I wasn't 100% sure what to expect from Yatterman. I didn't know much about it. I knew that it was based on a children's TV show that was a huge hit in the 70's in Japan, and that at the helm, was the man behind some of the most imaginative and significant films in Japanese cinema, Takashi Miike. Half an hour into the movie, and what's clear is that this is very much intended as a nostalgia piece. Its target audiences are clearly those that either grew up watching the cartoon, or diehard fans of crazy psychedelic Japanese anime. Being neither, I couldn't help but feel like I was missing something that would help all this to make sense; I felt a little left out. Therefore, the only way I could take Yatterman was at face value, and I found this a fairly straight forward thing to do. Having no prior investment in the franchise, I was forced to rely on my relatively limited experience with Japanese anime. This bore no resemblance to anything Miike had done previously, and demonstrated none of traditional hallmarks of a Miike film. To say I was surprised that this had come from such a prolific cult director would be a bit of an understatement.
Miike has always been a bit bonkers, but with it, I've always found his work to be utterly fascinating. Where Audition (1999) was a gritty and terrifying psychological horror, Ichi the Killer (2001) a wonderfully tragic gore-fest, Casshern (2004) was a glorious war-torn CG masterpiece, Yatterman proved to be something of a curveball in his repertoire. We see Miike team up with cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto once again, but moving away from his more traditionally dark and edgy work, to what is obviously something of a trip down memory lane for the director. Obviously a fan of the original TV show, Miike treats his live-action interpretation with care, but also with a boisterous joy that permeates the entire movie. It is virtually impossible not to compare Yatterman's visual style to Speed Racer (2008), but instead of poor dialogue and boring characters that you struggle to care about, and a liberal peppering of seizure inducing visual eye candy, Yatterman has its very own identity, and stands tall in comparison; delivering a tongue in cheek re-imagining of a classic TV show with all the flare and an endearing boldness that it deserves. If you already know what Yatterman is, then you are undoubtedly in for a treat. If it's not already on your radar, then don't be surprised if you're at times a little confused and bewildered.
It's the story of two teenagers, who happen to be particularly handy at both electronics and robotics; Gan (Shô Sakurai), whose father owns a toy shop, and Ai (Saki Fukuda), his devoted girlfriend. Together, they form an unstoppable crime fighting duo, Yatterman. Rather confusingly, Yatterman is not one character. Gan is Yatterman #1 and Ai is Yatterman #2. Gan built a giant robotic dog, imaginatively named “Yatterwoof!” while his father is away on business trying to sell toys. The colourful crew are joined by another little mecha who, rather impressively, is able to fly around on just two AA batteries, called Toybotty, the light comedy relief. Yatterman's nemesis, The Doronbo Gang, who are led by a sexy femme fatale Doronjo (Kyôko Fukada), consists of two hapless and moronic bumbling idiots, the rat-faced Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase) and the pig-faced Tonzra (Kendô Kobayashi). Together, they collectively work for the arch villain, Skullobey, the God of Thieves, who is attempting to recover a powerful relic, The Skull Stone, that is said to have the power to make dreams come true or grant wishes. Boyacky, motivated by the prospect of having his dream of languidly laying atop a mountain made entirely of every single schoolgirl in the country come true, Tonzra, who dreams of being a victorious champion wrestler with a pig face, and Doronjo, who dreams only of being a dutiful wife bearing sons for her husband, tirelessly attempt to recover the missing pieces of the Skull Stone, and fail time and time again at the hands of the ever prevailing Yatterman. An archaeologist seeking the skull stone himself, is captured by Skullobey, who seemingly consumes him by sitting on his head. The archaeologist's daughter, however, is rescued by Yatterman in the opening scene, and as it transpires, holds the first piece of the Skull stone, given to her by her archaeologist father to hold. The race is on for the Doronbo Gang to recover this magical stone, and Yatterman must stop them.
The villains' strategy is formulaic. Build a giant mecha-bot. Give it an amusing name. Attempt to recover a piece of the Skull Stone. Fail. Mecha with amusing name gets destroyed. Form a dastardly plan to swindle the public out of their money to fund the construction of the next giant and hilariously titled mecha. Wash, rinse and repeat. True to the original TV series, Miike sticks to an episodic narrative structure that, when deconstructed, amounts to a series of far-fetched final battles. It's telegraphed, but it works.
Now, I'm no stranger to the weird and wonderful world of Japanese cinema with its quirky storytelling and occasional eyebrow raising humorous quip, but I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite like Yatterman. It undoubtedly has everything that an avid fan of the genre could possibly have imagined. Schoolgirls, Mecha-bots with giant nipples, a plethora of utterly ridiculous weapons of insane destruction, a series of woefully choreographed set pieces and musical numbers, and a good dose of crude, yet unquestionably imaginative sexual innuendos. Some of the content Yatterman delivers would be wildly inappropriate if this were a kid's movie, but a kid's movie this is not. Miike sticks to slapstick toilet humour in the truest sense, and despite not really knowing what was going on for the most part, it definitely made me chuckle on several occasions.
The certification of 15 is touch and go at times, and it feels like we're never too far from a borderline 18 certification, but it's safe to say that teenagers will no doubt be giggling away amongst themselves at the titillating sight of “Bridesmaidiot”, one of the Doronbo Gang's mecha-creations, shooting at Yatterwoof with giant boob guns. Even for those more familiar with the genre and it's often quirky and strange offerings, there's enough weirdness in here to ensure you'll see something you never thought of at least once.
Watching Yatterman gives me a sense of regret that I'm not the one that the jokes and humour are for. Sure, I can find amusement in them, but I wasn't there for the original TV series, and so there is a sense that I'm not really who this movie is aimed at. It attempts to be appealing and inclusive, but it falls short by some distance, more often than not leaving me thinking that the delivery of a particular line or joke is a throwback to the series. However, it's an absolute given that had I been there for the TV show, this retelling of it would be like eating a handful of popping candy whilst throwing handfuls of sugar into my face whilst on a roller-coaster ride through memory lane. Miike, obviously a fan of the original cartoon, has managed to make Yatterman the cartoon grow up with its original audience. Though, its worth pointing out that when I say “grow up”, I restrict this to mean only physically. Childish humour prevails at the end of the day, and if you were a fan of the original, then Miike will tick all your nostalgia boxes for you. If not, then the chances of feeling like you're a bit of an outsider looking in are high, but thankfully, there's enough amusement and entertainment here for everyone to enjoy.
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