Right. It is hard to review this film without going all Valley Girl speak. “Like, dude, this film is seriously sick!” There is something about its bright day-glo colours, insane plot and relentless cheerfulness that just screams substance abusing slacker teenagers let loose in a mall with a bunch of sticky crayons and glitter.
Or maybe that is just me.
Cutie Honey is not unlike the ’60s TV serial Batman in its lurid psychedelia and campness. And, much like that series, irony appears to run rampant through the proceedings, and the silliness is tongue in cheek and charming.
It is hard to believe that the director behind this is Hideaki Anno, the chap behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, but then again, Cutie Honey is a manga sourced film. So, as manga often does, the film’s concerns are the blurring between technology and human, nature and machine. It wonders, in a rather lycra and plastic way, about what might happen when that technology goes haywire. It even throws in a dash of mythology to blur that mix. Sister Jill is both fascinated with technology as a way of prolonging her life and … well, part tree. She — I use that word loosely as she is rather masculine just as her moustachioed lieutenant is vaguely feminine — and her gang of Panther Claws seem to be tech’d up malevolent nature spirits.
All of this, though, is par for the course in a large percentage of manga. Nor is it particularly explored with any depth here, save for a weirdly new age closure that may or may not concern angels and flowers.
I had heard Cutie Honey described as an extreme version of a Shibuya girl, which, until late last year, made no sense to me. Then in December I went to Tokyo and that district and saw the whirl of lipstick, over the top fashion sense and attitude.
Anno surveyed the Shibuya girl thing in his film Love and Pop (1998) and seems to have a genuine, if ironically tinged, affection for this phenomenon. The Shibuya girl attitude seems to stem from a merry innocence that allows it to be over the top and yet tolerated: Honey is child-like and this allows her to get away with running around in glad wrap, acting and dressing outrageously and generally being more clueless than Alicia Silverstone’s Emma-like character.
Honey tries to fit in by working in an office, making tea for grumpy executives. She is an even meeker and more put upon Clark Kent and her extracurricular activities make her consistently late for work. In other words, she just doesn’t fit in. She has no friends, no parents and no real sense of self because, as a recently created-slash-resurrected human-cyborg, she has no
For the most part Cutie Honey is all lurid style, a film that partly exists to be kinda pervy — cute, innocent girls in weird, fetishistic vinyl outfits. But, as Cutie battles her way past the various Panther Claw members — Gold, Scarlet, Black and, ah, Cobalt — to eventually confront Sister Jill in her lair, the film also reveals itself to be surprisingly sentimental. In a nicely non-cloying way.
The friendship between Honey, the coldly nerdish Natsuko and journalist Seiji develops from one of curiosity and convenience into one of real concern, especially that between Natsuko and Honey, where Natsuko mirrors Honey’s own internal loneliness and misfit status.
The film closes with Honey finally finding a way to live her life as a cyborg superhero in a way that allows her to function in society. She is almost employed to be who she is. She has friends and memories. She is making steps towards being truly human.
On paper this all sounds a little like a maudlin Power Rangers film, but Cutie Honey, for all its jaw dropping foolishness, is also quite sweet. Ephemeral, like all good candy, but still sweet.