By the end of the sixties, Toei had begun to branch off with a series of low-budget pictures, none of which are remembered fondly. While the main crew we know and love was busy creating Horus, Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, the glory days of the Toei studio were numbered.
The Flying Ghost Ship is rare, even for Toei movies. I think the fansub comes from a Russian DVD. This was because the movie was a joint venture between Russia and Japan. This is why all the dialog is in Russian - or at least in the fansub copy we can all download and watch. Perhaps it's also a symbol of its quick, slapdash nature. I'm sure more work was put into Horus on a good day than this entire movie's production. It's a fast, in-and-out affair.
I hope that doesn't sound too harsh. I happen to like Flying Ghost Ship; it has the feel of a cheesy 1950's B-movie. You almost expect to find Tom Servo and Crow sneaking into the front row and making wisecracks. Those kind of movies are fun for me. Heck, if any anime deserved to be shown on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, it would be this one.
I really do like the poster, though. I'm a real fan of classic Japanese movie posters. There's something about that art style, the way they cram so many details onto the page. The dramatic poses, the highlights from key scenes, the mountains of text. Those were the days of real movie posters. Everything today is handled squarely by marketing, and it all looks so dull, so plastic. Yawn. Do yourself a favor and collect a few classic movie posters for your home. I guarantee it will brighten the mood and make you cooler to your friends.
Back to Flying Ghost Ship. This is a short picture, only an hour, and yet it manages to cram three different storylines into its length. First, there is, um, ahem....alright, it's a cheesy Scooby Doo knockoff. See? They even have the same kind of dog. But this one doesn't talk or get baked on Scooby Snacks (now legal for medicinal uses). Which means this dog is really lame. But we do get a haunted house and a pirate ghost.
From that, we move onto a larger conspiracy involving the Ghost Ship and a giant robot attacking the city. Yep, it's yet another giant monster stomping Tokyo. Ghibli Freaks will sit up and pay attention, though. This monster robot attack was key animated by Hayao Miyazaki. And, predictably enough, it's the best scene in the movie. The shots of tanks rumbling through a crowded downtown would be riffed, years later, in the Lupin III Series Two finale, Farewell, Beloved Lupin.
There are also a couple more Miyazaki riffs, which both appeared later in Future Boy Conan. One would be the uniformed guards for the evil corporation, and the other would be the pirate "ghost," revealed to be....ah, that would be spoiling things. C'mon, you can download this and watch for yourself. Shouldn't take you any time at all.
Somehow, the movie ends with the hero and a young scientist girl in a submarine, diving towards a secret ocean base where a giant sea monster plots to destroy Japan. Oh, didn't I tell you? These giant crabs suddenly appear out of nowhere and start smashing things. Hah! Giant monsters are Japan's answer to the Death Star. If any movie gets stuck, here's your cheap plot escape - monster attack!
There's one more plot thread that really struck me, because it's a near-perfect copy to the "Slurm" episode of Futurama. That's the one where an immensely popular soft drink is, in fact, alien goo. And the whole corporate scheme is just a scam to take over the world. Hmm....yeah, somebody on the Futurama staff has most likely seen this movie. I wonder if he confessed where the original idea came from? It's not likely the plaigerism would be called out. Flying Ghost Ship, after all, isn't even available on DVD in Japan.
A couple more notes about Flying Ghost Ship. There was another riff in this movie, one that I've mentioned before. It's a deathbed confession scene that quotes Horus, and was used yet again in Conan in 1978. Miyazaki certainly took a lot from this movie when he was making Conan. Perhaps he just really liked those scenes he worked on, and didn't want them to wallow in obscurity.
The second thing I wanted to point out was that this film was Yoichi Kotabe's first as Animation Director. As always, his faithful wife, Reiko Okuyama, was by his side, working just as hard and proving herself brilliant. In their future lay Heidi and Marco, and Kotabe would serve as Animation Director for Toei Doga's 1979 feature Dragon Boy Taro, a brilliant film and an echo of Toei's golden age. Flying Ghost Ship? Eh, not so much. A picture like this points towards Toei's decline, one that has proved more or less permenent.