Yatterman (Japan, 2009)

In the mid 2000s, with The Great Yokai War (2005) and Zebraman (2004), director Takashi Miike was able to prove that he could handle material quite different in tone from films in his past. Neither of these films was perfect, but they did show that Miike could be as adept (and sometimes inept) with all-ages fantasy settings as with pulpy yakuza tales and transgressive fare that he had become to be known for. However, much like many of Miike’s earlier movies, The Great Yokai War and Zebraman both suffered from less than ideal budgets which summarily dulled the visual spectacle of their respective fantasy worlds.

What a difference a yen makes.

Yatterman is Miike’s return to fantasy, this time with a two billion yen (approx. USD$20M) budget, the license of a popular ’70s Japanese TV anime, and a young “idol” cast including super talent Sho Sakurai in the lead role as Gan-chan. Together with his girlfriend, Ai-chan (Saki Fukuda), they comprise the titular Yatterman, a superhero duo who rescue Shoko (Anri Okamoto) in the opening scene of the film. It turns out that Shoko has one of the four pieces of the Skull Stone which, when all four pieces are rejoined, can cause miracles to happen. Also in search of the pieces are the Doronbo gang (Kyoko Fukada, Kendo Kobayashi, and Katsuhisa Namase), a trio of thieves commanded by the one and only God of Thieves, Dokurobei (voiced by Junpei Takiguchi).

Yatterman is a colorful, funny, and action packed film whose hyper-stylized look is right out of the anime. So many details are reproduced faithfully and in candy color for this live-action version: its irreverent meta-humor, its colorful and comedic characters, its costuming (down to Fukada’s incredibly sexy and no doubt S&M-influenced Doronjo get-up), its so-bad-they’re-bad puns, its racy “do Japanese parents actually let their kids watch this?” double entendres as well as in-your-face sexually-oriented humor. The film even manages its own meta moments with constant references to Yatterman’s production studio Tatsunoko’s other licenses and cameo performances by some of the original voice actors. The obviously great amount of work that was put into reconstructing the look and feel of the anime will be greatly appreciated by fans. But, this is something that is also a weakness of the film. A lot of Yatterman will simply fly over the heads of those who have neither seen or liked the original anime. What makes matters worse, in all likelihood, the Indiana Jones Lite adventure story will not be enough to maintain interest. Undoubtedly, most of the crazy goings-on, will probably be attributed to Miike who’s no stranger to an anarchic environment in his films.

Yatterman is a movie that does not necessarily need a mad scientist like Miike to create a story any more entertainingly crazy than the original, but thank God that the two are a match made in heaven.

Cross-posted on cineAWESOME!