Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City

Japan, 2010
Original title: Zeburâman: Zebura Shiti no gyakushû

Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Shô Aikawa, Riisa Naka, Tsuyoshi Abe
IMDB: 7/10

Long-time fans of director Takashi Miike may regard the first Zebraman film as marking the end of the Miike golden period. Coming shortly after a rapid-fire sequence of surreal genre pieces (Gozu, Visitor Q, Happiness of the Katakuris) and hyper kinetic Yakuza epics (Ichi the Killer, Dead or Alive, Deadly Outlaw Rekka) ... it was a time when Miike was arguably the most exciting director on the world stage, at least for those of us inhabiting the more twisted fringes of the world cinema spectrum.

Consequently expectations were high, and Zebraman (Part 1) while able to ride on the Miike buzz, ultimately disappointed. It's not that it was a bad film, just that the films which preceded it were so good, and the paradigm shift to a less adult, and more commercial reality was somewhat at odds with his previous work, even considering the eclectic range of his output.

So its interesting that Miike has chosen 6 years later to revisit the franchise, based on the manga from Yamada Renji. This time around, perhaps due to adjusted expectations, the result seems more impressive. It's still firmly entrenched within a commercial framework, and targeted towards a younger demographic - but just maybe I've come to terms with that. The fact it reunites him with veteran Sho Aikawa (Zebraman, Gozu, Dead or Alive trilogy) and comes stocked with an array of leather-clad vixens is more than enough reason to check it out.

Zebraman 2 is an alien invasion movie set in a dystopian Tokyo future, with its central theme being the time honoured struggle between good and evil, in this case symbolically depicted as a fight between 'black and white'.

Taking the idea one step further, the film cleverly plays with the inherent visual dichotomy of the Zebra, its black and white stripes signifying the good and evil within us all and, more specifically, within Zebraman himself. This plot point is an opportunity to ramp up the sexiness, exploiting the decadence of the black side of the stripe.

Ostensibly a superhero movie, the film plays like a combination of Cutie Honey, Tokyo Gore Police, and Godzilla-sized monster mayhem. All of which unfolds with Miike's typical irreverence and disregard for linear plot exposition. The abundance of crazy ideas thrown into the mix makes for a somewhat confusing first half-hour ... but hang in there, it all makes sense in the end (however absurd).

Tokyo 2025 has been renamed 'Zebra City', complete with a striped force-field defining its boundaries, and a tacit acknowledgment of the need for both good and evil within. Those in power are permitted to commit crimes for 10 minutes each day with impunity, a thinly-disguised attempt to thin the population via survival of the fittest.

Mayor Aihara Kozou, complete with bowler hat and mascara a la Clockwork Orange, enforces his dictates with the aid of stormtroopers and a select personal guard called the Zebra Police, or as he calls them 'The miniskirts'. As the name suggests, they are decked out in leather miniskirts, heels and fishnets (all black, of course), a darker version of Japan's legendary Miniskirt Police.

Which brings us to the Zebra Queen, Aihara Yui played by fashion model Riisa Naka - formed from pure evil by her creator Mayor Aihara who tweaked her appearance by specifying "larger breasts" and a "tighter ass" if you please!

A psychotic sadist, being pure evil after all, Riisa hams it up as a nasty little bitch. Her day job is as a J-pop artist, cavorting lasciviously in black leather and lingerie, spreading her own sexy brand of debauched propaganda and mind control. Obviously she looks the part, and with an eye-popping selection of clothes and wigs makes for a super-sexy villain.

Although the film comes across at times like a family-style blockbuster ... Miike never seems quite able to reign in his twisted ideas long-enough to call the film truly family-friendly - at least not what would be considered as such outside of Japan.

So while we have a cute young girl as the damsel in distress, we also have sly scenes of perverse sexuality ... a nurse tweaks the nipples of a male doctor as he pours hot wax on a patient, our titular hero gives the blowjob of the century to dispose of a menacing alien, and the Zebra Queen has quite the propensity to end up with her legs spread at any given opportunity. And that's not to mention the director's little joke as one scene threatens to enter tentacle-porn territory, only to smoothly segue into innocent playfulness.

While Miike has always operated within the limited budgets that most Japanese movies strain under compared to their Hollywood counterparts, this in no way reigns in his ambition ... which often seems many times the budget he has available. How good the film looks is testament to his skill at stretching his Yen - although whatever budget he has seems never quite enough to fully realise the richness of his vision.

Maybe lacking the budget for reshoots, tweaks or fine-tuning, he turns budget shortfalls into an opportunity for B-grade schlock. The occasional cheapo effects are played for laughs, and not incongruously with the tone. Miike films it and moves on - and this is much of the charm of his movies. They're dense bursts of creativity, generally uninhibited by restriction - be it money, good taste or common filmic convention.

Film connoisseurs might well describe the film as silly and inane, not without justification, but fans of this absurdist Japanese style will know that's exactly the point. I'd personally have preferred a more adult tone though. The sex is throttled back to multiplex-friendly allusions when my preference would've been more exploitative ... but that's just my admittedly twisted personal viewpoint.

In recommendation, I enjoyed it a lot and laughed often. It won't be showing up in many best-of lists ... but where else will you see a godzilla-sized cutesy green alien stomping through Tokyo and blowing enemies away with well-directed blasts of flatulence! Yes its that kind of movie, and it deserves to be seen, at least once.

Rating: 7/10


mAQ said...

First, Cold Fish was a masterpiece. Second, how long would a 20 minute Japanese short take to translate and create subtitles for?



Hiya Maq. I haven't had a chance to see Cold Fish yet, but I'm a huge Sion Sono fan and the theme seems right up my alley. Can't wait for it, and good to hear such positive feedback!

As for translating ... I find it takes around 30-40 hrs to do translation and timing of subtitles from scratch for a 90 minute movie. I don't claim to be a pro, but this seems to be fairly normal for amateur subbers. So I guess around about a quarter of that for a short.

Ventilation Shaft said...

About the film: it appeals to me, but... is it necessary to see Zebraman 1, or I can safely skip it and see 2?

About the subs: 30-40 hrs? Really? I've done a few subs from scratch, and I'm by no means a pro, but have never found the process to be so long. Last thing I did was an English sub for an 1 hour long Croatian film, and it took me roughly two and a half hours to do the whole sub.


Hey VShaft, to be honest I've almost completely forgotten the first film, but still enjoyed the 2nd. Without going back to watch Zebra1, I really couldn't say for sure how much difference it makes. They do refer to it... but I think you'll be fine.

About subtitling ... I've never actually timed how long it takes. I just based my estimate on comments made in the fansubbing community, which seem fairly realistic in my experience.

It definitely takes me longer than it should though because I don't speak two languages fluently - maybe its the same for most other amateur subbers. Being truly multi-lingual probably makes it far quicker.

I've done translations for Spanish, Korean, and Japanese movies - despite not being fluent in any of them! And for me it means using online translators, or co-opting my Japanese girlfriend to help :) Either way its a massive task!

Soiled Sinema said...

I reviewed Cold Fish.

Thanks for getting back to me! I'm in the process of trying to find someone to sub one of Sion Sono's short films from a No-Panty short collection. Hope it falls into place!



Thx for the review of Cold Fish mAQ - you got onto that one early! Looks like I'll be waiting a few more months yet for the June 27 release. Its been a long wait!

The film you want to sub sounds intriguing - "No-panty" short? Let me know if you have no luck finding someone to sub it. I can help out if you're in no rush.

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