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Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Superhero
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by Jay Seaver

"The superhero movie that really lets its freak flag fly."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Look, I'm not going to make "Hentai Kamen" out to be anything other than it is: It is a deeply silly, tacky, crude spoof of the superhero genre that takes Warren Ellis's description of their outfits as "underwear pervert suits" to its illogical extreme. It's got roughly one joke in it and hits that gag relentlessly. But, man, does it do that well.

A while back, Det. Hario Shikjio ran a gangster visiting his favorite dominatrix to ground. The gangster's, that is, although when Maki (Nana Katase) responded to the cops busting in on her business by slapping Hario around... Well, it was love at first sight. Sixteen years later, their son Kyosuke (Ryohei Suzuki) is part of his high-school martial arts team, but though he's inherited his father's sense of justice, he's kind of a wimp. Still, when new student Aiko Himeno (Fumika Shimizu) gets in trouble, he races to her rescue but the only mask he can find to conceal his identity is a pair of women's panties. Good thing wearing them on his face stirs the kinky blood of his mother that flows in his veins, and from then forward, he fights crime as Hentai Kamen, the masked pervert!

There's a way of telling this story that would make it about not denying who you are and embracing the totality of your heritage, even if it's kind of embarrassing. And while that's there, it's buried deep underneath a ton of crude jokes based on Kyosuke having the most embarrassing secret identity ever and fight scenes whose choreography is built around making evildoers (and audiences) kind of uncomfortable with all the raw beefcake on display and how every finishing move seems to involve pushing the contents of improvised g-string right up into somebody's face. There are plenty of jokes at the superhero genre's expense as well, with Spider-Man getting hit the hardest from the spoof of Marvel's familiar logo animation to the distinctive eye-holes that appear on the "mask" for no discernible reason.

Having just the one joke can take a bit of a toll, of course, and the middle portion of the movie sags a bit as it introduces a pair of villains - Ken Yasuda is dryly amusing as the substitute teacher who is quite obviously up to no good, but Tsuyoshi Muro seems a little too obviously aware of his own character's ridiculousness. At a certain point, director Yuichi Fukuda just seems to be grinding through the standard loss-of-powers/confidence character arc; I wouldn't be surprised if the original manga by Keishu Ando tended toward short, self-contained gag strips that don't form a single story naturally. Eventually, they get through that, and finish fairly strong, with the climax one of several scenes where the filmmakers set a punchline up so that the audience is laughing in anticipation but aren't laughed out when it finally delivers.

Ryohei Suzuki is responsible for a lot of that; he attacks the physical comedy without apparent fear and does a fine job of bouncing between optimism and mortification as the situation calls for it. That he's in pretty phenomenal shape doesn't hurt, as this movie's beefcake-to-cheesecake ratio is roughly ninety-seven to one. Fummika Shimizu is funny when given a chance, but the movie does fall sort of flat when it needs to rely on Kyosuke & Aiko having any sort of romance. It's a shame the story didn't have more room for Kyosuke's parents, because the opening is very funny and Nana Katase could have had a fun supporting character if she had more to do.

Fukuda and company pull things together well - the budget is just high enough that the filmmakers seem to be getting away with something rather than just making a crude Z-movie (although it does have its cheap-feeling moments). That works out well for it - it's more fun to have trouble believing a studio would go for a joke than feel like the filmmakers are playing it safe, and even if "Hentai Kamen" isn't really as transgressive as it can be made to sound, it's still surprisingly and cheerily vulgar enough to get a lot of laughs.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25338&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/14/13 12:37:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2013 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yuichi Fukuda

Written by
  Yuichi Fukuda
  Shun Oguri

Cast
  Ryohei Suzuki
  Fumika Shimizu
  Tsuyoshi Muro
  Ken Yasuda
  Nana Katase



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