So here’s a strange quirk. The availability of Asian films here in the UK is fairly limited. There are good distributors doing good things, but on the whole you have to say the selection is somewhat spotty. The odd award winner will make it’s way over, but if you really wanted to follow a director/actor? It is fairly hard. There is one strange exception, and that seems to be the more recent works of Takashi Miike. Basically, I am fairly sure you can pick up 90% of anything he has done since “Audition” on a R2. Now, there are exceptions, for example, I don’t believe the much loved “Ace Attorney” got a UK release, but that maybe makes some kind of sense, as it is based on a fairly obscure computer game. And computer game films are usually rank. But when I came across this particular film, on Blu-Ray nonetheless, I was rather confused. It is based on a Japanese TV show I am pretty sure had no coverage over here, and although I was aware of the film, it seems a strange choice to release. But I do like most of his works, and I am always up for a more mature take on subjects that would have some nostalgia value. Plus, whilst you don’t get to read about it so much on here, but I am a total sucker for superhero films. I’m a nerd. Sue me. Anyways, I thought.. why not? Plus it was stupidly cheap.
The heroes of “Yatterman” are Gan (Shō Sakurai) and his girlfriend Ai (Saki Fukuda), who have the alter egos of Yatterman No.1 and Yatterman No.2. They are assisted by a little robot, Toybotty and a large robot, Yatterwoof. Their usual and persistent foes are the Dorombo gang – the beautiful Lady Doronjo (Kyoko Fukada), the mouse-like genius Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase), and the pig-like muscle Tonzra (Kendo Kobayashi). The Gang are directed by the self acclaimed God of Thieves Skullobey, who wants them to collect the 4 pieces of the mysterious Skull stone. The Yatter-crew are assisted by Shoko Kaieda (Anri Okamoto), the schoolgirl daughter of archaeologist Dr. Kaieda (Sadao Abe), who has gone missing while searching for the Skull stone. Fights of course ensue, whilst the very existence of the world is at threat. And at the same time, we find out a little about the nature of love, and that maybe even the bad guys are humans too.
Full disclosure time. I’ve no idea about the original anime that the film was based on, other than what I can look up online. I can see that it probably wasn’t the best of the genre, and possibly more interesting because of the occasionally risqué content for a kid’s show – and I mean more Boobs and Farts than anything too subversive. But saying that, it does seem to be a subject worthy of lampooning and re-developing.
It is colourful and fun. The tongue is firmly in cheek, and there are a ton of little Easter eggs dotted around for those who have the background to understand them. The CGI is prevalent, but it feels suitable. It is basically a kids TV show, amped up with a little Miike weirdness. Which is maybe part of the problem. Just who is the audience for this? A small demographic of 30 something’s who remember the show? It might look like a kids film, but it certainly isn’t. And for those of us who like a little Miike subversivness, it frankly doesn’t go far enough.
The structure of the film is at once clever, but also utterly the failing of it. The joke is that the Yatter-crew fight evil at 5.30 on a Saturday evening (i.e. when the show is on), but this means we get a very repetitive structure. And this is yet another example where the director really could have trimmed down the near 2 hours to a much more palatable 80-90 minutes. It isn’t that it gets boring, there is far too much going on for that to be the case, but there is an element of frustration, that there could be something much cleverer going on here.
I’ll have to concede it is very funny. The opening fight is hilarious, and when Yatter-woof goes off to find the villains the whole logistical stupidity of the idea is brilliantly displayed.
It would be wrong to admire/criticise the acting, as we have to remember, this is a silly pastiche of a silly show. Over-acting of course is the name of the game. Sadly, the film is weighed down by the utter dullness of the heroes. Shō Sakurai is given nothing to do with a lead hero so bland you hardly notice he is there. Saki Fukuda fares a bit better, as she is at least allowed to pout a little. Anri Okamoto is completely wasted. The villains fare much better, with Katsuhisa Namase being a huge amount of fun underneath his mouse-like nosepiece.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), the real star is Kyoko Fukada. Sexy and funny, and with an actual character arc to work with, she is worth the price of admission alone. If she wasn’t present, the film would be a colourful curio, but she actually elevates it, giving someone at least to be interested in and care about. Even if she is the bad guy.
So there is a lot to enjoy. It won’t win any awards. You wouldn’t recommend it as an example of the director’s work. It can be a bit like eating just too many sweets. Yet it is genuinely funny in a silly way. It isn’t clever. It just is what it is. Kyoko Fukada gives the film a surprising amount of heart though, if you can see past all the bright flashy stuff. And it is very competently made. It just falls between the stalls of being nostalgic and post-modern.