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Tiger Mask, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A set-up like this demands even more insanity than this movie can give."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It doesn't seem like it should be especially difficult to combine pro wrestling and superheroes, especially if you're willing to let yourself be a bit of a mark for the duration of the story and accept that the feuds and angles of the wrestling half have something to them. Given how popular both have been in Japan historically, it's no surprise that "Tiger Mask", a comic about a wrestler/hero, was so popular and had so many adaptations; it's just a shame that the most recent isn't what it could be.

This latest iteration starts about fifteen years ago, when trouble-making orphan Naoto Date and his best friend Ruriko Wakatsuki are visiting the zoo. A tiger seems to speak to Date, and soon he is being taken to the Tiger's Cave, where he and other runaway children will spend their childhood and teen years training under the eye of Mister X (Sho Aikawa), looking for the ones who will be worthy of wearing his three power-granting Tiger Masks. Eventually, Date (Eiji Wentz) earns that right, as do his best friend and a rather more selfish fighter. They fight in secret arenas to earn money for the international syndicate that Tiger's Cave belongs to, but when Date happens to meet Ruriko (Natsuna Watanabe) and finds out their old orphanage is in dire straits, Mister X's philosophy of only looking out for oneself starts to ring even more hollow.

Tiger Mask is disappointing in a way that resembles lack of ambition, but may very well just be low budget problems. After all, during the first act, my jaw was regularly dropping about how genuinely nuts it seemed to be; it's not very long at all after the tiger that seems to talk to Date before you've got a whole passel of orphan boys being trained by whip-wielding women in tight leather dresses, all aiming to be the one that gets to wear the skill-enhancing Tiger Masks made by Mister X. And while the idea of funding a criminal network by having these guys participate in underground pro-wrestling deathmatches is goofy, it can certainly work in this story's world. It's silly, yes, but in the gloriously unrestrained way a late-1960s comic for ten-year-old boys should be, with director Ken Ochiai and his three co-writers adding just enough edge to make it work for a later generation.

Unfortunately, at that point, the filmmakers seem to reach the end of their madness and resources. The action may be well-staged, but the matches look small, like the budget didn't allow for an arena set much better than someone's basement. The whole movie has that feel, except for some scenes in the Tiger Cave - like the filmmakers were able to build a mask and costume that would look good on a DVD case but didn't spend a whole lot of time or money on the rest. Maybe they figured this relaunch of the franchise would make it possible to do better with later installments, which is why the shadowy organization behind Mister X remains too shadowy, despite seeming awfully central to the plot - it comes across like the filmmakers are saving things for a sequel that may never come.

There's a neat idea that the environment in which they were raised has left hero Naoto Date very much unprepared for things like bars and girls and the like, but they don't do much with it. The effort's there, but it's dropped when the filmmakers don't need it to fill time between Tiger Cave bits, and Eiji Wentz and the other Tiger Masks aren't able to quite pull the performances off, despite seeming able enough in the more physical scenes. Natsuna Watanabe is mostly there to be pretty and likable in a non-specific way (that's what idols mostly known by one name like Natsuna do in this sort of movie), so there's not a whole lot of romance or conflict coming from that end. Sho Aikawa at least gets to ham it up a bit as the villain.

There's a post-credits tease promising more in a sequel, but it's the sort of "more" that really should have been in this movie in the first place. If the producers can use it to follow up on the promise of a crazy sci-fi action franchise that "Tiger Mask" promised early, great, but this isn't a particularly auspicious start.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25474&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/02/13 15:05:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ken Ochiai

Written by
  Hidehiro Ito
  Itaru Era
  Ken Ochiai
  Michael Welles Shock
  Ikki Kajiwara
  Naoki Tsuji

Cast
  Eiji Wentz
  Sho Aikawa
  Natsuna



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