DVD Review: Yatterman / Director: Takashi Miike / Screenplay: Tatsuo Yoshida, Masashi Sogo / Starring: Sho Sakurai, Sadao Abe, Kyoko Fulade, Kendo Kobayashi, Kutsuhisa Namase / Release Date: May 21st
I’ve seen it but I sure as Hell don’t believe it. It appears, entirely unbeknownst to me, that Yatterman was a hugely-successful Japanese anime series which ran for 108 episodes between January 1977 and January 1979 and was remade in 2008 before hitting the Big Screen - and how - in Japan in the form of this 2009 feature, directed by Takashi Miike (previously best-known for extreme violence flicks such as Ichi the Killer). Yatterman gets a belated UK DVD/Blu-ray release this month where this very particular brand of Japanese entertainment is likely to find an appreciative audience amongst those up to speed with this sort of stuff. Me, well as an anime virgin I was left baffled and slack-jawed… but also curiously entertained.
I’m sort of aware that Japanese movies very often don’t obey the normal laws of story-telling and rationality. They’re all about colour, spectacle, insane, gravity-defying action and are often set in some fantasy-world just to the left of our own. Anime, in particular, tends to deal with some very adult themes and situations and Yatterman, it seems, very often skirted close to controversy in its anime days as adults were uncomfortable with the amount of slapstick and crude innuendo in an entertainment aimed at the very young. It seems that Miike decided that his live-action reboot of the franchise should accentuate the suggestive which leaves us with a film which, with its bright, primary colours, excruciating musical interludes and daft robots and impossible action sequences, seems oddly sullied by its fixations with nudity, breaking wind and villains who, I kid you not, at one point employ something called a Titty Machine Gun in their battle against the heroes.
Gan is the only son of the owner of the Takada Toy Shop in Tokyoyo (not a misprint, move on) and he and his friend Ai both become ‘Yatterman’, a superhero conglomeration which, along with their giant robot dog Yatterwoof, fight the incompetent but persistent Doronbow gang led by the sexy Lady Doronjo whose schemes are frequently scuppered by the idiocy of her wacky pig-faced henchmen Boyacki and Tonzra. ‘Yatterman’ springs into action when the daughter of a missing explorer brings them one of the pieces of the mysterious, magical Skull Stone which, when assembled, will give its owner ultimate power. The mysterious (and frankly irritating) Skullobey sets the Doronbow gang on the trail of the missing pieces and the gang travel the world with Yatterman in hot pursuit in a race against Time for the possession of the Skull Stone.
I’ve never seen anything quite like this in my life. Even accepting that it’s aimed at kids, this is extraordinary stuff full of outlandish action set pieces which make little or no sense, extraordinary gadgets and special effects and a script that has no truck with narrative and just dumps its characters in one ridiculous situation after another with little in the way of rhyme or reason. And yet despite all this it’s oddly hypnotic and maddeningly enjoyable. Yatterman is like one big sugar rush, dazzling with its palette of garish, primary colours, an overload of insane ideas and nonsensical action which is impossible to resist. Yatterman travels across the world on the back of their robot dog, the Doronbow Gang break into spontaneous song-and-dance routines after scamming the public so they can make enough money to build their own outrageous robot travelling machine and ludicrous weapons with which to attack Yatterman. In the middle of it all there’s a love triangle as Lady D falls in love with Gan despite Ai’s affections and, unless I’m very much mistaken, one of Lady D’s giant robots orgasms itself to death.
Yatterman is so blazingly colourful and inventive it’s really hard to look away and you’ll find yourself compelled to stick with it even when you know you really shouldn’t. But part of the fun is just finding out where on Earth it’s going next and what new implausible, impossible tricks it’s got left up its sleeves. I’m not quite sure I’d recommend Yatterman to those of a nervous or sensitive disposition and I’m really not sure it’s for very young kids; but if you’re an anime fan this is very probably tame bread and butter to you and you’ll likely find the combination of over-the-top characters and outlandish storytelling absolutely right up your street. Me, I just found it very, very odd…
Special Features: Japanese teaser trailer, features, interviews, stills, Cannes promo.