Demeking The Sea Monster is set in 1970 and takes place in a small, seaside town on the coast of Japan. Here we are introduced to a group of four boys lead by Kameoka (Kohei Kiyasu), who is older and seemingly slightly wiser than the three others. At any rate, these four guys decide that in order to pass the time in their sleepy town they're going to start an 'exploration group' and head out into the area around the town looking for adventure. Since Kameoka, the only one of the group who is old enough to go to high school, is picked on by kids his age he takes some comfort with these younger kids. What they don't realize, when they start adventuring, is that an asteroid from the outer reaches of space has crashed just outside their town.
Before the group gets to that, however, the decide to explore a boat that they believe to be a ghost ship until they meet its owner, an amusement park employee named Hachiya (Takashi Nadagi), who happens to be very much alive. He mentions to them the existence of a creature named Demeking that will rise up and destroy Tokyo if he doesn't fulfill his own destiny and stop it before it can reach its goal. Being adventurous types, they want in on this but Hachiya isn't willing to give up everything he knows just yet, instead, he's going to make them work for it by going on a hunt with him.
Based on Takashi Imashiro's 1991 manga series, Demeking The Sea Monster (which is actually about a space monster) is a nice mix of fairly standard Japanese monster moviemaking with sort of a Stand By Me type coming of age tale. There's a good sense of humor to the movie that makes it quite a bit of fun to watch even if you're not specifically a monster movie fan, but at the same time this never overpowers the storyline. The movie is played completely straight, not as slapstick or as parody (which is a road it could have easily travelled down), but the humor is there in the characterizations and situations that unfold. This is important simply because it helps make parts of the film that otherwise would have been a bit dull quite fun to watch. There's a lot of build up here before we get straight to the monster and director Kohtaro Terauchi was wise to let us get to know and like his characters before it all comes to a head.
Demeking The Sea Monster also features effects work from Tsuyoshi Kazuno who some might know from a few low budget splatter pictures he's worked on over the last few years such as Machine Girl, Robogeisha and Tokyo Gore Police. His work here is definitely calmer and gentler, almost restrained compared to those completely over the top gore films, but it's no less effective when it needs to be. The camera work is good, accentuating the small coastal town locations and helping to give the movie a fair bit of solid, palpable atmosphere. On a visual level, the film is a winner.
Ultimately, Demeking The Sea Monster is a bit deceptive in its titling, as while it does feature a monster, the real focus on the picture is on how some young men are forced to look past their childhood and enter adulthood whether they want to or not. The acting is strong, particularly from the two leads (Kohei Kiyasu and Takashi Nadagi), and the characters are surprisingly well defined and fleshed out. It makes for an interesting mix, this film, and one which is both entertaining and surprisingly original.
Demeking The Sea Monster arrives on DVD in an anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer that appears to be the picture's original aspect ratio. Shot on HD rather than film, it's not surprising to see that the source material used for the transfer is quite clean meaning that the image is free of print damage, dirt and debris. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement though color reproduction leans towards the dark side of the spectrum and sometimes things are a little bit murky looking. All in all, the transfer is pretty decent.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track on this disc is pretty decent and if it isn't quite as active as you might want it to be, it still gets the job done. There isn't a whole lot of channel separation in the quieter moments but the levels are well balanced and there are no problems with irritating hiss or distortion worth noting. Some of the more action intensive scenes show some nice rear channel activity and fill things out well. Optional English language options are included.
Aside from a basic menu with chapter selection, the only extras on this disc are a still gallery and trailers for a few other unrelated Cinema Epoch DVD releases.
Demeking The Sea Monster should definitely appeal to those who enjoy a good Japanese monster movie mash up. It doesn't quite have the same charm as the older rubber suit pictures but it's a whole lot of fun even if it is far more of a character driven adventure story than a traditional kaiju picture. Cinema Epoch's DVD looks and sounds fine and comes recommended despite the fact that it's devoid of any interesting extras.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.