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by Jay Seaver

"Hang on - is that giant dog mecha masturbating?"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Years ago, when it first came out, and before everyone I knew who would even consider watching a foreign film knew what it was, I would tell people that Takashi Miike's "Audition" was a sweet romantic comedy, which, well, it is NOT (although you could make an enjoyable one if you started from the same premise). I bring this up mainly so that you understand what I mean when I saw that Miike's "Yatterman" is nothing but wholesome family entertainment - maybe a little on the bland side for adults.

Yatterman 1 & 2 are toymaker Gan Takada (Sho Sakurai) and his girlfriend, electronics whiz Ai Kaminari. As the film opens, they ("ably" assisted by their robots Botty and Yatterwoof) are fighting off the weekly attack of Lady Doronjo (Kyoko Fukada) and her henchmen Tanzra (Kendo Kobayashi) and Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase), intent as ever on getting the four segments of the Skull Stone for their "God of Thieves", Skullobey. In the midst of the rubble from the battle, that Yatter-crew finds Shoko Kaieda (Anri Okamoto), daughter of the archaeologist (Sadao Abe) who knows where the other skull fragments are to be found. Gan thinks she's kind of cute.

At first, I thought that the opening scene's bright Day-Glo color scheme, mangled language, and over-the top action was just going to be the hook, and then things might quiet back down to something close to normal, but no... The entire movie, minus one oddly conventional daydream sequence, is like that, as thoroughly dedicated to its cartoon aesthetic as the live-action Speed Racer. Indeed, even never having seen an episode of the original 1970s series, I can probably tell you some of its quirks, just from the stuff that gets repeated - the rickety bicycle built for three, for instance - or the way the movie's structure could essentially be two or three episodes grafted together.

Miike and writer Masashi Sogo must suspect that this film will play mostly to nostalgic fans old enough to be aware of the series faults, because they cram the film with self-aware winks at the format's repetitiveness - the baddies grumble about always losing, and that they'll be back Saturday at 6:30pm - self-parody, and adult (if not mature) humor. Granted, Doronjo's outfit, with its cleavage, leather, fishnets, and stiletto heels, probably always looked like she funded her giant robot construction by working as a dominatrix, but I'd be a little surprised if the animated series ever had anything to compare with the "bridesmaidiot" mecha, complete with what is accurately subtitled as "titty missiles" (full disclosure: I'll probably try to hunt it down if it does). Which gets Yatterwoof, uh, kind of excited. The filmmakers probably don't miss a single opportunity to have something be phallic, or engage in cartoon violence that is really amazingly destructive.

The really amazing thing, though, is that for all that self-parody, this movie is not cynical. At all. It could have been - Miike's last foray into family entertainment to make it to the U.S., Zebraman, certainly had its claws out on occasion - but there's something innocent about even the more risqu moments. Miike and Sogo pull back right at the moments when fans might complain that the filmmakers are making fun of the series more than they do. Despite all the chaos, this is the type of movie where nobody ever really gets hurt, and both the heroes and villains are a lot of fun.

Heck, for a good chunk of the movie, the "bad guys" are where it's at. Sho Sakurai and Saki Fukuda are plenty enjoyable as Gan and Ai, and Anri Okamoto handles the sidekick gradually realizing that her rescuers aren't playing by the normal rules of the world with aplomb. But Kyoko Fukada (who has mostly been working in TV since doing Kamikaze Girls five years ago) is adorable as Doronjo. She not only fills that costume out nicely, but she's downright sweet and sympathetic, more con artist and thief than megalomaniac, with a kind of innocence besides. Boyacky's got a crush on her, and Tanzra is the big lug who's there for his buddy when Doronjo shows no interest in Boyacky as anybody but a friend. We don't want those guys to win, by any means, but we certainly like them.

Even if I do trick some people into making "Yatterman" family movie night, it probably won't do much more actual damage to the kids than a Tex Avery cartoon. It's pure candy-coated insanity, but so earnest and charming in it that it's tough to resist.

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originally posted: 07/16/09 04:21:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/11/10 Dave England Bizarre! 3 stars
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