Saturday, October 8, 2011

Movie Review: Yatterman (2009)

I guess I haven't reviewed any movies for a while. In order to improve my listening skills, I sometimes watch Japanese films with subtitles and try to translater what they're saying as I watch. Often, the subtitles don't quite match up with how I think they should read, so I'm always learning something.

The most recent movie I watched was Yatterman, directed by one of my all-time favorite directors, Takashi Miike. It's strange to watch his movies when they're based on well-known intellectual properties, because the first films of his that I watched were low-budget horror and gangster films. He is the director of such films as Full Metal Yakuza, Audition, Dead or Alive, MPD Psycho, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer, and Thirteen Assassins. With films like these, one wouldn't expect him to take on a film based on a children's franchise. Yet he has made many children's movies in the past--The Great Yokai War, Zebraman, Ninja Kids, etc. To me, he seems to be very capable of adapting for his audience.

Yatterman revolves around a fighting duo named Yatter 1 and Yatter 2, a boyfriend and girlfriend who own a toy store and build robots. They have a small yellow robot companion named Omotchama (part of the name means 'toy'), and a giant robot dog named Yatter-wan (wan is the onomatopeia for 'woof' in Japanese). Their mission is to stop their enemies from collecting the mysterious 'Skull Stones.' In the cartoon, the stones led to a stockpile of gold, but in the film they serve a much more sinister purpose.

Their enemies are the Doronbo Gang, composed of (left to right): Tonzra, Doronjo, and Bojacky. They serve a mysterious master named Skull-Obey, who typically gives them orders using strange means of communication, such as a talking hamburger.

The movie is a gigantic parody of the typical style of Yatterman episodes. In the beginning, we see a  battle between the heroes and the villains. After Yatter 1 and 2 defeat the Doronbo Gang in combat, the villains resort to using a giant robot shaped like a short-order cook. It fights Yatter-wan until the villains are forced to flee. In the aftermath of the battle, the heroes discover that the gang's target was a young woman who possesses one of the four skull stones.

Throughout the rest of the movie, each team hurries to be the first to collect the stones. The Doronbo Gang uses scams like cheap wedding dresses and expensive sushi to make money and build new robots, while the heroes spy on them in hopes of learning the location of more skull stones. There is also some romantic tension between the female villain lead and the male hero lead.

True to Miike's form with blockbuster films, he uses a great deal of blatant CGI to mimick the original anime style of the cartoon. Since it is a comedy, the characters often act in peculiar ways and break the fourth wall to address the audience. Also, since it's a Miike film, there are strong sexual undertones throughout the movie. In the same way that adult humor is worked into American children's movies so parents don't get bored, Miike adds sexual tension and toilet humor. Though it may be standard in Japanese entertainment, it might seem odd to American viewers.

The actors go through the motions, but no one's trying to win an award here. The lead male is played by Sho Sakurai, a member of the popular boy band Arashi; Doronjo is played by Kyoko Fukada, a cast member of the Japanese Ring 2 film. Also, in an homage to the original show, the voice actors from the 1970's cartoon make an appearance as customers of the villains' sushi bar.

This was a fun movie. I think Japanese children would like it, but that there's not enough substance for American audiences, similar to most of Takashi Miike's mainstream films.

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