Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is the tale of city in turmoil and the pain of great upheaval, as told through a secret occult history. It’s also sort of a mess.
The Last Megalopolis is an epic. Not in the modern memetic sense, but in the classic literary sense. It’s about the fate of a large cast of characters over an extended period of time. In theory, epics like that are often my favorite kinds of stories. I enjoy seeing little people grow into the driving forces behind big events. Tokyo ties this idea to historical events, which lends an unwelcome sense of predestination to its epic nature. Instead of driving the fate of the city, many of the characters end up twiddling their thumbs as they wait for the important stuff to happen.
The most important character in Tokyo is Yasunori Kato, a mystic who wants to turn the city into a massive graveyard. Unfortunately, he begins his big scheme around the same time some of Tokyo’s movers and shakers decide it’s time to give the city a huge upgrade. The film is ostensibly the story about the conflict between those two forces, the men of progress and the man of evil. It’s also about a love story, sometimes; and revenge, when it has the chance to be.
The biggest problem I have with this film’s story can be summed up in one word: agency. Since the film’s central events, the 1923 and 1927 earthquakes that ravaged the city, are predetermined, the main characters spend too much time not being able to do anything useful. There’s a lot of mystical portent and divination, but any action seems futile in the overbearing face of historical fact. The priests fighting against Kato talk about how evil he is, but since we know he at least has to survive until 1927, they don’t even attempt to take definitive action. There’s a lot of hide and seek, but not enough confrontation.
My favorite aspect of the film is the creative use of effects and miniatures. Kato’s minions are little demons realized through stop motion animation and puppetry. Often the main draw of tokusatsu is suitmation, but it’s nice to see other techniques get their chance to shine. My two favorite props are the planning committee’s model of Tokyo, and the Gakutensoku robot. They both work well with the film’s attachment to history, both before and after the fact respectively.
I have to admire Tokyo for what it tried to accomplish. In the right hands I have no doubt that the story would have been amazing. As it is, however, so many things that are important to our characters happen in between the time-skips so we can see what’s important for the city, that it’s easy to just stop caring about what happens to the major players in this expansive drama. It is nice to see familiar tokusatsu techniques used in a different context, but that’s not enough to distract from the film’s flaws.
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