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Long ago, in a world untouched by the internet, there was an era called the 1970ís, the early part of which seemed like the hangover from a particularly rough 1960ís LSD flashback.  Clothing choices were questionable, public mores were flexible and gender roles were confused.  A fine encapsulation of the period comes from an animation studio from Japan.  Tatsunoko Productions churned out half-hour episodes of trippy superhero cartoons for Japanese children, created by writers and artists in residence such as Vampire Hunter Dís legendary Yoshitaka Amano.  The West only got a glimpse of the strange magic of Tatsunoko; the jewel in the studioís anime crown, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, aired here in a barely recognisable, reconstructed, hyper-edited version that included the insertion of a US-produced character, an R2-D2 ripoff droid who would pop up to shield the showís increasing violence from the eyes of delicate American children.  That anime featured a team of five teenage ninjas (- decades before those turtle things) each costumed as a different bird (- eagle, swan, etc.), who flew around in a fabulous airship called the God Phoenix (- which, like its namesake, was set ablaze to get the kids out of jams) and intercepted attacks on the earth by a hermaphrodite dressed in a skintight catsuit and a mask of the Egyptian jackal god, Anubis.  When I asked Yoshitaka Amano, character designer on Gatchaman about his weird cast, he summed it up by saying, ďthose were psychedelic times.Ē

Who better then, to helm a live action version of another 1970ís Tatsunoko animated head trip called Yatterman, than the prolific maverick of Japanese cinema, director Takashi Miike?  As Miike has shown with films like Audition, Ichi the Killer, and Sukiyaki Western Django, he has no problem embracing the weird and is clearly having a lark with Yatterman.  Stomping the same psychedelic superhero ground as the earlier Gatchaman, Yatterman is the story of two talented teen do-gooders, a pretty boy, Gan-chan, and a cute girl, Ai-chan, toymaking geniuses (- and fashion prodigies, judging by their giant Tito Jackson floppy caps) locked in battle with the Doronbo Gang.  The villainous crew consists of curvaceous, blonde Doronji, whose uniform is comprised of a leather corset, fishnet stockings and some hand-me-downs from Gatchamanís hermaphrodite, Berg Katse, and her two devoted, dim subordinates, Boyacky and Tonzra.  There must have been a rule at Tatsunoko that all the sexy bad guys must wear masks with very large pointy ears - itís actually more fetching than it sounds.  Gan and Ai use homemade mecha, adorable robots and toy-like weapons to foil Doronjiís outrageous schemes for power, illicit financial gain and most importantly, simply beating the Yatterman team in battle.  This is a regular thing between the two crews with the Doronbo faction losing every time, usually due to their rampant stupidity.  The stakes are raised on their endless combat when the villains attempt to steal a piece of the mystic Skull Stone, which will bring them the ever-popular comic prize, world domination.  Will Gan and Ai stop the Doronbo Gang and save the stone, will Gan finally realise his true feelings for Ai, will Gan stop flirting with the sexy bad guy?

Almost in answer to the joyless fever dream that was 2008ís Speed Racer, Miike treads many of the same boards, determined to show the Wachowskis and all Western moviegoers how you do over-the-top live-action anime.  There is such an explosion of comic book colour, special effects, unrepentant silliness and unexpected raunch in Yatterman that you can practically hear Miike cackling as itís all being hurled at your eye-sockets.  This is one expensive cartoon with a pulse, and Miike takes full advantage of the large budget to provide us with a perfect Yatterwan (- the good guysí puppy-shaped vehicle of choice), some Matrix-like mechanical scares and a Doronbo mecha that destroys its enemies by way of Oppai Bombs (- Iím not translating that) before deciding rather graphically that it would rather make love, not war with said puppybot.

Iím reminded of the Tatsunoko artistsí joke of occasionally inserting a single frame of Gatchamanís micro-miniskirted heroine, Jun/Princess sans knickers into the kiddie cartoon that was revealed in laserdisc freeze frames.  That spirit of naughtiness, or ecchi, as itís called in Japan, is very much present in Yatterman.  Miikeís unsubtle, gleeful perversity is the most inspired aspect of the whole film.  While moments like the mecha sex, flat-out dirty visual jokes - in English! - or Gan sucking poison out of Doronjiís scorpion-bitten inner thigh wouldnít faze tykes in Japan, thereís no way in Center Neptune that this would fly past US censors.  Iím all for anime (- live action or otherwise) not necessarily being kiddie-viewable, but in the case of Yatterman, that leaves you with a movie thatís overlong, unevenly paced and a narrative not clever enough to keep an adultís attention.  As an anime fan, I was able to appreciate some of the self-aware inside jokes with Miike gently poking fun at the very earnestness and innocence so associated not only with squeaky-clean Gan-chan and Ai-chan, but with most anime heroes in those days before the medium discovered angst.  Bearing in mind that Yatterman never made it to US shores, I wonder if some of the charm might be lost when the source material is unfamiliar.  Still, this is going to be huge in back home.  Though it only ran for two seasons, Miike told me the Yatterman anime is beloved in Japan has returned to Japanese television in various remake forms over the past 30 years.  The director hits every totem with affection; Yatterwan? Ė check, Odatebuta cameo? Ė yep, Yatterman dance? Ė oh, yeah.  He even seals the deal with his fresh-faced cast, including the chipmunk-cheeked pop star, Sho Sakurai as Gan-chan, which is guaranteed to pack the audience with his fans regardless of his performance.  Sakurai was pretty adorable, but thatís really all he was required to be Ė Raging Bull this ainít.  The true star was Kyoko Fukada, who carries the film off in thigh-high leather boots as the dimwitted, avaricious sexpot Doronji; vamping it up with gusto while keeping her bad girl a misguided good girl at heart.

I appreciated Miikeís commitment to make Yatterman a true, unapologetic live action anime, and moreover, keeping the strangeness and relative unsophistication specific to 1970ís anime by heaping on the silliness, bombast and puerile humour with nostalgic affection.  Yatterman isnít without fun or entertaining moments and is undoubtedly a massive improvement from the unfortunate Speed Racer.  I also prefer it to Miikeís last, Sukiyaki Western Django, but it suffers from trying to make an epic out a half-hour cartoon and worst of its sins, the erratic pacing is deadly.  Unfortunately, for all the dedication and energy demonstrated by director and cast, in the end Yatterman is more tiresome than thrilling and winds up as just a lot of staticky noise.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb 25th, 2009

 

 

 

© 2006-2017 The Diva Review.com

 

Photos

(Courtesy of Subway Cinema, Tatsunoko Production / Yatterman Film Partners/ screen grabs by LMD)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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