Sushi Typhoon – Part 7: Karate-Robo Zaborgar

May 6, 2011

Denjin Zaborgar: Gekijo-ban (Japan, 2011)

“Part motorcycle, part karate expert, all robot!”

New wave cult fave Noboru Iguchi’s been drifting towards larger audiences since Robo-Geisha (2009). Karate-Robo Zaborgar continues in the same vein. As a full blooded tokusatsu superhero film – a genre still enjoying remarkable popularity in Japan –it’s a movie with notable mainstream success potential among Japanese kids and fathers. At least if the parents don’t discover about Iguchi’s past career in the dirtier side of Adult Video industry…

Any success would be fully deserved, though, as Karate-Robo Zaborgar is Iguchi’s best film to date. Unlike many other new age jokers Iguchi has always made movies with pure love. The shortcomings have been technical. The Machine Girl lacked punch in editing and execution, Robo-Geisha dragged with its jokes. Karate-Robo Zaborgar improves on both areas.

The base comes from a 1974 television series. It’s was the era when Bruce Lee was the latest craze. Karate Robo’s protagonist Yutaka Daimon was hence made a martial arts expect who would battle the baddies with his iron fists. It wasn’t a rip off though; Daimon’s trusted partner, the transforming robot Zaborgar, was one of first of his kind. It has even been claimed the original Karate-Robo Zaborgar provided the inspiration for Transformers.

The original as well as Iguchi’s film adaptation set Daimon and his motorcycle-robot partner Zaborgar against megalomaniac super villains in wheelchairs and their sub-ordinates. The monsters are ugly, the cars have teeth, and the every single female wears iron bikini. Of course they do.
Gratuitous violence and sex, typical to many of Iguchi’s works, is missing from Karate-Robo Zaborgar. It’s a decidedly family friendly movie. This is good, as getting stuck in the middle doesn’t serve anyone.

Yet, Iguchi is his own recognizable self. The girls are sparsely clothed and their asses are filled with deadly weapons. Originally Iguchi wanted to have topples female villains who would be beaten by grabbing their breasts – an idea that was dropped as producers begged Iguchi to restrain himself. Iguchi also revealed there will be an extended version with additional footage and a sex scene between the younger Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) and evil Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki). The festival circuit version is the International Cut, running 101 minutes. However, unlike Nishimura’s splatter fest Helldriver, Karate-Robo Zaborgar feels perfectly fit and complete in its current form.

Karate-Robo Zaborgar works best during its first half. The fights come fast, the jokes are frequent, and the soundtrack is pure 1970’s tokusatsu gold. Composer Yasuhiko Fukuda’s new contributions are mixed with original tunes by the series composer Shunsuke Kikuchi, the legendary man behind Kamen Raider and Female Prisoner Scorpion scores.

As typical to modern tokusatsu, Karate-Robo Zaborgar comes with hefty amount of CGI effects. These vary from enjoyably clumsy to genuinely impressive. The film’s easy going and comedic nature considered the computer generated images blend in well. Old school effects have not been abandoned either. Most of the fighting consists of men battling in robot suits. Iguchi even brought back the original skull mobile from the television series. Martial arts choreography is competent enough, but hardly the main sales point. It’s there as an ingredient, played simultaneously with other attractions.

A bit less successful is the film’s second half. This is where Iguchi is on his own, departing further from the original contents. The special effects get bigger, and so does the drama. It drags a bit in places, but remains entertaining enough. Much thanks goes to Iguchi regular Itsuji Itao, and new discovery Aimi Satsukawa (iron bikini, again), both very pleasing performers. Many other familiar faces appear in the film as well, including Yoshihiro Nishimura as karate instructor, and Robo-Geisha trio Asami / Cay Izumi / Yui Murata as bikini fighters…

Despite some weaknesses towards the end, Karate Robo Zaborgar is a hugely enjoyable crowd pleaser, and well fit for mainstream distribution with its competent visual outlook (Iguchi had a multi-million dollar budget for it). The audience would be advised to live the experience. Iguchi himself wished the audience would shout out loud “ZABOOGAR, GO!” every time Zaborgar is in a tight spot. This is exactly the way the film should be enjoyed!



  1. Actually I thought that Iguchi-san himself said something about 1 Mio. Dollar, but then again on the imdb there’s some info on a supposedly 3 Mio Dollar budget. Who knows … well, anyway, I pretty much agree on everything you’ve said; it’s actually amazing what these Sushi Typhoon Guys are able to create with just a micro-budget (for Hollywood-standards). There’s so much love and dedication in this film, it makes up for all the weaknesses. And as much as I’d like to see the extra stuff reserved for the Japanese release, for once I have to praise the producers for holding Iguchi back on some of his more wilder, whacky ideas. The film still is pretty wild and whacky, and there’s a certain naive, innocent, childish charme to it, which I’d hate to see destroyed by too much gore or sexuality.

  2. speaking of “larger audiences” ironically i am not familiar with the “tokusatsu superhero film”..seemingly the popularity seems to be in japan but internationally ? i like iguchis previous films theefore this one interests me out of pure curiosity, just think its a contradiction to speak of a larger audience while the “concept” is quite alien to me-guess i am not the only one

  3. Hi, Mario,

    yes, I should have specified I’m talking about the film’s home market. Tokusatsu stuff like Ultraman and Kamen Rider have a few fans in the US. In Japan, however, this is a genre that has enjoyed huge popularity for decades. I think Toei, for example, would go bankrupt if they didn’t churn out these superhero money makers, haha (I’m joking, but that may actually not be far from the truth).

    For foreign markets, Karate-Robo Zaborgar indeed falls mainly under the cult banner. But from a Japanese perspective it was clearly made with mass audiences, the fathers and sons, in mind. Iguchi’s previous film Robo-Geisha was also in the same alley, although more violent. Robo-Geisha was made as pg-12 film due to the producer’s request. The fact that it got rated ’18’ in the UK was tragicomic…

    While Karate-Robo is pretty much a pg-rated film, it doesn’t mark the end of old school Iguchi. He explained his next project would be an “erotic zombie ass-horror movie”. He didn’t mention about it being a Sushi Typhoon film, though. I think it will be produced by another studio, but if I understood correctly, it hasn’t been decided yet.

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