Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Karate-Robo Zaborgar


There's a lot of filmmakers out there laden with a nostalgia for absolute crap. Some have tried, with varying degrees of success, to actively channel this youthful enthusiasm for B and Z-Movies. For every Tarantino joint, there's likely dozens of misguided genre homages relegated to the ugliest realms of DTV purgatory. They can stay there.

Japan, meanwhile, has been known to produce some pulpy schlock from time to time. The 1970s and 1980s were a particularly fruitful time for superhero and giant mecha based nonsense, with the likes of Kamen Raider and Toei Spider-man (still undoubtedly the definitive interpretation of the character) providing demented matinee thrills on a budget seemingly equivalent to the cost of a small sandwich. Zaborgar - a transforming robot motorbike - was one such hero, along with his master Daimon. Director Noboru Iguchi has been gifted with the opportunity to revisit this classic robotic hero that most of us never heard of. He takes the assignment deathly seriously, but also not seriously at all. And it's fucking awesome.

I'm not going to waste much time on the plot, because Karate-Robo Zaborgar is so beautifully ludicrous that it'd be full-on rude of me to spoil some of its more madcap surprises. It stars both Itsuji Itao and Yasuhisa Furuhara as Daimon (for narrative reasons that will become apparent when you watch the film, which you should), who - with the help of the great Zaborgar - attempt to stop the dastardly Dr. Akunomiya (Akira Emoto) from harvesting politicians' DNA using his floating castle in the sky (shaped like a pair of testicles, for narrative reasons that never become apparent). The evil doc is assisted by a lady cyborg Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki), who policeman Daimon will form a surprising emotional connection with as he struggles with definitions of justice. Plus, other mad shit.

Zaborgar is a pitch-perfect satire, and yet also a pitch-perfect homage. It completely plays up the ludicrousness of the situations, while also remaining deeply indebted to the aesthetics and tone of the tokusatsu serials that inspired it. There are new fangled computer effects - suitably appalling computer effects at that - but the locations for the many battle scenes are still vacant lots, graveyards and quarries. The credits confirm the adversaries faced by Daimon are surprisingly accurate recreations of creatures from the original Zaborgar TV series, although Iguchi adds some welcome new twists to already absurd designs (I won't elaborate much on 'dragon breasts', but rest assured it's much more literal than you probably assume it is). The fight scenes are suitably naff, and it all culminates in a completely insane battle against a giant adversary - anyone who has seen a tokusatsu show will know it's barely a tokusatsu without a giant-something showing up.

Iguchi is clearly having a ball directing this electrifying trash, and piles on the laughs and increasingly oddball narrative developments accordingly. It a loving, self-aware satire - with scenes acting as both emulations and deconstructions of the source material. It's easy to accuse the film of casual misogyny, for example - all female characters are indeed scantily clad. But the plot, rather amazingly, actually takes time to sardonically comment on the humiliation they face and the inherent absurdity of such gender-based caricatures. To call it intelligent or insightful might be stretching credibility a bit, but it's refreshingly smart in its dumbness. 

There's not much else to say, really, other than Karate-Robo Zaborgar is an absolute blast (literally in the case of the dozens of explosions that occur throughout). It's funny and exciting, old-fashioned yet cheekily modern. It's complete garbage and knows it. The joke may be somewhat lost on those not familiar with a very specific type of endearingly awful classic Japanese TV & Film. But even the newbie should be able to embrace the good-natured silliness on parade. If for some reason you are dissatisfied (and yes, by several objective criteria the film is indeed awful), you can direct bemused 'WTFs?' at me in the comment section below. I can take it.

Karate-Robo Zaborgar basically makes crap fun and surprisingly artful again. 

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