Wednesday, 22 August 2012



If you were the sort of person who'd watched a few mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies or soulless superhero flicks and then announced that you wanted to broaden your filmic horizons and see more challenging and unusual fare, I'd applaud. Man cannot live by Jennifer Aniston and Iron Man alone, after all. But my one bit of advice: on no account start with Takashi Miike. Build up to his films by all means, take it steady and in stages, but don't come straight off insipid romcoms and masked shenanigans into the batshit Miike freakshow. Because while you may get lucky with a glorious period piece like 13 Assassins or a solid and straightforward J-horror like One Missed Call, you're just as likely to be confronted with the incomprehensible lunacy of Gozu or the atrocity checklist of Visitor Q. For every unnerving and fiercely controlled Audition, there's a nasty Ichi The Killer. Take great care.

Yatterman is based on a Japanese TV show for kids, and boy does it show: it's like being beaten round the head with CBeebies at its most hallucinatory for two hours and you will probably come away from it thinking you've been concussed with an iron bar. Every week, a pair of clean-cut teens who work in the basement of a toyshop do battle with the Dorombo trio of villains: a hot dominatrix and two buffoonish sidekicks in animal masks, and they all flit about the world in giant mechanical animals called mechas. Here both teams are after the four pieces of the legendary Skull Stone which, if reassembled, will destroy time and all matter. Or something. The journey starts in Tokyoko, then traverses the world to Ogypt and the Southern Halps - all the place names are deliberately spelled wrong, there's nothing wrong with the subtitles - where the Yatterwoof (a giant mecha dog) destroys the Dorondo's giant robot woman with a swarm of robot ants. Eventually, as the fabric of the universe starts to fall apart and increasingly large objects disappear, it all comes to a pitched battle in a gigantic machine full of clockwork cogs and the two mechas launch armies of robot fish at each other.

The colour palette for the movie makes Speed Racer or Suspiria look like Dr Who in the William Hartnell years: dazzling pinks, yellows and oranges, literally tons of CGI, at least three nuclear explosions, a brief cartoon insert and a musical number for the villains. None of the movie makes a blind bit of sense, the heroes have a floating robot sidekick who adds the word "botty" onto the end of every line, and the villainess' rat-faced henchman brings back uncomfortable memories of the ratman in the cult hardcore favourite Cafe Flesh. But despite all the mayhem no-one gets hurt: it's generally good-natured smiley knockabout aimed at four-year-olds and sociopaths.

More in the vein of The Happiness Of The Katakuris than Dead Or Alive, Yatterman is a brightly overcoloured romp of childish nonsense that, watched by a middle-aged Westerner, is rather fun and the post-credits teaser of a sequel is more a bonus than a dire warning (sadly it has yet to materialise). For a Takashi Miike film, though, it's surprisingly good, and shows that when he's constrained by a formula or a tight story he's far more interesting, and here he's working to an established recipe here that doesn't allow for swearing, sadism and revolting sexual misbehaviour. Despite the likelihood of a pink-induced headache, it's a surprisingly enjoyable candyfloss entertainment.



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