Saturday, March 17, 2007
Zebraman (Takashi Miike, 2004)
Zebraman (Takashi Miike, 2004)
Takashi Miike’s Zebraman (2004) is an interesting mixture of comedy and the superhero film. The main character Ichikawa is a school teacher who is disrespected by his students, faculty, and even his own family. His daughter intentionally disobeys his orders and says it’s his fault that his son Kazuki is bullied at school, while Ichikawa’s wife is unfaithful. Ichikawa takes solace in escaping in his fantasies when he makes a costume and dresses up as Zebraman, his favorite 60s television show hero. His dreams soon become real as he gains super powers and must combat aliens.
Instead of strictly mocking or parodying the superhero genre, Miike instead pokes fun here and there, but doesn’t rely entirely on the comic aspects to carry the film. Although there is some overt slapstick comedy, some of the comedy is a bit more subtle, such as The Ring parody on the superhero television show Ichikawa is watching early in the film or the absurdity of the Zebraman song lyrics “he makes black and white clear” or even his ridiculous special moves the “Screw Punch and Zebra Kick.”
So while the audience knows not to take this film too seriously, the narrative still depends on the drama of watching Ichikawa’s pathetic character achieve his dreams and save the world. Despite all of the campy elements and comical scenes, Zebraman plays out more like a lighthearted nostalgic homage to the genre than a satire. Like all classic Japanese superhero shows, Zebraman has a theme song, and special maneuvers he uses in combat as I mentioned before. During the final battle he must overcome his inability and doubts about being able to fly to fight a gigantic alien blob.
Ichikawa undergoes the inevitable Henchi transformation. During this scene, a light emits from the Z on the Zebraman costume and his cape begins to blow in the wind. Zebraman then spins in the air, and lowers his cape to reveal the costume change. The camera cuts to his feet and tilts up showing his once tattered homemade costume is now flashy and new. The music helps to punctuate the drama of the scene as rock music consisting of electric guitar and drums is cued up. After some dramatic words of encouragement and a miraculous demonstration from Asano the crippled boy who stands up, Zebraman finally flies and transforms once more. This time he transforms into an actual winged zebra and shoots a ‘Z’ into the alien, thus defeating him.
This films major intent is entertainment, but there are also some darker more serious issues addressed, which make it hard to write off as a simple comedy or superhero film. For example, we learn Asano’s father committed suicide which lead to his paralysis. The deterioration of Japanese society is also addressed in several scenes as well as Ichikawa’s daughters sexual deviancy, and his own desires of infidelity. The most overt and albeit cliché message that is really beaten over our heads, as it is reiterated by several different characters throughout, is to “believe in your dreams” and “do your best.”