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Sunday, September 22, 2013


Some films can rightly be described as live-action cartoons, and this 2009 effort from renowned wacko director Takashi Miike just might be the ne plus ultra of the form.

Based on the late-1970's anime series from the same company that gave the world SPEED RACER and GATCHAMAN, the story, such as it is, is simplicity itself: The Skull Stones, a series of magical artifacts, will reportedly cause a miracle to occur when united, and the stones are coveted by Dukorobei, a mysterious self-proclaimed "god of thieves." Using the ultra-goofy Doronbo gang to do the heavy-lifting in obtaining the items, Dukorobei mostly directs from the sidelines as the sexy and costumed Lady Doronjo (Kyoko Fukada) commands her oddball flunkies, the pig-like pre-wrassler wannabe Tonzura (Kendo Kobayashi), and mechanical genius Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase), in the name of thievery. With wacky giant robots at their disposal — colossal mecha funded by various hare-brained schemes that shamelessly rip off the gullible general public — the gang sets off on a globe-trotting quest to snag the magic stones for their boss. But their efforts are opposed by Yatterman, a two-person team of mecha-assisted crimefighters consisting of boyfriend and girlfriend Gan (Sho Sakurai) and Ai (Saki Fukuda). With their badassed giant robot dog/transportation, "Yatterwoof" — think Clifford the big red dog as gene-spliced with Gigantor — and accompanied by Shoko (Anri Okamoto), the daughter of the missing scientist who initially discovered the stones, it's a race to see who will claim the stones first. But as things proceed, it becomes quite clear that uniting the stones could be disastrous for the time stream and the entire world...

YATTERMAN looks and feels exactly live a fun, funny, and colorful animated cartoon rendered into live-action, with considerable CGI assists to make its more outlandish elements visually feasible. There's loads of the leaping around, gigantic mecha battles with kooky robots, funky weaponry, and weird, hyper-stylized costuming inherent to the anime genre, especially that of this film's 1970's source-era, and while a quest is the main narrative thrust, the proceedings are also spiced by Lady Doronjo and Gan being quite obviously attracted to one another, which does not sit at all well with Ai, nor with the crushingly-smitten Boyacky, who regularly and sincerely professes his ardor to Lady Doronjo, who has no interest in letting him out of the friendzone. It's a love quadrangle as seen through the filter of cartoon emotions and as such it goes right for the viewer's guts, especially since the Doronbo are baddies cut from a very silly comedic cloth. Lady Doronjo's inner romantic fantasies are surprising (and shocking in their wholesomeness), which only drives home the tragedy of Boyacky's wholly-unrequited love for his boss. This isn't even a spoiler: If you're hoping for Boyacky and Lady Doronjo to have a happy last-minute "it was there all the time" love connection, forget about it right now.

Kyoko Fukada as the very sexy (and secretly sweet) Lady Doronjo, boss of the looney Doronbo gang.

As per usual with this kind of thing, especially with entries of this sort from the land of the rising sun, the villains completely steal the show, but that's not to say that the Yatterman team are not without their points of interest. Far from it! Imagine DC Comics Superman villain the Toyman if he were a male/female team that used their super-high-tech toy-making genius for good instead of evil and you've pretty much got it. The battles between the Yatterman team and the Doronbo gang are basically kids duking it out with their giant robot toys writ large. It's goofy, utterly logic/physics-defying, and just plain fun as hell. Plus, the heroes are refreshingly free of any of the dark and cynical edges that have been part and parcel to the superhero entertainment experience since the mid-1980's. They're simply very nice, very smart young people who fight the good fight, and that's all there is to it. In short, perfect heroes for a crazy kiddie movie.

Our heroes: Ai (Saki Fukuda), aka Yatterman No. 2, and Gan (Sho Sakurai), aka Yatterman No. 1. 

But, with all of this very fun and aggressively kid-friendly mishegoss going on, director Miike throws a gigantic curveball into the mix during the film's first giant robot set-to. As is common for mecha adventure stories, some of the robots are drivable vehicles that feature all manner of quirky designs and visual themes, often animal-based, but the Doronbo gang's initial mechanical juggernaut is "the Bridesmaidiot," basically a juggernaut whose feminine design is tied into the gang's fund-raising bridal gown scam. That's kooky enough, but once in combat mode, the Bridesmaidiot is revealed to be equipped with huge, ordnance-laden tits, complete with erect "nipples" for gun barrels/cannons.

The pendulously-dugged menace of the Bridesmaidiot.

During their first real battle with Yatterman, the Doronbos gain the upper hand and, in a moment of ill-advised victorious excitement, Lady Doronjo accidentally slams her gloved fist onto the robot's self-destrcut button. As the robot begins to shudder and shake, its motions start to resemble those of a highly-aroused lady on the verge of the Big O, the sight of which stokes the Yatterwoof giant dog robot to such a state of unbridled lust that he jumps onto the female mecha and makes with the humping. While screaming "I'M COMING!!!" — in English, no less — the Bridesmaidiot has what amounts to a very literal explosive orgasm, which wipes out both her and Yatterwoof (who is later rebuilt at larger scale as Yatterking).

Considering how every other element of the film is a kiddie cartoon writ large and loopy, I am completely at a loss as to understand why Miike threw a flat-out sex scene into this candyland of giant robots and anime-derived ultra-silliness. Yes, it's totally ridiculous and comedic and the only element of its kind in the entire movie, but it comes from out of nowhere to render what would otherwise be totally acceptable to most parents as something to sit the wee ones through into a movie that most Western parents wouldn't let their kids near until they're twelve or older. It may be a case of this aspect being suitable in its country/culture of origin, or it may be as simple as Miike proving he hasn't lost his signature outrageous edge, figuring that the little ones in the audience wont get what's transpiring at that specific moment. (Unless some of the kiddies in the audience have walked in on their parents having a good time making the beast with two backs, after which all bets are off.) Whatever the case, it's a tonally-jarring moment that I found greatly perplexing when weighed against the context of the rest of the movie. A real head-scratcher. (There's also a bit toward the end involving some loudly-decried ball-kicking, but shots to the nads are to be expected in this kind of bumptious comedy, especially a foreign one, while a full-on fuck gag...not so much.)

The bottom line on all of this is that I loved YATTERMAN from start to finish, even laughing my ass off at the explosive mecha orgasm bit, and I consider it the best of the rash of live-action anime remakes that have been cropping up during the last decade or so. (To be fair, that's not really much of a compliment since the vast majority of those films are either boring or outright shit that needlessly neuters or dumbs-down its source. For example, the ass-awful remakes of DEVILMAN and SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO.) The only other live-action anime films in recent years that are a very close second to YATTERMAN would be the two movies based on GE GE GE NO KITARO and a lone entry that updates CUTEY HONEY, but YATTERMAN takes the prize for being as close to a cartoon as this kind of thing can get and also for not having one slow moment in its entire running time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (with the aforementioned "cumbot" sequence being kept firmly in mind.)

Oh, and extra points for the hilarious fight song that's heard when Yatterwoof goes into action as the rebuilt Yatterking. If you've seen even a smattering of Japanese giant robot cartoons, you are no doubt familiar with how each and every one of them has a rousing theme song for the robot in question. Yatterking's song is an over-the-top parody of the form that may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the trope, but it's fucking hilarious for those in the know.

Japanese theatrical poster featuring the bad guys.

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