August 13, 2006

TETSUJIN 28 - THE MOVIE (2005) live-action giant robot mayhem

TETSUJIN 28 – THE MOVIE (Japan, 2005)

Already primed by
the recent anime series, I wanted to like this live-action feature film version, honest! Well OK, I liked it, but I wanted it to be much better. I've got the toy robot, I wanted a cool movie to go with it!

In a nutshell, if you like giant robots (or as the Japanese call them, 'Mecha'), you’ll probably want to see this. The special effects are superb, but it’s severely lacking in drama.

The film peaks early when ‘bad robot’ Black Ox makes its spectacular appearance and beats up the Tokyo Tower, while its still filled with people.

It’s a marvellous scene, but there’s little else like it for the remainder of the film. If there’d been more robot-interaction with people, like you get with the Godzilla films, it could’ve saved the film for me.

The CGI FX are seamless, and the compositing is uncanny, like the placing of robots into the Tokyo landscape from constantly shifting helicopter shots. Close-up, the robots' original manga designs have been turned into 3D CGI and look wonderful.

But we’re starved of drama on a human or a robot level. The adults haven’t much to do but run around, and the robots don’t even do that. When Black Ox meets Tetsujin 28, they have a dull boxing match, even sticking to the Marquis of Queensbury rules (no punching below the belt). Where’s Ultraman’s fight choreographer when you need him most?

Rather than set the story in post-war Japan, it's set modern day, meaning that many of the original plot elements have had to be lost. At least, the film-makers pay homage by having some of the characters in retro outfits (or hats) to hark back to the characters' original looks.

Stripping too many sub-plots away have left the story virtually plotless, and all uncontroversial enough to be a family film. It’s interesting that in Japan, family movies are made less violent than their cartoon counterparts, whereas in America the live-action movies based on comics are more violent (I’m thinking of the Batman and Spiderman films specifically).

It's basically good robot versus bad robot, and I must have blinked because I missed the whole reason why the baddie was making the bad robot do bad things.

The cast is good, especially Sosuke Ikematsu as Shotaro, the boy who operates Tetsujin's remote control. A couple of the adults overact a little, but it’s in keeping with their characters’ anime counterparts.

To elaborate more on what I thought was lacking would mean piling into the plotline, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Out now on Region 1 US DVD (the cover is shown above) and coming soon to Region 2 UK - hopefully early October.

Mark H

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