Dir: Takashi Miike, 2004. Starring: Sho Aikawa, Kyoka Suzuki, tons of CGI-jellybean aliens. Asian Cinema.

I know most folks immediately shy away when I say it’s directed by the maestro of mayhem, Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, the Dead Or Alive series, Audition, and over 70 (!!!) other movies); and it’s finally being put out domestically by an outfit, foreign exploitation/ultra-gore distributors, Tokyo Shock Cinema, for which I have a soft spot in my ugly, mean heart, but Zebraman [or, more properly, “Zee-Borah-Mahnu”] quickly reveals itself to be super-campy fun and vaguely family-friendly (no disembowelment or graphic torture, honest!) in a way not seen from Miike since the uneven kiddie fantasy Great Yokai War or the gorgeous piece of art that is Bird People In China (one of the few films I can say without hesitation must be watched by everyone who loves movies).

Whereas Bird People made its pretentions obvious to all, Great Yokai War somewhat and Zebraman very explicitly are aimed (in the sense of appealing to AND in the weapon sense) directly at adults reared on monster/fantasy/superhero movies and television, making them terrific fare for dorks like me and you. C’mon, admit it, you know you are…

The basic plot involves a pathetic, sad-sack of an elementary school teacher who receives no respect and plenty of abuse in his daily and family life but dreams of righting all through escaping to his memories of an old and nearly-forgotten tokusatsu (think Ultraman or Power Rangers) superhero show named Zebraman. Thankfully, mysterious creatures have landed or arisen in Japan and use our hero’s hometown and elementary school as a base of operations for all sorts of strange misbehavior and savagery. Thankfully. Of course Miike misses no opportunity throughout the film to skewer fanboy culture, the social maladjustment of people living in fantasy & in the virtual world, et al, until the final half-hour wherein our hero, now-properly-outfitted and powered as the Zebraman, takes on all comers and learns a valuable life lesson through defeating alien invasions.

Very simple, yes, and perfect for children with its classic morals of believing in oneself, never giving up when doing right, and the life benefits of spending hours per day on the internet, but geared towards adults with its satire, raw physical comedy, with our hero’s miserable home existence, plenty of implied violence, etc, and with an enormous wink at the crappy entertainments of my youth:  some seriously bad CGI, guys in homemade-looking monster suits, a genuinely homemade superhero practicing karate blows on his pillow in the dead of night…ahh, to be twelve again.

To be sure, however, the movie isn’t flawless:  the last half-hour drags despite the near-perfect scripting and editing of the first two-thirds, and the narrative, as expected of a kid movie send-up, spoon-feeds us the story, but these are minor flaws since they do little to the beauty of the premise and execution, the comedy, subtle humor and engaging entertainment with not one swear word, graphic violence or nudity of any sort (unless you count our hero’s fantasy Zebra Nurse and her cleavage bounding out of a skin-tight latex dress – hubba hubba, oh you kid!).

Takashi Miike’s career has had its share of dead-on hits, near-misses and full-on duds so I, for one, don’t think there’s anything wrong with hoping he continues getting choice scripts like Zebraman every once in a while to break up the monotony of the torture movies.

Posted by:
Eddie Vegas
Mar 3, 2008 3:01pm
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