Today: April 9, 2024

Yatterman

Back in the early days of DVD, some bright spark hit upon the idea of creating a new audience for foreign film by challenging the widespread belief that all sub-titled films were arty and dull.

Back in the early days of DVD, some bright spark hit upon the idea of
creating a new audience for foreign film by challenging the widespread belief
that all sub-titled films were arty and dull.
Central to this great
marketing push were the films of Takashi
Miike
including Audition, Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer. Films that, despite being ‘foreign’ and subtitled,
were far more shocking and spectacular than anything available at the local
multiplex. Unfortunately, while these films earned Miike an international cult
following, they also trained us to associate him with only one particular type
of film. Indeed, even though Miike is one of Japan’s most prolific and
adaptable directors, we in the West continue to ignore his more whimsical and
family-oriented projects in favour of the blood-drenched spectacle of films
like Thirteen Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. Made as
part of an attempt at re-launching a 1970s children’s anime franchise and
released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK by the good folks at Eureka, Yatterman is a live action film that
showcases the softer side of Takashi Miike.

The film begins amidst the ruins of
a Japanese city where genius toymaker Yatterman #1 (Sakurai) and his girlfriend Yatterman #2
(Fukuda) square off against the
Dorombo gang and their giant mechanical robot chef. Calling upon their own
giant mechanical robot dog, the Yattermen battle the gang until the gang accidentally
blow themselves up. Expertly shot, breathlessly paced and designed to within an
inch of its life, this opening scene sets the tone for one of the strangest
cinematic experiences of the year.

Central to
Yatterman’s charm is the weirdness that comes from taking a whimsical
children’s anime and turning it into a live action film without any of the
‘darkness’ and ‘realism’ that traditionally accompanies Western cinematic
adaptations. If the original cartoons featured an enormous robotic dog battling
a robotic chef then that is precisely what Miike wanted to have in his movie
and if the original cartoons featured musical numbers and unfunny slapstick
humour then those needed to be a part of the film too. This unflinching
commitment to the candy land aesthetics of children’s TV results in a film so
weirdly and whimsically Japanese that it would be entirely unwatchable were it
not for the brilliance of Miike’s direction and the subtlety of his wit.

Yatterman draws both
its plot and structure directly from the source material meaning that the main
narrative comprises nothing more than a series of lavishly designed battles for
the ownership of a mystical plot-coupon. However, look beyond the narrative foreground
and you will find a warren of subplots exploring the fact that these cartoonish
characters all yearn for normal adult lives. For example, Lady Doronjo (Fukada) may be the sexy leader of the
Dorombo gang but her innermost fantasy is that of being a stereotypical
Japanese housewife. Similarly, Yatterman #2 is presented as the devoted
girlfriend of Yatterman #1 but in truth she is depressed and frustrated
by his childish obsession with building toys and battling evil. In one telling
aside, she comments that being someone’s girlfriend is a bit dull as things
never really progress beyond the first kiss. Aside from subversively suggesting
that children’s cartoon characters might be sexually frustrated, these
plotlines also provide a vicious critique of the film’s presumed audience of
nostalgic fans.

This dramatic tension
between normal adult life and robotic battling, suggests that there is
something profoundly dysfunctional about a generation of adult otaku who remain
obsessed with a 1970s children’s cartoon. Furthermore, the film suggests a
similar tension between adult sexuality and bawdy anime-style humour. Indeed, when
perverted baddy Boyacky (Namase)
reveals his innermost desire to possess all the schoolgirls of Japan we assume
his desire to be sexual in nature. However, when we cut to the inside of
Boyacky’s fantasy we learn that he desires nothing more than to paint their
toes. Thus, the man who spends the entire film leering down cleavages, peeking
up skirts and drooling at unexpected nudity is revealed as being so sexually
stunted and emotionally immature that he literally cannot imagine himself
having actual sex with another human being.

Though exquisitely
made and quietly subversive, Yatterman ultimately lacks the narrative
sophistication and depth of character that might allow it to find a wider
audience. This means that while anime fans and Miike-completists will find
their joy in this distinctly unusual film, most people will struggle to see it
as anything more than a supremely competent but emotionally hollow exercise in
cinematic style and technique.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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