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Overall Rating
4.14

Awesome: 28.57%
Worth A Look57.14%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 8 user ratings



Zebraman
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by Jay Seaver

"Black and White Ecstacy!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: "Zebraman" actually came out before "The Great Yokai War" in Japan, although the latter made it to America first. So let the record show that Takashi Miike did have some practice making family films before that better-known one. Though more modestly budgeted, "Zebraman" is still a bunch of fun, with an injection of crazy that would delight kids if their parents would let them anywhere near it.

Sho Aikawa stars as Shin'ichi Ichikawa, the second-grade supervisor at a medium-sized elementary school. No-one at the school respects him, to the point where the kids are beating up his son. His teenage daughter Midori (Yui Ichikawa) is seeing a much older man. It would probably only be worse if they knew he spent his evenings cosplaying in a papier-mache costume based upon the hero of his favorite 1970s superhero show, Zebraman (which, as if to illustrate how pathetic Shin'ichi is, was canceled after a handful of episodes. The sad thing is, the city is actually in need of a superhero. Midori's boyfriend has a second life as crab-masked villain, and there are enough slimy green aliens lurking underneath the school's gymnasium that the government has dispatched a team to investigate.

The line between playing a superhero story straight and doing parody is hard to find in the best of cases; Miike and writer Kankuro Kudo spend most of their time on the spoofy side, but play it straight enough to earn a bit of suspense. Their pastiche of 1970s sentai programs seems pretty close to spot-on, both in clips and a dream sequence where Shin'ichi fantasizes about the mother of one of his students as "Zebranurse". Affection can come across as disdain when filmmakers try to precisely replicate something that might not hold up to a more critical eye, but they generally find the right mix. The trick, apparently, is that it's okay to initially mock Shin'ichi for dressing up in a stupid costume by having him get his butt kicked early, but the somewhat corny good-intentioned messages of the genre are to be embraced rather than mocked.

Because Miike's name is attached to the movie, I don't know how many kids this winds up playing to outside Japan - the folks who would pick up a foreign family adventure know his reputation. Of course, I don't know who its target audience was over there, or whether it was aimed for the teen and older crowd. If it were remade in the US, Crab-man probably wouldn't be seducing sixteen-year-old girls, and I really doubt that the fungus that has Koen Kondo's military investigator scratching his junk would still be around; they might also tone down the violence with the possessed kids. A lot of the other kid-friendly stuff is done without the slightest hint of irony, though. Kids love green slime, and the CGI for the aliens is almost cute. The hero and the kids who love him are perfectly pure of heart. Some of the details are wonderfully silly, like Shin'ichi's "bedhead" (his hair grows into a zebra's mane when his zebra-sense detects that it's time to save the day!). And the final big action scene is just gloriously over the top.

Sho Aikawa is a lot of fun as the Shin'ichi. He embraces the dorkiness of the character in all its forms - the teacher no-one respects, the loser in a homemade costume, the guy who discovers it's all real but ridiculous. Koen Kondo is similarly fun as the man investigating the apparent alien activity, since he always seems to expect that job would be a little cooler and high-budget, and alternates between trying to elevate it, being disappointed, and finally just giving in to the fact that he's in a low-budget-sci-fi world (but without winking at the audience).

It's great fun, even if the goofiness has a bit more in the way of claws than its American equivalents. Still, it's not too nasty for anyone old enough to read the subtitles, and grown-ups shouldn't find it too terribly juvenile, either.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10647&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/03/07 11:12:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/27/09 Moxldhga comment3, 4 stars
10/09/05 K. Sear It was fun but nothing special. 3 stars
11/15/04 Mike Donis One of the best films of the TIFF 2004 5 stars
11/12/04 Bundy23 Not the best Miike film 3 stars
10/04/04 ICHI FANTASTIC....SHOW AIKAWA KICKS ASS!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
9/24/04 jennifer miike has done it again! an amazing story with amazing characters - sho aikawa rocks! 5 stars
9/08/04 uji best superhero movie ever! 5 stars
8/26/04 sarah knoxville it was good 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 10-Nov-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Takashi Miike

Written by
  Kankuro Kudo

Cast
  Sho Aikawa
  Kumiko Aso
  Akira Emoto
  Arata Furuta
  Yoshihiko Hakamada
  Yui Ichikawa



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