If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to Japanese cinema over the last twenty years (and you know you have) you’ll be familiar with the work of Takashi Miike. Giving new meaning to the word prolific (the IMDB has him listed as the director of no less than 88 projects since 1991) he is chiefly known as a purveyor of some extremely violent and disturbing films.
Audition (1999) is a beautifully made father and son drama that slides slowly off the rails until it reaches a once seen never forgotten ending. Ichi The Killer (2001), with it’s coke-fuelled scenes of hyper-violence and sexual perversion, raised the bar in terms of creative death-dealing. And Visitor Q (which, it should be pointed out – even set against Miike’s other work – should be labelled “for strong stomachs only”) set out to break every taboo in film, taking in rape, incest, murder and even breast milk.
Still, despite the extremes Miike has gone to, there is nearly always a playful tone to his more sadistic movies; comedy has always played a big part in his films, the laughs sometimes being of a darker nature to be sure, but they’re there all the same (the repeated stonings in Visitor Q and the severed face sliding down the wall in Ichi The Killer even verging on slapstick. And yes, before you ask, you can sever a face…) 2001’s The Happiness of the Katakuris is astonishing; a musical zombie comedy that features claymation and a karaoke-style sing-along scene alongside it’s plot of a failing mountainside B & B (even more astonishing is the fact that Ichi…, Visitor Q and Happiness… are only three of the seven films he made in 2001).
I had kinda lost track of Miike’s endeavours in recent years, not having seen anything new since 2003’s weird-fest Gozu (like many of Miike’s movies, what starts out as a Yakuza movie turns into so much more). Not through design or boredom with the man at all, just… Well, there were so many other things to watch. Then last year came 13 Assassins. Intrigued by the idea of Miike making a film in a more classical style, I sought it out and it was truly one of the 5 best films I saw last year. Beautifully made, with some breathtaking visuals and a final battle scene that lasted nearly half the movie, it is a stunning film that feels, for long stretches at a time, like you could be watching a long-lost Kurosawa classic. This renewed my fervour (although I’m yet to catch the recently released Hari-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) and when my We Love Movies cohort Chris asked me if I’d like to review Miike’s new film “Yatterman” I said yes immediately. It’s sort of a kid’s film, he said.
I knew Miike had made a kid’s film or two but I hadn’t seen anything except his decidedly For Adults Only work. Intrigued, I gave it a go. First thing’s first, this is undoubtedly the work of Miike. It’s breakneck speed, outlandish set pieces and child-like glee in the ridiculous twists and turns of the plot stake this out as pure Miike from the very beginning (although based on a famous Anime series from the 1970’s, it apparently features a new plot and re-imagined characters). Honestly, just a breakdown of what happens in Yatterman’s first ten minutes would take up all my space here and convince you I was having some kind of nervous episode. It’s huge, it’s fun, it’s brightly coloured and features massive robots. But is it really for kids…?
It’s plot – Yatterman and his girlfriend Yatterman 2 attempt to stop the evil Doronbo gang from attaining all four parts of the mysterious, wish-fulfilling Skull Stone with the aid of their robot buddies Toybotty and Yatterwoof – certainly seems child-friendly enough. But there are many instances of things occurring in this film that provoked a disbelieving laughter from yours truly and you may wanna check it out before you sit your kid down in front of it while you read the paper. There’s the giant Iron Chef kitchen robot with an extendable penis that shoots exploding carrots. And the humungous Bridesmaidiot, a robot with giant breasts that shoot – yes – “Titty-missiles.”
Her salacious groans of pleasure during the battle reach an orgasmic peak when her nipples are chewed on by mini robot ants, arousing Yatterman’s robot dog Yatterwoof and resulting in the pair having a go at a bit of cross-robot-species snogging (and I won’t even mention the scene where evil henchman Boyacky, picturing his wildest desire, sees himself on top of a mountainous pile of schoolgirls, painting the toes of one as he lies, half submerged beneath the bodies of millions and millions of long-socked, short-skirted teenage girls…)
Whether these are indicators of a difference in attitude toward what is acceptable in a kid’s film in Japan or just Miike up to his old tricks is not entirely clear to me (I suspect it’s a little of both) but to be honest these scenes, while admittedly provocative, are still pulled off with such a child-like glee that it’s hard to believe there’s any malicious intent behind them. I certainly wouldn’t have had a problem with it as a kid (in fact the naughtiness of it would’ve made it a firm favourite).
Either way it’s been given a 15 rating here so – once more to be sure – if this is for your kids, check it out first.
Yatterman is available to buy from May 21st. DVD and Blu Ray extra features include a trailer, some featurettes, interviews, stills gallery and a Cannes Film Festival Promo.