I liked it. Obviously it's still a live-action Kekko Kamen film and hence a wilfully stupid nude Japanese superhero kinky schoolgirl campfest, but within those (narrow) boundaries it's quite good. The plot isn't as formulaic as usual, the cast aren't bimbos and somehow there's an odd innocence about it all.
Quick catch-up for those who don't know what I'm talking about. Kekko Kamen is a nude superheroine created by legendary Japanese pervert Go Nagai, who's appeared in a brief anime series of OVAs and way too many cheap, tacky live-action movies. The anime is a masterpiece. The films aren't. They're tame, daft and usually a bit boring, although on the upside they really are showing all that nudity that you won't get in the live-action Cutey Honey adaptations. There's a standard formula for these things, as laid down by Go Nagai himself in his original manga and since adapted slightly for the films. I'll elucidate.
1. A pupil at Sparta Academy (traditionally called Mayumi Takahashi) gets into trouble with the school's sadistic, torture-mad teachers. This is normally the climax of a lengthy classroom scene in which the teacher becomes ever more surreal and ludicrously acted.
2. Kekko Kamen turns up, wearing (only) her trademark red bunny mask and boots. There's a fight.
This time though, it's a bit different. Satan's Toenail and his teachers know about Kekko Kamen from the beginning and are going after her with computer scanners, land mines and bounty hunters. I won't pretend that it's a deep storyline, but it has modest subplots for the supporting characters and it's not predictable. I didn't expect the exploding Japanese dwarf, for instance.
What particularly interests me about this film is its writer-director Yutaka Akiyama. He did the second and third nineties Kekko Kamen films, the latter having the startling subtitle of Kekko in Love. He seems to be doing things a bit differently, which is good. To my surprise, I also found myself wondering if he was gay. You can sometimes tell these things, so for instance I think it's clear from watching Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter that Brian Clemens is homosexual, while it shows in the Jeepers Creepers films that Victor Salva is a convicted paedophile. It's not just about what's in the film, but how the camera watches things. Sometimes you can tell what the director likes looking at. Now it's always possible that these filmmakers simply aren't good enough at their job to allow clear inferences about what they were trying to do, but even so here we have a movie in which lots of men take their tops off and two of them have a shower, while the naked women aren't sexy. Admittedly there's a bit of an underwear fetish, but there are also two gender-bending female characters and a man who changes for the climax into a Quentin Crisp outfit, with cravat.
Personally I found this quite interesting. It's quite a contrast with, say, the 2007 Kekko Kamen films, for instance.
Then you've got the characters. They aren't bimbos! On the contrary, I rather liked Rie Nakano as Mayumi Takahashi, who's got a maturity about her and a "girl next door" kind of prettiness. Maybe she's a bit old to be playing a schoolgirl, but she's also a more competent actress than certain other Mayumi Takahashis I could name. Shockingly bad, some of them. She's briefly doing a silly voice at the very start of the film, though, to the extent that I thought she might be a man doing a falsetto.
I also quite liked Satan's Toenail. He's played by Hajime Tsukumo, who'd be back in the next one, and he's not just the usual clown but instead has a kind of dignity about him. Admittedly we're still talking about someone in goofy make-up and a jester's outfit, but these things are relative. I particularly liked his final scene, in which he's running away from Kekko Kamen and she's going to kill him. (Akiyama's also a bit more explicit than usual about what Kekko does to her enemies.) Anyway, I'd been expecting the usual cartoon nonsense for Satan Toenail's downfall, but instead Tsukumo gets quite a lengthy little scene, in which he does a sub-Shakespearian "doomed guy about to die" performance beforehand and then an overlong dying speech afterwards with multiple false endings. At the start of the film he also has a Star Wars chair.
Best of all in the acting stakes though is Go Nagai himself! Yes, the film ends with a cameo from the great man! What's more, he does well enough with it that I wouldn't mind seeing him act more. He's got screen presence and he made me laugh. It's easily the best Go Nagai cameo I've seen to date, although I'm positively agog to check him out in The Toxic Avenger Part II.
The film's also better than usual for Kekko Kamen when it comes to the fight scenes. They're not bad. Kekko even does gymnastics. The credits say that someone called Satoru Fukusaku was responsible for "theatrical combat", which is a vast improvement on trying to shoot fight scenes in which neither combatant appears in the same shot. However an equally startling innovation is the remixed theme song, which now sounds like the Children's BBC version of itself, despite the filthy lyrics. I'll admit it, that made me laugh.
Overall, I thought this was quite good. It's not quite at a level where you could show it to normal people, but it's certainly a pleasant surprise by the standards of Kekko Kamen. It has laughs, for instance. I'm talking about proper jokes, not just flamboyant extremes of taste. It has nods to Go Nagai in the form of references to Devilman, Cutey Honey and Mazinger. It's also doing quite well with the freakshow element, never getting out of control but still giving us a medieval dungeon with red hot pokers, a guy in a bar talking to a suit of armour (eh?) and a line of crucified unclad women in a Triumph of the Will scene that I had a feeling might have been borrowed from Cutey Honey. She gets crucified occasionally too. (That counts as fairly controlled by Kekko Kamen standards.) To my surprise, now I'm actually looking forward to Kekko Kamen 3.