What did you do during the coronavirus pandemic? A lot of us waited it out by watching every streaming show known to man or finally get around to reading those books you kept putting off getting around to. A band of special effects artists from Japan, under the stewardship of director Shunji Iwai, decided to pass the time by making a film. The result is The 12 Day Tale of the Monster Who Died in 8, a take on the traditional Kaiju film for a very different time.
This film was shot entirely during the first wave of the pandemic, indeed the opening shots show near-empty Tokyo streets with announcements over loudspeakers informing people to avoid unnecessary outings. Unable to continue working in their full capacity, the film’s subjects connect via Zoom meetings and in doing so were able to piece together all the clips needed for the finished product.
It is an admirable effort on behalf of its makers to not let lockdown time go to waste and to be so industrious with restrictions on them and limited tools at their disposal. While the film is not a total success, it does more than expected while always being open and honest about what its and trying to do.
Stuck in his apartment, Takumi Saitoh (playing himself) communicates with his friends and co-workers about their disappointment and uncertainty of the global situation, as well as everyday mundanities like cooking and moving house. The main thread is Saitoh procuring some monster seeds with which to grow a so-called ‘Capsule Monster’ which could save the world from its current predicament.
Speaking to camera, Saitoh keeps the audience updated on the progress of his monster’s growth. With events increasingly restricted almost entirely to this subject matter, the film starts to feel more and more samey as it goes on. For audiences outside of Japan it may also become a bit confusing, as many references are dropped to pop culture little known outside the country, in particular Japanese cultural touchstone Ultra Seven.
He also shares his monster’s progress with his ‘director’, Shinji Higuchi (also playing himself, also the film’s co-writer), which isn’t as amusing or interesting as his conversations with actor Rena Nonen (As herself). She tells him she has adopted an alien, which can not be seen on camera, which makes for the most amusing diversion as she tells of their escapades together, including plans to visit the invisible alien’s home planet.
While sluggish and scattershot at times, the narrative starts to gain steam when Saitoh starts to believe his monster is growing into an uncontrollable enemy rather than the avenging hero he wants it to be. This causes him to make a decision that leads to the brilliantly clever ending, where monster does turn into something that can save the world – but not what you would expect it to be.
Some may very well lose patience with it before getting that far, but it is the film’s conclusion that makes it worthwhile. Though it may not be an ending everyone will agree with it has an important final message which, regardless what anyone says, is right. If there ever was a time to see The 12 Day Tale of the Monster Who Died in 8, it would be now.