CAPSULE: An elementary school teacher sews for himself a suit of a 1960s superhero and through a weird chain of events accidentally elects himself to become that superhero. This is a dark and yet playful look at the superhero genre. ZEBRAMAN is a kick. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The year is 2010. Shinichi (played by Sho Aikawa) is a second- rate third-grade teacher who gets no respect from his family and little from his students. It is not a pleasant life and he escapes it with his hobby, a sort of media fandom. It seems that in 1978 there was a TV superhero named Zebraman on a show that was cancelled after only seven episodes. But unlike most of the rest of the world, the young Shinichi became fascinated by the hero. The show was set in 2010 so Shinichi is particularly fascinated this particular year. He sews himself a makeshift Zebraman costume. All this is intended to be just a little harmless escapism allowing him to dress up like a superhero. But he did not know that the stories of Zebraman and his strange alien enemies were actually prophecy and that by making his Zebraman suit he elected himself the fulfillment of those prophecies. Now he must be the super-hero of his fantasies or let the Earth fall to cute little green aliens bent on conquering our green world. In a way the plot is reminiscent of GALAXY QUEST. Somehow his story ties in with a series of crimes perpetrated by an evil man in a crab mask. The two connect with a secret government investigation into little green alien men who are just head, arms and legs and who can melt into a sea of protoplasm. What can it all mean? In some ways the film's surreal style evokes a sort of BUCKAROO BANZAI feel.
This is a film that takes a psychologically dark yet whimsical (and sometimes very funny) aim at Japanese superhero films and comics with a well-placed zebra hind-kick. The world it is set in straddles the gap between a realistic one and the world of Japanese superhero TV, a gap similar but much bigger than the one our Spider Man bridges. Watch for some little film references for films like THE RING.
Takashi Miike directs from a screenplay by Kankuro Kudo. Miike has directed a multitude of films in many styles, but most recently bizarre and tongue-in-cheek films that are popular in Japan. Until now his best know film from the United States has probably been the really bizarre satire THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS though several of his (yakuza) crime films are also popular, including ICHI THE KILLER. Most of his films seem to go in for graphic violence. Here the violence is more comical and never graphic enough to be more disturbing than what is in a Roadrunner cartoon. Toward the end of the film the words stop coming and the story is told mostly by images. My recommendation is not to expect too much logic. Just take the ride for the fun of it.
The film is a lot of fun and deserves to be seen in release. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper