by Joseph Luster
February 13, 2009
Director Takashi Miike (Audition, Visitor Q) kicked off his stint at New York Comic Con this year with a panel for his latest movie, Yatterman, which is also his highest budget film to date. One could almost see the towering weight of expectation on his shoulders, but any doubts were blasted away in a swirl of technicolor light once the folks at Subway cinema cued the first nine minutes of the film. As good an impression as anyone could ask for, the opening of Yatterman previews everything there is to look forward to in the full feature. As Miike said himself after the clip concluded, that level of action and excitement basically continues for the next hour and fifteen minutes.
That was the clincher for me. I was about 95% sure I would make the world premiere at the Director’s Guild Theater that night, but the preview pushed that urgency way beyond a mortal man’s capacity. It’s a good thing I rushed out at that moment, too-just as Sho Sakurai’s latest music video began rolling on the screen while Miike doled out autographs at the other end of the room-because the line to get in on 57th and 6th was a mighty one.
After about three hours outside, screams started exploding from the crowd of fans hoping to get in on a first-come basis. Out of touch with those darn kids as I am, I immediately assumed they were screaming for Miike, who could be seen smiling behind his shades in the glow of the stretch SUV’s interior. Then I saw the signs, and it was like some microcosm of Beatles Mania for none other than Sho Sakurai (of boy band Arashi fame). Making their way inside, both the seasoned vet behind the camera and the young idol behind the mask of Yatterman no. 1 were gearing up to present Yatterman
to the world, about a month before its Japanese premiere.
A lot of the initial electricity in the theater may have come from those frothing Sakurai fans, but shocks and zaps of a different kind took hold once the movie started rolling. Yatterman
, for those unaware, is anime of legend in Japan. Everyone is familiar with it, and reruns (as well as a newer series) still run thirty years after it all began. Miike cites the original Yatterman
as a huge influence on his career, and it shows in this massive love letter to the goofball classic.
The heroes in this living cartoon world aren’t reworked or reimagined, either. They haven’t shed their colorful garb for identical dark leather, and the villains still cackle and scheme with the competence and intelligence of a horny dog. Yatterman doesn’t hide its origins, it embraces the weekly formula, often referencing the fact through both traditional narration and mid-battle exclamation that they do this “every Saturday.”
This time, just like the show, the Doronbo gang is up to no good, searching for the missing fragments of the Skull Stone at the behest of the God of Thieves, Skullobey (Dokurobei). At the foot of the gang, turning all the screws and doing all the dirty work, are the ever-loyal Boyacky and Tonzra. They’ll do anything for their boss, the stunning Doronjo, played to sultry perfection by Kyoko Fukada. The only thing that stands in their way is Yatterman, an evil-vanquishing duo comprised of the doltish Gan Takada and his girlfriend, Ai. They constantly bat away the Doronbo gang with the help of their tiny robot, Botty, and their massive howling mech, Yatterwoof. It’s one of these battles that kicks off the film, as Doronjo and her lackeys storm the city in a giant robot wielding a frying pan and a mean set of burners. Naturally, this doesn’t end well for the villains, but they swear to return next week and do it all again.
Each confrontation in Yatterman plays out like a circus act with a healthy dose of CG, and the closest comparison to the way it brings the cel-born action to life would be the Wachowski brothers’ energetic take on Speed Racer. Still, compared to Yatterman, Speed seems downright morose, and this flick’s stride is rarely broken in any way. Gan and Ai flip and spin at impossible angles, slinging their weapons acrobatically while Yatterwoof takes on whatever mechanical menace threatens world peace this time. Even a glimpse into Gan and Ai’s battle preparations-all seen from the eye of an outsider with a tight connection to the Skull Stone-is full of laughs and a genuine sense of adulation for the source material.
Yatterman manages to have a quintessentially Miike touch to it from beginning to end, too. Parents weren’t so hot on their kids watching the mildly perverse antics of the series back in the day, and the tradition continues in 2009 with everything from Boyacky’s Tex Avery tendencies to the “Bridesmadiot” mech and its towering “titty machine guns.” Visual styles mix together in villainous fantasies, and the movie only likes to sit still for as long as it has to.
All in all, Yatterman
is about as faithful in spirit as one could ask, and is probably going to remain one of the most fun movies to come out this year. Miike even echoes the same messages of the original series. The world doesn’t need superheroes. Gan and Ai don’t have any “powers,” after all. No one’s going to save you when you’re in a fix, and the only way out of a jam is to show some damn courage and do something to help yourself.
That’s all fine and dandy, but right now all I want to do is hop in a giant robot painted in primary colors and roll into the sunset, doing the Yatterman dance until I’m outta sight.
Premieres: March 7th, 2009 (Japan)