I always assumed that kappa meant cucumber in Japanese, leaping to the conclusion as a result of an immodest consumption of kappa sushi rolls over the course of my life. I now know that kappa are green goblins that live in Japanese ponds, and who specialize in swimming and sumo wrestling; it is because the kappa's favorite food is cucumbers that the sushi received its name. These gaijin-centric facts are revealed early on in Death Kappa (2010) by a self-identified Professor Tanaka who speaks directly to the camera, and including them for viewers indicates the producers' awareness of the appeal of low-budget Japanese filmmaking in the West. Thanks to the unexpected success of splatter hits Tokyo Gore Police (2008) and Machine Girl (2008), producers Yōko Hayama and Yoshinori Chiba are familiar with the tastes of Western audiences and the first half of Death Kappa, with its similar barrel-scraping budget and gleeful stupidity, is familiar ground.
The story goes that a young girl promises to protect the kind kappa who lives near her grandmother's house. The kappa is pretty gross looking, with a turtle shell on his back and hair in all the wrong places, but that's part of its charm. This particular kappa also loves terrible J-pop and dances around in the backyard before being suddenly ensconced by a team of renegade Japanese soldiers accompanied by a woman dressed like Female Convict: Scorpion who wheels her dead grandfather around in a wheelchair and who wants to use the kappa to create an army of "amphibious weaponized fishmen." To be honest, I don't understand half of what I'm talking about anymore, but I figure if you pay too much attention to the details of Death Kappa you're missing the point. I've made films and I can recognize a group of people just having a great time making movies.
Around the halfway point, the film jarringly switches directions and becomes the kaiju film touted by the trailer. As fun as all the goofy evil-scientist stuff is, the kaiju portion is way more entertaining, with large sets full of miniatures and projections and attack planes with clearly-seen strings attached. The kappa, now huge-ified, must battle a monster whose name I didn't note but I'm pretty sure rhymes with Legolas, as the Japanese army attempts to stop them both. It's immensely silly to watch little remote-controlled tanks and death rays shoot pop-pops at a man in a rubber suit. You'll never catch me declaring Death Kappa a good film, but it never pretends to be. It's good for a laugh. Two laughs? Well, mileage will vary.
At 75 minutes, Death Kappa will be either just the right amount of fun or a real struggle, depending on how funny you find watching the big rubber suits crush plastic models. Boys will be boys, after all.
Cross-published on Ornery-Crosby and Twitch.