UK Release date: 21st May 2012
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Sho Sakurai, Sadao Abe, Kyoko Fukada, Saki Fukuda
Running time: 119 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
One of Japan’s most prolific directors returns to family friendly territory with his take on Yatterman, the globally popular TV animation from the 70s. It’s nothing new for the so-called Oriental Tarantino; he’s swum in these waters before. The Great Yokai War was a mischievous romp for the whole family to enjoy, far removed from celebrated classics Ichi the Killer and Audition. Miike’s no stranger to superhero movies either, if you haven’t all ready checked out cult oddity Zebraman there’s never been a better time; a sequel is also available in Japan. Which brings us to Yatterman, a film destined to redefine the robot action adventure genre.
Gan (Sho Sakurai), the only son of a toyshop owner, is inseparable from his close friend Ai (Saki Fukuda). Together they build Yatterwoof, a dog-shaped robot that shares their will. They also build a small robot called Toybotty, and together they transform into Yatterman 1 & 2 to fight for justice, honour and world peace. Doronjo (the ever adorable presence of Kyoko Fukada) is the sexy female boss of the Doronbow Gang, aided by her mechanically minded stalkers Boyacky and Tonzra. A mysterious big bad called Skullobey hoaxes her into finding the Skull Stone, a weapon so powerful it’s said to realise any wish - the stone has been split into four pieces and lost around the world. When Gan and Ai learn about this sinister plot, they take flight to foil the Doronbow Gang’s dastardly plans. Did you get all that? Good, it’s time to step inside Takashi Miike’s deranged mind once again; it’s time to go a little insane. Albeit, in a family friendly, all singing, all dancing kind of way.
The first thing that hits you about Yatterman is the stunning and surreal use of CGI, it’s not as crisp as a Hollywood production but it looks spectacular none the less. A lot of time has been spent bringing the world of Yatterman to life, and repeat viewing is essential because the screen is alive with colour and creativity, it’s enough to make your head spin at times. The story itself is quite traditional, so any fears about a western audience struggling to get its head around the plot are soon laid to rest. Miike keeps things simple throughout, allowing himself plenty of time for playful visual trickery. That’s not a criticism of the films simplicity, Yatterman might be loony tune in creation but once the film finds its feet it becomes an enjoyable cinematic experience. The straightforward nature of the plot might also lend a hand in finding the film a larger global audience, allowing viewers to get lost in Miike’s deliriously entertaining flights of fancy.
The characters are a hit and miss affair, but you’ll learn to love them by the time the credits roll. Yatterman himself is rather dull, as is often the case with big screen hero types; morals occasionally translate to mundane. Far spunkier is Yatterman 2, played here with feverish intent by Saki Fukuda. Not only is she as cute as a kitten, she somehow manages to inject heart and humour into an undernourished role. It would be unfair to ignore the CGI creations as well, in particular Yatterwoof and Toybotty. I’ve had no experience of the Yatterman universe before now, which loosely translates to ‘no way of knowing just how rubbish Yatterwoof would prove to be’. I’m not sure if Takashi took liberties on this one, or if Yatterwoof has always been a bit like Batman’s Robin, but I loved every minute of it. Yatterwoof is to heroes what Takashi Miike is to mainstream filmmaking.
Kyoko Fukada overacts to the extreme and her performance takes some getting used to, but she soon settles into her role as snugly as she does her fantastical attire. Whatever you think of her performance, there’s no disputing that her wardrobe steals every scene it’s in. Doronjo’s sidekicks are the type of characters I usually detest because I’ve never been a fan of their style of humour - loud, in your face and incredibly immature. Boyacky and Tonzra get a lot of screen time, but it works in their favour because they’re two of the liveliest characters in the film. Takashi gives them plenty of depth (perhaps depth is stretching it a little), but for all their childlike enthusiasm, Boyacky and Tonzra are the most rounded characters in the movie. They also provide genuine moments of hilarity - check out the scene where they discover the Skull Stone makes their dreams come true - I never thought I would find myself siding with the bad guys but here I am, along with every male Japanese movie fan the world over.
Takashi Miike has delivered a deliriously entertaining family feature overflowing with creativity and colourful fun, a live action cartoon which delights at every turn. There’s plenty of humour, lots of action and the occasional song and dance number to keep you enthralled. I don’t even feel the need to bang on about Kyoko Fukada’s striking costumes, but now that you mention it she’s never looked better. If you’re a fan of The Great Yokai War, Zebraman and Cutie Honey, Yatterman will be your kind of movie. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in lunacy and sometimes that’s all you need, that and Kyoko Fukada. Shutting up now.