I don’t mess with COVID-related content. I’ve lived it for the past 18 months and, when I watch a movie, I absolutely do not want to be reminded of it in any way. Locked Down? I refuse to watch it. Songbird? Fuck off. I simply don’t want to interact with pandemic-themed content from people trying to turn a quick buck while we’re still going through it. However, there is a small subset of films that actually use the pandemic to its advantage. Host was a cool little Zoom-based horror film that referenced the pandemic to justify its remote filming, but didn’t harp on it too much. Perhaps my favorite piece of pandemic-themed related content to come from this whole endeavor is Shunji Iwai’s The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 (8日で死んだ怪獣の12日の物語). This is a film that, initially, I wanted to be annoyed by on principle alone, but it doesn’t take long, in the slightest, to realize that Iwai’s approach to working the pandemic into this story is one of the few ones that is genuinely lovely and truly inspires hope in the audience. Think of it as the Ted Lasso of Japanese kaiju pandemic dramas, of sorts.
The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 follows Sato (Takumi Saitoh, playing a version of himself), an out-of-work actor held up in his Tokyo apartment due to the onset of COVID. While in lockdown and at the behest of filmmaker Shinji Higuchi (also playing himself over Zoom), Sato takes on a hobby of raising capsule monsters (a fictionalized kaiju version of those small foam toys that would expand in water, essentially) to defeat the virus. In conversations with his friends, including other actors, a restauranteur living in Cambodia, and his parasocial relationship with a YouTuber also raising her own capsule monsters, Sato uses these monsters (which evolve and mutate from day-to-day) to work through his pandemic depression.
The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 isn’t a kaiju film in the typical sense, as there’s no massive Godzilla vs. Kong smackdowns in the middle of Tokyo, but there’s something to be said about COVID being the silent kaiju in this equation, with the actual “creatures” of the film taking on the role of valiant protector of the citizens of Tokyo. It’s a quiet, intimate, and really lovely film that captures the scary, but admittedly unpredictable, early days of lockdown where we all just…took on a random hobby we’ve been putting off. I’m glad we’re (hopefully…get vaccinated) turning a new leaf on this era, but there is some wonder to be found in all the damn bread I made for no reason last spring.
The major difference in this film, compared to some of the Western equivalents, simply comes in how the film works as a rallying cry for people to act in the self-interest of all of humanity, rather than focusing on how COVID has revealed some of the deepest pitfalls of humanity (particularly here in America). There is value in finding the good in every situation, or at least trying to find ways to resolve a bad situation into something good, and that purity is simply something you don’t see in a lot of films, especially not presented this earnestly.
On top of that, The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 illustrates a very moving picture of how attachment and grief intertwine with each other in such a counterproductive, but ultimately very human way. We’ve all suffered loss of a loved one or a pet, and the pain of it all almost makes you wonder if giving love and attaching yourself to someone is even worth it at points. This is a film that illustrates this in a plain and deeply emotional manner. It’s more of an express version of deep grief, but the way in which the narrative works into the aforementioned storyline of hope in the wake of a pandemic, is really magical.
And sure, maybe some of the metaphors, particularly in the film’s final act, are heavy handed, but the intention behind them is so pure and genuine that it’s hard to sit here and pretend like they still didn’t fully resonate with me long after the credits rolled. Now that time has passed since the start of the pandemic, the releases of pandemic-related content is beginning to flow a bit more freely, and the time it’s taken since the start of it all means that carefully-produced, lovingly-crafted stories are finally coming out after the onslaught of the sloppy cash-grabs made this time last year. The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 is one of the more uplifting and touching films I’ve seen in a while, let alone while being about the pandemic. It inspires an earnest, almost inconceivable level of hope heading into the crisis, and still being in it at the time of its release makes its message clearer than ever. Maybe we can do a sequel about a kaiju forcing you to get the vaccine next.
Screening during the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Final score: 4 out of 5.