Direction: Tetsuya Yamauchi
Screenplay: Masaru Igami
Music: Toshiaki Tsushima
Producer: Shigeru Okawa
When was the last time you saw a giant frog tackle a serpentine dragon midst a bevy of castle miniatures? Well, partner, that’s too long!
Toei’s The Magic Serpent is an amiable fantasy tale from the Land of the Rising Sun, and if it all sounds a bit familiar, it’s only because it is. An evil lord and his evil magician henchbaddie kill the rightful rulers of a peaceable kingdom, but the rulers’ son escapes to grow to manhood under the tutelage of a wise old white-haired wizard. Before long, the heir apparent finds himself besieged by the evil lord’s black-clad assassins. The young prince quickly finds himself embroiled in a series of adventures (among which includes his meeting the obligatory love interest).
Some have likened the plotline of Magic Serpent to Star Wars, and similarities certainly exist – primarily that of the old wizard who has taught two pupils the ways of magic, one of whom chooses good, the other evil. But little else can be said to have been “lifted” from Magic Serpent (if anything ever was).
This fantasy moves swiftly and proves occasionally inventive. For example, when a circle of magical doors surrounds the hero, they start spinning around him at top speed like an amusement park ride gone berserk. Of course, of most fun to kaiju fans will be the battle between the colossal dragon and the giant frog. One interesting aspect of their clash is that in the reverse of what you might expect, it’s the frog who breathes fire while the dragon shoots out a steady stream of water to counter the flames!
Neither the dragon nor the frog is realistic, but they are colorful and appealing. Indeed, many of Magic Serpent’s special effects are enjoyable, but few are convincing. The giant spider doesn’t get to do much, and the wing flaps of the giant bird are pretty anemic. Probably the most creative effect involves the beheading of the hero – his literally talking head comes to rest upon a log while his headless body still walks about, much to his would-be assassin’s surprise and terror.
The Magic Serpent should entertain most kaiju fans, but non-subscribers to Japanese monster fantasy will probably shake their heads in bewilderment. Let them. The rest of us can enjoy this guilty pleasure for what it is – minus the guilt of course.