Being imprisoned in someone else's nostalgia trip can be a mind-numbing living hell. That's certainly what it felt like at the world premiere of Yatterman, a special presentation of the New York Comic Con this past Friday. (That it was screened at the New York Directors Guild Theatre, one of the worst venues in Manhattan, certainly didn't help any.) Based on a cult Japanese anime television series that ran from 1977 to 1979 -- there were 108 episodes -- this live action version is directed by Takashi Miike, a helmer who in 2001 gained critical acclaim Stateside for his horrific thriller Audition. So excited was this Miike to be attached to the project, he exclaims in the production notes, "As long as I'm film director in Japan, I couldn't die without turning Yatterman into an action movie" (sic). Well, start nailing the coffin. Miike's enthusiasm was mirrored by the SRO audience, who seemed to be 90% Japanese. The Caucasian emcee for the evening, who was attired in a pink suit, noted that many in attendance had flown in for this special night, some just to scream for the pop-superstar male lead, Sho Sakurai.
The modest Sakurai, after thanking the audience for showing up, noted, "This is a film with a very Japanese flavor." The slightly less humble Miike added, "After you've seen this film, you will be much happier than you are now." He fibbed. Performed in the bim-bam-bang style of the early Batman TV series, Yatterman tells the tale of two part-time superheroes (Yatterman 1/Gan and Yatterman 2/Ai) plus their robot pals, the tiny Toybotty and the huge metal canine, Yatterwoof.
This quartet has to save the world from the stunning Doronjo (Kyoko Fukada) and her pair of idiotic sidekicks, Boyacky and Tonzra. This trio is working for the "god" Skullobey, who is trying to gather together the four parts of the magical Skull Stone, which will help him control time. (Writing this up is almost as bad as watching Yatterman in the first place.) With lush candy-colored sets and dialogue such as "They pee me off" and "Thou art just like a fart," you would think children would be the main targets of such a venture. But when a villain announces, "Next up titty missiles!" you have second thoughts. Yes, there is a giant nude female robot, Bridesmaidiot, who shoots bombs from her nipples and achieves orgasm while making out with Yatterwoof and simultaneously being attacked by hundreds of mechanical ants. Add Boyacky's perverse fantasy of painting the toenails of thousands of girls in school uniforms, plus the scene where Yatterman 1 sucks scorpion venom out of the thigh of a young woman in such a manner that you can't help but imagine he's working up to an act of cunnilingus, and you know it's time to scoop the kids out of their seats and rush them to a MacDonald's. But complaining about such fare is rather ingenuous. Try explaining the "magic" of The Brady Bunch to a Hungarian or the "wit" of Gilligan's Island to a Sri Lankan. Some things, like sushi, just don't travel well. Clearly, Camp has borders.
As Susan Sontag explained, "[T]he essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric -- something of a private code, a badge of identity even." And with nostalgic Camp, it's better to have grown up with what is being sent up to full appreciate its heart-tugging pull. So if Toybotty never graced your lunchbox, for sanity's sake, skip this one.