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Sunday, November 13, 2011

ZEBRAMAN 2: ATTACK ON ZEBRA CITY -- DVD review by porfle

If you ever wondered what a cross between Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT and Joel Schumacher's BATMAN AND ROBIN might look like, Takashi Miike's ZEBRAMAN 2: ATTACK ON ZEBRA CITY (2010) might come pretty close.  Combining serious dramatic elements with the usual cheeseball stuff found in the more juvenile Japanese superhero adventures (but done on a lavish budget), it's an insanely deadpan seriocomic fantasy romp that works like a charm on both levels.

In the original 2004 film, a mild-mannered school teacher named Andrew Kim (Show Aikawa) assumed the identity of failed TV superhero Zebraman to stop an alien invasion and ended up temporarily gaining his superpowers for real.  Here, he's captured by the evil Kozo Aihara (Guadalcanal Taka) and placed in a centrifuge chamber which splits his good and bad sides into separate entities.  Good Kim now has white hair and amnesia, while his evil half is a black-haired female whom Kozo names Yui and adopts as his daughter.

Fifteen years later, Kim awakens to find himself in a Tokyo that's been renamed Zebra City and is now run by Kozo, with Yui keeping the masses in line as super-sexy pop star Zebra Queen.  Twice a day for five minutes," Zebra Time" allows the skull-faced police force to legally kill anyone, so a wounded Kim ends up in the care of his former pupil Asano, a male nurse devoted to helping Zebra Time survivors.  One of Asano's patients is a little girl, Sumire, still possessed by one of the previous film's aliens, and when Kim comes into contact with her his memory is restored along with his Zebraman powers.  With Kozo and Yui planning to spread Zebra Time throughout the rest of the world, Zebraman must leap into action once again to stop them, confronting his own dark side in the bargain.

First of all, the seriously cute Riisa Naka as Yui is awesome.  She inhabits her character with a vigorous enthusiasm and is wildly flamboyant in her actions and evil facial expressions, not to mention the way she throws herself into the song-and-dance stuff in Zebra Queen's music videos.  Literally the embodiment of evil, her Zebra Queen is stunning to look at and exciting in her evolution from simple bad girl into superpowered villainess reveling in chaos and destruction. 

For me, the film's most effective straight dramatic scene comes when she turns against Kozo in the back of their limosine as smitten lackey Niimi (Tsuyoshi Abe) looks on in wry admiration.  The way Miike builds to this key point in the story, along with the cunningly subtle but menacing musical score and the malevolent glee Naka conveys during Yui's violent outburst, add up to a powerful and rewindable moment.

With all the DARK KNIGHT seriousness with which Kim, Asano, and the rest of the good guys treat the character of Zebraman and his quest to wrest Tokyo from the depths of corruption, the outrageous comedy and over-the-top fantasy elements take on an added richness.  Zebraman's heroic comic-book exploits during the numerous fight scenes are a heady blend of undiluted cheese (including the usual hokey wirework, corny dialogue, etc.) with dazzling design and production values. 

When Zebra Queen unleashes one of the gelatinous green aliens from the first film on Zebra City and it grows to Godzilla-like proportions, leveling skyscrapers and incinerating city blocks with its heat breath, the stage is set for an epic battle brimming with mind-boggling visuals that are rendered with some top-notch CGI work.  Even the most lowbrow sight gags--as when the mammoth alien repels Zebra Queen with a noxious hurricane fart--are treated as high drama, as is the incredibly ridiculous final solution employed by Zebraman against the creature.

Show Aikawa's performance as the befuddled everyman who becomes the grimly-determined and supremely confident Zebraman is right on the money throughout, with the rest of the cast in top form as well.  Much fun is had with Naoki Tanaka's character of Ichiba, who played the title role in a "Zebraman" TV series and fancies himself a match for the real-life bad guys when the trouble begins.  Talented child actress Mei Nagano adds to the film's genuine emotional depth as the alien-possessed Sumire.  Guadalcanal Taka as the comically vile Kozo is especially good in the "creation" sequence, cavorting about his cavernous, Giger-inspired mad laboratory like a crazed Dr. Frankenstein.

The DVD from Funimation is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles.  Extras on Disc 2 include the in-depth (almost 90 minutes long) documentary "The Making of 'Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City'", "The Making of 'Zebra Queen's Theme' Music Video", five cast and crew interviews, and original trailers and commercials for the film.  (The film comes as a 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo--this review is for the DVD and its extras only.)

Takashi Miike and scriptwriter Kankurô Kudô have created a fascinating dystopian future whose comedic touches make it no less effective as scintillating sci-fi.  While the unabashedly bizarre nature of ZEBRAMAN 2: ATTACK ON ZEBRA CITY will no doubt put off many viewers, those open to such freewheeling weirdness may find it akin to plunging their hands into a cinematic treasure chest and coming up with fistfuls of pure, glittering fun.

Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at

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