4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
E. Lee Zimmerman
- Published on Amazon.com
I've never seen the first ZEBRAMAN picture. Frankly, I didn't even know one existed. If my internet reading in preparation for writing this review is any indication, I'm not entirely certain how I'd receive it by comparison to the tidy li'l epic that ZEBRAMAN 2: ATTACK ON ZEBRA CITY (hereafter known as "Z2") surprisingly turned out to be, but I may just have to seek it out now that I know that legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike has taken a swing at the superhero genre of films. With a name like `Zebraman,' it's safe to expect that the hero's going to look as zany as he sounds. Perhaps he should! And maybe that's exactly what Miike would've wanted.
I won't try to decipher too much of the story here, though I'll give it an honest try. It's 2010, and Zebraman just saved Japan (and the greater Earth at large) from an alien invasion ... or so he thinks. One of the parasitic green critters survives - hiding inside the body of a young girl - but, before our hero can do anything about it, he's captured by a new menace: a mad scientist bent on splitting Zebraman into two beings, one that's good and one that's evil. Flash forward to 2025, and Zebraman's alter ego wakes up with amnesia ... but it doesn't take long for the doddering school teacher to realize the danger of Zebra Queen, Zebra Police, and Zebra Time! It's a freakish dystopian tomorrow where techno-pop evil dance princesses rule the day, and survival of the fittest means that, for five minutes every day, lawlessness prevails across Japan in order to provide a balance to the new social order the other 23 hours and 55 minutes requires.
Like I said, I won't try to decipher too much from it ...
That said, Z2 plays out like a bit of an epic B movie. As Miike states in one of the disc's supplemental features, he rammed the accelerator to the floor for the picture and just kept it going. The incredible combination of story, visuals, music, and generally uncontrolled wackiness amps everything up into massive RPMs, and the talented cast - led by Sho Aikawa returning as Zebraman himself - drags the audience into this hyper-stylized world, forcing the viewers to suspend all disbelief and just have fun going along for the ride. It isn't perfect, but cult films are never meant to be. Some jokes work. Some probably weren't necessary. It's all meant in good fun (not necessarily good taste), and Z2 excels when the elements come together in its own quixotic harmony.
Still, it's a bit hard to decipher what the viewer should take serious and not-so-serious here because Z2 is, at times, equal parts satire and silliness, equal measures of hero-putdown and hero-worship. Much like Zebra City's mayor (played with scheming undercurrent by Gadarukanaru Taka) explains to the Zebraman - during the obligatory "supervillain confesses the super-plan to the superhero" scene - life is all about keeping and maintaining a balance. Under Miike's direction, that's mostly true throughout the picture, even for one such as myself who came entirely to the property not knowing what to expect. There are enough expository flashbacks for it all to make only as much sense as it needs to, and that's because Z2 is a cinematic rollercoaster ride. Don't take it all serious - look for the clever parallels, and marvel at the obvious symbolism of how it takes `evil' to literally re-awaken the forces of `good' - and you'll have as grand a time as anyone could in Miike's bizarre world.
In all seriousness, Riiss Naka as the evil Queen Zebra nearly steals the entire show here. It may be Sho Aikawa's picture under Takashi Miike's direction, but Naka's the star here. She's the real deal all decked up in leather with a head of hair that's fluffed toward the ceiling. She attacks each and every scene with an overwhelming, lovable villainy. Sure, it doesn't hurt that she's magnetically curvaceous like any good action figure should be, but the young starlet puts so much zest and energy into these scenes that it's clear that she wants the picture to be a success even if only for her own career. She's a wonderful flamboyant scoundrel - the perfect counterpoint to Aikawa's foppish schoolteacher - and I can't imagine the film without her.
What I found particularly rewarding about Z2 is the fact that, despite the fact that the film endlessly thumbs its nose at the superhero genre and subculture, it embraces it with equally as much love and affection. There's genuine affection here - with the property, with the battles, with the characters, etc. - and that's a rare commodity in superhero films these days. It seems that every do-gooder in a suit wants to have some dark, brooding back story, and they want to lead lives only of honor and introspection. Zebraman, by contrast, wants to `stripe evil' - a horrible slogan, entirely in keeping with the zaniness of the character - and that's it. His day job is educating kids, after all, so he can't be all that bad.
The Blu-ray is loaded with extra features, including a ninety minute documentary on the making of the film. There are a handful of interviews with each of the major players here, including one with Director Miike; they're all fairly brief, but they highlight what each person went into the role expecting and underscore what they gained from the process. Given the dominance of music in the film, there's even a segment on the making of the music videos that are cleverly sprinkled throughout the picture. The features are rounded out with the original Japanese TV commercials and coming attractions.
All in all, Z2 was a very pleasant discovery. I've never been a huge fan of `cultish' films, but I'm a huge supporter of Takashi Miike's. This is a welcome distraction and a great way to end my viewing day!
In the interests of disclosure, the folks at FUNimation provided me with an advance copy of the film in order to complete this review.
[KNDY] Dennis A. Amith
- Published on Amazon.com
In 2004, Takashi Miike ("13 Assassins", "Ichi the Killer", "Audition") would surprise his viewers by taking on a superhero action/comedy film.
Taking place in 2010, the film would feature a story about a 3rd grade teacher and family man named Shinichi Ichikawa who's life is not going all that great. His wife cheats on him, his teenage daughter dates older men and his son is constantly bullied because his father is a teacher. His students disrespect him. Life, is not a happy one for Shinichi.
In order to get away from life, he dresses up at night as "Zebraman", a character from an unpopular 1970's tokusatsu TV series that he watched as a child. While crimes and murders occur near the school that he teaches, Shinichi decides to confront these criminals as Zebraman but quickly learns that these criminals are actually possessed by aliens and somehow, he absorbs a special power to take on the aliens.
As the film was enjoyed by many, Miike decided to create a second film but this time taking place in 2025, 15 years after the events of "Zebraman".
This time around, Tokyo has been taken control of governor Kozo Aihara (played by Guadalcanal Taka) who has significantly cut crime in Japan and because of what he accomplished, to further cut down the crime, he has merged Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and surrounding areas and renamed the region as Zebra City.
At 5:00 AM/PM, the government has allowed for "Zebra Time", in which Zebra police and his Zebra Mini-Skirt Police can attack and kill any presumed criminal. And during "Zebra Time", his daughter Yui/the Zebra Queen played by Riisa Naka) performs for her audience and is a major pop star, while behind-the-scenes, she is a sadistic and psychotic woman!
Meanwhile, we are given a glimpse to what has happened to Zebraman/Shinichi Ichikawa. 15-years ago, he was captured by Kozo Aihara and for some reason, he and a young girl, Sumire (played by Mei Nagano) were experimented on for some reason and now his hair is white.
One day, he is seen running fro the Zebra police during Zebra Time and is shot dozens of times. He is rescued by Junpei Ichiba (played by Naoki Tanaka) and taken to the White Horse camp that is off-limits to Zebra City and is run by Kohei Asano (played by Masahiro Inoue), a nurse and the leader of the camp. Asano is shocked to see his former teacher Ichikawa at the camp but it appears he has lost all his memory within the last 15-years.
While rehabilitating, he is introduced by Junpei to the "Zebraman" TV series which Junpei played the hero in costume. And immediately, Junpei starts to gain some memories and starts to go crazy. While Asano sedates him, Junpei wants to know the truth of how Shinichi is able to not have any injuries when he was attacked by the Zebra police and Asano tells him the truth... Shinichi Ichikawa is the original Zebraman.
Meanwhile, Yui and her trusted samurai guardian named Niimi (played by Tsuyoshi Abe) are trying to find a girl who has an alien inside her. If Yui can capture this alien, she can be the most powerful woman in the planet and release "Zebra Time" on the world. But her father does not want them going after the alien because of the incidents that took place 15-years ago. If anything, he doesn't want her to pursue them and focus on bringing "Zebra Time" to the United States.
Back in the camp, Shinichi meets a girl named Sumire, who doesn't talk. But for some reason, she begins communicating with Shinichi and when she touches him, she awakens part of his memories and also revives his Zebraman powers. Shinichi is not sure why Sumire can do such a thing but it also awakens Yui's power and for some reason, she can feel what Shinichi is feeling. Why is that?
"Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" is presented in 1080i High Definition (2:40:1). The film definitely looks fantastic for the majority of the film. The film was shot with a lot of green screen and given a J-Pop heavy black, tad bit higher exposure to have this sort of look that is quite common in J-Pop music videos and also adds an interesting style to the film. During Yui's scenes, we are greeted with darker blacks and vibrant colors, while Shinichi's scenes are daytime earthtones. During the latter part of the film, at night, I did notice slight banding during the fire scenes but for the most part, the film looks very good.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" is presented in Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and is presented with English subtitles. The lossless audio for the film is what stands out the most. Dialogue is crystal clear, as with the music which has a good amount of bass. But the surround channels are used for ambiance, sirens and the more action-intensive sequences. While the soundtrack is not fully immersive, you do get a good amount of surround during the action scenes.
"Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" comes with the following special features on a second Blu-ray disc:
The Making of Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City - (1:26:18) Behind the scenes on the making of "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City". Especially the action sequences for actress Riisa Naka.
The Making of the "Zebra Queen's Theme" Music Video - Behind-the-scenes making of the music video and interviews with Riisa Naka.
Interview with Director Takashi Miike - (6:56) Interview with Director Takashi Miike who talks about the challenge he put on the talent and crew for the making of this film.
Interview with Riki Abe - (4:27) Riki Abe talks about playing Niimi.
Interview with Show Aikawa - (5:23) Show talks about reprising his role as Shinichi and Zebraman.
Interview with Masahiro Inoue - (4:57) Masahiro talks about preparing and playing the role of Asano.
Interview with Riisa Naka - (5:13) Riisa talks about playing Yui/Zebra Queen.
Original Commercial - (1:21) Original TV spots.
Theatrical Trailers - (1:44) The original theatrical trailers for "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City".
"Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" comes with a DVD version of the film.
I suppose the best way to describe Takashi Miike's "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" is ambitious and a Japanese popcorn action-film that tries to blend a superhero film with comedy.
And at times, I felt as if I was watching an extended version of a music video, so far from the concept of the original film which was more underdog who has been bullied and disrespected, saving the world from aliens. In this case, screenwriter Kankuro Kudo ("Ping Pong", "Zebraman", "Go", "Maiko Haaaan!!!") was incorporating that crazy style that he was known for in "Maiko Haaaan!!!" of make-believe and a serious dramatic story with this sequel, and for the most part, many Japanese film critics and audiences didn't go for it.
Everyone loves the underdog rising to the occasion type of film but "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" was trying to go for a storyline that seemed appropriate for an anime or even a video game, but perhaps that was the goal... to bring something that seemed plausible for those mediums and taking all the unbelievable craziness and bring it to the big screen.
And because the story seems to have unusual pacing, some western viewers may feel turned off by the overall film.
But if you are familiar with Takashi Miike films or even Kankuro Kudo screenplays and are familiar with Japanese action/comedy cinema, you know what you're going to get, it's just about how satisfied you feel after watching it.
As a Japanese popcorn action film, I felt that it had a good amount of laughs and action and for most guys, seeing actress Riisa Naka (who usually plays "pure" dramatic roles) all bound with leather, push-up bra and showcasing a lot of skin and sexy dance choreography, I wouldn't be surprised if people enjoyed the film much more because of her character role.
As for the Blu-ray release, it's a pretty good Blu-ray release from FUNimation Entertainment as you get plenty of special features and also a DVD included. Picture quality was good for 1080i but had some banding issues, but it's a pretty slick and stylish presentation that I enjoyed. And the lossless soundtrack was also enjoyable to listen as well. If anything, I wish the direct-to-video movie ("Zebra Miniskirt Police no Gyakushu) featuring the Mini-Skirt Police was included (this was released several months before the film in Japan and takes place one year before the events of the second film).
But compared to the original "Zebraman", the storyline of "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" is much weaker and also ambitious in trying to balance the action and comedy of this sci-fi superhero film. There are quite a few plot holes and do we ever find out what happens to the Zebra Mini-Skirt Police? They were just forgotten...
Needless to say, despite the weakness of the story, I do credit the costume designer especially for the outfit of the Zebra Queen and the final combined Zebraman outfit but most importantly, the visual effects team who did a good job.
For those who are wondering if they can watch this second film without seeing the first, the answer is "yes". You get a pretty good backstory to Shinichi and Zebraman but it would be nice if FUNimaton Entertainment does release the original "Zebraman" on Blu-ray.
But "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" is a crazy, fun, action film with a weak plot but where else can you find a film where you hear crazy sound effects, such as those that accompany Shinichi's blinking or a huge alien (that reminded me of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man of "Ghostbusters") who is able to hurt people with it's gigantic fart.
But the way it ended, I felt it was too ridiculous to end the film in such a way and it actually dampered my overall feeling for the film.
Overall, "Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City" may not be for everyone but if you love the crazy antics of action anime and manga series, love superhero films, you may find this sequel to be to your liking.
- Published on Amazon.com
Daryl Loomis, DVD Verdict --It's unnecessary to have seen the original Zebraman to understand the sequel. There's a brief recap of the past events at the beginning of the film, and neither movie makes much sense anyway, so it's just as well to not put too much thought into it and enjoy the ride. As ridiculous as the original was, Miike has upped the ante in every respect with Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City, delivering a sequel that is completely insane and even more enjoyable than its predecessor.
Miike and writer Kankuro Kudo, who also penned the original, had a significantly larger budget this go around and used it everywhere he could. The fights are bigger, the effects are more explosive, and everything is flashier. But even though the sequel was clearly far more expensive than the original, Attack on Zebra City still retains the cheap esthetic of the "Giant Robot" movies and television shows that have been forever popular in Japan. With an eye pointed firmly on Ultraman and its imitators, Miike simultaneously mimics and mocks the genre, with all the bad wire work, foam rubber costumes, and flashing lights that come along with it. Miike and Kudo went even farther than that, though. As they should, the non-super people in the film revere Zebraman with unwavering respect and gratitude. In tribute to his heroism, a television show is made about his exploits and this Zebraman rendition is even more ridiculous than the reality. Plus, the actor who played the hero on the show gets into the act, believing that he was somehow granted some of Zebraman's powers to very good effect. There's a little bit of winking at the audience, which usually bugs me, but they've so accurately made fun of themselves at the same time and it's so good-natured that I have a hard time really getting upset about that.
A lot of what makes it, though, is that Miike once again shows how solid a director he is, regardless of genre. Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is the sort of thing that, done lazily, would still engender a following based around people who love cheesy pop culture from Japan. This is no lazy production, though. Miike combines the elements we expect from the genre with his own vision to make a high style, very flashy film that is enjoyable from start to finish. Even if you hate the music of the Zebra Queen, and that's pretty easy to do, there's no doubt about the skill behind the camera for the video. It looks like Lady Gaga entered an old Nine Inch Nails video, at Trent Reznor for lunch, and stole his outfit. It's J-Pop perfection in all its nauseating catchiness and insane lyrics. The movie is almost worth watching strictly on these moments
Doing her own singing, Riisa Naka is absolutely fantastic as the Zebra Queen. This is one of only a few pieces that she has been in, but she takes the role by the throat and is a wonderfully evil counterpart to Zebraman. Aikawa returns as the superhero and, as he was in the first film, he is very solid as the wide-eyed doofus who is forced to fight. He's completely sympathetic, silly, and perfect for the role. The A Clockwork Orange-clad governor is great in his small, but pivotal role, and young Mei Nagano is surprising good as the little girl with the alien power inside her. The performances aren't nuanced or perfectly executed, but they're perfectly suited to the matter at hand: striping evil and kicking aliens in the teeth.
I didn't realize that Funimation produced live-action DVDs, but here they are with a very solid two-disc set for Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City. The feature takes up the entirety of the first disc, and it's a fine piece of work. For a standard definition disc, the transfer is excellent, with very good detail and virtually perfect colors. The clarity accentuates the somewhat cheap-looking quality of the film, though that cheapness is part of the fun, so it's hard to complain about that. The Blu-ray should be even stronger, but this SD transfer will more than suffice. The sound, too, is quite good. The nicely mixed surround track is full and bright in all channels with good separation and solid use of the rear speakers, especially during the music videos; for as bad as the songs are, they really do sound great.
The extras populate the second disc and, while they aren't the broadest set of extras imaginable, they are pretty good. The main extra is a feature length making-of piece that eschews the usual self-congratulatory fluff for a detailed, day-by-day account of the movie in production. At ninety minutes, it runs long and feels long, but it's a perfect amount of time to hammer home just how tedious filmmaking can be, even (or especially) for something with such schlocky results. A second making-of shows some of the behind the scenes action for the music video production. It's not nearly as detailed as the first one, but it's a good little piece. Five interviews with cast and crew members and some trailers round out the disc.
-Full review at dvdverdict.com