Reviewby Justin Sevakis, Feb 7th 2009
Gan, the only son of the owner of Takada Toy Shop and his girlfriend Ai serve together as Yatterman, the superhero that (along with their mecha dog Yatter-wan) fight the evil Doronbow gang, headed by the sexy Doronjo and her wacky henchmen Boyacki and Tonzra. When the daughter of an explorer brings one of four pieces of the mysterious Skull Stone to them, they must find the other pieces before the Doronbow gang does. The evil force behind the gang, the mysterious Skullobey, wants to use it to steal the world!
Yatterman is an explosion of color, noise and exhuberance. It's also shrill, disjointed, poorly paced and in places utterly without charm.
It's hard, if not impossible to appreciate Yatterman in any capacity without a little bit of background. The original show, from the late 1970s, was a superhero/mecha show produced by Tatsunoko Productions as part of their Time Bokan series of shows. It was a hit, despite creating some upset parents along the way: historically it's notable for being the one of the first mainstream shows with a pronounced sense of "ecchi" -- it was perverted, had lots of fart and boob jokes, and was not something that the PTA would endorse. Needless to say, that made it irresistible to kids, and it was a huge hit.
It's important for anime fans to realize that the original Yatterman anime and its ilk barely resemble what you might expect from the medium today. Really, I consider Tatsunoko's output during this period to have much more in common with the stuff produced by American studios like Hanna Barbara in the 70s, cranking out endless cheaply-produced and sophomoric shows that most older viewers would find unbearable in large doses. Making a live action movie of Yatterman is a lot like making a live-action Scooby Doo (and we all know how that turned out). It can be done with a whole lot of green screen and CG effects, but even with a genius director there's simply no way it's going to be good.
In bringing this show to life, director Takashi Miike made the bold move to stay as close to the anime as possible in every way, creating a live action cartoon in the purest sense of the phrase. This works some of the time, but was probably a mistake, all things considered. While the candy colors and inventive fantasy environments make for enthralling eye candy, the confusing visual continuity of a cheaply made cartoon is also emulated. The result reminds us of other similarly ambitious projects that have also been unsuccessful: Yatterman is as removed from reality as Speed Racer and as dopey as Cutey Honey, and in live action form both are significant barriers to enjoyment. Simply put, things that work in animation often don't work in live action.
Worse, the movie's insistence on structuring itself like an episode of the anime would have been hard to sit through at 90 minutes, but at almost exactly two hours it's interminable. There are a few excruciating musical numbers, drawn-out battle sequences, and a Final Battle that's telegraphed from the first few minutes of the film. Miike, seeming to realize that he's losing us, tosses in a few moments of self-referential humor (I particularly enjoyed the team's dramatic pose on their mobile dog mecha Yatter-wan as it speeds across the ocean... for days) and shock-silliness. It's those little touches that make the film almost worthwhile.
But the cackling stupid-looking villains! And the fart jokes! The sheer volume of stupidity is just headache inducing to anyone over, say, 10. The humor is so crude, though (there's a really surprising amount of really obvious phallic symbolism) that I can't imagine most parents would feel too comfortable taking their kids to see it. If Miike was out to recreate the parental discomfort of the TV series... well, mission accomplished. It's just too bad he also recreated the aspects that make cartoons like this Kryptonite to anybody who's gone through puberty.
Perhaps it's unfair to expect a movie like Yatterman to be anything other than a garish explosion of happy kids and bright colors and adventure and fighting and mecha. Perhaps it's too much to ask to have characters one can relate to, villains that are scary, or anything, really, that indicates a sincere effort to make a good film rather than a 2-hour gimmick. Clearly enough people go to movies absent all of these things that maybe they don't matter to most people. Girls are cute, things explode, and that's pretty much that.
Arashi boy-band member Sho Sakurai does his best as Gan-chan (Yatterman no. 1), but his character is so hollow and devoid of interesting characteristics that he's clearly struggling to give him any sort of nuance or life at all. Saki Fukuda as Ai-chan (Yatterman no. 2) has a bit of an easier time, as she has her fickle love of Gan-chan and her inherent cuteness to fall back on, when all else fails. With such little competition, Kyoko Fukada steals the show as the evil-but-conflicted Doronjo. Her struggle to choose sides (love or her master) is undeniably compelling and endearing in its honesty.
It's things like that, and Miike's too-occasional touches of insanity that make it impossible to dislike Yatterman entirely. Yatterman The Movie will no doubt delight Japanese audiences, who will wallow in the nostalgia of it all and no doubt be more patient and forgiving of the experience. That doesn't change the fact that the experience is a deeply flawed one, and simply isn't worth sitting through.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Music : C
+ Bright, cute, and in some ways, lots of fun.
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