It's a Takashi Miike children's movie, based on a kiddie anime. It's stunningly, brilliantly faithful to an empty-headed, repetitive original. Can you spot the problem?
The original Yatterman ran for 108 episodes from 1977-1979. There's also a 60-episode remake series, from 2008-2009. This is the only live-action adaptation. Yatterman is one of those shows where the same trio of villains (the Dorombo Gang) do the same things every week. The villains were a blonde in a sexy outfit (Doronjo), a pig-faced strongman (Tonzura) and a perverted inventor with a big nose (Boyacky). They were trying to steal the Skull Stone for Dokurobei, the God of Thieves. Dokurobei didn't act in person, but just gave orders to the trio at the beginning of each episode and then punished their failure at the end.
This always happened as they rode away on a three-person tandem bicycle, like The Goodies but with shredded clothing. If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all.
In other words, they're the kind of villains who get defeated every week in a kid's show. The film doesn't change this one iota. They even comment on the "defeated every week" bit. They'll also occasionally have "you're kidding me" moments like Boyacky's fantasy about all the schoolgirls in Japan... but that's straight from the anime too. The film's aware of Doronjo's boobs because of Boyacky's interest in them (and in the rest of her), but the only nudity you'll see is male, for comedy. There's a Doronjo bath scene, for instance, but her bubble bath foam is stronger than steel.
The Dorombo Gang are ludicrous and you can't take them seriously, but at least they could be called characters. The heroes barely even exist in that sense. There's Yatterman-1 (Gan, the boy) and Yatterman-2 (Ai, the girl). Ai is Gan's girlfriend, but that doesn't mean much because he's only thirteen. In the film, they're a bit older. Anyway, they make robots, big and small. They have transformation sequences and fight the Dorombo Gang... and that's it. The only scant shreds of characterisation they have is as a result of being heroes in a Saturday kid's cartoon, i.e. they'll pose and declaim.
Much more interesting are the heroes' robots. The dog-mecha Yatterwan ("wan" is "woof" in Japanese), who's thirty foot high, flies around and can give birth to armies of little animal-shaped mecha who'll swarm all over and vandalise Boyacky's mecha.
So that's the anime. What about the live-action adaptation?
Miike's film is wildly entertaining for the first twenty minutes or so, i.e. the length of a Yatterman episode. He's recreated the anime's world exactly, with a ton of CGI and a wild disrespect for reality. This is eye-popping. Explosions have a skull-shaped mushroom cloud, because that's the Dorombo Gang's logo. Doronjo can kick Boyacky into the sky if he touches her boobs. Recognisable buildings in Tokyo flip on their backs to let Yatterwan fly out of his secret base. The robots are amazing. I wouldn't recommend this movie, but I'd heartily recommend any random ten minutes of it. A two-hour movie is too long, but it looks glorious and I admire the lengths to which Miike's gone to reproduce even the daftest, goofiest things from the original.
I'm not vouching for the authenticity of the dubious mecha weapons, though. That might be Miike. I'm not sure. There's a penis carrot cannon that ejaculates missiles, then later a mecha with boobs and enormous extensible nipples that are equipped with Boob Missiles and Boob Machine Guns. Boyacky also builds an army of penis fish with the secret weapon of puberty.
I laughed a lot, though. It's shallow, but it's an experience.
Most of the film is repetitive Yatterman stuff. The heroes fight the villains. Rinse and repeat. Two hours of this is a struggle, although it will undoubtedly blow the minds of any five-year-olds you might have. (The film was wildly successful, although its reviews were less so.) They wouldn't be able to keep up with the subtitles, but I don't think that would matter. However for any adults (e.g. you) who might also be in the audience, is there anything to keep you interested?
1. I think the Dorombo Gang are the protagonists. They're the villains, yes, but they get more screen time than the heroes, because they have personalities and goals.
2. There's a feeble attempt at a double love-misunderstanding triangle when Yatterman-1 accidentally kisses Doronjo, which is token and pointless but is the eventual cause of two good scenes. One is the film's only emotionally true scene, when Doronjo's been rejected by Yatterman-1, and the other is the scene when Yatterman-2 saves Doronjo's life even though she's her rival.
3. The Dorombo Gang's voice actors from the anime get a cameo in a diner. Even if you don't recognise their voices, it's lovely to see three old troopers showing up for a moment of respect from the movie.
4. The self-aware gags. Miike's aware of the impracticalities of travelling to Egypt (sorry, Ogypt) while clinging to the outside of a giant robot dog. I also loved Yatterman-1 asking what the Skull Stone actually is, implying that he'd never known anything about his show's McGuffin.
5. The disappearances. The film doesn't milk this properly, but the Skull Stone can make things disappear. It steals Tuesdays. This is a mind-boggling idea, even though it's thrown away. It also steals a letter from a sign, for a rude joke.
6. The Indiana Jones character and his daughter are theoretically the emotional heart of the movie, providing all the dramatic content that the Yatterman regulars can't because they're restrained by formula. Unfortunately even though the dad (Sadao Abe) is a veteran actor, the daughter (Anri Okamoto) will give you woodworm.
Don't watch this film. Watch ten minutes of it, then stop. It's candy-coloured nonsense with occasional redeeming features, full of non-actors. (The ending music is sung by the band of the actor of Yatterman-1, for instance.) The only proper acting moment is from Kyoko Fukada (Doronjo) even though she's another bad actor and she was chosen for her boobs. However that said, you can't fault its energy or its devotion to the cause. It's never boring. It just goes on too long and has very little dramatic content, that's all. And it really and truly does look astonishing.