GEKKO KAMEN (1958)
aka Moonlight Mask
Article 4135 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi
Featuring Sen Hara, Mitsue Komiya, Hiroko Mine
What it is: Masked hero hijinks
The evil Skull Mask is after the plans for a new bomb, but runs into resistance from a hero called Gekko Kamen, aka Moonlight Mask.
From what I gather, the whole “Gekko Kamen” movie series is pretty confusing, but the one I’m watching is an American welding of the first two Japanese movies into one. That’s ideally, of course; the fact of the matter is that I couldn’t find the American version, but I did get hold of the two Japanese movies that were welded together, and given that these two movies are 51 minutes each, and the American version was timed at 102 minutes, I’m guessing little was cut. And, as you might guess, the version I saw was in Japanese with no English subtitles.
So, what’s it like? Well, I’d say it’s similar to PRINCE OF SPACE, INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN, or the various Starman/Super Giant movies. It certainly beats all three in terms of its production values, and, taking into account the language barrier on this one, I’d rate it better than the two movies listed above, but I would have to say it lacks some of the energy and outrageousness that makes the Starman movies work for me. It’s hard to say whether the heroes and villains have superpowers; Gekko Kamen is either bulletproof, or he’s unflappable in the face of henchmen who have the targeting ability of Imperial Stormtroopers. He does seem to be able to vanish pretty efficiently. As for the villain, he blows fire on a couple of occasions. Some of the fight scenes suffer from the pulled punch syndrome of the Starman movies (where you watch them in full confidence that no one is getting hurt), but some of the stunt work is impressive, and an extended scene where everyone is chasing after a bag is a lot of fun. The two movies edit together very well, since the first ends in a cliffhanger resolved by the second, so the movie can be easily seen as a single story. However, it is convenient to split them into two movies in one way; I realized how much more fun the first one was than the second, since all the most interesting scenes (from a visual sense) occur there. Granted, that judgment might change is I could see them with subtitles, but even with the language barrier, the action seems pretty straightforward.