Kyofu densetsu: Kaiki! Furankenshutain/The Monster of Frankenstein (1981)

The Monster of Frankenstein (1981)‘In fact, we found the victim of an equally brutal murder in the park this morning. Ah, this is excellent tea!’

Dr Frankenstein creates a monster from cadavers but rejects his creation. It goes on the rampage but eventually befriends the scientist’s daughter and her blind grandfather. Unfortunately, Frankenstein is obsessed with destroying the creature and the local population are only too happy to join in…

Before Marvel became the global cinematic juggernaut it is today, their early steps into TV and film were pretty random, and betrayed a total lack of strategy or planning. Witness this early 1980s Japanese Anime feature based on their comic book series ‘The Monster of Frankenstein.’ This is a strange beast indeed; a very serious adaptation that embraces adult themes, dramatic tragedy and a fair amount of of gore. It’s certainly not for young children, and took three years before being released in the US in a dubbed version.

Of course, Mary Shelley’s original novel has been brought to the screen in countless incarnations, most of them bearing only a passing resemblance to the source material. To some extent that’s the case here, but the results are at least true to the spirit of the novel, with Frankenstein the scientist the definite villain of the piece and the monster a misunderstood and tragic figure. The film’s cleverest move is to give Frankenstein a young daughter and turn the blind hermit familiar from ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935) into the scientist’s father and former mentor. This allows for an emotional core to proceedings, which centre on the creature’s arrival in the scientist’s hometown and a chain of unfortunate events and misunderstandings that inevitably lead to a bleak, and surprisingly hard-hitting, finish.

The Monster of Frankenstein (1981)

‘Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit…’

Certainly, the film’s greatest strength is the storytelling. I’m not familiar with the original comic book series so I have no idea how closely it’s been adapted here, but it’s skilfully and economically done with some fresh and interesting choices. Also, without the limitations of an actor in a costume, the production delivers a truly giant and impressive creature.

Information on the technical crew behind this enterprise seems somewhat limited but Toyoo Ashida was in charge of animation. He was a veteran of Japanese TV and has credits stretching right back to the early 1970s. Of course the technique on display doesn’t rival the achievements of more modern artists working for Studio Ghibli for example, but it still delivers with a style appropriate to its comic book roots, and the young heroine will seem familiar to those who follow more recent achievements in the genre.

An interesting variation on the Frankenstein legend, including some smart narrative choices. If you’re a fan of the story, or Japanese Anime in general, you should really check this out.


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