HK: Forbidden Super Hero: Film Review

Lowbrow but charming satire is an antidote to superhero fatigue.

An innocent Japanese teen discovers that his super power is sexual perversion.

MONTREAL — Lots and lots of faces get shoved into crotches -- one crime-fighter's crotch in particular -- in Yuichi Fukuda's outrageous HK: Forbidden Super Hero, a fact that makes slightly more sense once you know "HK" stands for hentai, the Japanese term for sexual perversion, and kamen, which means "mask" and often refers to costumed heroes. This send-up of comic-book tropes stars a kid who discovers that wearing women's panties on his head unleashes superhuman abilities; to round out the costume, he wears fishnet stockings and a stretched-out thong that makes Speedos look modest. What sounds like a one-gag novelty -- "Only in Japan!," they'll say -- works surprisingly well in the hands of Fukuda and his appealing cast, and is especially refreshing for those who've come to resent Hollywood's reliance on comic-book properties. While it will reach its broadest audience on video, the pic, which gives new meaning to the word "tentpole," would be welcome in a limited theatrical run.

Ideally, it would hit theaters in the run-up to next spring's Spider-Man sequel, as Peter Parker's myth is the clearest touchstone here: Young Kyosuke (Ryohei Suzuki), hunky but a wimp when it comes to standing up for himself, is the son of a deceased cop and a professional dominatrix. (Their meet-cute sets the tone for a film that mines fetishes like bondage and masochism without ever feeling dirty; Kyosuke's mom, in her too few scenes here, is a hilariously overplayed force of nature.)

Kyosuke meets new classmate Aiko (Fumika Shimizu) and is immediately smitten, but she's taken hostage by bank robbers. In trying to save her, he discovers that women's undergarments unlock his ancestral pervert blood: Suddenly, he has an arsenal of "pervert special attacks" that can defeat any wrongdoer. Most involve subjugating villains by shoving their faces into his bulging nether-region.

Lithe and immaculately groomed, Suzuki sports a superhero physique made for women who yawn at Hollywood's overpumped arms and wish-fulfillment abs. As Hentai Kamen, he poses before attacking, arms extended and legs crossed like a vintage pin-up. Future doctoral students can analyze what this all says about the homoeroticism inherent in conventional underwear-clad heroes; for now, it's incredibly silly and just as funny.

Where Peter Parker agonizes over the whole power/responsibility thing, Kyosuke has other struggles: He thinks he's a normal boy, but is he really a superfreak? As his alter ego grows famous, he overhears lots of "sure he's strong, but he's a pervert." That doesn't keep virginal Aiko from getting dreamy over him in her pink, valentine-dotted PJs.

Hentai Kamen's enemies are goofy in their own ways, baddies distinguished more by behavioral tics than powers or costumes. Eventually HK meets his match: a bona-fide perv (Ken Yasuda) who, in a climactic fight scene, delivers a rooftop aria of self-humiliation that makes our hero's quirks look positively square. There's almost no fighting in the sequence, yet it's more enjoyable than the grand-finale duels of most action blockbusters, where VFX and subwoofers demolish any narrative logic that stands in their way.

Here, effects are deliberately cheesy -- only distractingly so in the film's last battle, which is over in a few moments and only exists to take HK's underwear fetish to its logical, perfectly executed conclusion.

Production Companies: L'Espace Vision, T-Joy

Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, Fumika Shimizu, Tsuyoshi Muro, Ken Yasuda, Nana Katase

Director: Yuichi Fukuda

Screenwriter: Yuichi Fukuda

Based on the manga by: Keishu Ando

Producers: Koji Hyakutake, Takahisa Miyaji, Tomohiro Kobayashi, Kazuo Kato, Hiroo Murakami

Director of photography: Tetsuya Kudo

Production designer: Takashi Matsuzuka

Music: Segawa Eishi

Costume designer: Norihito Kannami

Editor: Jun Kuritanigawa

Sales: Showgate

No rating, 105 minutes