Howl From Beyond The Fog (Review)
The movie was independently funded on Kickstarter by veteran suitmaker, Keizo Murase, and ultimately reached its goal by 150% with ¥1,269,842 from 140 backers.
The 1951 short story, The Fog Horn, was the main source of inspiration for Howl From Beyond The Fog.
The movie was premiered on November 24, 2019 at the Atami Kaiju Film Festival in Japan.
During the Meiji era, a blind girl named Takiri and a monster called Nebula fight against greedy developers who threaten to take over her family's land.
Ever since Godzilla (2014), there has been a debate within the fandom about whether or not the tokusatsu is dying out. While we do not see much of actors stepping in costumes destroying models of towns and cities in today's kaiju films thanks to the advancement of CGI, Howl From Beyond The Fog takes a new and creative turn for the kaiju genre with a beautiful, short, and sad story told in the style of puppetry called bunraku proving there is still a little bit of life left for tokusatsu style films.
When Kickstarter comes to mind, you don't see many projects finished all the way through. Most of the time, projects wound up either being scams or the final product would leave more to be desired. The last Kickstarter backed movie that I reviewed was the fan film Godzilla Heritage. To give you the main gist of it, the CGI was spotty and yet the movie left me wanting more because there was suppose to be more before the project fell apart. Howl From Beyond The Fog, however, did not make me feel that way. The movie was delivered as intended and I am not disappointed by the final results at all. There is a story that has a beginning and an end and the effects do not look all that spotty.
The puppets looked almost life like and there were times where I thought those were real people for a second. It did also have me thinking about Team America for a little bit and I was half expecting Kim Jong Il to walk in randomly singing "I'm so lonely." But that just shows that the details and the movements for the puppets in Howl From Beyond The Fog is very good. I would have liked to see the mouths on the puppets move when the characters talk to match the emotions with the dialogue.
The design for Nebula is inspired by plesiosaurs, but the monster is not a dinosaur or an aquatic reptile at all. If I remember correctly, I think Keizo Murase mentioned that Nebula is actually born from the earth itself. That is why monster's design has roots and branches on its head, neck, and all over its back. That is why Nebula has very earth-like colors all over the body. So even though it looks like a dinosaur or a reptile, it has no relation to any animal since it is not an animal at all. I am also impressed that they even made a suit for the monster for scenes when Nebula is on land and attacking the village. I even love how the monster's roar sounds like a fog horn as a reference to the short story called The Fog Horn. Nebula even has a literal breath attack that juts out from its mouth almost like a beam. If I were to compare it to something, it was similar to Godzilla Earth's atomic roar or "super oscillatory wave" where it was pressurized air or vapor being shot out towards a specific direction.
For a movie that is 30 minutes long, it tells a sad and beautiful story about these two cousins meeting a docile lake monster called Nebula, but gets angered when a construction company tries to kill it. When you look at the monster's face, you wouldn't think Nebula to be docile at all. It looks terrifying and almost prehistoric. However, it is a monster that has grown fond of Takiri and Eiji. It knows that these two mean no harm. Takiri even says that she and Nebula are the same. Implying how the world perceives them as monsters as well as being blind. They are considered outcasts, especially when a construction company wants to kill Nebula so they can use the lake to save their village. But then, Nebula stops being friendly as soon as a man fired his rifle at the monster causing it to go on a rampage.
It's a very dark and serious story that we have not seen in monster movies before. For those that are not aware, Japan does have an issue with discrimination against handicapped people. They find servicing people who are handicapped as too much of a bother. There was one incident that happened in 2016 where one guy broke into a facility and stabbed at least 19 disabled people because he "felt bad for them" according to a letter he wrote. He even wrote to the Japanese government earlier that year advocating for euthanizing the disabled with the consent of their families. There is even discrimination towards disabled people in the work place making it harder for people with disabilities to find work. In 2016, there were new laws being discussed about banning the discrimination of disabled people, but this would cause other human rights issues to intertwine with this ban. As of 2019, however, there are now 500,000 people with disabilities working at Japanese firms. In 2020, a eugenics protection law that would force people with disabilities to not be allowed to have children was shut down ruling the law to be unconstitutional. Despite the law being declared unconstitutional, there were disabled people that had their compensation of damages rejected by the government.
In Howl Beyond The Fog, the movie plays into these discriminations based on how Takiri's aunt and the bad guys perceive her to be a monster due to her being blind, even though Takiri never chose to be blind in the first place. In a way, you can say the lake monster, Nebula, represents those people who are handicapped and their frustration with how Japan looks down on them because they are disabled. Because of movies, video games, anime, manga/comic books, etc. we forget that Japan is not this magical place that the media perceives them to be. There is always something much darker routed in Japanese society that foreigners don't see and sometimes it does take a kaiju movie to help us be aware of those issues.
Despite the movie only being 30 minutes long, there is another half hour that goes behind the scenes of the movie's development and their appearances at various conventions. If you are into learning how movies are made, then you may want to stay for the extra half hour as it starts right after the end credits.
The tokusatsu style kaiju films is not dead yet as Howl From Beyond The Fog introduces a new way to evolve that style of film through puppetry. It tells a very dark and sad story that acts as a dark metaphor of how Japan views and treats people with disabilities very poorly. The one nitpick I do have is that there is a lot of reading the subtitles since the movie is not dubbed in English. If you're not a fan of reading subtitles, then you may not find this movie all that enjoyable to watch. Otherwise, Howl From Beyond The Fog is definitely worth the watch. I was able to watch it on Amazon Prime Video and it is also available for free on TubiTV.
Japan Times – Knife attack leaves 19 dead, 25 hurt at Kanagawa care facility
Japan Times – New law bans bias against people with disabilities, but shortcomings exist
Japan Times – Number of people with disabilities working at Japanese firms tops 500,000 for first time
Japan Times – Court rules Japan's eugenics law unconstitutional but rejects damages claim