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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese weirdness’

Return Of The Obama

January 22nd, 2009 No comments

Some Japanese toy company has apparently made a highly-articulated Obama doll. The attention to detail and the interchangable hands/heads are typically superb, but what really sells it are the “action” poses. Keep scrolling until you reach the bottom! (And what’s up with the lap full of oranges?)

Updated: Darn, the link is down. Presumably the site was being hammered so badly by people trying to get a peek at Obama vs. Vader that they disabled it. Hopefully it’ll be back once everyone’s attention is drawn away to the next shiny object.

Further updated: The photos have been reposted to Gizmodo.

Batman Digs This Day

January 5th, 2009 No comments

It’s a good time to be a fan of old-school DC superheroes. In addition to the torrent of Showcase Presents reprint volumes, there’s also this:

Bat-Manga is a collection of Batman ephemera produced when the ’60s live-action series was introduced to Japan. While it includes many arresting candy and toy package illustrations–including some curiously ugly depictions of Robin the Boy Wonder–the real prize is the assortment of rare comics. I’m by no means a manga fan, but the chance to read Batman filtered through the insane lens of Speed Racer-era Japanese pop culture was too much for me for pass up. Forget about the Joker and Two-Face, this book features villains such as Professor Gorilla and Lord Death Man, and that’s at least three flavors of awesome.

“Three flavors of awesome” also describes Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which clocked in with another new episode last Friday, “The Day of the Dark Knight.” It wasn’t enough to feature the Silver Age versions of Bats and Green Arrow squaring off against Jack Kirby’s Etrigan the Demon, no sir. The teaser sequence had the Caped Crusader on Oa, the home planet of the Guardians of the Universe, and included cameo appearances from pretty much every Silver and Bronze Age alien Green Lantern…including Ch’p, the squirrel Green Lantern! But even that’s not the reason this episode maxed out the Awesometer.

Nope, that was the scene that I screen-capped above, in which Batman and Green Arrow foiled a mass prison break of what appeared to be just about every villain from the ’60s live-action Batman series. You can see the Mad Hatter (a comics villain that was featured prominently on the TV show) getting clocked by a Batarang above, but right behind him is the Minstrel, the Bookworm and Clock King. Other recognizable faces in the scene were Egghead, King Tut, False Face, the Siren, and Louis the Lilac!

The entire episode is available online for a few days. Check it out!

Latitude Zero: The Thrilling Conclusion!

June 16th, 2008 No comments

As the final installment of Latitude Zero commences, Malic has just concluded transplanting the brain of his once-loyal lover Kroiga into the body of a surgically-grafted gryphon and sent it to “Kill MacKenzie!”

Flush with success, the ageless, mad scientist seemingly forgets that he’d intended to intimidate Dr. Okada into giving up the secret of his anti-radiation formula by turning Okada’s daughter into a bat creature. Instead, he commits a breach of etiquette by moving straight to his back-up plan of dissecting the doctor’s brain.

But first, he observes Captain MacKenzie’s group making its way across Blood Rock on his monitor, and flips a handy blow-up-the-cliffside switch to bring an avalanche down upon them. However, they manage to avoid injury from the falling rocks. This may be due to the protective combination of their corvexa jumpsuits and their swim in the Bath of Immunity, or it might be because the rocks are a poorly superimposed special effect. We’ll never be certain.

Elsewhere, Kroiga the gryphon begins to experience the effects of Malic’s “amplification serum” and grow in size.

Trapped in a cave, MacKenzie and crew suddenly find themselves in a Princess Bride crossover, as Rodents of Unusual Size (species Rattus zippersuitus) menacingly approach. Our heroes respond by firing paralyzing gas pellets from the fingers of their golden gloves, then beat a hasty retreat to another tunnel.

“Hey, does anyone else smell cheese?”

They emerge into a bone-filled valley venting poison gas into the air. As the choking fumes enter their lungs, Richard Jaeckel shouts “Bath of Immunity, my ass!” Or maybe that was just me. The corvexa suits–which, as you may recall, are woven from an impervious alloy of gold and platinum–don’t help much either when they encounter a lake of pure, purple acid. Koubo loses a boot when he ignores all common sense and tests the obviously evil, bubbling brew with his foot. Nice going, Koubo.

“Too bad there’s absolutely no other way
to tell if this is dangerous.”
“Madre de Dios!”

The giant rats pursue them across the plain. MacKenzie and Ken Tashiro hold them off with their fingertip flamethrowers. That’s right, fingertip flamethrowers. Never mind how a pair of normally-sized gloves can accommodate gas launchers, laser projectors and flamethrowers, not to mention their assorted power sources and ammunition. It’s science!

Unfortunately, Koubo’s “elevation belt” improbably fell off and melted as Perry and Ken pulled him out of the acid lake, which leaves MacKenzie in a pickle as the now-flaming rodents continue their advance. Ordering the men to link arms, they airlift the beltless Koubo as the rats heedlessly plunge into the deadly liquid.

This does, in fact, look ridiculous. Turns out the rats were no smarter than Koubo.

Back at Evil Medical Center, Cesar Romero is pissed that his newly minted gryphon ineffectually sits around utterly failing to kill MacKenzie. He grouses, “Kroiga was a fool as a woman; is she also a fool as a gryphon? Why doesn’t she attack?” I don’t know, Malic, do the words “Die, die, DIE!” mean anything to you?

He prepares to cut open Dr. Okada’s brain, which somehow involves pointing a sinister sun lamp at his head. From the gallery, Okada’s daughter reinforces a stereotype by shouting “Prease! Prease don’t hurt my father!”

At long last, MacKenzie bursts into the chamber and all hell breaks loose. Bat creatures swoop down, supported by thick wires. One attacks Ken and is promptly smacked in the head. As Perry grapples the monster, Dr. Tashiro rushes to the aid of Miss Osaka, and…kicks a bat creature in the ass.

Sure, they can fly.
But they prefer the elevator.
Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist!

Malic’s galpal Lucretia moves to stab Dr. Okada with a hypodermic needle, but MacKenzie intercepts her. Petulantly, she plunges the hypo into the captain’s chest. However, the needle merely bends as it contacts his intermittently impervious jumpsuit.

Then, in what seems a supremely dickish move by a purported good guy, MacKenzie deliberately throws Lucretia onto Malic’s knife.

“Into the mud, scum queen!”

As Lucretia dies in Malic’s arms, the terrible twosome share a touching moment:

“Lucretia! I didn’t…I didn’t…”
“I know, Malic. I know.”

Okay, it ain’t deathless dialogue, but it is the most honestly emotional moment of the entire film.

I haven’t cared much for MacKenzie up until this point, but I now like him even less when I see the insufferably smug look on his murderous face. Malic doesn’t care for it either, urging his bat creatures to “Kill him!”

MacKenzie (or rather, his stunt double) does a quick tuck-and-roll, then begins firing laser beams from his all-purpose gloves. A bisected bat creature thuds into the cavern wall.

Ladies and gentlemen, Joseph Cotten.

Koubo lifts a man-bat over his head for a helicopter spin. Perry punches another in the face. And Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist knifes one in the back.

Now I’m even beginning to feel sorry for the bat creatures.

Malic closes the shutters, plunging the room into darkness and bringing forth a swarm of garden-variety bats which, due to a tragic miscalcuation of scale, appear to have four-inch wingspans. The distraction allows him to escape to his submarine.

As Koubo switches on the cavern lights, Lucretia’s dead body is seen to rapidly decay into dust. Why? Oh, why the hell not?

“Aieee! Tiny bats!” She should’ve moisturized.

Captain MacKenzie leads the Okadas back to the relative safety of his own submarine, the Alpha, but Malic’s Black Shark closes in.

Malic launches a shell full of sparking glitter which settles over the Alpha and electrifies the sub’s controls. Again, the Bath of Immunity proves overrated as Koubo is burnt. Inexplicably, MacKenzie is able to overcome the electrical arcs with his bare hands and thrust the lever which disperses the glitter from the ship’s hull.

Undeterred, Malic activates a hidden magnet which draws the Alpha against the cliff wall, then begins to oh-so-slowly pivot his laser cannon for a final, deadly shot.

At last, MacKenzie reveals the “special modifications” that he’d ordered for the Alpha. Rocket engines fire and the vessel soars into the air. Because, honestly, it wouldn’t be Japanese sci-fi without a flying submarine.

Malic rushes to the cannon turret and lauches a furious fusillade. But the Black Shark itself is pulled against the cliffside. Hoist by his own magnetic petard, the villain initially fails to notice that Kroiga–remember her?–has chosen this moment to get off her dead gryphon ass and enter the fray.

The beast flies down and swipes at the laser cannon, knocking it aside. The cliff face is blasted, and rocks rain down on the Black Shark. Malic flails in futility, Kroiga claws at the turret, and finally the whole mess goes up in an orgy of Toho Studios-brand explosions.

Hell hath no fury like a woman
whose brain was surgically removed.
“Roar! I say roar, even!”

Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist observes “Scratch one submarine.” Then as Blood Rock detonates as well, Perry pithily responds “Scratch one island.”


Later, back at the undersea pimple that is Latitude Zero, Perry takes snapshots of happy couples. Anne Barton has at last landed her Franco-Japanese love, Jules Masson. Meanwhile, Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist blissfully plays golf with a woman whom I’ve only realized just now is Miss Okada.

Irwin Allen presents: Picnic at the Bottom of the Sea!

Perry prepares to return to the surface world with his camera full of photos and his tobacco pouch loaded with diamonds. He questions MacKenzie, “You said, ‘Everything down here is developed for the benefit of Mankind,’ right? Well, when are you gonna let the rest of the world in on this secret?”

The captain responds, “Mr. Lawton, none of us is wise enough to know when man will live in harmony. Until then, we must continue our work here because it’s the only place on this planet where we can.” Makes sense to me.

We then enjoy a photographic montage of the surface world: scenes of protest, Communists, impoverished kids drinking from styrofoam cups, rocketships blasting into orbit.

After this bizarre interlude, we see a naval vessel which rescues Perry from an inflatable raft. Oddly, no one believes his story of underwater civilizations, baths of immunity, oversized rats and teensy bats.

“Really, it was an alloy of gold and platinum!”

Without warning, and for no explainable reason, the film begins to channel the final scene of The Wizard of Oz. The ship’s captain is a dead-ringer for Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist, and the commander is Glen MacKenzie (no relation), played again by Joseph Cotten.

A flustered Perry attempts to prove his tale with the film from his camera, which–as anyone who has even seen this sort of thing before will know–is completely blank. And the pouch? Filled once again with tobacco.

“Son, what you’ve got here is a Toho Studios film.”

Now, you may be thinking that all this “and you were there, and you, and you” stuff is a put-on: that Ken Tashiro, Action Scientist and Captain MacKenzie have disguised themselves to mess with Perry’s head and protect the secret of Latitude Zero. But then the ship’s lieutenant enters, and he’s played by…Cesar Romero!


After Perry is led to sick bay to dribble into a cup, the lieutenant receives a message sent to Mr. Lawton from a bank in New York: “Have received 600 carats of diamonds from unknown sender, instructing we hold for safekeeping pending your return.”

“How did the bank know that he’s aboard this ship?”
“Damned if I know, but it’s a cinch he’s the richest man aboard.”

Soooooo, the fine folks of Latitude Zero fogged Perry’s film and replaced his fortune in precious stones with pipeweed, but then they went ahead and deposited the diamonds anyway?

And what the hell is Cesar Romero doing here? Why the pointless addition of a “it was all a dream, or was it?” twist?

We’ll never know. The vessel sets a new course: “Longitude one-seven-six, latitude…zero!”

Latitude Zero: Chapter Three

June 12th, 2008 No comments

Up ’til now, you may not have understood why I was so entranced by my initial viewing of Latitude Zero. Sure, it’s hokey, talky and far too impressed with its science-utopia, but the same could be said for a number of ’50s and ’60s sci-fi flicks.

It’s the third act where the wheels come off the bathysphere and and it descends into batshit insanity. You could blame the Japanese, who turn out unfathomably odd pop cultural artifacts faster than you can say “hentai Pokemon.” But I’ll lay it at the feet of its American screenwriter, Ted Sherdeman, who based it on his own ’40s radio serial. Time magazine’s review of the radio drama suggests that some of the odder details were there from the start. (In fairness to Sherdeman, he also wrote the screenplay for Them!, one of the very best ’50s monster movies.)

To recap the story so far:

MacKenzie and Malic are superscientists with inexplicably extended lifespans. They fight.


Our story continues as MacKenzie prepares to rescue the kidnapped scientist Dr. Okada and his daughter from Malic’s island fortress. He orders that special modifications being made to his submarine, the Alpha, be completed within the hour. Feeling indebted, Perry, Ken and Jules volunteer for the mission. The “Frenchman” asks how they should prepare for the dangers of Blood Rock. “First,” says MacKenzie, “the Bath of Immunity!”

It turns out to be more of a Spa Pool of Immunity, a bubbling tub of greenish water that grants 24 hours of protection. The gang is surprised when Anne joins them in the skinny dip. (It’s still the ’60s, so the nakedness is only implied.) It’s supposed to be humorously titillating when the boys have to exit the bath first with their junk dangling, but it’s really just sort of awkward.

Concerned about shrinkage. Get a good look, guys. This is all you get.

And how do we know that this is truly a Bath of Immunity and not just MacKenzie’s ploy to see Richard Jaeckel’s wee-wee? The good captain has one of his minions shoot him with a revolver. Plucking the bullet from the air, he says to Perry, “We’d better test you too.” And before any of our heroes can suggest something less drastic–a bad paper cut or poke in the eye–each is shot square in the chest. Ah, the scientific approach.

Call it job satisfaction.
“Wow, I didn’t even feel the kinetic energy!” “Me? Hey, you never shot the broad!”

Next, they are issued shiny jumpsuits made of “corvexa,” an alloy of gold and platinum and therefore impervious to all temperatures. Just like real gold and platinum are.

Back on Blood Rock, Malic taunts Dr. Okada by telling him that he knew about the homing device secreted in his prisoner’s spare eyeglasses all along, then smashes the frames with his foot. (Honestly, there’s evil and then there’s just plain dickishness.) He orders that the captives be brought to the observation gallery.

In the operating theater, a bat creature wheels in a gurney like a Chiropteran orderly. Strapped to it is Kroiga, once-loyal submarine commander and romantic rival of Malic’s “companion” Lucretia. As Lucretia prepares to jab her with a scary needle, Kroiga’s last words are “You monster! You fiend! Damn you! I hope you die…die…DIE!”

Keep this in mind. It’ll be important later.

On the next episode of Grey’s Anatomy “Seriously, die…dieDIE!

“I’ll demonstrate my skill,” Malic declares to Dr. Okada, “by creating the creature destined to kill your Captain MacKenzie.” As he walks over to a control panel, the nearby actor in the bat suit appears to think, “Well, I can’t just stand here doing nothing,” and so begins to quiver with palsied menace.

A pair of sliding wall panels reveal another actor, this one in a thoroughly unconvincing lion costume, and a puppet condor. Anesthetic gas pours into the lion’s cell.

On the Alpha, MacKenzie cracks out the rest of the gear. They include rocket-powered “elevation belts,” and gloves with a variety of weapons built into the fingers: miniature flamethrowers, paralyzing gas and lethal lasers.

Back in the operating room, Shaky the Bat watches as Malic begins to saw into the cranium of the still-conscious guy-in-a-lion-suit. From the gallery, Okada’s daughter cries, “I can’t stand it!” only to receive a dressing-down from another nearby bat creature.

“No, I do not want a neck rub!”

Malic’s intention is to transplant Kroiga’s brain into his beast, so that it’ll be able to “understand and obey” his orders. Okada offers to give up his anti-radiation formula, but it’s too late. Malic pulls out his rotary saw, and orders Lucretia to anesthetize the condor!

Perhaps a little too happy about his work. Fun Fact: “Anesthetize the condor” is a popular euphemism in the Malic household.

The Alpha arrives at Blood Rock and parks underneath a cliff face. Stepping out onto the landing ramp, the invaders activate their elevation belts and rocket upwards.

We are Devo. This does not in any way look ridiculous.

As they make their way toward the fortress, a magnetic force locks their elevation belts and holds them in place, but Koubo manages to lift them safely onto a nearby ledge.

Lucretia is alarmed as she watches their escape on a monitor, but Malic is otherwise engaged as he saws at the condor’s wings. “It doesn’t matter! Don’t bother me!” he snaps. This was the moment I realized that Latitude Zero had transcended to the ranks of the truly, wonderfully awful, as I witnessed Cesar Romero manically butcher a puppet bird.

Thanksgiving at Blood Rock was always a little strange.

Malic finishes assembling his creation, a winged lion with a human brain! He addresses it as “Kroiga,” and crows in triumph when it recognizes its name. Oh, but that’s not enough for Malic, now showing off like a toddler using the toilet for the first time. He brandishes his “amplification serum,” which will cause the gryphon to increase three times in size.

Now, as none of us are mad scientists, consider this for a moment: you have betrayed your lover (whose last words, remember, were “I hope you die, die, DIE!”), cut out her brain, stuck it in the body of a half-lion/half-bird, and made the resultant monster three times bigger. Really? This is your master plan? Have you really thought it through?

Malic’s mind is elsewhere. He cries “Go! Find MacKenzie and kill him! Kill MacKenzie!”

As the gryphon soars into the sky, we take our leave from Blood Rock for now…

  • Will Kroiga really “kill MacKenzie?”
  • Is creating a giant monster that hates your guts a good idea?
  • Does this corvexa jumpsuit make Joseph Cotten look fat?

Stay tuned, for the final chapter of Latitude Zero!

Next: Rodents of Unusual Size!

Latitude Zero: Chapter Two

June 6th, 2008 No comments

When we last left the heroes of Latitude Zero, they had outwitted Kroiga, captain of the Black Shark. Then, after a brief discussion of sexual etiquette, they set course for the underwater settlement that gives the film its name.

The nature of Latitude Zero is somewhat unclear. It’s housed in a huge, white dome that resembles a pimple desperately yearning to be popped, yet it’s accessed through a secret tunnel in an undersea rock wall. A secret tunnel marked with a sparkly, yellow and purple “zero,” which might as well be a neon sign post reading “This Way, Malic.” Maybe they thought bad guys would mistake it for the entrance to a disco.

Freudian symbolism alert.

The Alpha surfaces near the shore of an island which appears to exist in an air bubble within the colossal whitehead. That means it’s time for a Toho Studios standard…miniature mecha porn! The next two minutes of the film’s running time are spent on long, lingering shots of the Alpha arriving, being cradled by a claw-handed gantry and extending its landing ramp. It’s what most of us call “filler,” but what the Japanese call “a four-page spread in Hobby Japan magazine.”

After Kuobo loads Dr. Masson into a waiting ambulance, MacKenzie takes Ken and Perry on a tour of his submerged Shangri-La, an idyllic land where the cars are electric, the artificial sun shines exactly 14 hours a day and everyone has time to visit the pool.

And here’s where they make balloons. Today’s forecast: Sunny. Always fucking sunny.
Richard Jaeckel, playa.

There seem to be two types of people in Latitude Zero: respected scientists and babes in swimwear. Presumably the latter are an inducement when recruiting the former. Gold, extracted from seawater, is so abundant there that much of the swimwear is made from it.

“Hi! Have you met my concubine?” Latitude Zero understands the need for
girls on trampolines.
The ’70s are right around the corner, folks. Actual dialogue: “How was the volcano?” “Erupting!”

Meanwhile, at the “rehabilitation center,” Dr. Barton is seeing to the recuperating Jules Masson, who continues to harbor the illusion that he is French. Anne finds him confusing yet appealing.

“Take out Spare Ribs for one hundred dollars!”

This section of the film goes on for a bit, and unlike Captain MacKenzie, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that in Latitude Zero, everyone lives in peace and harmony. Greed has been eliminated. People piss champagne and crap diamonds.

In fact, they literally use diamonds to fill their planters the way we unenlightened mortals use glass beads. Perry stuffs his tobacco pouch with a million dollars of sparkling stones.

And it should go without saying that there’s nothing as de’classe’ as fast food restaurants at the bottom of the sea. Instead, wall slots dispense dinners from the central kitchen, where scientists cook as a hobby.

Actual dialogue: “Today’s chef is Dr. Neudorro, a mineralogist. Don’t worry, you won’t find any stones in your steak!” It’s Lobster Night at Old Country Buffet.

Back on Blood Rock, Malic fumes as he ruminates on the difficulty of destroying MacKenzie. More bad news comes when he learns that his Tokyo agents have failed to kidnap the prominent scientist Dr. Okada. Malic not only wants Okada for his anti-radiation formula, but as bait to lure MacKenzie outside the protection of his impregnable dome. Lucretia worries that MacKenzie is being invited to invade Blood Rock, but perks up when she learns that Malic intends one final mission for her rival Kroiga–intercepting the boat ferrying Dr. Okada to Hawaii–before he “retires her from service.”

The next morning, Perry, Ken and the fully recovered Jules are reunited, and given spiffy new surface world-style suits. MacKenzie, never one to miss a chance to prattle on about his technological paradise, shows off a model of the transforming cars his own agents use when recruiting scientists from above.

Also available from the Latitude Zero gift shop.

The scientists who willingly emigrate to Latitude Zero are believed to have defected to the other side of the Cold War. Under the sea, they work on boons rather than bombs. Their results are secretly distributed back to the surface through the old “switch the notebook pages” trick.

Meanwhile, bad things are brewing. The Black Shark retrieves Dr. Okada and his daughter, and reports of the hijack hit the international news.

Miss Okada enjoyed picking her father’s nose.
“Sir, I’ve got Orson Welles on Line 2.” It’s GHN: Giant Head News!

Back at Blood Rock, Malic and Kroiga share a moment in which he promises that he will reward his “little one” with some alone time together. But before we can firmly implant the image of Cesar Romero bumping uglies into our heads, he ushers Kroiga into a small room to await him…then pushes the “Big Yellow Cage” button. Apparently, this is not the foreplay Kroiga expected, and she cries, “Malic, daaaaaaamn youuuu!”

Honestly, I think this is preferable to the prospect of naked Cesar Romero.

Okada refuses to share the secret of his serum, which could allow a rogue nuclear state to immunize its population against radiation and than indiscriminately destroy its opposition. Because the retaliatory nukes would bounce harmlessly off its cities and infrastructure.

Malic introduces his captives to one of his experiments, comically hideous bat creatures, and threatens to turn Okada’s daughter into one of them unless he cooperates. Then he plays his trump card: the ability to surgically remove Okada’s brain and dissect its “memory bank!”

As Malic and Lucretia retire, Okada activates a homing device that Latitude Zero’s agents have hidden in his eyeglasses.

Actual dialogue: “You’re a monster!” “No, I’m a genius!”

The stage is set, the players are in place. Soon, it’ll be time for the ultimate confrontation between Malic and MacKenzie for the fate of the world.

  • Will Miss Okada be forced to wear a bat costume?
  • Will Dr. Masson realize that he is Japanese?
  • Will Malic and MacKenzie confess their love at last?

The answers to these and other burning questions will all be revealed!

Next: Assault on Blood Rock!

Latitude Zero: Chapter One

June 6th, 2008 No comments

Originally posted May 7. Bumped to top of blog.

Latitude Zero opens just where you might expect: the Equator, imaginary line of mystery. A research vessel plies the Pacific waters in search of an undersea current which could be used to speed submarines on their way. Leading the expedition are Dr. Ken Tashiro (played by Akira Takarada) and Dr. Jules Masson (Masumi Okada, apparently unaware that he is not, in fact, French). With them is Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen; also Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Sometimes a Great Notion) as reporter Perry Lawton, providing pool coverage to satisfy the many tens of newspaper readers interested in comparatively rapid water.

“Would you like to sit in the smoking section of the bathysphere?” Perry flashes Ken his bedroom eyes.

In the first of many questionable costuming choices, our heroes are decked out in cute, colorful and coordinated zip jacket-and-shorts ensembles. It’s as if the expedition was outfitted by Garanimals.

Just then, the biggest underwater volcano eruption in history hits. Look at that thing: it’s even spitting lightning bolts. I give props to the Toho special effects department here for one helluva explosion. The ensuing pyrotechnics snap the bathysphere’s lifeline and toss it into a deep, ocean crevasse.

The fall not only knocks the threesome unconscious, it removes Perry’s jacket. As he lies helpless, yet oh, so enticing, mysterious divers peer in through the porthole and admire his well-groomed thatch of chest hair.

“Isn’t that Richard Jaeckel from Sands of Iwo Jima?”
“I believe so. I wish to touch him.”

The divers attach a cable to the bathysphere, which is hauled aboard an enormous submarine, the Alpha. There Perry and Ken meet ship’s doctor (and part-time pole dancer) Anne Barton, who tells them that Dr. Masson has suffered serious injury, and that go-go boots are the only cure!

As the two speculate on how they might themselves have serious injuries, they are taken to the bridge, where they meet Koubo, navigator and ship’s genie.

“Really, it’s how all the doctors dress
at the bottom of the sea.”
“I pity the fool who calls me a genie!”

There too, is the captain of the Alpha, Craig MacKenzie, played by Joseph Cotten. Cotten’s more than 40 years as a film actor included roles in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Gaslight and The Third Man.

MacKenzie is a super-scientist who designed the Alpha, which was launched–much to Perry and Ken’s astonishment–in 1805, a full 50 years before Captain Nemo set sail in the Nautilus. Yet even that is not as astonishing as MacKenzie’s appalling dress sense: chest-baring disco shirt, gold chains and green cravat.

Ladies and gentlemen, Joseph Cotten.

For every hairy-breasted yin, there must be a yang, and so it is that we suddenly find ourselves in the evil part of the ocean where squats the hideous mountain fortress Blood Rock.

Within we are introduced to Lucretia, played by Patricia Medina. Medina was Joseph Cotten’s wife at the time and was with him until his death in 1994. She too had an Orson Welles film to her credit, Mr. Arkadin.

Lucretia is the “companion” of Malic, played by, of all people, Cesar Romero. I know it’s not cool to admit this, but I’ve long felt–mustache or no mustache–Romero’s performance as the Joker was greatly underrated.

Malic and Lucretia are a curious pair: dedicated to badness, yet head over heels in love with each other. They sip wine and make goo-goo eyes while plotting the destruction of their archenemy MacKenzie.

For all their wickedness, however, Malic and Lucretia are no match for the film’s costumer, who dresses Cesar Romero in Buck Rogers cast-offs, and forces Patricia Medina to bring her own nightgowns to the set.

Back on the Alpha, Dr. Masson requires better medical care than the ship’s sick bay can provide. Captain MacKenzie sets course for his own home base, the eponymous Latitude Zero.

Anne’s doctor’s smock brings new meaning
to “bedside manner.”

But his ship is tracked by Malic’s killer submarine, the Black Shark. Its commander is a Japanese woman named Kroiga, whose vicious ponytail has sent many a mariner to his doom.

Watching the pursuit from the Blood Rock hideaway, Lucretia can’t hide her jealousy of Kroiga, though Malic is quick to declare “You’re the only woman I keep with me.” Despite this reassurance, Lucretia is delighted by her rival’s failure to bring down MacKenzie.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues, with the seemingly unarmed Alpha using its many defensive modifications–including maneuvering jets and illusionary doubles–to avoid the Black Shark’s torpedoes.

Not even a desperate ramming maneuver scratches the Alpha’s hull. It does, however, set Kroiga’s ponytail into a lethal spin, injuring three crewmen.


Looming ahead is the electronic bubble that shields Latitude Zero from its enemies. MacKenzie charges the hull of the Alpha with an “equalizer” which allows it to pass through the barrier, while the less-fortunate Black Shark bounces off.


Safe for now, MacKenzie enters exposition mode and fills us in on the personal history of both he and Malic, who were students together “a century ago.” We learn that MacKenzie is 204 years old while Malic is a mere babe of 203.

Got that? Good, because there will be no elaboration on it whatsoever. We never learn where they were schooled, how they became bitter enemies, or what accounts for their incredible longevity.

Star Trek: The Intentionally Lost Episode.

Also, I’m no math whiz, but it also means that MacKenzie’s academic days occurred when he was approximately 104, and that he built the Alpha some sixty years prior to that.

Perry the journalist never puts those numbers together, but he’s quick to inquire how old that makes Dr. Barton. The Captain’s reply: “Even in Latitude Zero, gentlemen do not discuss the age of a lady.” Hilarity ensues.

And on that chivalrous note, we sign off for now, until the next thrilling chapter of Latitude Zero!

Next: There’s a hole at the bottom of the sea!

You Bet Your Life Speed Racer’s Gonna See It Through

April 22nd, 2008 No comments

Second only to the “Mammoth Car” episodes, my favorite Speed Racer storyline was “The Fire Race.” This was the one in which the writers decided that driving near active volcanoes was for pansies; why not drive through one?

It began, as so many professional races do, with an international border dispute. The League of Countries demanded that the tiny nation of Kapetepek open itself to visitors, but Chief Zuma was concerned (correctly, as it turned out) that doing so would invite thieves to steal its national treasures.

The argument was settled when it was decided that an auto race would be held. If the winner was an outsider, Zuma would open the borders, but if a Kapetepekan racer won, the country would remain isolated forever. Kapetepek was to be represented by the infamous Kabala, a driver so badass that his home was full of portraits of the racers he’d killed.

Kabala also won the “pointiest nose” trophy every year.

When the racers arrived, it was only then that they learned that the course would take them through an erupting volcano. The mountain blew its stack every 100 years like a lava-riffic Old Faithful, and by sheer coincidence, it was about to go off. Furthermore, the entrances would only remain open during the brief period of eruption, after which they would seal shut for another century. (How anyone was certain that there was a traversable passage through to the other side was left unexplained.)

As a bonus, the winning racer was to be given Chief Zuma’s smoking hot granddaughter Silvana in marriage. Neither Silvana nor Trixie was happy with this arrangement. Speed was noncommittal.

As the race began, Speed noticed that Racer X was nowhere to be seen. However, there was no time to ponder this, as he would have to maintain an average speed of 160 mph to escape the underground tunnel in time.

Some participants began to rethink that “race through the volcano” thing.

It turned out that the track wound its way through petrified forests and other strange sights. Stopped by an underground lake, the drivers were startled to see a sea monster emerging as the waters were sucked down in a whirlpool. However, the dinosaur was only a statue, which didn’t stop it from killing one of the racers when its head unexpectedly plopped off. Kabala shot through the legs of the collapsing sculpture, followed closely by the rest of the pack.

Things were further complicated, as usual, by the presence of a team of evil racers: treasure hunters led by Kadar. After whittling down the other competitors, most of them met their end thanks to an unexpectedly frisky vine plant. Kadar himself was done in when his car, overloaded with gold and jewels, failed to jump a pool of lava.

Kadar gave one hell of a shoulder rub.

Prior to his demise, Kadar confronted Speed and Kabala in the ruins of an ancient palace. In the fracas, Kabala’s goggles fell off, and…

…was revealed to be Racer X. Wearing a mask. Over his regular mask. Racer X (who, as we recall, was secretly Speed’s older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago) had pretended to be his old racing mentor, who had died some time earlier. The Masked Masked Racer wanted to preserve Kapetepek’s borders.

Speed, however, thought the whole thing was silly; he only cared about winning. And so, the race furiously continued with the two driving underneath the skeleton of the biggest fucking dinosaur ever.

As Trixie, Zuma and Silvana waited at the end of the course, the volcano erupted a second time. The only two survivors (out of an initial 96) drove for the closing exit…

In case you were wondering, Speed Racer did not end with Speed being buried underground for a hundred years, eventually dying in starvation and madness.

The race resulted in a tie, though Zuma was adamant that Kabala was the winner. In return, Speed revealed that Kabala was not Kabala. Racer X unmasked (well, one mask anyway) and said “I’ve risked my life to save your treasure. Now, you gentlemen must come to some agreement. Compromise. Open your borders to the world some of the time.”

And so, in the years to come, international jewel thieves poured into Kapetepek, but only some of the time.