I've now seen all ten Kekko Kamen live-action films to date! This is not the world's greatest achievement.
It seems clear that the best way to enjoy these films is not to watch them. Okay, I'm being flippant. Nevertheless this is definitely a franchise where absence makes the heart grow fonder. The first one you see has a fair chance of seeming hilarious, but after that the formula starts getting old and you're into diminishing returns. Kekko Kamen Premium
seemed okay to me the other day because I hadn't watched any Kekko Kamen for months, but this didn't impress me. It's practically a cut-and-paste of its immediate predecessors and I didn't mind either of them, but that's the problem. There's almost nothing new here. It's the same joke, delivered in the same way. Naked superheroine in red rabbit-ear mask fights sadistic teachers in pervy Go Nagai adaptation... yes, and?
There are three significant differences. Difference #1 is that at the end they reveal Kekko Kamen's identity. I hadn't been sure whether they'd do that, but they do. This is the last of a little trilogy of 2007 films and so they seem to have decided it had to be done. In fairness, they do it quite well. They've come up with a workable and not too silly idea that explains away all the "no, it can't be her" moments from the other two films and even gets Agatha Christie-like flashbacks to explain how all the clues fit together.
Difference #2 is a bad one, though. The nudity isn't funny. There's plenty of it, as you'd expect in the most pornographic Kekko Kamen films to date, but it's not so obviously taking the piss as the other two were. Kekko Kamen Royale
had the one-way mirror scene and Kekko Kamen Premium
had Sasa Handa fondling her naked breasts while standing in front of a first-floor window. Those scenes are so ludicrous that they're funny. It's post-modern porn, although it's possible that by saying this I'm giving them too much credit. This film though has a shower scene. It's shameless, obviously, but there's nothing outrageous about it. It's just a softcore porn film shower scene. The film needed something unbelievable like the girls walking along a school corridor and then suddenly deciding to take each other's clothes off as music plays and shower heads come out of the walls.
Hitomi Kitamura doesn't even get naked. There's cleavage and later a slightly undersized blue bikini, but that's all. I was wrong about the producers saving her for the third film, then.
Difference #3 is neither good nor bad. It's merely the new punishment teachers. No other cast members change across this trilogy, be it Satan's Toenail and his regular teachers or the assorted student extras. (This probably counts as a plus point, if you like continuity.) Royale had the trilogy's best punishment teachers, I think. Their silliness could actually be funny, while on the badass side of things they also had that samurai with bad teeth and a katana. Premium's punishment teachers were a bit more Monty Python-ish, but this time they've got so silly that I couldn't tell what the first punishment teacher thought he was doing. He looks like a baseball player, so what's he doing with the feather? Is that a feather? Why's he making Hitomi Kitamura do a bungee run? He's not even 100% on his lines, occasionally having a micro-blank on what he's supposed to say next, although I liked the faces he makes when Kekko Kamen turns up.
After him, the second punishment teacher is an Italian gangster in a white suit, carrying flowers. This isn't a bad idea, but it doesn't translate into him doing anything very interesting.
Otherwise, the film's a cut-and-paste of its predecessors. They even make a virtue out of it. It's not self-plagiarism, but a template. All three films have the same plot structure. They'll start with a green wire-frame title sequence and then a classroom scene to teach us the rules of Sparta Academy, at the end of which Kitamura will get unfairly sent for punishment. The first punishment teacher will be merely silly and quickly despatched by Kekko Kamen, but the second will be more badass. There will be a soft-focus musical insert in which one of the cast is standing in a field of feathery grasses. Female cast members will sing the Kekko Kamen theme music at the end, because they love her. There will probably be a rendition of the "Supa-Supa-Supa Supappa" motivational song, although it's been so long since I watched Royale that I can't remember whether or not it's in that film and I can only swear to the later two. There will be excessive nudity. I think you get the idea. This gives this trilogy a sense of artistic unity (stop laughing), but it also makes it less startling and off-the-wall than its predecessors from the 1990s and 2004.
I'd also like to whinge about Kitamura. She's more likeable than she should be and the films have even started making jokes about her low intelligence, but even so she deserves everything she gets. She's nearly mindless. She's got "loser" written all over her. She whines and pantomimes in her opening scenes where she inevitably gets sent for punishment. She's got the initiative of a lettuce leaf and if you were her teacher, you'd end up wanting to shake her silly.
Looking back on the franchise as a whole, the OVAs are still clearly head and shoulders above the live-action movies. I quite like the 1990s films, which have imagination and some style. The 2004 films get a bit dull, but they have variety and a few unbelievably silly gags. Finally this 2007 trilogy is consistent and has the franchise's best nudity, but you could never call it inspired. It's found a solid base of light-hearted mediocrity and it's sitting there. I didn't hate it. It's not aiming high, but it's never plunging to the depths either. It'll get you noticing details like a silly new final attack for Kekko Kamen, or the way they're including clips from all three films in the closing title sequence. I quite liked both of those. It's in no way good enough to recommend, even compared to other Japanese straight-to-DVD live-action Go Nagai adaptations, but the producers could be said to know what they're doing.