I suppose the first thing most people will want to know about the 2013 live action version of Gatchaman, better known outside of Japan as Battle of the Planets or even G-Force, is “does it make me wish I’d never seen it?”. After all, childhood memories are precious things, and if you were anything like me as a kid growing up in Australia (and you know, if you’re close to my clearly elderly years) you would have been in front of this show on a daily basis with starry eyes and a makeshift bird-cape tied around your shoulders.
No? Maybe that was just me then. Anyway, the English speaking version of the show, by Sandy Frank Entertainment, was fairly heavily “adapted” for American viewing (read: edited). Of course, that sort of thing didn’t really matter when you were a kid; all that mattered was, is it good? Funnily enough, that still matters, and I have to say that while this live action film doesn’t inspire the same level of excited reaction as the cartoon show used to, it’s good enough.
After a quick opening exposition where we learn that some evil army called the Galactors have invaded the planet and are doing their best to kill everyone, a group of special kids with a strain of the mysterious Virus X are discovered to have powers capable of giving the Galactors a run for their money, and boy do they. If you’re familiar with the cartoon, you’ll be pretty thrilled with the opening fight, rife with recognisable moments and (slightly) cheesy introductions. If you’re not, it will probably remind you of Power Rangers sans the monster suits, but considering the show’s origins as a powered superheroes genre story, sorry but you deserve to be mocked if you’re surprised.
As the drama continues and we start to get to know said superheroes a little better, Gatchaman begins to unfortunately prove itself to be just a little bit typical. Perhaps it’s because of those aforementioned origins, but this update is really no modern take. Jun (Ayame Gôriki), our token XX chromosome member of the team, is typically enamoured of the cool and serious team leader Ken (Tôri Matsuzaka) , who typically follows orders like the good soldier he is. Jun’s little brother Jinpei (Tatsuomi Hamada) is typically overly-enthusiastic about, well, almost everything; the team’s muscle Ryu (Ryôhei Suzuki) is typically a bit of a meathead with a heart of gold; and the team’s black sheep Jo (Gô Ayano, although the subtitles had everyone calling him George??) is typically hostile and rebellious. Cue typical narrative where the bad guy Berg Katze (Eriko Hatsune, complete with awesome OTT bad guy get up) has an evil plan to finally take over the world.
Refer now to paragraph three – walking into a powered superheroes movie, you really ought to know what you’re in for, and it’s normally not a complex plotline. No-one is here for the drama, let’s face it. We want cool fight scenes (check), we want silly dramatic evil bad guys (double check), we want the fate of the world (triple check) and we want the heroes to win in the end. Anything less would just somehow be wrong. Comparing it to the Kamen Rider franchise, that has done a much better job at staying contemporary, is all well and good, but Kamen Rider hasn’t yet attempted to produce a cinematic feature and until it does, it really can’t be counted. As I’ve said a hundred times here in the past, turning a book/TV series into a stand-alone feature film is not an easy thing, and not as many people get it right as get it wrong.
Gatchaman delivers what it promises. Yes, it’s cliché. So what? Have you seen many Japanese live action adaptations of powered superheroes in the last twenty years? Then I rest my case. Cliché is practically a genre unto itself. But there are a few surprises here, and the moments ripped directly from the series will (perhaps shamefully, but it’s dark in the cinema so no-one will see you) have you clapping your hands like a kid again.
There could have been more of those moments, all in all, but take a moment yourself to go over to YouTube and take a look at your old beloved show again. It was cheesy. It was melodramatic. The plot saves were sloppy and the dialogue was groan-inducing. In the hands of the Japanese equivalent of Joss Whedon (if he even exists), Gatchaman could have been something magnificent, but instead what you get is pretty much exactly what’s described on the box, except with real actors and sometimes sub-par special effects. If you have complaints about this, then perhaps you should just think about the number of live action adaptations film-makers outside of Japan have been responsible for that have ruined your childhood for you. I could make a list. It would start with the Thunderbirds, and it wouldn’t end there.
Gatchaman is screening as part of the 17th Japanese Film Festival until December 8. Please check the website for screening times in your city.