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Bob Doto [Film Festival 02.08.09] movie review anime action adventure



Year: 2009
DVD Release date: Unknown
Directors: Takashi Miike
Writers: Tatsuo Yoshida
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Manhattan is a city of numbered blocks divided into streets and avenues. Streets are short. They take one minute to traverse. Avenues are long. They take four minutes of "Are we still only at 6th?" to traverse. So, when I walked down 57th St. approaching the Director’s Guild Theater for the World Premiere of Takashi Miike’s much anticipated film YATTERMAN and came upon an entire avenue of people cued up, I was walking passed four minutes worth of people! That was an hour-and-half before the doors even opened. By the time 8pm rolled around there could’ve been ten minutes of people for all I knew. I didn’t know. I’m press, so, ‘scuse me, pardon me. I have a ticket. I go in first. Perks!


Let’s jump right in (from the promo):

"Gan (Sho Sakurai [Arashi super-fame]), the only son of the owner of Takada Toy Shop, and his girlfriend, Ai (Saki Fukuda), are inseparable. They build Yatterwoof, a dog-shaped robot that shares their will, and together with a small robot named Toybotty, they form a fighting team to protect world peace. So, they are our heroes, YATTERMAN 1 and 2! Meanwhile, Doronjo (Kyoko Fukada), the sexy female boss of the Doronbow Gang, and her henchmen, genius mecha designer Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase) and brawny Tonzra (Kendo Kobayshi), are hoaxed by the mysterious Skullobey to find the Skull Stone, which is said to realize any wish. But now [the] Skull Stone [has] been split into four pieces and lost over the world. When Gan and Ai learn of the Doronbow Gang sinister plot, they stand up against the villains and use their various mechas to foil their plans."

That’s a plot that’s been around for roughly thirty years. The original anime series YATTERMAN was the creation of Tatsuo Yoshida (founder of Tatsunoko Productions: Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, etc.) and ran from 1977 to 1979. The series culminated in one hundred eight episodes of hugely popular action-adventure in a way only Japan can produce. In 2008, thirty years after the fact, the series was revived. And within a year’s time a feature film based on the series would be released.

And how is it?

YATTERMAN is hilarious. YATTERMAN is massive. YATTERMAN is you plunging into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory if ten other Willy Wonka factories were superimposed on top of the original factory and each new superimposition was violently vying for sugar-coated supremacy. Explosions, electricity, weird dancing sequences, discount wedding dresses, over-sized sushi, under-sized brains, robot fish going through puberty as a means of defeating enemies, “titty missiles,” miniature Thievery Gods, and mechanical dogs having orgasms. Get the picture? Skulls, villains, puppy love, dry humor, slapstick humor, dark humor, bright colors, bad animation, great animation, cartoon animation, live action. This is what we’re dealing with here. Maximalism at its most toy-robotic.

But aside from all the visual insanity—and it was visually insane—Takashi Miike manages to do something most filmmakers have only dreamed of doing. Miike has actually created a film—a linear narrative—that completely subverts any of the expected moral tropes of 9/10 of the films in this world. It’s one thing to subvert convention when you’ve erased all sense of narrative, exploded the form as it were. But what if you’re still telling a straightforward story? What’s to do?

"Make it strange" could be the battle cry of avant-garde Russian Formalists of yore. Take something understood and undo its semiotic stability by making it unusual or unrecognizable. Do that, they say, and you have a chance at seeing the thing itself for the first time. YATTERMAN is that. It’s strange and complex. Therefore it’s always making itself new.

But, complexity is an interesting thing. There are films whose intentions of how they want you to feel about a certain subject are highly telegraphed. Think ZEITGEIST, THE CORPORATION, or SUPER SIZE ME. Great films, however, even if under the guise of “complexity” a film that pretends to be Even-Steven in its demeanor films by their nature (visions of writers and directors) are almost always a vehicle for a single, if nuanced, message. YATTERMAN is not this kind of a film.

Throughout most of the film I was unable to experience a single autonomous emotion. Many times while watching I found myself feeling simultaneously grossed out, happy, sad, confused, elated, touched, and tricked. Rarely was there a scene where I felt as if I knew what I was intended to feel. One scene in particular consisted of equal parts slap-stick comedy, melodrama, the grotesque, and an extended/reoccurring reference to Indian Jones, while all the while taking a brick or two out of the ever-present, though ever-shaky YATTERMAN fourth wall. My mind tripped up. Is that actor still in character? Is he looking at me?

You know who wasn’t looking at me? The four to ten minutes worth of Japanese girls absolutely enamored with lead actor Sho Sakurai. “Who’s that” you ask? Yeah, me too. He’s this super famous boy-band guy who apparently is an industry unto himself. He’s HUGE. And when he walked onstage at the beginning of the film, all he had to do was cough and the audience went nuts. As you can see, everything about this film is gargantuan. The effects. The plot. The actors’ fame. The songs. It’s all big. Get into it and learn to surrender to it all. That’s all you can do with YATTERMAN. It’s bigger than us.

PS–I would like to give a special thanks to Grady who helped make sure Quiet Earth was represented at the premiere. It was a crazy busy night and the evening, from my perspective, looked as if it ran smoothly. Much love to you, your hot-pink suit, and the entire Subway Cinema crew.




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Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

Nice review! I really enjoyed the Willy Wonka reference! :) One correction: the majority of "the four to ten minutes worth of Japanese girls" was actually American, and there were fans from all over the world as well! I think this really puts him being HUGE in a whole new perspective, doesn't it? :)

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projectcyclops (11 years ago) Reply

Great review, thanks! :)

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satsu (11 years ago) Reply

as someone who actually knows sakurai sho (and god damn it, he is HUGE!) but doesn't know the movie at all i really enjoyed your review! (i actually did not intend to watch it since i saw a lot of japanese anime-movie-transformations... but you convinced me here).

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Bob Doto (11 years ago) Reply

Thanks for the props projectcyclops and satsu. And thanks for the correction anon.

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flange5 (11 years ago) Reply

I saw the premiere too (and flew from TX to do so), and I loved this review--I really enjoyed the film and also felt both the complete cracked-outedness of it and the strange emotional disconnect--We're so used to having music, lighting, tropes, etc tell us how to feel and this one really disrupted that--and I think it was good.

Sadly, I think only 6 of those hundreds of people in line got in . . . considering many of them flew in from all over the country, Europe and Asia, it was really sad. I was lucky and got in (and btw, not Japanese), but my two friends didn't, one of whom came in from IN for the event as both an Arashi and Miike fan :( But a great review!! Thanks!

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Pat (11 years ago) Reply

an honest opinion:

previous to hearing about miike's plans to making this movie i had never heard of "yatterman" before. Knowing his genius i was looking forward to it, even thou it seemed like a strange sory straight away. i do enjoy alternative/asian cinema...like i m a robot but thats ok, tetsuo etc. but , judging by the trailer this seemed too weird to me. i couldnt connect to any of the characters and the whole production design appeared very out of place; "plastic" describes my impression pretty well, i guess.

anyway, so i went on to find out more about this yatterman business and watched a whole bunch of the old episodes. contrary to my expectations they were really fun. the style of the programme just worked so much better as an animation, and simply made sense as a whole.

looking back at the trailer i think this is a good example of an anime that shouldnt have been turned into a live action movie. i do not doubt miike's cinematic abilities but this doesnt do the source material justice, i think.

just wanted to see if any of the original fans of the series agreed?

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Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

I loved reading your review. Yatterman is indeed HUGE. And from what I heard it has been getting lots of popularity in Japan too and I doubt it's just the Sho fans. I know I greatly enjoyed the movie too when I saw it that Friday.

And Grady is amazing. I seriously love that man.

PS: In case you cared or didn't know, the song (at the end) is actually by Arashi (Sho's band) So yay for you having enjoyed that? XD


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