Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Greetings Sporefans. As you may know, I have been consumed by studying and creative writing. Its a school thing. Hopefully my story about a girl and her mother who embark on a quest of self-discovery and love in the American Mid-West during the great depression will get me an A. If not, I've got a back-up story about zombies.

Zombies rock.

Between submitting a piece of creative writing and constructing a sonnet I find myself with about 2 hours of free time, and in this two hours I intend to review Takashi Miike's Zebraman! If you've never heard of Takashii Miike before, this is the time to check him out. His bizarre style and interesting premises are the driving force behind some of the greatest films ever made. Those of you who are fans of Miike are probably only familiar with his most famous work, Audition. To those of you who have not seen any of Miike's other films, you're missing out on some great movies. Movies like The Happiness of the Katakuris, Gozu, The Great Yokai War (a kid's movie... seriously), Visitor Q (definitely not a kids movie. Seriously.) and One Missed Call.

No, not the American remake. The good one.

If you think that I'm going overboard with praise, think about this first: How often do I review a movie that was actually nominated for an award? Any award. Well I'll tell you. The last time I reviewed anything that was even nominated for an award was when I covered Garth Marengi's Darkplace.

In January.

I know that I have a reputation for watching movies that no one else can stomach, and that most of the movies that I review are terrible. But every now and then I like to watch something... you know... good. Even a fungus man needs a break from crap now and then.

Zebraman is the story of an incredibly mild mannered man named Shin'ichi Ichikawa (played by Sho Aikawa, who was nominated for best actor by the Japanese Acadamy for this movie). Shin'ichi is so mild that he makes Clark Kent look like Hunter S. Thompson by comparison. Shin'ichi is an elementary school teacher who's wife is openly cheating on him and who's children don't respect him. His daughter Midori (Yui Ichikawa) stays out all night dating older men. Older men that happen to be homicidal maniacs. Homicidal maniacs who also dress like crabs. Men like Kitahara the Crab Man (Akira Emoto).

More on that later.

His life in shambles, Shin'ichi spends most of his time reminiscing about his childhood; and in particular a show that he used to watch on television called Zebraman. In true Otaku style Shin'ichi fashions himself a Zebraman suit, toiling late into night over a sewing machine. He starts to wear the Zebraman suit outside his house, skulking about the city to buy sodas from vending machines when he hears a noise coming from a nearby alley. In the alley is a homicidal maniac, Kitahara the Crab Man, who wears a crab helmet and kills young women with two pairs of scissors (like big silver crab claws). Kitahara attacks Shin'ichi, throwing his scissors at the school teacher's head.

And then, for no apparent reason, Shin'ichi gets super powers.

This is one case of crabs that can't be solved with special shampoo and a tiny comb!

OK, there is a reason, but it doesn't get explained until later in the movie. Also, there are aliens. Did I mention the aliens? No? Well maybe I should have. It might have helped.

On second thought, no... it wouldn't have.

What makes Zebraman a great movie isn't the inherent strangeness of Miike's style, but a simple concept that until this movie hasn't been done successfully. To put it simply, Zebraman is a comic book superhero for an adult audience (no, not like that). Allow me to explain this in a little more detail.

See, even Zebraman can have a bad day. That's why he drinks Zebraman brand Zebradrink! (coming soon!)

Think back Sporefans. Remember when you were a kid and you used to watch superheroes on TV? It doesn't matter what you used to watch; whether it was Voltron, Superman or Thundercats. Whatever it was you used to watch you thought it was cool. If you've ever tried to watch one of those shows or movies when you were an adult, you would notice that they're not so cool anymore. The show hasn't changed, its the exact same show you used to watch when you were a kid. The thing that's changed is you.

Some people may say that when you're a little kid, things are more magical; that when you grow up that you lose something deep inside you that you can never get back because you're too old and the magic of being a kid is gone.

Well I say that's crap.

After a long day of fighting evil, Zebraman comes home to dinner with Zebranurse. Unfortunately for him, this is a dream sequence and he won't be getting into and of that Zebracleavage tonight.

Also, notice that they are eating crab. Interestink. Veeeeery interestink!

What's actually happened is that you can now see everything that you missed as a child. There's no missing magic, you're just smarter. You can see all of the contrived plot devices, the bad editing, the animation that had to reuse the same footage over and over because they didn't have a proper budget.

To put it metaphorically, its like a puppet show. (Yes, I know that's a simile, but how do you put things similillililily? See, let's just stay with metaphorically.) When you're a child, all you see is the puppets, because the puppets are cool. As an adult, you can see the strings that move the puppets. Pretty soon, you can't get it out of your head that the strings are there. Sure, you still see the puppets, and watch the show, but its not the same because you awareness of the strings always prevents you from enjoying the show on the same level you used to as a child.

Zebraman is like a puppet show with no strings.

Actually there are strings, but you just don't care.

When you watch the old TV shows or movies, you'll notice at some point there's a moment when you wince. Something is just a little too corny, too contrived and sticks out. Sometimes there's a lot of it. You'll wince and think "why did they do that?", and its at that moment that you notice the metaphorical strings I was talking about.

You won't have a moment like that while watching Zebraman. Though comical at times, the overall tenor of Zebraman is that of a serious movie. The campiness of the film is only inherent through Shin'ichi's portrayal of Zebraman, which seems natural because of his preoccupation with Japanese costumed superheroes or Kamen Rider type show (there are actually more types, but this is the closest).

ZEBRA-BOMBAAAH! (that would be Zebra-Bomber to those of you who aren't used to Japanized English)

The film succeeds not just because of Miike's bizarre style, or the well constructed script, or even Sho Aikawa's brilliant acting; but something that comes from the cohesive whole of the movie. Bluntly put, Zebraman is a super hero movie for adults. There is definitely some content in this movie that makes it a poor choice for a children's movie, but that's part of the point. Zebraman is not a movie for kids. Zebraman is a movie for adults who want to feel like kids for two hours (without Marijuana). This is made pretty clear by Oikawa of the Defense agency complaining about how he's itchy because he contracted crabs from a cheap prostitute in the beginning of the movie.

Come to think of it, there's kind of a crab theme throughout this movie.

Watch out! He has all the powers of the vicious and deadly Zebra!

For those of you who've stayed up late to catch reruns of your favorite childhood TV shows and were disappointed, Zebraman is like late night candy that you can get anytime as long as you have a DVD player. Admittedly I caught this movie on the Sundance Channel, but by the time this is going to publication I will have already ordered a copy of the DVD from Amazon. Zebraman may not be to everyone's tastes, but for those of you who do like this movie will love it. The rest of you... well, your inner child just might be dead. And that makes you a child killer.

You don't want to kill children, do you?

Well then maybe you better watch this movie.

Yeah. It's like that.


esuarez said...

Sold. Jumping right on to my netflix list.

I remember when I was a kid, there was this show called gobots. Now that was the happening (crap). OK even as a kid I didn't buy that this show was better than transformers. Now M.A.S.K, that was ummmm ok bad too. Miles Mayhem for life.

Spored_to_Death said...

I remember Gobots. I don't remember M.A.S.K. I only know of it from Robot Chicken.