June-ing the Cult: Tars Tarkas and the Golden Bat
Ôgon Batto aka The Golden Bat 1966
Throughout the month of June, I’m taking a look at some of the more obscure and foreign cult superhero films with the help of some of my favorite bloggers who have seen plenty of cult films of their own. I’m a day late but still here for this week’s June-ing the cult where I’m taking a look at one of the first Japanese superhero movies from a blogger who has seen quite a few older superhero films himself. And so here’s Tars Tarkas who chose the Golden Bat.
Japanese Tokusatsu films brought worlds of heroes to life, but Golden Bat (Ôgon batto – 黄金バット) predates them all. Not in that it is the oldest such movie, but the hero Golden Bat dates back to 1930s Kamishibai, a story telling device using cartoon panels displayed like a slideshow while an entertainer tells a story to gathered schoolchildren. Usually connected to mobile carts, the story tellers make their money by selling treats to the kids. The Golden Bat film is essentially a live-action version of one of these stories, with the amazing hero with super powers that defends the Earth from nefarious aliens. It also has a guy in a skull costume from Atlantis and Sonny Chiba battling aliens in ridiculous costumes. It’s an amazing treasure of a film that has never gotten the due it deserves, so it’s a fitting film to have Bubba watch. I’m Tars Tarkas from TarsTarkas.NET, and traveling the world of pop cinema is what I do.
There wasn’t much that I really knew about The Golden Bat before watching it aside from the fact that it was one of the first Japanese superhero movies. I did find the title of another Golden Bat film that was supposedly made in 1950, but I couldn’t find anything about it aside from the title and a short cast list. This one was more popular since it did come from the movie studio Toei and it starred one of the more popular Japanese actors Sonny Chiba as the lead scientist in this weird, secret government agency. It has a very classic sci-fi B-movie feel to it with this group of scientists running around in white costumes and laser guns while they fight a group of aliens who are played by guys in black costumes with laser rifles.
But what really makes this a superhero movie is the Golden Bat himself. The look was rather bizarre, they initially find him in a coffin in the middle of the sea where Atlantis has risen back up from the depths. He has the head of a skeleton which is full mask that covers his eyes and the mouth barely moves. He also has a sparkly body suit which is quite possibly supposed to be gold colored, but the film is in black and white. He has a dark, flowing cape and the outfit is topped off with a fighting cane with a large round ball at the tip which can also fire lasers out of the end. He can also fly and can either turn into a small bat, or has a small bat as a companion that can turn into a pendant so the humans can call for his help. As a hero, he is a bit of an oddity since the skeleton feels like more of a horror motif, and he even has this deep and booming laugh that sounds more creepy than heroic.
The rest of the film feels very much like the format of a Power Rangers episode which obviously pulls a lot from this genre. There’s the big villain Nazo who spends all of the movie just standing in the middle of a console in this alien tower that looks like a cross between a drill and a squid wearing sunglasses. He has three minions: Jackal, Keloid, and Piranha. Jackal looks like a werewolf, Keloid has half of his face disfigured but also has sparkles in his hair and acts in a very comical and effemenate way quite often, and Piranha is the female of the group and has shapeshifting and invisibility powers. For his part, the Golden Bat is generally unstoppable. The only time there’s any real conflict is when he’s not around, or in one instance where the villains have hostages that they are about to kill. Surprisingly they do actually kill the first two hostages in that situation before the Golden Bat gives in.
There really is so much to unpack out of this film as it’s so episodic as it goes from one mini-adventure to another. There is a somewhat overarching story involving Nazo’s plot to bring the planet Icarus out of orbit to crash into the Earth, while the secret group of scientists have this super destructive beam cannon which will be able to destroy the planet, but only when it gets close enough. There are various other moving parts involved where the different villains end up kidnapping various hero characters including the old American looking guy who speaks in a jarringly deep Japanese voice and the customary young girl who is a part of the team and the one who the Golden Bat latches onto as her guardian. There are a lot of moving parts, but at the same time it’s very simplistic and easy to follow. It’s just hard to describe without going through it beat by beat. The special effects feel about a decade old with models and miniatures that feel like they belong in Hollywood sci-fi B-movies of the 50’s. But overall it was a lot of fun to watch even if it didn’t always make a lot of sense. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.