JAPAN 2010 Directed by: Takashi Miike Written by: Kankuro Kudo Produced by: Akio Hattori, Makoto Okada, Takashi Hirano, Arimasa Okada Cinematography by: Kazunari Tanaka Editing by: Kenji Yamashita Music by: Yorihiro Ike, Yoshihiro Ike Cast: Show Aikawa, Riisa Naka, Tsuyoshi Abe, Masahiro Inoue, Naoki Tanaka, Gudalcanal Taka, Mei Nagano, Nana Mizuki, Miki Inase, Sayoko Ohashi, Yuko Shimizu, Suzanne
ZEBRAMAN was set in 2010, and its 2010 sequel is consequently set in a more distant future (2025): a long while after Zebraman defeated the Aliens the world has changed entirely. While Zebraman has lost his memory and is in a rehabilitation facility, Toyko has been renamed to Zebra City and has become virtually crime-free, thanks to a funky idea called Zebra Time: every morning and evening, for a few minutes, police is allowed to eliminate any potential threat (= criminal) they can get hold off.
One day, the police closes in on ex-teacher Ichikawa, trying to kill him, but he survives with the help of Ichiba and brought to a safe house. There, Ichikawa meets other survivors of Zebra Time who plan to rise up against the fascist new system headed by the mysterious Zebra Queen. It’s not long before we learn that Zebra Queen and her Zebra Police are trying to bring Zebra Time to the whole world using the aliens from 2010, but the more important question is how long will it take for Ichikawa to regain his memory and realize that he is in fact Zebraman?
ZEBRAMAN 2, different from the original film, was not exactly successful, and it’s not going to take you too long to see why that is. The charm is gone, the tongue-in-cheek humor, the warmth, the subtexts, all gone. From the beginning, ZEBRAMAN 2 is an incoherent spectacle, without a stringent storyline, proper character introduction, story development or clear direction. It’s a very jumpy mess, overloaded with plot fragments and intangible characters, creating artificial complexity that proves to be a trap for the film itself as it can’t find a way out for the entire running time.
If there’s one thing to be blamed for ZEBRAMAN 2’s failing it’s the decision for the “memory loss” concept: who on earth wants to see a film where the hero loses his memory and regains it only at the end? Ever since the birth of film this idea has been a bad idea, and it’s made for slow, uninteresting movies, and consequently ZEBRAMAN 2 never gets out of the starting block. For the first hour you can see how everyone is desperate to fill the hole that an AWOL Zebraman leaves, and even the ever-inventive Mr. Miike has found no remedy.
Maybe he thought he has. But I’d still consider an almost exclusive focus on a Lady Gaga-like character, music video fillers and elements stolen from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE insufficient to make up for a superhero movie that lacks a superhero most of the time. And once Zebraman is back, he bears little resemblance to the original character: Ichikawa is largely gone, leaving a one-dimensional Zebraman who is missing most of his human side.
Last but not least ZEBRAMAN 2 lacks the whole “about” factor; like “what’s the movie about” exactly? Unfortunately it seems to be about nothing. Without the “normal guy dreams to be superhero” story all that could fall into the “about” bracket is an allegory of a fascist regime suppressing its people. But the movie is never believable as a serious critic of politics or society, but is pretty much what Mr. Miike has been accused of by many for many years: a patchwork movie that lacks originality as much as inspiration and sophistication.
While I consider myself an admirer of most of Mr. Miike’s work, I must say that ZEBRAMAN 2 is neither a good film nor entertaining. It is not more than a pale follow-up to a charming original, replacing heart & soul with gloss & glamour. You could say it’s kind of made-up.
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