Monday, 15 July 2013

Takashi Miike's Yatterman

The latest addition to my Takashi Miike collection arrived quite by accident, given to me by my great friend Dave who initially received it as a freebie from the British distributor Eureka, and Dave who's far too sensible for this kind of stuff, flung it in my direction. So by random chance, I sat down with Yatterman, a juvenile sci-fi fantasy from 2009 based on a colourful anime series from the late 70's. If a frame of reference is required think of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series spliced with Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids. From what I can gauge from browsing through the 60-odd unsubbed, undubbed Yatterman episodes currently on youtube, Miike and his team have produced a remarkably faithful live action version of the original series. In the film a teenage boyfriend/girlfriend crime fighting duo are charged with locating some powerful stone fragments before they fall into the hands of the Dorombo gang, headed up by the sexy Doronjo and her two bumbling henchmen. Hardly my thing, but the idea of Miike doing a children's film was weirdly fascinating - after all this is a director who filmed a woman drowning in a paddling pool of her own shit in Dead or Alive. Happily, the pre-pubescent young person in your life is in safe hands here and should go gaga for the relentless action, wide scale destruction, slapstick comedy, and eccentric retro-robots, augmented by some excellent CGI animation and design work. Fans of the director's usual stock and trade should find much to enjoy as well with some very sly touches of humour - at one point, one of the bad guys blissfully imagines himself lying on top of a mountain of schoolgirls, or the environmentally friendly weapons that fire squid ink, and the film turns surprisingly dark for the second half when the Yatterman team are spirited away to a metallic wilderness of cogs and clock parts to confront Dokurobei, the film's sinister demonic villain.

The reaction to the film in the West has been mostly positive but it's interesting to see how the film has been marketed, a tricky prospect considering Miike's fan base developed on the back of taboo-baiting films like Audition and Ichi the Killer. The notes on the sleeve of the Eureka Blu-Ray describe the film as "candy-coloured camp" as if it was some sort of eye-winking Barbarella style romp. Or perhaps it's a sign of the cultural shift between Japanese and Western attitudes. I suspect a scene where a female robot fires a volley of gunfire from its breasts would be completely inoffensive to young Japanese audiences but the British censors felt differently and slapped the film with a ludicrous 15 rating ("Contains infrequent strong sex references", my italics). Unfortunately the film seems destined to be seen only by adults, or at least young adults as the current home video editions of the film - the Eureka Blu and the Australian Madman DVD include only the original (subtitled) Japanese audio track. For the Takashi Miike fan who must see everything, the film is warmly recommended, but for the casual watcher, I'd recommend catching a taster of the film first.


  1. Great stuff Wes, I have to admit I was surprised to see you covering this film, but I'm glad you did. I've never been a huge Miike follower, despite adoring 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri. The other of his movies I love is one of his other "kid" films, The Great Yokai War which certainly has moments that would never make a western film aimed at a younger audience.

    Having said all that, after reading your piece about the Miike book I'm going to give some of his earlier stuff another look. I feel like I should be a fan, but I hated Ichi The Killer with such a passion I think it coloured my view of some of his other work. Your picks from the Miike filmography?

  2. Ah thanks Mart. I must admit I'm a Miike novice, but favourite Miike's must include the first Dead or Alive film, monstrously violent and sleazy as hell, and the sequel which is a lovely, magical film, as is the soulful Bird People of China. I love the melancholic Rainy Dog, and the slow burn Agitator, a talky two and half hour yakuza picture but compelling nonetheless. I also liked Box, Miike's contribution to the Three Extremes portmanteau, really strange and different... I have 13 Assassins winging its way from Amazon as we speak so looking forward to that... I like Miike, and there's some good worthy stuff that I didn't mention but I don't think he's as good as Takeshi Kitano - Beat has been slipping of late but I don't think Miike will ever do something as good as Hana-bi...