Archive for the ‘Sushi Typhoon’ Category

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Sushi Typhoon – Part 10: Roundup

January 29, 2012

Since my reviews tend to drag too bloody long, it’s time for a summary roundup on Sushi Typhoon’s 7 film set. Each film will be summarized with plusses and minuses, and a short verdict. For reference, I will also hail and bash another 7 movies that the fish factory’s output can be compared to.

Alien vs. Ninja (Seiji Chiba, 2010)
+ Unbeatable concept: aliens + ninjas
+ Old school effects: men in rubber suits
+ Inventive martial arts choreography
– Sometimes unnecessarily underlines its silliness
– Very bland, gray visual look

Verdict: Very enjoyable martial arts / monster movie relying on strong action choreography by Yuji Shinomura, and men in rubber suits (Shimomura again). Occasional winks of eye to the viewer would not have been needed, though – we get the joke even if you don’t spell it out to us! 4/5

Mutant Girls Squad (Nishimura, Iguchi & Sakaguchi, 2010)
+ Excellent score by Kou Nakagawa
+ Charming cameos and kawaii moments
+ Solid storyline set the TGP universe
+ Breathtaking gore and make up effects
– The use of CGI in some gore effects

Verdict: A fun, even cute splatter-comedy hampered by some CGI, but excelling also in handmade gore, interesting storyline/world, and pleasing genre casting. Iguchi’s mid-episode ventures a bit too much into comedy, but the rest retains a fitting level of cool / pseudo seriousness. 3.5/5

Helldriver (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2010)
+ Set in an ambitious, satiric zombie world
+ Various lovely gore and make-up effects
+ Kick-ass score by Kou Nakagawa
– Misplaced classical bits on the soundtrack
– Extensive use of CGI
– Lacks mean horror, opts for too much humor

Verdict: Messy and partly disappointing (CGI), Nishimura’s zombie film is also very enjoyable, epic trash ride with charming make-up effects and terrific score. Nishimura’s strength in creating a world of its his for his films is again visible here. 3.5/5

Cold Fish (Sion Sono, 2010)
+ Intense, darkly humoristic serial killer film
+ Excellent lead performances
+ All around high quality filmmaking
– Slight over-angst in the very last scene

Verdict: Not as much a “Sushi Typhoon film” as just another excellent Sion Sono thriller that happened to be produced by Sushi Typhoon. Not to be compared with “genre films”, although it does come with a heavy load of blood, guts and nudity. A very serious production, although spiced with very dark humor and Sono’s typical commentary on Japanese society.4/5

Karate Robo Zaborgar (Noboru Iguchi, 2011)
+ Wonderful soundtrack
+ Dynamic action scenes
+ Humor and genre respect balanced
+ Likable characters and actors
– The second half occasionally drags and gives too much emphasis on CGI

Verdict: A highly enjoyable action comedy for big audiences. There is plenty of emphasis on old school, and due to the family friendly and very easy going nature of the film the use of CGI does not become a bother until towards the end. Gore has wisely been omitted. 4/5

Yakuza Weapon (Yudai Yamaguchi & Tak Sakaguchi, 2011)
+ Amusing “Sugawara performance” by Sakaguchi
+ Some strong martial arts bits
– Extensive use of CGI in action and gore
– Unnecessarily underlines its silliness and comedy
– Too obvious “made-to-be-a-cult-pleaser” attitude
– Storyline drags in serious parts

Verdict: A disappointing film that chooses to be a comedy and CGI fest rather than hard boiled action film. Sadly, CGI does not equal to true thrills – it only lessens the impact of the action. The dramatic storyline parts also fail – a problem that also plagues Deadball. A disappointment to action fans. 2/5

Deadball (Yudai Yamaguchi, 2011)
+ Strong, prison flick style opening half
+ John Carpenter esque score
+ Charismatic performance by Sakaguchi
+ Some successfully outrageous, bad-taste humor
– Extensive use of CGI in action and gore
– Disappointing climax without actual “baseball”
– Jokes get less outrageous towards the end
– Storyline drags in serious parts

Verdict: An average splatter comedy that shows promise with mean jokes and solid attitude during its first half, but eventually downgrades into a disappointing and not-so-mean CGI-comedy. Sakaguchi is excellent, however, as a silent, chain-smoking antihero.2.5/5

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For comparison, I have chosen seven other genre films from other studios (but mostly the same filmmakers). The list could be much longer, but I decided to omit films like Samurai Princess (not so great) and Meatball Machine (quite interesting) for no obvious reason.

Gothic & Lolita Psycho (Go Ohara, 2010)
+ Superb opening with stylish action
+ Gothic Lolita makes a great lead
+ CGI free gore
– Made-into-a-cult-pleaser attitude
– Extensive underlining of its silliness
– CGI filled, disappointing finale
– Storyline drags in serious parts

Verdict: A disappointing action comedy that is too afraid to be serious. Action talent is wasted on joking and “we know this is silly” -approach to something that could’ve been very cool and amusing if played with (pseudo) seriousness. 2/5

Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle (Takanori Tsujimoto, 2009)
+ Highly stylish, hard boiled cyber punk world
+ Terrific action choreography
+ Excellent, old school gore effects
+ Free of excessive humor and CGI
+ Moody soundtrack
– A couple of flashbacks fail

Verdict: Takanori Tsujimoto shows how to do it right: drop the comedy, invest in action choreography, and set it in visually stylish cyber punk / post apocalypse world. Add moody soundtrack and CG-free gore effects by Nishimura Eizo, and the outcome is: the best Japanese action film in decades! 4.5/5

Robo-Geisha (Noboru Iguchi, 2009)
+ Some crazy ideas come out genuinely fun
+ I’m gloriously misquoted on the Finnish DVD art
– Geisha < High School Girl
– Excessive use of CGI in action and gore
– Family film with gore is a compromise
– Over-acted comedy and non-captivating drama

Verdict: Iguchi is a wonderful guy, but RoboGeisha demonstrates his weaknesses, which are over-reliance on CGI, over-acting, and dramatic scenes which rarely come out successful in a genre film. RoboGeisha does have its share of positively outrageous moments, but the attempt to reach child audiences (with PG-12 rating) yet include gore feels like a compromise from the beginning. 2/5

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (Nishimura & Tomomatsu, 2009)
+ Lovely gore effects
+ Hilarious, non-stop pop culture satire
+ Cute and charming “love-comedy-splatter”
+ Terrific, Tarantino-level soundtrack
– Overdone scenes with Dr. Frankenstein

Verdict: Here is a charming love-comedy-splatter that shows how comedy and gore can be married. The film’s heart is a genuinely sweet romance, which is supported by impressive “real” gore and hilarious pop-culture satire that comes frighteningly close to reality. Amazing soundtrack. CG is only used in non-important little additions, and never becomes distracting. 4/5

Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008)
+ Lovely gore effects
+ Dark, humor free vision
+ Satiric commercials
+ Some amazing cyberpunk scenes (Dog Girl)
– Sometimes a bit obvious at pushing the craziness

Verdict: True, mean splatter film that is not afraid to offend those with weaker stomach. CGI is used sparsely, and not in gore. Nishimura’s vision and strong cyber punk wibes add to the experience – the dog girl especially is an amazing creation. I challenge Sushi Typhoon to produce something equally risky and hardcore! 4/5

The Machine Girl (Noboru Iguchi, 2008)
+ Lovely gore effects
+ Good attitude, good ideas
– Editing and sound effects lacks punch
– Action scenes are underwhelming

Verdict: Iguchi’s approach with mean violence and old school effects is admirable. The film’s technical shortcomings (action scenes lack punch, sound effects are underwhelming, editing is sloppy etc.), however, hamper the enjoyment and make it a lesser film compared to the genre’s best movies. Nishimura’s films, for example, manages the technical side better. Iguchi is on the right path here, just needs a tighter skirt! 2.5/5

Death Trance (Yuji Shimomura, 2005)
+ Amazing, hard core action choreography
+ Stylish visual design (gothic + punk)
+ Various details (especially in the vampire forest)
+ Humor and CGI only in a small supporting role
+ Badass Tak Sakaguchi performance
– The final fight trades real action for visual feast

Verdict: a hard core martial arts stunner with detailed and interesting gothic/punk word. The lack of gore and toned down posing will disappoint Versus fans, but this film is in fact a Versus beater. Sakaguchi’s best work to date. 4.5/5

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Sushi Typhoon – Part 9: Yakuza Weapon

January 18, 2012

Yakuza mayhem misses the genre’s appeal

Gokudo heiki (Japan, 2011)

“Real yakuza fears no nuke”

Taku kills again! It’s been an 11 year world tour for mini-budget Japanese action cinema. Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus (2000) rocked the world more than a decade ago, but as some have noted, Kitamura-san hasn’t been able to come up with anything comparable since. The rest of the gang – screenwriter Yudai Yamaguchi, action choreographer Yuji Shimomura, and street fighter Tak(u) Sakaguchi – however, are here again! Was the wrong man credited for the Versus success?

Good theory, perhaps true even, but it doesn’t make Yakuza Weapon a good film. Not even thought it just may be the most fucked up production in the Sushi-catalogue. Co-directors Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi set to adapt Ken Ishikawa’s 1996 manga into a Versus beater. Not forgetting the manga’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity yakuza parodies, Taku mastered Hiroshima accent and went full-on Bunta Sugawara! Sadly, style was forgotten.

Shozo Iwaki (Sakaguchi) wants to be the world’s toughest yakuza. The task is easy: he already is the world’s toughest yakuza. But there’s room for improvement. Returning from the Vietnam jungles (don’t ask) he discovers his asshole father (Akaji Maro) has been murdered, and the family’s honor stained. Now Iwaki is also the world’s most pissed off yakuza.

Add to the insult, a pervert in a big building shoots him with a bazooka. Broken but alive, Iwaki is left in the hands of Japan’s best, and returned to action with a machine gun arm and rocket launcher leg. Groovy!

Yakuza Weapon is a festival of Sakaguchi – a charming badass not best known for his modesty. Iwaki kills and smokes, usually at the same time. He disguises himself in battle, not to take the enemy by surprise, but to look cooler. Most of the dialogue consists of random insults, and all of them at yelled. Shozo Iwaki is Tak Sakaguchi!

– “I’m the best swordsman in Japan. And in the world.” – Tak Sakaguchi
– “He’s an idiot.” – Yudai Yamaguchi

The catch couldn’t be more obvious – Tak battles his way through an action comedy where almost every scene is taken over-the-top with dedication. Heads come off, buildings explode, and occasionally something so obscure (literally) falls from the sky that one can’t help but to warm up to it. But the joke is stretched too long, and the monotonic revenge / brotherhood drama becomes a drag. The worst misstep however, is the extensive use of (very poor) CGI.

Like the Yamaguchi helmed Deadball, Yakuza Weapon is effectively pushing the J-splatter genre ever deeper into the dark ditch of CGI. It’s hard to imagine true horror or cult film fan warming up to these digital gore fests. There is no concrete creativity in such. Casual viewers may not care, but then again, casual viewers also don’t see the difference between George Lucas green-screen action and mind blowing 1980’s Jackie Chan stunts. Splatter is no different art.

Some light is brought into the darkness by Sakaguchi and Yuji Shimomura’s action choreography. Taku is at his best in down and dirty street fighting mode – the man is no artist, but can kick ass and rip off some heads while at it. The highlight is a 4½ minute single take action scene that was completed with one hour rehearsal – and broken neck, as Taku took damage already during the first minute, but refused to give in! Tom Yum Goong’s similar scene took several months!

Another contender for a standout is a Sushi-favorite Cay Izumi’s brief visit as “naked weapon” – a scene made to be a cult favorite, but sadly drowned in CGI. The same problem plagues all of Taku’s gatling gun and rocket launcher action, making several action bits less than exiting. Most underwhelming is the encounter with deadly nurses, again watered down with digital gore.

Yakuza Weapon once again raises the question: where goes the line between creative insanity, and overly self-aware “manufactured cult cinema” that effectively misses the true coolness. The line is not easy to draw. Yoshihiro Nishimura, for example, intentionally pushes the audience’s limit, but the man is genuinely nuts and directs films with a great heart.

Yakuza Weapon, on the other hand, over-does it concept to comical lengths just to prove people it doesn’t take itself seriously. But that is exactly the problem. Such splatterific genre films, even when played straight, automatically posses certain darkly humoristic undertone. Yakuza Weapon is essentially explaining a joke to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t get it – and will probably find success among such viewers that would normally feel insulted by “terrible sadistic splatter films”.

In all fairness, though, Yakuza Weapon is not an entirely poor film. Sakaguchi’s nutty yakuza satire / self irony is fun to a certain point, and his hand-to-hand fights rarely cease to entertain. Sakaguchi and Yamaguchi are both nice guys, but with all the CGI and comic over-statement Yakuza Weapon is a misfire. In Sushi Typhoon’s entertaining seven film catalogue it’s the weakest contender.

It is my sincere wish Sushi Typhoon will be back later in 2012 with a vengeance – and without CGI. Unleash the true creativity these Japanese nuclear reactors (also known as “filmmakers”) posses and bring back the days of Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl!

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Sushi Typhoon – Part 6X: Helldriver again

December 20, 2011

After the initial zombie experience at Nippon Connection, I ended up revisiting Helldriver on home video in its full uncut glory not once, but twice. And, strangely, was left up with different feelings both times.

Bargain Apocalypse: A CG-Hampered Zombie Epic

Sayonara Japan! A zombie epidemic breaks out. Japan is divided in two, with the North populated by the living dead, and the south turning into slums due to overpopulation. To solve the crisis one girl with chainsaw sword and artificial heart is sent to end it all. Japan’s most celebrated gore maestro Yoshihiro Nishimura’s messy but ambitious zombie epic wipes its ass with its mini budget.

While incredibly bloody, Helldriver also stumbles with frequent and disappointing use of CG in explosions, backgrounds, vehicles, sometimes even gore. Strong horror and genuinely grueling scenes are missing in favor of goofier approach, even with some badly fitting classical pieces on the soundtrack as additional comic relief. Nevertheless, most of the gore is made with practical effects, the soundtrack kicks ass, and the ride never ceases to entertain.

Welcome to Zombie World: Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Helldriver

Nishimura’s goofy zombie splatter is an epic to be enjoyed in the right state of mind. Z-Grade CG and the lack of true horror must be overlooked. But, overcoming these flaws Helldriver can be a hell of a ride indeed. The practical special gore effects are charming, Nishimura’s make up artistry often insanely imaginative, and Koh Nakagawa’s score bad-ass beyond belief. In addition, despite being a thoroughly ugly film there are bits and pieces of strange, gory beauty.

Even in all its messiness Nishimura’s vision of a zombie world is a fascinating one. Human rights become a political game, cities turn slums, and the no-go area a wild west where semi-intelligent zombie leaders command the dead troops and enslave the living. CG is mostly used for elements that strike the mental insanity meter through the roof and leave the viewer breathless: the climax must be seen to be believed. Plus, you gotta love a film that slaps its blood soaked title card only after 48 minutes of non-stop action. Flawed and over-packed Helldriver may be, it’s still a truckload of gory fun to serve multiple viewings.

117 Minute Bloodbath

The very first festival print and Japanese theatrical cut, which sadly was later replaced by an interior International Version, is now finally available to foreign audiences via home video editions. This version restores some 12 minutes of footage. All of the additions are to the film’s benefit, adding nasty old school splatter, welcome characterization with fan favorites Asami and Takumi Saito, and even some additional moody and satiric bits. The main additions include:

– School girl cannibalism at the zombie bar. This is an excellent addition which extends a scene that is found in both versions, bringing some unsettling brutality to a film that in general is a bit too lighthearted to function as real horror. Victim: AV-star Rui Saotome.

– Asami and Takumi Saito as hyper police (the armored mercenaries). Saito appears briefly in the International Version, too, but his partner Asami was edited out. Here they have a some brief dialogue scenes, with both actors doing good job establishing likable characters in very limited screen time, as well as some additional fight-splatter. The gore storm at the end feels more satisfying when it is preceded by a couple of quiet moments and the characters have been introduced to the viewer.

– Romero / Day of the Dead esque side plot concerning a priest (Kanji Tsuda) with zombie sympathies. Greatly enhances the film’s satiric edge, and adds some moody bits, handmade gore, and Nishimura’s daughter as zombie (very beautiful!)! In addition to this side plot, there are other satiric bits added to the film, including more footage concerning the politicians and the slums.

Conclusion: the International Version appears to be designed to attract more casual festival viewers who might be scared off by a two hour running time. In terms of quality the shortened version is nonsensical: it removes some of the film’s best scenes, corrects none of the flaws, and retains the exact same pacing by removing an equal amount of action an characterization. The film is essentially one feature film long action scene – no doubt an overkill for some, but whether it runs 105 minutes or 117 minutes makes almost no difference at all.

Spin Off x 3

Following the tradition of accompanying feature films with spin off short movies (something that started back in the Versus days and has continued ever since) Helldriver features three spin-off short stories. They were directed by Nishimura’s assistant director Jun Shiozaki, lighting director Hiroshi Ota, and Sushi favorite Yoshiki Takahashi.

Shiozaki and Ota’s efforts, titled Helldriver dokata and Catch Me if You Can, suggest these two gentlemen would better not leave their day jobs right yet. Helldriver dokata is the comeback of the giant but sympathetic machete zombie that was loading the sky with severed heads in the main feature.

A “drama-comedy” with martial arts and cleavage, it starts promising, but the joke runs dry soon. Style is lacking and potentially entertaining elements do not receive the treatment they deserve, but come out clumsy and dull. Still, it’s got a few moments that potentially make it a passable time killer for 11 minutes. Director Shiozaki previously helmed the Tokyo Gore Construction Worker short film (for Tokyo Gore Police extras) and Helldriver dokata continues very much in the same vein but with less success. Comes with: zombie “cameo” by horror blogger John Skeleton.

Catch Me if You Can fares even worse – it’s a CG-packed imitation of Nishimura madness, but without much gore, catchiness, or style. It features the “upper torso zombie” from the end of Helldriver (the one that says “hello” to Gadarukanaru Taka) chasing people. The hyperpolice also make an appearance, but without Asami or Takumi Saito. Like Helldriver Dokata, Catch Me if You Can recycles music from Helldriver, but never manages to be more than a pale imitation. Comes with: zombie cameo by Norman England.

Yoshiki Takahashi’s entry, Bailout, is by far the most interesting of the three spin off movies, and not only because Takahashi is the screenwriter of Sono’s Cold Fish and the graphic designer for Sushi Typhoon. Bailout comes out an unexpectedly ambitious 19 minute feature, setting its fully independent storyline into post-apocalyptic future that shares very little with Nishimura’s film.

Bailout follows two men traveling in the deserted “dead land”, and two women hiding in an underground hideout. It’s a moody and genuinely scary horror piece that somewhat resembles the cyber-punk films of Shozin Fukui. Whether Takahashi has what it takes to direct a feature length film remains unclear, but this is certainly a promising effort. A feature length V-Cinema project might be an interesting next step. Comes with: boobs.

Behind the Splatter

Sushi Typhoon Tokyo Invasion is a 21 min feature directed by Norman England (who also does a cameo in the film). In Japan Helldriver, Alien vs. Ninja, Yakuza Weapon and Deadball were released simultaneously as “Sushi Typhoon Matsuri” (Sushi Typhoon Festival) event. Ginza Cine Pathos in Tokyo was decorated with blood and guts, and Noburu Iguchi hosted the three week even during which the films were screened countless times. Mr. England captures much of the fun (and these people are always fun live), even though the feature does get a bit repetitive towards the end.

The best extra, however, is the 43 min Making Of documentary, directed by fan favorite Demo Tanaka (he’s the man in the cage, whose arm gets chopped off by Honoka). This documentary is an absolute must see for fans of Nishimura, capturing the extremely difficult filming process and demonstrating the special effects work as well as the hell the actors had to go through with Nishimura completing approximately 300 shots per day (leaving him almost no time at all to sleep during the two week shoot).

Conclusion

As usual with Nishimura’s movies, it’s necessary for fans to own two home video editions of the film. Before it was Japanese DVDs (for spin offs, extras and soundtrack CDs) + and Western Blu-Rays (for technical presentation) but with Helldriver US + UK Blu-Rays would seem sufficient, since they combined have the approximately same set of features as the Japanese DVD release. Tokyo Invasion and the Spin Off films are on the US release, the Making Off documentary and Japanese trailer (both in high definition) are on the UK Blu-Ray.

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Sushi Typhoon – Part 8: Deadball

November 21, 2011

Deadball (Japan, 2011)

The secret of good health: never do sports! Yudai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi have developed their own breed of sports movies in which the team that dies first loses. 2003’s Battlefield Baseball brought a healthy dose of sports violence to the screens, but gore meters were kept in check due to Japan’s splatter-anemic home audiences. Now the Guchi-duo is back – with financing from Japan’s official export-trash maestro Yoshinori Chiba and the Sushi Typhoon label. More blood, more Nazis, and one Klaus Nomi lookalike!

Deadball’s got something to live up to, Battlefield Baseball having been (despite its limited splatter) a benchmark in sports dramas. And it does put up a good fight – initially at least. Clumsy CGI opening aside Deadball soon finds its own gear – not as a sports movie, but as a seriously deranged prison fighting film set to a John Carpenter esque score! Talk about quality cinema!

The storyline is a follows: Sakaguchi returns to his Battlefield Baseball role as Yakyu Yubei (a name which is a reference to both the legendary samurai Yaguy Yubei and baseball, which is “yakyu” in Japanese). It’s the same character Saku played in Battlefield Baseball, except that it isn’t (I know, it doesn’t make sense, but neither does the film). Yubei-kun is a 17 year old youth criminal (portrayed by the 35 year old Sakaguchi) suffering from childhood trauma: he accidentally killed his father with a baseball. Now, trapped in a prison run by Neo-Nazis, he’s forced to grab the bat once again and play for his life.

For the first 45 minutes the filthy comedy hits non-stop home runs. Yamaguchi makes most out of his “artistic” freedom with a classic body check sequence, and an even more amazing telephone fight that could potentially amuse the audience to death. Unfortunately, once the game is on, it’s downhill almost all the way.

The anti-climatic match that takes most of the film’s second half is essentially an extended CGI joke. Bargain budget CGI is plenty and covers nearly all special effects from baseballs to gore effects – even though horror fans around the world are known to dislike computer graphics. The level of insane inventiveness that was reached in Battlefield Baseball with practical effects is sadly not found in Deadball. Even the opposing team – a psychotic girl’s highs school class of sexy killers (made of real life ero-dancers), come out underwhelming.

Sakaguchi’s performance saves a lot, though. He’s always been an honest and competent action man with the street cred, but he’s never been especially high on charisma – until now. The silent, chain smoking, poncho wearing badass is easily Sakaguchi’s coolest performance so far. Itäs also his funnies, with Saku underplaying all his reactions to a hysterical effect.

The film does provide some additional reward for the patient viewers during its last few minutes, though. The gloriously dumb ending is confusing enough to make the audience wonder if film reels were played in the wrong order. But is it too late? Maybe so. For fans of charming old school effects (which helped the new wave JP splatter earn its fame) this new CGI trend is worrying indeed.

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ありがとうございました、井口さん

May 6, 2011

Karate-Robo Zaborgar was my closing film for the Nippon Connection film fest. Sunstroke, left arm burt in sun, too many beers, feeling all around dizzy, it was a a day saver and a wonderful ending for a wonderful festival. 井口さん、ありがとうございました! ザボーガーは最高だ!

This concludes my Sushi Typhoon reviews for now. Later, I’ll be back with more Nippon Connection coverage.

Oh, and 真希さん、ブログポストについてありがとうございました!

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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!

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Sushi Typhoon – Part 6: Helldriver

May 5, 2011

Nihon bundan: Heru doraibâ (Japan, 2010)

“Sayonara Japan!”

Yoshihiro Nishimura does not believe in budget limitations. Sushi Typhoon have him $200 000 and a two week filming schedule, Nishimura announced he’d be making the all time zombie epic. He named Romero’s satirical genre films as inspiration, and 8000 liters of blood as his personal contribution. A fitting follow up to his previous solo project Tokyo Gore Police, in other words.

It doesn’t take a genius to say Nishimura was basically trying the impossible. Preparations were extensive: the 3500 storyboards prepared by Nishimura speak for themselves. At filming site Nishimura seemingly broke his own records, completing close to 300 shots per day. In this hurry screenplay was left for lesser care.

The storyline is simple but fast paced. School girl Kika’s (Yumiko Hara) life is hell on earth. The sadistic mom Rikka (Eihi Shiina) beats her daughter, and eats the father’s legs in the lack of better things to do! One day an asteroid falls from sky and makes a hole in Rikka’s chest. Pissed off, she rips her daugher’s heart off and places it in her own chest. Kika is taken to medical care while half of Japan falls under zombie epidemic due to the ash from the asteroid. Mysteriously, Rikka, as the first victim, seems to have gained control of the zombie legions.

The storyline can now begin, although we haven’t quite reached the opening credits yet!

It’s obvious from the beginning Nishimura’s puns at politics and the Democratic Party Japan (human rights, etc.) are little more than gags. Nishimura wouldn’t have time for real satire even if he wanted to, as there’s more gore and action in Helldriver than one movie can take. The actual plot kicks off once Kika, now enhanced with iron chest and chainsaw sword, returns. It’s time to forget “human rights” and go behind the Great Wall (separating the “normal” and the “infected”) and kick mom’s ass. And kill a few creatures on the way.

For his entire career – the directorial efforts only counting for a fraction of it – Nishimura has worked on makeup effects. This is where Helldriver excels, too. It’s unbelievable how much care has been put into stylish zombie makeup despite the tight schedule. Aside clearly distinctive zombie designs there are other creatures all the way from spider zombies crawling in the frames. Not your most typical living deads, that is.

Nishimura’s zombies are flesh eaters with varying amount of brain damage. Some of them settle for dinner hunt, others engage in minor communication. This is not entirely satisfying, but at least better than parkour zombies seen in some other recent genre films. Nishimura’s zombies, with a few exceptions, don’t really run, which is a refreshing return to how zombies should be. The horns on their foreheads, used by Rikka to control their movements, is something Nishimura could have left out, though. Thankfully the anti-idea is not extensively used in the film.

As far as mood goes Helldriver is laidback but enjoyably trashy, with some over-enhanced and perhaps unnecessary color adjustment (leaning towards red and orange). Composer Koh Nakagawa’s easily recognizable tunes are mixed with rock and even waltz in a gore dance, a scene quite over-used by the director by now. Despite the goriness real mean violence, essential to zombie movies, can be found only in a few scenes.

One of Helldriver’s problems is over-packing. Nishimura’s got tons of interesting ideas, with too little time to properly exploit them on screen. It makes a lot of fun, but strange characters and weapons are brought in and thrown out before full use of them has been taken. Atmospheric build ups are missing, and action scenes seem rushed. Occasionally humor and gags become too dominating.

The second major gripe is the extensive use of CGI, which goes against genre logic. Nishimura’s films have drawn large following due to amazing old school special effects work. Here much of this is visible here, but he also does too many things with computer generated images. CGI blood is mixed with real ketchup, which leads into divided rather than multiplied excitement.

Now, it must be stated that this review is based on the 105 minute International Version. The original cut is 10-15 minutes longer, and even features nasty handmade gore shots not seen in the shorter version. The full version premiered at the Fantastic Fest in Texas, but was taken back to editing table (due to?) after abysmal feedback. Sushi Typhoon’s official US face Marc Walcow later admitted having learnt his lesson: Nishimura films are not to be screened for “Iron Man 3 audience”. The same edit later opened for enthusiastic audience in New York, with people wondering how anyone would want to miss even a second of it.

With one of the film’s main problems being the hectic pacing, it’s easy to imagine the original cut being superior. It no doubt still suffers from CGI problems, but most likely comes with vital bits to enhance the overall experience. Nishimura also stated many fan favorite actors get more screen time in the long version. Even in the 105 minute cut one can spot the regulars from Takashi Shimizu to Cay Izumi and even Marc Walcow as the insane doctor.

Helldriver was to be Nishimura’s best movie. It is not. The amount of CGI and the lack of slower atmospheric parts hurt the film. Focus on vehicles is also relatively sparse considering the film’s title. However, the review being based on the shorter cut it would feel untimely to lay final judgment right yet. Besides, all the criticism is to be seen against the enormous potential of the film, and Nishimura’s amazing track record. Even as an “incomplete version” Helldriver is a hellava fun ride. It’s an epic trash movie that, despite its problems, doesn’t get boring for a second.