Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Sho Sakurai, Saki Fukuda, Chiaki Takahasi, Kyoko Fukada, Kendo Kobayashi, Katsuhisa Namase, Junpei Takiguchi, Anri Okamoto, Sadao Abe, Koichi Yamadera
Plot: Gan Takada (Sakurai) and his girlfriend Ai (Fukuda) live a double life as the crime fighting heroes Yatterman protecting the city of Tokyoko from the schemes of the Doronbo gang who have been despatched by their boss Skullobey (Takiguchi) to find all four pieces of the legendry Skull Stone.
Review: The career path of director Takashi Miike continues to be a fascinating one to chart, especially since he seemingly made the choice to branch out from his roots established with the gore soaked shock and awe of the films which made up his outlaw years and which equally helped him found a strong fanbase amongst Western audiences. While it’s also true that this change of direction which has certainly seen his output get lighter with these later films might have polarised his fanbase he has equally at the same time produced some of the most interesting films of his career of which this is certainly another great example.
Based on the popular anime series of the same name which despite having 108 episodes never seemingly made it over to the rain soaked shores of the UK, so its safe to say I went into this one completely blind with not even the knowledge of Miike being in the director’s chair being any kind of guide after all here we have a director who gave the world both “Ichi The Killer” and “For Love’s Sake”.
Forgoing the traditional superhero movie plotting, Miike clearly believes his audience would be up to speed on the show before they watched the movie as he throws us straight into a big mecha battle between Yatterman (yes they are both called Yatterman) and the Doronbo Gang who have wheeled out their latest mecha invention in the form of a robot chef. It’s a fun opening which essentially sets the tone for what’s to follow as here Miike is clearly in one of his lighter and certainly more playful moods. That’s not of course to say that he still doesn’t manage to sneak in a few screwed up moments, I mean just wait to see what he does with the mecha Bride that the Doronbo gang build in the second half of the film.
The character designs are kept the same as the original show, which is honestly kind of refreshing in these times were since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy directors constantly seem to be aiming for an element of realism when it comes to directing comic book movies rather than embracing the fantastical elements the genre allows, which is certainly something that Miike has no issues doing as clearly seen with the character design for the members of the Doronbo gang as we have the PVC clad boss Doronjo (Fukada) the rat faced mecha genius and generally lecherous pervert Boyacky (Namase) and rounding out the team we have the pig snout wearing strongman Tonzra (Kobayashi). Despite being so outlandish in their appearance here they strangely work as Miike once again crafts a world for his film to exists within, while at the same time shooting it with such a sense of quirky fun so that like so many aspects of the film you don’t really question it.
One of the moments which truly highlights this is the various get rich schemes that the Doronbo launch to fund their the construction of their latest mecha, which usually share a theme, hence they open a wedding store called “Doro Merry” to fund the construction of the mecha bride “The Bridesmaidiot” or their Yo-Sushi style restaurant they create to fund their giant meca-squid. Interestingly this trio of bumbling crooks we get to know more about than either of our main heroes, in particular their aspirations they hope to gain from their criminal enterprises which you probably won’t be surprised to know are as random as they are, in particular Boyacky’s dream of having every schoolgirl in the world as the film cuts to him buried up to his neck in a mountain of Japanese schoolgirls. Again like so many of the more random aspects of the film it is hard to tell what is taken from the source material and what’s the result of Miike’s warped imagination.
The action scenes throughout are exciting and fast paced, while containing numerous amounts of slapstick and surreal moments, especially when they wheel out the giant mecha with Yatterman’s own mecha coming in the form of a giant robo dog called Yatterwoof which they also use to get around as seen in one of the numerous musical numbers. Aswell as all the giant robot fun we also get some more traditional fight scenes, which usually descend into Boyacky and Tonzra being on the wrong end of the gadgets used by Yatterman. Still these could hardly be considered brutal beatdowns especially when the cartoony vibe is maintained throughout.
While the film is for the most part a lot of fun, it does have a rather generous runtime which certainly could have benefited from being trimmed down to a more lean runtime, especially when there are so many scenes which felt overplayed or unneeded, while at the same time perhaps stopping the plot from becoming as confused as it does in places and while some Miike fans might feel that Miike has lost his edge with these kinds of films which he has been keener to make as of late rather than his earlier and certainly more warped and arguably interesting films, but here he once again proves that even without the lashing of gore and controversial imagery he is still a director capable of producing attention grabbing and most importantly entertaining films, while at the same providing an fun alternative to the overly serious tone that Hollywood would prefer to take for its comic book movies.