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REVIEW – Yatterman (2009)

May 21, 2012

My review of Takashi Miike’s Yatterman has just gone live over at FilmJuice.

Wheeled out as part of an attempted relaunch of a children’s anime franchise from the 70s, Yatterman is absolutely fantastic to look at: The design is sensational, the special effects superb and the action sequences flawless. Most interesting of all is the fact that Miike did not feel in anyway compelled to ‘darken’ the source material as Western directors have insisted on doing when adapting video games and comics. Of course, this ‘darkening’ betrays a deep-seated distrust of the source material; comics and video games are not a fitting subject matter for film and so any attempt to adapt them for the screen must go out of its way to appear ‘mature’ and ‘series’ even when it is nothing of the sort. As a result of this refusal to betray the source material, Yatterman is delightfully bright and poignantly childish… I mean, the opening scene sees a giant robotic chef fighting a giant robotic dog. Grimdark this ain’t. However, while this is all very interesting from a design point of view, it does not make for a particularly interesting film as the characters and plots are taken directly from the source material and 70s children shows are not known for their robust characterisation. Even in Japan.

The only thing preventing Yatterman from being completely unwatchable is Miike’s decision to present the characters as brightly-coloured cartoons that secretly yearn for a normal adult life:

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.

In other words, either you spend your time leering at moe figurines or you get to have proper sex with people. You can’t have it both ways. Given that the anime attached to this film is filled with fanservice and that the film itself was presumably financed on the assumption that it would pander to otaku, you have to salute Miike’s bravery. Even Michael Haneke never went so far as to call his audience a pack of emotionally stunted virgins.

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