Friday, June 13, 2014

TARKUS is Kaiju

So, as I was driving down from Little Rock listening over and over to my favorite concept album, Emerson Lake & Palmer's TARKUS [1971]  (Side A, three times, back to back) , it suddenly struck me: TARKUS is a Kaiju.

As I've recently learned, Godzilla (Gojira) monster movies (a.k.a. 'men in rubber suits') are called Kaiju ('strange creatures' -- i.e., monster) movies in Japan. Until quite recently I'd only seen two Godzilla films: The original movie (and only that in its Americanized form, with Raymond Burr, who wasn't even in the original Japanese version) once on tv years ago, plus one Godzilla movie in the theaters back around 1970 or so (this I've since worked out to have been MONSTER ZERO, featuring Godzilla vs. King Ghidaroh, the three-headed dragon). I'd also seen the awful American Godzilla film from the late nineties, but frankly like many people most of my knowledge about Godzilla came from the Blue Oyster Cult song of the same name.

Recently, however, we've seen a number of Godzilla films from different eras as part of our occasional anime/movie night (one of our group being an aficionado of, and knowledgeable about, Kaiju, and maybe that growing familiarity with giant-monster movies made me spot TARKUS's affinities with the genre.

Think of it: he's born out of an erupting volcano, making him like unto a force of nature (a standard theme with the kaiju monsters). He looks like a bizarre mix of armored armadillo and halftrack/tank, and his whole story is a series of battles against other, similar monsters. First he confronts Stone of Years, who looks rather like an ambulatory nuclear power plant, and easily crushes him. Next comes Iconoclast, who resembles a fighter jet/ pterodactyl, and is similarly defeated. Third is Mass, an armored grasshopper with missiles, who again is destroyed. Finally comes Manticore. It's also been a theme that each of the monsters Tarkus confronts is larger than the last, they all turn out to be considerably smaller than Tarkus himself (as my cousin Sam, who introduced me to the album, pointed out to me long ago). Manticore, by contrast, is as big as Tarkus himself. He also stands out as the only organic-looking monster in the lot. And their battle turns out very differently: at the climax of the piece, Manticore stings Tarkus in the eye with his poisoned scorpion-tail, and the dying Tarkus plunges into the ocean to become 'AquaTarkus'.   It's a simple, dramatic plot to structure the mostly instrumental piece around; it just took me a while to recognize the pattern, creatures, et al as strongly reminiscent of the Godzilla movies.

Too bad nobody made an animated film of Tarkus back in the day; I'd have watched it.

current reading: A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA (re-reading, for Book Group)
currrent music: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer: TARKUS
current audiobook: THE STORY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE by McWhorter [2004]

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