Here's something new. MVM, who for the last decade or so have been unleashing anime by the truckload onto the UK market, have turned their attention to live action releases. The question of course is, what took them so long? The thing about anime, and indeed manga, is that the more popular a property is, the greater the likelihood of a theatrical release, and many titles get live action adaptations, much as comic books get adapted in Hollywood. It stands to reason that fans of anime and manga will have an interest in seeing their favourite properties in a new form, and with the success of movies like the Death Note trilogy, and the forthcoming 20th Century Boys, alongside the Hollywood adaptations of Speed Racer and Dragonball, with Cowboy Bebop and Akira in the pipeline, now would be the ideal time to branch out.
Actually live action anime and manga adaptations aren't a new thing, and I can point you towards the Tetsujin movie, the Azumi movies, the Battle Royale flicks, and Initial D: Driftracer if you want to try something a little more venerable. For MVM's initial release, they have opted for a modern updating of an anime classic. Cutie Honey was Go Nagai's 1970s creation, a pink super-heroine who constantly fought the darkest evil with the power of love. It's seen several iterations over the decades, and ADV released the 1994 OVAs in the UK as New Cutey Honey. This live action film was made in 2004, and none other than Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame directs it. Don't worry. No nihilistic teen angst here.
Honey Kisaragi was a normal girl, until the day she was in a near fatal car accident. Her scientist father came to the rescue with a judicious dose of nanotechnology, and Honey was transformed into a super crime-fighting android. Of course that only happens when she is fuelled up on rice balls, and activates her I-System necklace, which transforms her into a warrior of love. The rest of the time she is a ditzy office worker who spends her spare time being as decadent as possible. No time for decadence now though, as her uncle has been kidnapped by the evil Panther Claw gang. The leader of the Panther Claws, the mastermind Sister Jill wants immortality, and the secret lies within Honey's necklace. With the fate of the world on the line, Honey will need help. Fortunately she has the assistance of policewoman Natsuko Aki, and journalist Seiji Hayami.
This is something rare for Japanese cinema in the UK, a film to PAL transfer. There's none of the ghosting, no softness and certainly no judder. Instead we get a 1.85:1 anamorphic image that is clear, sharp and colourful. Very colourful indeed actually, taking a leaf from sixties and seventies cinema, with bright primary colours and a very Austin Powers aesthetic to costume and set design. The film has obviously had a budget applied, with a grand sense of scope and scale, and some very nicely executed effects. On the other hand, there are plenty of cheesy cardboard effects as well, but I get the feeling this was deliberate, to evoke a cinematic era and feel, again of that sixties period, rather than through any lack of talent on the part of the filmmakers. There is a smidgen of compression, but only during the film's animated opening sequence.
You have the choice of DD 2.0 and 5.1 Japanese, along with optional English subtitles. Apparently there is an English dub for this film on the US region 1 disc, but fortunately this has been left behind (dubbing live action films rarely works). Actually, the UK disc appears to be a direct port of the Australian Madman disc, as that omitted the English dub also. The sound is more than acceptable for this film, the dialogue is clear, there is space for the action and ambience to breathe, and the cheesy music is all present and correct.
I hope you like pink, as the lurid pink Amaray case suits this title well. That pinkness is carried on through to the animated menus. You'll find the teaser and theatrical trailers, as well as the TV spots. There is a stills gallery with 33 images from the film. The most substantial addition is the Making of Cutie Honey, clocking in at 20 minutes. It's your usual behind the scenes making of guff, with interviews with the cast and crew, and the debut of Honeymation.
Finally there are the trailers for further live action anime product from MVM, although at this early stage that amounts to a grand total of one film, Dororo. It certainly looks stunning though.
Cutie Honey is fun. It's the sort of fun that I haven't had with a film in many years, not since I was child. Go Nagai created the Cutie Honey story back in the seventies, and watching this bright, day-glo, lurid explosion of all things kitsch put me right back in that decade, but with added CGI. That's a good thing if you are wondering. It's a superhero antidote to all those dark and depressing comic book flicks we have been having of late. With movies like The Dark Knight layering seriousness and oppressive imagery over their interpretations, it seems to go against the grain to hark back to the sixties Batman of Adam West, but Cutie Honey does just that, with its tongue placed firmly in cheek, a refusal to take anything at all seriously, and both heroes and villains applying cartoon physics with impunity. It's like a breath of country fresh air, after living for ten years in a smog filled metropolis.
It helps when as your heroine, you have the delectable Honey Kisaragi, played by Japan's top swimsuit model, Eriko Sato. It's nice to have something pleasant to look at on the screen, and it doesn't hurt that Cutie Honey likes to lounge in her underwear when she's relaxing. She also has a penchant for disguise, which results in many appealing costume changes. The role may not be too demanding in terms of acting, but it does call on a degree of physicality, and Sato manages to carry that off with aplomb. There's also a nice interplay with the abrasive police detective Natsuko, and it's fun to watch their friendship develop over the run time.
The villains are truly special as well, just as Technicolor and vivid as the heroes if not more so. Gold Claw, Black Claw, Cobalt Claw and Scarlet Claw all come dressed in elaborate costumes that reflect their names, and have bizarre abilities that light up the screen. The one disappointment is their leader, Sister Jill, whose costume is so restrictive and static, that it doesn't leave a lot of room for a performance. Like all such comic book villains though, there is a degree of androgyny to them, and they follow the stupid rules of comic book villainy, attacking Cutie Honey one by one instead of working together, each being equally sycophantic to their leader, and the leader disposing of a minion when offended, thereby cutting his offensive strength.
Cutie Honey is tremendous fun, but it isn't perfect. What makes it wobble is that the third leg of the hero triumvirate is shaky. The ace reporter, Seiji Hayami is supposed to be cool, suave, sophisticated and practically omniscient. He's a walking deus ex machina to keep the plot ticking over. Unfortunately the performance just didn't click for me. In a film like this, the cool, suave and sophisticated has to be overcooked, just beyond serious. He didn't seem to pull it off, and instead just came across as annoying. I also felt that the film lost its way in the middle, drifted from the central plot, and didn't add too much to the character development either. The biggest problem was the ending though, which for some reason pulled back from the cheese and the seventies overtones, to unexpectedly get a little philosophical about the nature of good and evil, of love and hate. A film like this needs to go out on a bang. This was more of a whimper.
It doesn't alter the fact that I enjoyed much of this film, loved the look and feel of it, and probably laughed more than I should have. Cutie Honey is definitely a film to file under guilty pleasures. If you are a fan of the original anime, or anime in general, then this is a must see. It's also a film to look up if you look back fondly on the old Batman serial, and those bizarre sixties adventure series like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It's a definite rental opportunity, and well worth considering a purchase.