THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN
This 1992 Japanese production is that rarity of rarities:
a successful attempt at reimagining a classic story. In this case that
story is Mary Shelly's FRANKENSTEIN. THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN adds an
apocalyptic setting to Shelly's immortal man-destroyed-by-his-own-creation
premise, and addresses a number of questions modern readers might have about the
text, like what might Frankenstein's Monster's sex life be like? Does the
creature watch TV? Go to the beach? LAST FRANKENSTEIN answers all
those queries, but ultimately works not because of its similarities with
Shelley's story, but for its dissimilarities and departures--from Shelly and
just about everything else.
Writer/director Takeshi Kawamura is a leading Japanese
avant-garde playwright. THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN (RASUTO FURANKENSHUTAIN)
started out as one of his theater pieces before becoming
Kawamura's film debut. It retains much of its theatrical origin, mostly in
the staging and casting departments (many of the actors are culled directly from
the Tokyo theater world). So far, it's Kawamura's only filmmaking credit.
The tale centers on Sadusawa, a science professor at a small
school on the outskirts of Tokyo. He lives with his telekinetic daughter
Mai, his wife having killed herself years earlier. It seems she was an
early casualty of a suicide virus engulfing the city. Hundreds succumb to
the disease every week, and several bizarre cults have sprung up dedicating
themselves to the "Death God."
Enter Professor Aleo, a mad genius who lives in a secluded
castle with his humanoid "wife" and hunch-backed assistant. Aleo was once
a professor at Sadusawa's school but was fired for his morbid experiments.
He and Sadusawa need one another: Aleo may know the origin and cure of the
suicide disease, which Sadusawa believes he may be suffering from.
Sadusawa's daughter Mai, meanwhile, can use her psychic powers to bring to life
Aleo's two "monsters," stitched-up human cadavers with which he plans to start
an emotionless master race.
Mai fulfills her duty: the corpses are brought to shuffling
life. Unfortunately for Aleo, during the creatures' brief sojourn among
the living they learn a few too many dreaded human emotions. When the time
comes for them to mate and seed the new race, the critters find themselves
unattracted to each other and refuse to have sex. That's when all Hell
really breaks loose...
LAST FRANKENSTEIN is a rarity in Japanese cinema in
that it's almost completely plot-driven. With such an approach certain
characterizations inevitably suffer (most notably that of Sadusawa's daughter
Mai), and it takes at least two viewings to fully grasp the plot's countless
But the film for all that is always totally compelling.
There are moments of out-and-out surrealism, gore and even some demented humor.
Kawamura has created a challenging, exhilarating and disturbing work that
occasionally recalls the cinema of guys like David Cronenberg and Kenji (BLIND
BEAST) Matsumara, but remains uniquely his own.
The camerawork tends to be mostly static, while the
(beautifully composed) shots are often held for inordinately long periods.
The tone is grim and somber from the first frame to the last (which may turn off
American audiences and is probably the prime reason it has never been
distributed in the US). Although Kawamura's helming occasionally descends
into artsy self-consciousness, it's always watchable.
This isn't to say that THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN is slow
paced; if anything it may move a shade too fast. But one thing it
certainly isn't: it's never boring.
THE LAST FRANKENSTEIN (RASUTO FURANKENSHUTAIN)
Director: Takeshi Kawamura
Screenplay: Takeshi Kawamura
Cast: Akira Emoto, Yoshio Harada, Aya Otabe, Juro Kara