The Mystical Laws is a movie so bad–a movie that gets so many things wrong–that it passes through mere incompetence to emerge in that fairy tale world inhabited by Plan 9 From Outer Space and Batman Forever. Don’t let its initially professional sheen mislead you. This is a movie that creeps toward insanity on soft little cat paws before pouncing and wrestling itself into utter and hilarious incoherence.
The story is set in 202x–yes, in one of its many ludicrous touches it gives us the decade but not the year, as though that slight ambiguity might matter–and the world is gradually falling under the sway of the Godom Empire. That’s another silly bit of ambiguity, as all the other countries have real-world names, and on-screen maps show that Empire fitting snugly and exactly within China’s present-day borders. The Godom Empire is under the rule of Tathagata Killer, a masked, whip-wielding maniac who is using extra-terrestrial technology to conquer the world. (Bwa-ha-ha!) Ranged against him is Hermes Wings, a Doctors Without Borders-like organization that masks a liberty- and peace-loving secret society. Our story’s hero is Sho Shishimaru, a doctor who is whisked to Hermes headquarters and anointed as its new director just before a double-agent shoots the old director in the head.
This much, at least, is competently executed, and for the first thirty minutes or so you will probably feel as though you’re watching a slightly ponderous but reasonably intelligent techno-military thriller–something with a Tom Clancy vibe. The only question will be how queasy its geopolitics make you feel. The story has the Godom Empire seizing a Taiwan analogue, invading India, and massing a fleet against Japan while an impotent United States stands aside after advanced Godom submarines decimate its carriers. The movie’s vision gets darker along several dimensions, though, after Godom launches an invasion across the Sea of Japan: We get a would-be supernatural intervention as the “spirit of Japan” tries vainly to turn back the neo-Mongol hordes, followed by scenes of brutal occupation and the extermination of the Japanese language, culture, and national identity. Given all this–and a script that isn’t shy about denouncing a pacifistic Japanese ministry–it isn’t hard to read the first half The Mystical Laws as a nationalistic, anti-China diatribe.
Luckily, or unluckily, depending on how you feel about such things, by the time we get the scenes of
Chinese Godomese soldiers machine-gunning Japanese school children the movie has already begun to shift in a much goofier direction. Sho is saved from assassination by some Buddhist monks who tell him that he is the reincarnation of Buddha, and that he is the long-prophesied “Savior” who will appear in dark times to save the world. Sho–who otherwise appears to be a nice but rather ineffectual thirty-something metrosexual–is initially baffled, but he goes off to meditate under a tree. There, he is approached by a stranger who reveals that, in addition to being the Buddha, Sho is also the reincarnation of a King of Venus from 500,000,000 BC; that the Earth was colonized by Venusians after its climate changed; and that other exiled Venusians–who wound up on other planets–have been infiltrating the Earth and giving technology to the Godom Empire. There’s also something about a magic Inca staff buried under Lake Titicaca, and the “god of the Earth” (who may be another of Sho’s identities) shows up to give Sho a pep talk. Sho then he takes off in a spaceship to meet with the female scientist who has been playing extra-terrestrial Santa Claus to the naughty little boys back in we’re-not-going-to-come-out-and-call-it-Beijing-but-a-wink-wink-is-as-good-as-a-crack-to-the-ribs.
At this point we get a solid thirty minutes of backstory involving the planet Vega; an ultimate destructive weapon; something about Atlantis and Mu; and the warning that the “conscience of the Earth” will rouse itself and wipe out humanity if human beings don’t straighten up and start flying right. Meanwhile, Tathagata Killer has been talking to invisible people, levitating furniture, boasting of his own “perfection”, and manifesting supernatural powers in a way that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever read any evangelical Christian pre-Tribulation fantasy literature. (It’s not until late in the story, though, that his eyes roll back in his head and the demon-peepers come out.) At only one point does Sho actually do anything except sit under a tree and meditate, and that’s when he runs through a sleepy little Japanese resort, banging on the doors like a Paul Revere in chinos, warning them that the Godoms are coming.
I’m reluctant to say any more about the plot, not because of spoilers, but because it gets even more ridiculous, if you can believe it, and you might accuse me of making things up.
Production values are actually reasonably solid; it’s the script that is mind-boggling bad. (Sample dialogue: “We must avoid the worst-case scenario at all cost!” “Let’s go take out the ultimate destructive weapon!” and “You are the origin of happiness of this planet.” Hopefully it sounds better in the original Venusian or whatever language the writer composed it in.) Character designs are generic in a very stolid, quasi-realistic way, but there are a few spiffy battles and chase scenes. It looks like it has a budget behind it until the horribly integrated CG effects show up near the end, but by that point they’re less an insult than just the movie shaking the dew off its meretriciously gilded lily.
A little research suggests there’s a method behind The Mystical Laws madness: it was produced, or financed, or otherwise associated with Japan’s Happy Science religious group; that fact certainly explains why it climaxes with a five-minute homily of stunning banality.
Its unintentional hilarity aside, there’s really nothing about The Mystical Laws to recommend. The setup for a jingoistic thriller is entirely wasted; the ostensible hero does nothing except worry that doing nothing will lead to bad things (a fear amply justified by the film that results); even the insane mumbo-jumbo is presented flatly. It’s a film to be approached (though avoiding it is a much wiser course) with the same careful preparation as anything from the Ed Wood oeuvre: Watch it for the bad stuff, and try not to be disappointed when it rises just a little bit above your own abysmal expectations.