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Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff

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1992-11-06 Chicago Tribune.jpg


Prior to 1977, science fiction films were sort of relegated to mostly a B-movie status and was often geared more to kids than adults. Then along came "Star Wars" and science fiction became stellar business.

Since then, science fiction and video have grown up together, and the choices available to sci-fi fans have skyrocketed.

But sci-fi video is so much more than just the ever-popular "Star Wars" or "Star Trek' tapes—or the other box office science fiction hits they've spawned: From "Terminator" to "Aliens."

"It's mindboggling what's out there now," said Larry Charet, owner of Larry's Comic Book Store at 1219 W. Devon Ave. "There's a treasure of science fiction materials available on film. Things you'd never think you'd find."

In fact, there are now sub-genres. For example, one of the hottest science fiction categories on home video is Japanese animation, also know as Japanimation.

"Cartoons in Japan are not children's entertainment," said Bronwyn Feller, manager of the Stars Our Destination science fiction bookstore at 1021 W. Belmont Ave.

"Japanese animation is absolutely adult programming, and contains much more sex and violence than any cartoon you're likely for see here in the states," she added. "Plus, the quality of the animation is very good. In many ways, it's on the cutting edge of technology."

Japanese animation also fits in well with the mood of much of today's science fiction print stories, said Feller.

"Science fiction on a whole has been going through a revolution in the past few years and something that's very big now is cyberpunk: people interfacing with computers," she said. "Most Japanese animation takes place in a futuristic setting of a dark and violent world. Those are aspects that are very popular now."

One of the best selling Japanimation titles is "Akira," a 1990 animated feature about a group of motorcycle-riding teens in post World War III Japan. The film was based on a popular and very violent Japanese comic book of the same name.

Another popular title is "Beautiful Dreamer," a 1984 romantic-comedy science fiction feature based on a popular series created by female comic book artist Rumiko Takahashi. The cassette features the original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. Other hot Japanimation titles are "Lensman," "Robotech," "Fist of the North Star" and "The Bubble Gum Crisis."

Another surprisingly good seller are episodes of the Japanese-produced "Speed Racer," an animated syndicated series produced in 1967 and aired in the states through the 1970s.

"These tapes are gaining a whole new generation of fans," said Dale Harrah, owner of the Toontown Comic Co. at 3954 N. Southport Ave.

Another strong science fiction category is British television programs such as "Dr. Who" and "Blake's Seven," despite the fact that these shows were aired locally on WTTW-Ch. 11 for years.

"These tapes do quite well on video," said Charet. "What sells especially well are those 'Dr. Who' tapes of episodes or materials that haven't been seen on television. But now, even the regular tapes are still selling strong because the show is not playing on WTTW, and people miss them."

A couple of popular "Dr. Who" recent releases include: "Shada" (1979), a partially-completed program which never aired because of a BBC strike; and "The Tomb of the Cyberman' (1967), an episode from the series that was thought to be lost for 20 years.

Also doing strong business are science fiction films from a pre-"Star Wars" era.

"These films are not classics but they're enjoyable and entertaining films," said Greg Luce, owner of Sinister Cinema, a Medford, Oregon-based video catalog outlet specializing in science fiction and fantasy films as well as a number of related sub-genres.

Luce's catalog features more than 1,000 titles, most from the 1950s and 1960s and priced at $19. Among his best sellers are:

  • "Attack of the Giant Leeches", a 1959 low-budget film that combines adultery with mutated bloodsuckers.
  • "The Killer Shrews," another mutated monster film from 1959 in which 3-foot shrews attack James Best and Ken Curtis.
  • "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms," a 1953 film in which a prehistoric creature is awakened by A-bomb testing. Stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen provided the special effects.
  • "Lightning Bolt," a low-budget combination science fiction and spy film from 1965.
  • "Secret of the Telegian," a 1962 science fiction murder-mystery from Toho Films, which also produced the Godzilla movies.

Other Sinister Cinema hits include films that Luce calls "lovably bad": "Plan 9 From Outer Space," a 1959 cheapie that was Bela Lugosi's last film; "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," a 1963 gore fest that features a mad scientist and his decapitated lover, and "Monsters Crash the Pajama Party," a 1965 film that.

Such films are popular, said Luce, because of their nostalgic value. "We all remember and love these films from the drive-ins or TV when we were kids," he said.

In fact, Luce pairs up movies in a drive-in tape package, complete with trailers and snack bar ads. Among the more popular pairings are "The Crawling Eye" and The Cosmic Monster," which both starred Forest Tucker and were released simultaneously to theaters in 1958.

Japanimation, "Dr. Who" and other tapes are available at the above mentioned Larry's Comic Book Store, Toontown Comic Co., and Stars Our Destination bookstore as well as numerous other science fiction bookstores.

Copies of Luce's Sinister Cinema catalog can be requested by calling 503-773-6860.

Caption: A scene from "Gall Force: Eternal Story."

Caption: B-ko Daitokuji dressed in battle armor from "Project A-ko."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Sulski, Jim (1992-11-06). Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff. Chicago Tribune p. sec. 7, p. 61.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Sulski, Jim. "Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff." Chicago Tribune [add city] 1992-11-06, sec. 7, p. 61. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Sulski, Jim. "Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff." Chicago Tribune, edition, sec., 1992-11-06
  • Turabian: Sulski, Jim. "Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff." Chicago Tribune, 1992-11-06, section, sec. 7, p. 61 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff | url=,_kitsch_classics_no_kids%27_stuff | work=Chicago Tribune | pages=sec. 7, p. 61 | date=1992-11-06 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Japanimation, kitsch classics no kids' stuff | url=,_kitsch_classics_no_kids%27_stuff | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 July 2024}}</ref>