Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City -- Film Review

A fun superhero film that makes black-and-white look "colorful."

Compared to Takashi Miike's 2004 film, "Zebraman," Part 2 turns it up a notch.

TOKYO – Takashi Miike’s Zebraman was a wacky but ultimately sweet and heartwarming dweeb-turned-superman story. His Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is a different animal. Like the pony that’s grown into a stomping stud, it offers beefed up technical spectacles while the hero evolves a complex psyche, which is externalized and projected onto the world with cataclysmic impact.

Before The Great Yokai War, Zebraman was described as the only film by the V-Cinema (straight-to-video) king that one can show to kids. More kitschy and kinky, Part 2 is less family viewing material and more a fetishist’s leathery dream. This means distributors can harness more bargaining power in overseas genre markets.

In Part 1, set in 2011, Shinichi Ichikawa (Show Aikawa), a schoolteacher fixated on a (real) short-lived ‘70s kiddies TV series named Zebraman morphed into the show’s superhero and fought green globular aliens to save the world. In Part 2, Ichikawa wakes up from 25 years of amnesiac sleep to fight a fascist governor, paramilitary police, an alien incubator and his alter ego.

Tokyo, now rezoned and redesigned into Zebra City by ultra-right governor Aihara (perhaps a parody of Tokyo governor Ishihara), stylishly remodels Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with zebra characteristics. Everything sports a black-and-white striped design – from the architecture to police uniforms to twirling clouds.

Miike also draws on the bipolarity of S/M subculture in art direction and costume design to reinforce the militant government’s imposition of a “black-and-white” moral code. Police are given a carte blanche to shoot suspects twice a day for five minutes. This brief saturnalia, called “Zebra Time,” is represented with kinky S/M overtones – a surgeon drips wax on a patient, a senator in a mask rapes and wrestles his female political aide to the ground. Ichikawa’s nemesis Yui (Riisa Naka), daughter of Aihara, is an aspiring pop singer whose stage name is Zebra Queen. Dressed in hyper-sexualized jet-black Goth-Vamp robes (in contrast to Ichikawa’s snow-white hero-suit and gray hair) and wielding a whip, she is the dominatrix incarnate.

Effects and props are loud, outre and fun, even if the Evil Twin conceit underscoring Ichikawa’s relation to Yui is not exactly novel or probed at all deeply. Miike has a knack for giving innocuous material in daily life a monstrous makeover.

The centerpiece is a centrifugal machine that separates good and evil. It’s modeled on an ordinary washer-dryer but its larger-than-life spinning and tumbling yields impressive cinematic and symbolic impact. The final battle with the alien concocts eye-popping action from simple acts of ingestion and ejection, taking orifice fetish to new heights of playfulness since Miike’s cult classic Gozu.

Kankuro Kudo (screenwriter for Zebraman), seems too preoccupied with establishing diametrical opposites in personas and visual tropes to give the supporting roles any heart. So the reappearance of Asano (Ichikawa’s beloved disabled pupil) as an adult, and the addition of the real star of the Zebraman TV series add little emotional value to the film.

Opened: May 1 in Japan
Production: Zebraman 2 Film Partners
Cast: Show Aikawa, Riisa Naka, Tsuyoshi Abe, Masahiro Inoue
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriter: Kankuro Kudo
Producers: Makoto Okada, Arimasa Okada, Tsuguo Hattori
Executive producer: Takashi Hirano
Director of photography: Kazuhige Tanaka
Production designer: Akira Sakamoto
Music: Yoshihiro Ike
Editor: Kenji Yamashita
Sales: Toei Company Ltd.
No rating, 106 minutes