Every week toyshop owner/mechanical genius Gan Takada (Shô Sakurai) and his cute girlfriend/fellow superhero Ai Kaminari (Saki Fukuda) fight to save the world from the villainous Doronbo Gang. Sexy, scantily clad Mistress Doronjo (Kyôko Fukada) and her Abbott and Costello-style sidekicks, rat-faced Boyacky (Katsuhisa Namase) and pig-nosed Tonzura (Kendo Kobayashi) are clumsy and inept, but wield an awesome arsenal of wacky gadgets and mean mecha. Fortunately, Gan has his faithful little flying robot Omochama (voiced by Chiaki Takahashi) and trusty giant robot dog Yatter-Wan (voiced by Koichi Yamadera) who - powered by his “mecha bones” - conjures amazing, world-saving toys that foil every evil scheme. Team Yatterman always wrap things up by doing their nutty “Yatterman Dance”, until the next zany adventure.
In the aftermath of their latest escapade, our heroes rescue winsome Shoko Kaieda (Anri Okamoto), daughter of an archaeologist seeking the legendary Skull Stone. An unseen evil entity known as Dokurobe, the God of Thieves is also seeking the stone and employs the Doronbo dimwits to retrieve the four fragments scattered across the globe. Together these will grant him mastery over the space-time continuum. Team Yatterman set off on a globe-spanning adventure, with Shoko in tow, encountering calamitous mishaps while an unexpected romance blossoms between handsome Gan and his svelte archenemy Mistress Doronjo.
Takashi Miike brings you this acid flashback to groovy Seventies-era Japanese kids’ TV. The original animated Yatterman (1977) was the second instalment in the magnificently madcap Time Bokan (1975) series and evidently the most beloved of all seven chapters of this staggeringly successful franchise. Imagine Wacky Races with superheroes and you’ll have some idea of its flavour, although the imagination, action and gag count displayed throughout this Tatsunoko classic (created by Ippei Kuri, the Stan Lee of Japan) exceeds even that Hanna-Barbera favourite. This live action movie faithfully recreates the crazy cartoon in exact detail, including catchphrases, sight gags, song and dance numbers, only Miike cranks up the slapstick perversity that was always there.
Alongside the amazing gadgets and astounding action set-pieces runs a streak of saucy humour that would not be out of place on The Benny Hill Show. Much of this is fixated upon shapely Mistress Doronjo, who often winds up stark naked - albeit in a tasteful, PG-rated way - unintentionally giving her sidekicks and enemies an eyeful. On top of this, Gan gets a little to enthusiastic sucking poison out of Shoko’s snake-bitten thigh and an outrageous battle between Yatter-Wan and a giant robot-girl with machinegun breasts climaxes with an explosive orgasm (“I’m coming!” gasps the overheated lady-droid).
Lest things get truly tasteless, Miike counterbalances things with an affecting subtext about absentee fathers (played to the hilt by actress Anri Okamoto in a surprisingly intense performance), satirical attacks on consumerism and corporate greed, and a rather sweet discourse on first love. It’s downright touching when Mistress Doronjo fantasises about a happy home life with a child and a loving spouse who comes home from work still wearing his superhero mask. Whereas the villainous trio were very much the stars of the original show, this neatly balances the humour between the pitch-perfect character actors and talented teenage stars. Lookout for a delightful cameo from the original Donboro Gang voice actors: Noriko Ohara, Joji Yanami and Kazuya Tatekabe.
Miike also ever so slightly punctures the inherent absurdities of kids’ cartoons. Notably during Team Yatterman’s hilarious cross-global flight where our heroes are splashed by waves and beset by motion sickness. The special effects capture the show’s unique Willy Wonka meets James Cameron design aesthetic with a fusion of slick CG, life-size models and cel animated fantasies, while the giant robots designed by manga superstar Katsuya Terada are outstanding. If there is one quibble it’s that this is very much aimed at fans and will almost certainly alienate those unfamiliar with the show or averse to anime in general. But if you’ve room in your heart for insane sci-fi gadgetry, loopy song and dance numbers, psychedelically styled teen heroes and surreal sex comedy, give this a try.
Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.