JAPAN 2004 Directed by: Takashi Miike Written by: Kankuro Kudo Produced by: Akio Hattori, Makoto Okada Cinematography by: Kazunari Tanaka Editing by: Yasushi Shimamura Music by: Koji Endo Cast: Show Aikawa, Kyoka Suzuki, Naoki Yasukochi, Atsuro Watabe, Koen Kondo, Makiko Watanabe, Yui Ichikawa, Yoshimasa Mishima, Ren Osugi, Teruyoshi Uchimura, Akira Emoto, Ryo Iwamatsu, Yu Tokui, Yoji Boba Tanaka, Arata Furuta, Kumiko Aso, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Miyako Kawahara, Hideki Sone, Masayuki Fukushima, Satoru Hamaguchi, Hiroshi Watari
Long before KICK-ASS was ZEBRAMAN, the nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek super-ordinary hero movie, helmed by Cult-director Takashi Miike and starring Japan’s fabulous Show Aikawa.
All hell breaks loose when alien body snatchers invade planet Earth, disguising as (what else) humans. At the same time a crab-masked serial killer is disturbing the peaceful neighborhood of teacher Shinichi Ichikawa, who believes time has come for a modern-day super hero, plus he’s got a lot of nothing better to do since his job is a drag, his wife is cheating on him and his teenage daughter is dating older men. As his family and professional life are on the verge of collapse, Shinichi decides to dress up as Zebraman, the main character of an unpopular 70’s TV series he adored as a child. When a transfer student is assigned to his class, he not only rediscovers his love for teaching, but also realizes that he’s not alone: student Shinpei also loves Zebraman, fuelling Shinichi’s dream to fight crimes as an up-to-date version of Zebraman. Soon, he is running into the crab-masked killer, and furthermore becomes the go-to-guy as far as alien combat is concerned.
ZEBRAMAN is set in 2010, and it’s funny to see how time has passed (or not) since its first screening. Many have noted the Zebraman character is not just a guy, but gains superpowers indeed, and that’s probably true. However, the character also hasn’t been born a hero, but instead became a crime fighter for similar reasons Kick-Ass came into existence: the dull life of an ordinary citizen with the will to break out of convention. ZEBRAMAN is less a superhero movie however, but much more another Japanese fantasy depicting an exit strategy everyone is looking for but nobody dares to pursue.
ZEBRAMAN is a humorous, touching and at times intelligent reminder that we shouldn’t bury our childhood dreams, but keep them alive and make them come true wherever and whenever possible. The probability of falling short of our own aspirations once we grow up is just too high, so seeing Zebraman being inspired by a kid who resembles himself when he was young is an effective trick to rationalize what Shinichi is doing. On a larger scale, however, ZEBRAMAN tells a tale that relates to all of us: whatever you wish to be or to do, it’s never too late to go for it. All you need is to remind yourself that dreams aren’t made for children alone, but for every individual thinking that doing something extraordinary will enrich the world and even make it a better place.
And maybe that’s when Takashi Miike once again proves to be ahead of other filmmakers: KICK-ASS tells us that everyone can be a real-life superhero, but ZEBRAMAN told us years ago that it’s not about being a real-life hero, but about living your dreams to the max.