Tooru ShinoharaZero WomanJapaneseDaisuke Ryu
Zero Woman Returns
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Director: Yasushi Saisyu
Writer: Genjiro Kaneko, Tooru Shinohara
Keywords: boobs
Series: << Zero Woman >>
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Naoshi Eguchi, Norihide Goto, Makoto Inamiya, Kodan Nanbu, Shigemitsu Ogi, Saori Ono, Daisuke Ryu
Format: 85 minutes
Website category: J-sleaze
Review date: 26 February 2013
It should have been great, but it's going out of its way to be trivial and annoying. It's the nearest we'll get to a Children's BBC version of Zero Woman.
The frustrating thing is that the storyline has potential. Even after I'd been strongly disliking the film for well over an hour, there's a late twist that had me laughing out loud and almost won me over. After seven Zero Woman films in half a decade, this would be the last of them until 2004. What's more, it's a fitting conclusion to the series. In a franchise full of murky morality, corruption and a protagonist who kills for the convenience of bad guys in power, this film finds yet another twist on it. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing. The Zero Woman herself (Saori Ono) gets tailed and investigated. There's power politics among sinister semi-official departments that pretend not to exist and carry out assassinations whenever they feel like it.
Furthermore, the strained relationship between Saori Ono and her boss (Daisuke Ryu again) sinks to depths I hadn't seen before. This is impressive since one of the previous films ended with her shooting him. Ono's latest target thinks we can change our fate... and we can. Ono might well decide not to be a Zero Woman any more.
This should have been excellent. It's, um, not.
It's trying to be faintly comedic. The opening kill sequence is a bit goofy and after that Ono has a "comedy" scene in which she muses aloud about being a killer while standing next to someone in a convenience store. Startled reaction from stranger. Forehead-slapping from audience. Everything she did made me dislike her, e.g. the "are you an idiot?" scenes where she keeps failing to respond to her latest pseudonym, or her disinterest when being sacked from her part-time job. Her voice is also a bit like Donald Duck's. Meanwhile the underworld heavies we meet are silly-looking foreign stereotypes (I think Chinese) at whom we're meant to be laughing. Admittedly I did laugh on first seeing Mr Pirate Eyepatch, but not in a good way.
Admittedly the story grows a harder edge when Ono's sexual services get offered without her consent as a business transaction... but this only lasts about thirty seconds, when Ono cheerfully strips for the Pointy-Haired Gang Boss while he mugs like an idiot. Was Go Nagai involved in this production? Am I watching Kekko Kamen?
There's also a relationship between Ono and Shigemitsu Ogi that should have been a landmark in the franchise, but starts annoyingly (the silk jasmine) and is indifferently acted.
The music is peculiar. There's a bouncy, inappropriate tune that shreds the film's atmosphere and gets played about 10000000000 times, but every so often it turns into an actual song and that I quite liked.
As for the performances, Saori Ono isn't really acting and somehow failed to be sexy even when naked. In fairness, though, it would be generous to call her an actress and she lasted about three seconds in the business. Shigemitsu Ogi could have done more, I think. He's got a proper acting career. He's got the chops to make something worthwhile out of this material and he's pretty good almost throughout. He's watchable and subtle... but I don't think he's stepping up a gear for the big moments. That was disappointing. He's also as threatening as a lettuce leaf. However that said, he's surrounded by a non-director and non-actors, so he deserves much of the credit for raising the film even as high as this low level. If he'd been on a par with the comedy Chinamen, even I might not have been able to keep watching.
Daisuke Ryu's good again, though. I like the Zero Woman's boss, albeit in the specialised movie-watching sense of thinking he's a bastard. Whoever's playing him, he's the saving grace of this franchise. There's also an office bitch with big boobs, whom I liked because she's taking her role seriously.
It's a film of uneven halves. The first two acts bored me. I wanted it over. I'm sure this is more popular with a general audience than its dour, rather squalid predecessors where nothing happens, but personally I couldn't stand it. It's cheesy and vapid.
However the last act gets good. Yasushi Saisyu clearly can't direct, but despite him the Zero Woman franchise is doing its usual nihilistic, acid-dripping thing. That was sufficiently impressive that I ended up quite happy about having watched the film, despite what I'd been thinking during the preceding hour. The ending in particular should have been shatteringly bleak and even as filmed isn't entirely worthless.
What I'm reacting against is the tone. There's a good amount of plot and I like the story. Besides, even that first hour had occasional things that interested me, such as the Ono-Ogi parallels and the scene where Ogi talks about changing their fate. A better film might even have got me interested by the fact that Ono appears to have discarded her past as a police officer and is looking for part-time jobs to keep her interested between kills. There's also nudity, of course. I won't pretend that's not a selling point. I'm sure this film will play better than average for the franchise with much of its target audience (e.g. drunk people at parties). However I had problems with it.