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  Cyborg 009: Kaiju War Say it ain't so, Joe
Year: 1967
Director: Yugo Serikawa, Shotaro Ishinomori
Stars: Hiroyuki Ota, Arihiro Fujimura, Etsuko Ichihara, Hiroshi Masuoka, Hiroshi Otake, Joji Yanami, Judy Ong, Kenji Utsumi, Kyoko Toriyama, Machiko Soga, Ryo Ishihara, Masato Yamanouchi
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When a giant Plesiosaurus rises up from the ocean depths blasting an inexplicable sonic death ray that blows up a cruise ship, aircraft carrier and several jet fighters the call goes out to cyborg superhero Joe Shimamura (voiced by Hiroyuki Ota), a.k.a. 009. Joe and his mentor Dr. Gilmore (Joji Yanami) rapidly reassemble their team of bionic do-gooders including wise-cracking British shapeshifter 007 (Machiko Soga), fire-breathing Chinaman 006 (Arihiru Fujimura), super-strong Native American Geronimo Junior a.k.a. 005 (Hiroshi Masuoka), Africa's own Aquaman 008 (Kenji Utsumi), American speedster Jet Link a.k.a. 002 (Ryo Ishihara) and 001 (Kyoko Toriyama) the awesome psychic super-baby. Only French telepath Fran├žoise Arnoul a.k.a. 003 (Taiwanese-Japanese pop star Judy Ong, future star of seminal Hong Kong wu xia fantasy Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)) turns Joe down, happy enough in her new life as a ballerina, though she soon changes her mind. Also along for the adventure is Helena (Etsuko Ichihara), a young woman who sneaks aboard the team's hi-tech super-submarine determined to avenge her murdered parents. Together team 009 take on more dinosaurs, a giant jellyfish, stingrays and cyborg sleeper agents deployed, as it turns out, by their arch-nemesis: the mysterious entity known as Black Ghost (Masato Yamanouchi).

Unlike most of the major Japanese film studios Toei never really got in on the live-action kaiju eiga (monster movie) game. The closest they came was with the period ninja fantasy The Magic Serpent (1966). For the most part though the cost-conscious studio looked to cover this lapse with monster-heavy anime films like Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (1963), 30,000 Miles Under the Sea (1970), The Little Norse Prince (1969) and Cyborg 009: Kaiju War which opens pretty much like a Godzilla film. This was the second mini-feature (only sixty minutes) headlined by the bionic super-team created by famed manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori, better known for his pioneering work in the field of live-action superhero serials: e.g. Kamen Rider (1971) and Go Ranger (1975) the franchise that eventually led to the Americanized Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. With Cyborg 009 Ishinomori melded robotics concepts, previously established by his mentor Osamu Tezuka with Astro Boy (1963), together with then-trendy James Bond style espionage action to craft a hit franchise that endures to this day. Part of that is down to Ishinomori's globalized vision. Whereas British and American super-spies fought to uphold the dominance of their respective empires, the 009 team were made up of representatives from multiple countries united by their fierce desire to fight for the betterment of all nations. If certain aesthetic choices in Kaiju War remain regrettably rooted in 1967 (Ishinomori's chara designs give Native American 005 his dignity, but African 008 is an unfortunate caricature) the script still upholds a pleasing utopian idealism and pro-environmental concerns rare in children's entertainment from the Sixties.

Despite a relatively low budget Kaiju War's action scenes are dynamic with inventive animation. Rattling along at a furious pace unmatched in live-action sci-fi films until decades later, the film delivers non-stop blazing comic book action. And of course monster fights with among others: a red-tentacled man-eating plant, glowing robo-goons named Plus and Minus (an encounter that, in a typical Ishinomori touch, sneaks in a neat physics lesson) and a giant super-powered automaton named Achilles. Guess where his weak spot lies? Yet remarkably Yugo Serikawa, among the most reliable anime auteurs of the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties, makes time for nuanced character interactions and likable wacky comedy. The big plot twist might be easy to guess but still manages to wring a fair amount of pathos from the fate of the mysterious turncoat 0010 and ties it to the inherent decency of the stalwart Joe. Which leads to an astonishing ultra-violent death that must surely have traumatized a few kids in the audience. Along with all that you have splendid Ken Adam influenced backgrounds and set designs, including the obligatory villain's base inside an active volcano, almost forty years before The Incredibles (2004) did the same thing.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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