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Zebraman: Black and White Ecstasy!

Trying to convince someone else that any movie they haven't heard of is a "good" movie is always a difficult task.  Too many a time have you  heeded a friend's advice and ended up wasting a rental on some god-awful thing that you just can't fathom how ANYONE enjoyed said movie.  This is my feelings about There's Something About Mary, but I'm admittedly weird.  And that's why none of my friends trust me when it comes to films.  My friends have learned from experience that they should always prepare themselves for the worst whenever I let them know when "movie night" is going down.  I love bad movies.  I might even thrive on them.  So imagine how hard it is for me to actually tell people that I like a movie because it's legitimately "good."  Let me walk you through one particular conversation:

Jared:  Hey man.  I just watched this great movie.

Friend:  I don't believe you.  What's the name of the movie?

Jared:  It's about this depressed teacher who lives a secret life dressing up like an old super-hero...but it's all about fan culture and how people end up wasting their lives clinging to the fantasies presented to them in childhood.

Friend:  What's the name of the movie?

Jared:   Zebraman.

Friend:  I totally hate you.

So there's the rub.  I admit that it's extremely unlikely that I'll be able to convince ANYONE that Zebraman might be a pleasant experience.  That said, let's get down to cracking this puppy open.  (Dear God, those expressions combined do NOT leave a pleasant mental image.  Disclaimer:  Jared is not responsible for any puppies "cracked open." Gah.)

Zebraman is a Japanese film from 2005 and was directed by Takashi Miike.  If you're a fan of current Japanese cinema then you already know who that is.  If you don't know who that is, check out either Ichi the Killer or Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series (he's got an episode in there somewhere).  I could go on and on about a LOT of Takashi's films...but for the sake of time and sanity we'll save that for later.  It's time to talk about Zebraman:  Why it rocks and shuts down the higher functions of my brain at the same time. 

  

Oh lord, it really is a zebra-based super hero movie.  Apparently zebras have all sorts of magical powers that range from kung fu ninja attacks (yes, kung fu ninja) to turning into a flying unicorn that can shoot a laser from its horn.  The costume changes a bit as the film progresses, but for the moment just take a look at it.  It's not that bad for what it is...hell, if it wasn't for that fuzzy afro on top reminding us that he's supposed to be a zebra-man he might even be called hardcore.  The thing that you need to remember about this film is that it's actually a satire of a lot of things, including the superhero genre.  Batman might look cool lurking in the shadows and jumping out of a shadowy alley, but you KNOW he'd look gay as all hell if he fought crime by the smile of a warm summer afternoon.  Just think about all those kids (or adults) that you've seen dressed as superheroes.  Out of all the one's you've seen in your life, I bet you can only name a few that might have looked remotely cool.  You dress like a hero to say, holy crap, I love this hero so I dressed like him.  In the movies, costumes look different.  Batman looks cool at night with mood lighting...so the director doesn't shoot the goofy costume in any other manner.  Locations are exotic and dramatic and our dark hero most certainly won't fight crime on a sunny day.  Zebraman satirizes this a bit.  Check it out:

Children are in danger...the police don't know what to do.  So when Zebraman shows up everyone stops what they were doing to gawk at the dork in the stupid costume.  Honestly that's a pretty realistic situation.  Who would keep your attention longer:  The bank robbers inside the bank or the guy dressed as a crime-fighting pony outside?  Sure this movie is a comedy, but it's not a slapstick comedy.  It's funny because the director's pulled something from comic books and placed it realistically in every day life.  Taking things out of context is comedy gold.  But you already knew that by now. 

Two criminals are robbing a grocery store.  They've got a hostage...and then.  They see....it.  The camera focuses on them for a bit before revealing what you already know they're staring at:

HOLY CRAP IT'S ZEBRAMAN ON THE SNACK AISLE!  Obviously they're making fun of how a super hero can materialize wherever a crime is happening...but Christ.  Check this sequence out:

 

Zebraman's hair bristles, telling him someone is in danger.  He changes into his costume and proceeds to run, cape flapping (not billowing) behind him, through people's backyards and even a children's playground.  Dear god, superheroes are just so absurd in normal places.  Outside the park, Zebraman finds a man strangling/beating a woman.

When Zebraman shows up both people just sort of stare at him with this WHAT THE CRAP expression that brings me a lot of joy, because that's what I would do.

Of course the guy decides to attack Zebraman (the guy's possessed by an alien...don't ask)...which is an incredibly stupid move.  Everyone knows normal people wearing slacks don't have a chance against a guy in a cape...especially if he's Japanese.

Zebraman lifts the poor bastard over his head, exclaims that he's about do his "super move" by screaming: "ZEBRA BOMBER!" (ZEBURU BOMBURU...man, Japanese is an easy language), and pulls off this totally insane batshit crazy suplex (or something), grinding the guy into the pavement.   This might be where most of the shallow comedy of Zebraman is found.  He doesn't do "normal" attacks.  He does these "ZEBRA CYCLONE NINJA KICK" things that basically caves people's heads in out of nowhere.  The special effects are definitively modern and "edgy" which only makes them more surprising.  I mean, it shows that they've been intentionally trying to make him "less cool"...because for a split second he's awesome.  It's obviously hard to describe.  So I'll move on.

 

Like I said, Zebraman is making fun of a lot of a lot of things:  from comic books to those old "Sentai" television shows.  "Sentai" is, to us uneducated Americans, pretty much The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  I hate to say that because Japan has a tradition of goofy people in costumes since apparently the dawn of time, and the Power Rangers are just the most popular American franchise of Japanese-style crime-fighting hero.  Those images above are from the television show "Zebraman."  The show isn't real and only exists in the movie...so this is where I make sense of things by sharing the plot with you.

Zebraman is the story of a grown man who has a child who doesn't respect him, a job he hates, and a wife that doesn't love him.  His only joy is an old television show called Zebraman.  He enjoys it so much that he's made a costume of the hero that he wears in his bedroom when no one is looking and pretends to do kung fu moves on his pillow.  This actually addresses the whole "man-child" issue we've got going on today.  The current generation (and even more so in Japan) hasn't really had to grow up.  Right now we've got forty-year-old men reviewing the latest videogames, and college students arguing about He-man, Pokemon, and Transformers.  It's not longer geeky or shameful to have a blatant outlet for daily escapism.  (I'm not saying such interests are bad, I OBVIOUSLY have my own outlets, but it is something that I'm not sure previous generations had to this extent.  The internet has become a place for fan culture to boom.  Fan sites for everything under the moon are all over the place, often populated by adults who will argue the artistic value of an 8-year-old's cartoon until they're blue in the face.  This film in a way justifies that weird "fan-fetish" lifestyle.  The aliens in the film (look to the right) are apparently using the old scripts of the original Zebraman show from the 1970's as their master plan.  Why this one psychotic fanMAN (not fanboy) ends up becoming the "real" Zebraman isn't explained...so it's almost a fan's reward for being so loyal.  To but it in American terms:  Imagine a movie where a guy in his forties dresses up like Optimus Prime and ends up getting the chance to become a real-life transformer.  Or a 30 year old woman wishing she was dating Harry Potter until he shows up at her door.  Kind of an indulgent fantasy, right?  That's part of the strange sadness of the flick that gets under the internet geek inside us all's skin as the film goes on.  There is one other moment that's sort of heart-wrenching if not a bit screwed up:

Eventually they figure out the aliens are using the scripts...so Zebraman skips ahead to the end to read how he's supposed to beat them...and it ends up he's supposed to fly.  But he can't fly.  So he ends up hurting himself very, very badly by throwing himself off a bridge...repeatedly....just so he can try to learn to fly.  There's some symbolism in there concerning escapism and knowing you have to do something, but I'll let you unpack that crap yourself.  I've been serious enough about this film.  It's time for breasts and a case of crabs.

No.  I'm serious:

While he only plays a very minor role in the flick, it would be particularly criminal if I didn't include a picture of the infamous "Crab Man" from Zebraman.  If you were here last October, you might even remember me doing a PAINTING of him.  He's ultimately just this guy that's having sex with Zebraman's daughter (implied) but at least he's a guy that's having sex with Zebraman's daughter (implied) while wearing a crab mask and wielding two office-grade scissors.

The other thing that needs to be pointed out is the "Zebra Nurse" dream sequence.  The main character, not Zebraman yet, has a dream where he's Zebraman and gets his arm cut off by a giant crab.  Not a pleasant dream, until the Nurse arrives to make everything better with her magic syringe.

Out of the mist, she slowly walks toward are wounded hero.  Enemies grovel in her wake, singing her theme song:  Zebra Nurse, Zebra Nurse, Zebra Nurse, Zebra Nurse, Zebra Nurse, Zebra Nurse.  Not very original, but downright catchy.

Zebra Nurse makes me feel funny.  Maybe it's the breasts or maybe it's just the fact that it's a woman dressed as cosplay fetishist's Zebra fantasy.  I don't know.  There is one thing that I DO know:

If I'd said she was carrying a penis-pump instead of a syringe, you'd totally think something terrible was happening here.  Hell, you probably already thought it yourself.  Pervert.

 

Just to wrap things up, know that Zebraman turns into a Zebra-Unicorn-Pegasus (that's a winged Zebra with a horn on its head) that shoots lasers.  He signs his name Zorro-style on the giant alien's forehead and saves the day.  In case you didn't notice, I've given up on trying to convince you this is a good film.  It is, but you really wouldn't believe me it I tried to convince you anyway.  Satire just doesn't work out of context, which is sort or ironic unto itself.  Maybe.  Now I'm confused. 

In closing, you should know is that it's very surreal to see a film about fan culture in this day and age...especially from Japan.  It ends up being somewhere between absurdly funny and satirically sad.  I think.  Zebraman is one of those films that everyone ends up viewing differently.  Some people would call it an action, while others would label it a comedy.  If you can get your hands on a copy of this film, decide for yourself.  On a final note:  All I can say is that whenever you need him, no matter where you might be....Zebraman could be there.

Including the soda and chip aisle at your local grocer.  Criminals, you were warned.

-jared

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please don't sue me or steal the pictures that are mine.  The photographs are used via Fair Use for review purposes only.  Oh, and if any of you fine foxy ladies want to see me in my totally bitchin' homemade Zebraman costume, email "SexZebra696969....edit:  Never joke about an email address and assume no one's twisted or weird enough to actually have said email address.  SexZebra696969, all I can say is that I hope you enjoy Black and White Ecstasy whenever possible.  My apologies.