Years ago, I saw Takashi Miike’s Gozu. When the film finished a certain reviewer behind me laughed for about a minute, then drew breath and exclaimed “What the f*ck was that all about?”
That’s Miike for you. And so welcome to Yatterman, a film that’s kind of like inserting that weird popping candy into your eyeballs. But not, as it happens, a WTF flick for the right reasons.
Yatterman was originally a ’70s anime on the telly that endlessly repeated the story of toy shop owner Gan and his gal Ai (Yatterman 1 and Yatterman 2) battling the sort-of-evil Doronjo gang, led by, um, Doronjo and her two side kicks: Tonzra, the owner of a wee piggy nose, and Boyacky, who looks like a man in a rat suit.
It was, apparently, ultra-cute and designed to be a little reassuring: as the two sides battle for pieces of something called the Skull Stone, the baddies would invariably lose, there would be an explosion ending in a giant mushroom cloud, and then the two heroes would do this mad as a cut snake dance thing. As you do. But the general subtext here was clearly to find and re-establish childhood innocence and happiness in the face of a post-War Japan.
Now we fast forward to the new century, one of an endless re-booting of franchises, especially TV and comic book ones, and Miike has given this series a brightly coloured, tongue-in-cheek reboot.
Here the heroes Gan (Sho Sakurai) and Ai (Saki Fukuda) are a little hopeless, mocked within the confines of the film and with broad winks to the audience. The villains — Lady Doronjo (Kyodo Fukada), Boyacky (Katshisa Namase) and Tonzra (Kendo Kobayashi) — are weary from the repetitive nature of their defeats (a twee post-modern nod to the repetitive plot of the original series), and also kinda lovelorn.
Yes, love. Lady Doronjo realises she has more than a crush on Gan/Yatterman 1 (a little reciprocated), and Boyacky realises he is in love with his boss. Who would have thought the series could have borne that ol’ plot device of the love triangle, but there it is.
And it is this, and only this, that gives the film some semblance of non day-glo-ness. On the whole, though, love either gets sentimentalised, or attraction gets comedic mileage in ways that Benny Hill would have recognised. Boyacky flying through the air only to land with his hands on Lady Doronjo’s breasts, Gan/Yatterman sucking the poison out of a scorpion bite that is only a cinematic inch away from being oral sex, two robots basically grunting and getting it on before one of them explodes, natch.
Some of this sexuality is sort of horrid and pervy: it’s a little ‘ummmm’, when Boyacky’s dream of paradise appears to be him on top of a pile of writhing Japanese schoolgirls.
For the most part, though, Miike appears content to channel Stephen Chow’s own channelling of Warner Brothers cartoon humour, schlock and daft (and therefore harmless) violence. And in Chow’s hands that is pretty fun. In Miike’s though, apart from one or two good jokes, the necessary repetitiveness gets just that: repetitive.
Lengthy too: the last battle goes on for an age. And as for those songs … They are equally anodyne and chirpy, and don’t seem in any rush to stop. The jaw dropping nature of some of this film gives way to a kind of ho-humness, and the mix of over the top and clearly fake sets, and CGI kind of gets tiring too. Not a natural moment in it means that the overwhelming sense of Yatterman is one of surface and plasticity, and neither the small dose of whimsical love nor the self-awareness can redeem that.
So. A Batman or X-Men film this is not. Not even Fantastic Four. It is decidedly anti-that, which would usually be something to celebrate. It’s nice to have an antidote to the grim, if powerful, overly-done psycho-babble action of the Marvel world of film superheroes. But this ain’t it.