Arch Oboler, the “Lights Out!” radio-playwright whiz and 3-D movie pioneer (“Bwana Devil”), has a special place in the affections of longtime movie lovers. He’s one of the quintessential mavericks; his 1950 low-budget nuclear apocalypse fable “Five” has even been cited as a major inspiration to France’s ‘60s New Wave.
But there’s been a piece missing from the Oboler puzzle: his last, rarely seen film, “Domo Arigato,” shot in 1974 in the improved one-projector 3-D process, Space-Vision, which he developed for his 1968 “The Bubble.” Starting today at the Vagabond, “Domo Arigato” is back in the puzzle.
Certainly a must for 3-D fans, Oboler completists and scholars, it’s a disappointment otherwise. It’s not the campy science fiction the title seems to imply, but a meandering travelogue through Japan--shot by two fine cameramen, Don Peterman and Nick McLean--with two incompatible lovers bickering, philosophizing and walking sluggishly through landscapes full of picturesque Oriental wonders that pop out at you like the paddle ball in “House of Wax.”
To demonstrate Space-Vision’s capabilities, we get strange superimpositions in which little gadgets and gewgaws--dolls, sushi plates and the like--hover over the scenes like wayward Calder mobiles.
But then there are those lovers. The man (Jason Ledger), is a med school dropout and Vietnam vet. His dialogue is heavy with the sort of hip argot--lots of “man” and “turn-on"--that a 65-year-old writer-director might pop into the mouth of a helpless youth. The woman, Bonnie Sher, is the executive producer’s daughter. She looks less like the Kansas native she’s supposed to be than a Long Island princess. And she acts like you’d expect an executive producer’s daughter to act. Gingerly.
Endlessly, they banter. He dissipates in wild striptease bars; she stares plaintively at little red bouncy-bouncy toys. He keeps trying to seduce her and unravel the mystery of why she’s obsessed with sightseeing. Every once in while she blinks rapidly, reels and we see a 3-D blur from her “point of view.” While they struggle through this bizarre affair we get the movie’s real raison d’etre: trick shots of a crab scuttling at us, overhead views of clowns and volcanoes, acres of scenery from pagodas to Buddhas and that old reliable roller-coaster ride.
If the scenery palls after a while, it so incenses Jason that he gets into the spirit of things, grabbing a sacred bow and firing an arrow right at the camera. Soon we discover the title’s meaning: “Domo Arigato” doesn’t mean something like “Dome of the Alligators.” It means “Thank you” in Japanese. Hey . . . no domo arigato .
A Sherpix Inc. production. Producer/director/script Arch Oboler. Executive producer Louis K. Sher. Camera Don Peterman. Operator Nick McLean. Production manager Bud Cardos. Spacevision technician Robert Bernier. With Bonnie Sher, Jason Ledger.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Times rated: Mature (Nudity, sex, mature themes.)x