s far more interesting than anything about Nezulla the Rat Monster, a 2002 cheapie from Japan that many people initially believed to be a reworking of that long scrapped Daiei monster rat flick. All signs point to that not being the case. And after watching Nezulla the Rat Monster, I must say that if a flea infestation had shutdown this production too it would have been no great loss to the world.
Nezulla the Rat Monster has exactly one thing going for it – Nezulla the rat monster. The two-legged rat mutant is an outlandish throwback to the days of man-in-a-rubbersuit monsters. It’s hokey, but with a real charm to its hokeyness. How rubbery does the monster look? It looks like a full-sized version of the action figure that would be made in its likeness, albeit a seven-foot action figure coated with Vaseline to make it nice and shiny. Too bad it doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time and even when it’s on the screen it doesn’t have much to do. It mostly just screeches, flails its arms and tail about, and grabs people. Death scenes are never shown so there isn’t even anything here for gore fans outside a lone severed arm scene. When the less-than-thrilling final showdown finally comes, it looks like a clumsy “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” monster slugging it out with a pair of equally clumsy hand-to-hand combatants.
A mysterious plague has begun to infect citizens of Tokyo. The infected are rounded up by soldiers and brought to hospitals for quarantine. A young female scientist reveals that five years earlier the US Army paired up with a Japanese research firm to conduct experiments involving bioweapons in order to come up with a way to make soldiers genetically immune to various forms of bacterial warfare. Genetically altered bubonic plague used on lab rats caused one particular rat to mutate into a monster that wreaked havoc on the facility in much the same way those fleas did back in 1963, but with more fatalities in this case. The Japanese company and US Army just abandoned the lab altogether after the incident – sort of like Daiei back in ’63. The plague inside the monster rat itself mutated into a virus that managed to get out and spread to the nearby populace. These soldiers, who aren’t even properly equipped, are to be sent in to kill the seemingly unstoppable rat monster because it carries antibodies that could lead to a cure for the virus.
First thing I must say is that there’s a bit of an unsettling level of anti-Americanism running rampant throughout the film, primarily in the early goings-on. After being told the above, one Japanese soldier screams, “Damn those no-good white people!” The plot even introduces another female, a wicked Japanese woman serving as the designated Japanese mouthpiece for us ugly Americans, even going so far as to tell the others that the US government would rather everyone die then find out what that we had a hand in inadvertently causing this plague. That Japanese scientists and businessmen also had a key role in this is mostly glossed over, aside from the female researcher assisting the soldiers who talks of wanting to atone for her sins.
The evil female also complicates matters for everyone by revealing that there’s a time bomb set to reduce the whole building to smithereens; a bomb that turns out to have been set in the very room that the rat monster has set up a nest in. This means the soldiers can’t just waltz in and defuse the thing to buy themselves more time and if they don’t kill the monster and get out with a tissue sample in time they’ll all die along with the hope of finding a cure for the virus.
If you’ve never heard of Nezulla the Rat Monster before, well, there’s probably a good reason for that. Whatever reason Media Blasters had that possessed them to pick up the US distribution rights to this film when there’s so much other Japanese genre productions deserving of being introduced to American audiences is a mystery to me.
Another mystery: a moment where one of the soldiers sarcastically tells the monster that it should be playing for the “Chicago Rams”. Was that a subtitling typo on Media Blasters part or a bit of idiocy on the original filmmakers’ part?
And there isn’t a whole lot action either. Everything seems to always devolve into characters standing or sitting around and either talking about their situation or just getting all introspective. To the film’s credit, it does try to add some depth to the characters, but these somber discussions of fate, family, and what not only add to the boredom. Heck, by the one hour mark, two of the main characters are literally taking a smoke break. Plus, the film constantly cuts back to the hospital to follow the plight of a determined doctor at his wit’s end trying to treat people infected with the plague virus. I dare say this storyline dominates the last half hour more than the soldiers trying to kill the rat monster. This plays like bad hospital soap opera theatrics amid a disaster movie setting.
Nezulla the Rat Monster attempts to be a serious, suspenseful monster movie and fails miserably. Slow, dreary, and boring; this is a film that needed less angst, less Japanese-flavored melodramatics, and more of what makes a monster movie entertaining, even ones that set about to be more high-minded. Nezulla the Rat Monster is a real bore that takes itself far too seriously given that it’s a film based around the concept of a large, bipedal, mutant rat monster that looks like something that should be 50-feet taller and getting the snot beat out of it by Ultraman. It’s just no fun at all.
1 out of 5
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