The Golden Bat Phenomenon

I wish I had seen The Golden Bat when I was ten years old. It would have become my new religion. The film is just chock full of monsters, myths, laser guns, giant robots, and no mushy romantic stuff! There is nothing worse than having to sit through people making kissy-face when you could be watching a mechanical squid shoot fireballs out of its eyes!

The Golden Bat is non-stop action, camp, and crazy surprises. It all starts when Nazo the evil alien, dressed in a cross between a furry-fetish, plush suit and an oversized burlap sack, decides to annihilate the Earth. Usually, such villains want to rule the universe which seems like a nightmare job to me, but not Nazo. Nazo wants to kill all the humans because in his words “No one else should exist but me, Nazo!” To this end, Nazo diverts the planet Icarus out of its orbit and sends it on a collision course with Earth. Perhaps choosing the name Icarus was meant to be a commentary on the 1960s space race, but, the movie seems pretty pro-science for the most part. Maybe it’s just the first name that came to the writer’s mind.

So the good guys make a Super Destruction Beam Cannon but they are missing a special material to make the lens. Fortunately, the lost city of Atlantis rises from the bottom of the ocean and suddenly shows up on the good guys’ radar. I don’t know what else to call the team of super-scientist heroes but “the good guys.” They are never given a name. They are a jaunty rabble of U.N. funded people who all dress in matching white turtlenecks, pleated khaki pants, and white gloves.

The jaunty good guys decide to change into silver mylar suits and matching white crash helmets so they can go investigate Atlantis. Apparently, the U.N. is generous with its sartorial budget. Once in Atlantis, they find an Egyptian sarcophagus amidst all the Greek ruins. They open the sarcophagus and inside is a skeleton guy dressed as a silver, vampire, magician. He calls himself the Golden Bat and he gives the good guys the material they need for the Super Destruction Beam Cannon so they all go off to battle Nazo, who appears offshore in a giant mechanical squid that kind of looks like a drill. As mentioned before it shoots fireballs out of its eyes and lasers too.

The bulk of the movie is comprised of the well-dressed good guys battling it out against Nazo’s minions. Nazo spends the movie sealed up in his squid machine. I don’t think he wants to be seen looking like a four-eyed teddy bear that has lost half of its stuffing. His minions consist of three captains or generals or some sort of psychopathic administrators, as administrators often are.

There is Keloid, a guy with big, pointy eyebrows and a mangled face, Piranha, a foxy woman with a fish-scale collar, and Jackal. Jackal is a little difficult to figure out. He has a wolfman head and face but he wears what looks like a furry jumpsuit. The suit might be his actual body, but it has racing stripes down the side so it’s hard to figure out whether he is a nudist, or has strange taste in fashion. The three administrators have an endless supply of completely black-clad fighters that suddenly appear whenever the administrators need them. Unfortunately, whenever the black guys appear they are immediately killed by laser fire. Insert bitterly ironic humor here.

Nazo does have one other trick up his very loose-fitting, terrycloth sleeve. He has what he calls a “human copier.” It’s an amazing device that allows the administrators to take the form of any human they want. However, even such advanced technology has its flaws. The human copies are completely indistinguishable from the originals except that the evil copies have dark eye shadow and pointy eyebrows. The Devil is in the details.

The thing about rabbit holes is you never know how deep they are. When I sat down to watch The Golden Bat all I knew was that it had a great poster, see last illustration. After watching the film and deciding to write about it, I did a little research. The Golden Bat was actually the first superhero in the world. I suppose if you want to count Gilgamesh or Apollo, Golden Bat is not so old, but the original Golden Bat came out in 1931 almost a decade before Superman or Batman. He was created by Suzuki Ichiro and Takeo Nagamatsu to use in their kamishibai. Kamishibai is an amazing and colorful rabbit hole in its own right. It is a form of storytelling where the narrator stands out on the street and gathers together a crowd of children. Once everyone has assembled the storyteller cycles through a series of colorfully drawn cards that illustrate the story he is telling.

It sounds like something very old that developed before movies but the practice began during the depression in the early 1930s.

The Golden Bat began as one of these Kamishibai and was named after Golden Bat Cigarettes, Japan’s oldest and most popular cigarette at the time. The history of Golden Bat Cigarettes is yet another rabbit hole all on its own. The cigarettes were featured in a military operation. General Kenji Doihara used a secret section of the Imperial Japanese Army to produce Golden Bat Cigarettes laced with heroin and opium in an effort to addict and subsequently weaken the Chinese populace.

Shady associations aside the superhero Golden Bat was originally dressed like a cross between a musketeer and an American pilgrim but evolved to look more like an aristocratic vampire over time. After the success of the kamishibai came the comic book and after the comic book came a movie in 1950. Unfortunately, the movie has been lost. Below is one of the only remaining stills.

Then came the branded bubble gum, fireworks, and postage stamps. Then in 1967, the second film was released which is the one I just reviewed above. It was a huge hit and spawned an anime television series that came out that same year. The movie and the series made their way around the world. Italy, Latin America, and Korea all made their own television versions. Somehow it never made it to the United States.

There have been several attempts to make a new Golden Bat movie or television series but nothing has materialized as of yet. If you keep a close watch you will however see references to The Golden Bat layered into numerous anime productions. The 1967 film qualifies as a “so bad its good” film, but it is richer than your average low-budget sci-feature. There is something about stories that come from a well-developed universe that imbue them with richness. J. R. R. Tolkien created a world so detailed, and full that even if his hobbit books only convey a small portion of the hobbitverse they have a robust atmosphere that rises from the fullness of the world in which they take place. The Golden Bat film is a bit lighter than The Lord of the Rings, but I definitely think Golden Bat could take on Sauron any day.

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I have an MFA in painting and I’m an art professor but I managed to convince my school to let me teach film.