Review for Yatterman
Beware the Yatterman, my dear, when the moon is fat...
That Judderman ad was a creepy promo when I was younger, and would that this Yatterman movie had reflected that creepiness. Alas Yatterman is another property altogether, a classic anime series from the seventies, brought to Technicolor life by prolific director Takashi Miike. Still, recent years have proven that Japan is no slouch in bringing classic anime and manga to life on the silver screen. Indeed on occasion they can surpass even Hollywood adaptations of comic books. Certainly films like Ikigami and 20th Century Boys have a surprising depth and intelligence to them. In fact quite recently, I have had the chance to watch another Takashi Miike manga adaptation released in the UK, Crows Zero, and found that to be very entertaining. So it was that I eagerly sought out his adaptation of Yatterman, coming to the UK on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. Yatterman is pure seventies kitsch, recreated to vivid effect thanks to modern digital film magic, but reflecting its bright, primary colour, simplistic good guy versus bad guy roots. It's just a little bit naughty as well.
In a parallel world, it falls to the heroic Yatterman to serve as heroes of justice. By day, Gan Takada works in his father's toyshop, but when called upon, he and his girlfriend Ai transform into the heroic crime-fighting duo Yatterman, and with the aid of their trusty giant robot dog Yatter-wan they do battle against the forces of evil. The forces of evil in this case are the Doronbo gang, led by the wily Doronjo. She and her faithful minions Boyakki and Tonzura keep coming up with new robots with which to defeat Yatterman, but always fall short at the last hurdle. But all this is about to change, as the God of Thieves, Dokurobee is relying on the Doronbo gang to recover the pieces of the Skull Stone, a mythical relic that will grant the user's ultimate wish. It will be up to Yatterman to find this relic first, and the one lead they have to go on is Shoko Kaieda, daughter of the archaeologist who went missing while looking for the skull.
Yatterman gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this Blu-ray disc, and it's an unproblematic and visually striking conversion. The film's image is clear and sharp throughout, detail levels are good, and bright, primary colours are always on display. It's a very comic styled movie, and that shows in the quality of the effects work, solid CGI where you are meant to see the seams and the edges of unreality. Yatterman plays more like a comic spoof in that respect. Having said that, the level of detail in the robots, the consistency of the artwork, the depth of the production design, and the imagination of the costume design is immediately apparent.
The images in this review are supplied by the PR, and aren't necessarily representative of the final retail disc.
Yatterman gets a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese audio track, with optional English subtitles. Although there is no option on the main menu screen, and playing the film defaults to subtitles on, you can turns them off from within the film, either through the pop-up menu, or directly with your remote control. The film's audio is adequate, with the surrounds doing their thing to convey the film's action sequences, and atmosphere. But it's never the most striking of audio tracks, and the music in particular feels subdued and relegated to the background during the film. It's probably a personal bugbear, but Yatter-wan gets translated to Yatter-woof in the subtitles. It's understandable given that 'wan' is onomatopoeic in Japanese for a dog barking, just as 'woof' is in English, but still, Yatter-wan is a name, not a compound word, and really should be left un-translated. For that matter, why not translate 'Yatta' as well?
Yatterman's static and silent menu on this Blu-ray loads up with alacrity, rivalling DVD speeds.
All of the video extras on this disc are presented in 480i SD resolution, beginning with the minute long Japanese teaser trailer.
There are a couple of Behind The Scenes featurettes, with Rehearsals and Filming running to 15 minutes, while Set and Costume Design lasts 9 minutes. They are notable for a couple of Yatterman of yesteryear cameos.
The Cast and Crew Interviews are short and brief, with Takashi Miike talking for 1½ minutes, actor Sho Sakurai speaking for 4 minutes, and a quick chat with the director of both of the Yatterman anime series from 1977 and 2008, Hiroshi Sasagawa.
The Cannes Festival Promo is another trailer that runs to 1½ minutes.
Finally, and in HD resolution, is the stills gallery with some 80-plus full screen images, which you can click through with your remote, or if you leave it be, will advance in a slideshow.
I feel like a victim of an accident in a paint factory. The Technicolor excess at work in Yatterman dangerously imperils your retinas. It's a bright, vivid explosion of primary pigmentation. Its action, characters and style hit you like a two hour fireworks display. The trouble is that fireworks work best in small doses. You can get ten minutes of breathless excitement, twenty minutes at most if you have a decent soundtrack, but any longer than that, and it all begins to blur into one big smelly flash, and the crowd just issues forth an occasional desultory "Woo!" and "Ahh!", just out of force of habit. That's what happens with Yatterman. For the first twenty minutes, it's a sure fire hit. It delivers a hit of nostalgia, a reminder of simpler times, and it's a whole lot of fun. It's just that the thinness, the hollowness of the story and the characters quickly becomes apparent, and the resulting melange, flamboyant though it is, also becomes tiresome and tedious.
The immediate problem is that the film is very much a nostalgia-fest. It's for fans of Yatterman, both the original series, and the 2008 remake. It's created as a live action manga, and the primary colours, the comic book style effects (comedy mushroom clouds), are indicative of this approach. Less obvious, but even more of a drawback, is that the film follows an episodic storytelling style, with the hunt for the pieces of the Skull Stone a cyclic affair. The Doronbo gang come up with a scheme to fleece some unwitting punters of their money, and use it to create a new mecha, with which they go after the next piece of the Skull Stone, only to be defeated by Yatterman... rinse and repeat through the movie. This repetitive nature is okay in a weekly anime show, but in a big budget movie it is a significant drawback.
The second problem is an uncertain identity, although reading up around Yatterman the anime series, I see that it too was a kids' TV show that wasn't all wholesome and educational. Yatterman the movie's story, dialogue, and characters are all aimed at a child audience. But the humour is of a more adult nature (a giant robot dog, dry-humping a large breasted giant robot bride isn't the first thing you think of to show to the l'il 'uns). In seventies anime form, you could get away with such silliness by claiming it's simply a cartoon. But in live action, you have to be more circumspect about content, as it's easier to misconstrue the humour. Yatterman's bright colours, and simplistic storytelling is aimed at a pre-teen audience, but its adult humour justifies its 15 rating. That puts it out of the reach of those who would appreciate it best, leaving it to an audience that will quickly tire of its simplicity.
Yatterman will work best for fans of the original franchise, who have that as a touchstone to hark back to, when faced with the movie's visual excess. If you have a vague yearning for the entertainment of yesteryear, and can generate nostalgic affection for a property that you've never seen, then Yatterman may be worth taking a gamble on. I have to admit that there is a lot that appeals about its simplicity, although stretched to 2 hours it does begin to try the patience. I also have to admit that it was the aesthetic charms of the villainess Doronjo, played by the delectable Kyoko Fukada (Kamikaze Girls) that kept my attention glued to the screen for the duration. Without her, I may not have made it through the film.