The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 is an interesting film; at times, it is a touch slow and repetitive, but that is the point; this is a film about the frustrations of staying at home during the pandemic and finding connections in any way possible. If only we could all grow our own capsule kaiju’s.
Like so many actors, Saitoh (Takumi Saitoh) is out of work due to COVID-19. He sits at home and wonders what to do. Until tokusatsu director and kaiju expert, Shinji Higuchi suggest he buy capsule monsters online – to defeat the virus! Thus begins a bizarre series of videos in which the unemployed actor raises little play-putty monsters, which take on increasingly familiar yet alien names. He is not alone: YouTube stardom forms around the phenomenon, and soon his colleague Non even starts fostering an alien! But as isolation blues kicks in earnest and popular fictions blend with reality, one rightfully asks: What is going here?
Quarantine films have come at us at a fast pace this past year, from the terrific Host to, say, some rather misjudged films. But, happily, for us all, Shunji Iwai’s The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 is a wonderfully inventive film that takes its quarantine elements and runs with it.
With the concept forced into a video discussion and diary format, The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 could very easily fall prey to being rather boring. Luckily for us, Iwai makes sure to set his film just parallel to our reality, where Kaiju’s and aliens knowingly exist, with some odd but enjoyable deviations. Couple that with the charismatic Saitoh, who is ably supported by those who come in and out of the film, we are left with a solid movie. Sadly, however, the slow nature of the film will cause some to struggle as well as the film referencing a lot of cultures that (it would be safe to assume) most audiences outside of Japan would not fully grasp. Thus Iwai’s becomes a tad insular, but one that you need to stick with thanks to its stellar finale.
There is a point in the film where Non’s invisible camera alien (a very clever way around having to create it) grows and does far more than the three capsule Kaiju’s that Saitoh owns, and you sense the jealously within him. Throughout the pandemic, everyone has been online, so we have seen how others have gotten on with their lives. Some have made extra money, lost weight, have done something that has progressed themselves somehow. At the same time, others have just gotten by, which is the best one can do. Still, Iwai presents that idea here, as if Saitoh hasn’t quite accomplished as much as he could have, and it makes his film feel all the more relatable. So when he sees how Non’s purchase has gone, he has a case of fear of missing out and tries to replicate it.
At its heart, though, The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 is a film about connection and keeping that connection, even if it is due to growing your own little monsters or owning an alien. We see how these people miss their normal routine, how their world has changed and in turn, how they have changed because of it. We have subjects desperate to feel something with someone, and it is no coincidence that the majority of the people we see live alone. However, they have found a way to keep their community going into the online sphere, and while it is a little far fetched, there is an awful lot of reality in Iwai’s film.
As Iwai takes his camera through the empty streets of Tokyo, you are brought back down to reality in this low key film. The desolate streets of a usually bustling city are unnerving, and with our subjects so isolated in their homes, you feel the separation and struggle everyone goes through. Some like Non try to find escapism, while others, like our leaders, try to find importance in the small. The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 does its job at highlighting the difficulties we all had at some point during the pandemic – a surprisingly touching film.
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