English Review: ZEBRAMAN (Miike Takashi, 2004)


Original title: Zeburâman – ゼブラーマン
2004 – Japan
Genre: Superhero
Director: Miike Takashi
Music: Endô Kôji
Screenplay: Kudô Kankurô

Actors: Aikawa Shô, Suzuki Kyoka, Uchimura Teruyoshi, Ichikawa Yui et Osugi Ren

Story: Shinichi is a teacher with a lousy life: his students and his family have no respect for him. To escape from his daily life, he builds the costume of the superhero from his childhood. When aliens arrive on earth, Shinichi discovers he really has super powers…

What’s happening to Miike? After the mainstream but really good film One Missed Call (Chakushin Ari), he’s back in 2004 with Zebraman, a family film, a fun one, with a superhero. Is Miike changing, becoming less crazy? His films remain good anyway, and Zebraman is a good one, maybe even real good one. The bad ones, it’s for later. In 2004, Miike actually delivers another flick, more adult, more difficult to understand and perhaps even to like: IZO. Zebraman is a commissioned film, for the 100 film of Aikawa Shô, one of Miike’s favorite actor. He was in the 3 Dead or Alive, Gozu, Rainy Dog or Ley Lines. And rather than doing another yakuza flick (and they do them really well), the two friends decide to do something more ambitious, something new for them: a Japanese superhero movie, while keeping the usual themes from the director, including family, and in a way, how to accept yourself in the Japanese’s society. With a simple alien’s invasion, a cheesy superhero, tribute to Ultraman and some others, to the Sentai, the story starts, and shows us Shinichi, the main character, a looser that his family ignores, whether the wife or daughter, and whose son hardly speaks to since he is bullied at school.

Everything changes when a new student arrives in Shinichi’s classroom. This student is a fan of Zebraman, a superhero from a cheesy show now forgotten from the 70s, canceled because no one watched it. And as Shinichi is a fan, he decides to disguise into Zebraman and to surprise his student at home, but on its way, he meets a real killer, with a crab mask (because why not?) and with scissors, controlled by an alien, about to do some weird things to a young woman. And that’s when Zebraman surprises its audience, even in its dialogues just before. If the movie is for a large audience, and, of course, also for children, Miike Takashi allows some dialogues, or even some ideas that are totally for adults. Children won’t understand them, and won’t try to understand to just stick with the fun ride, when adults can laugh and be surprised by the themes of the movie. The dosage between those elements is excellent, unlike in some recent farces (Yatterman). In his fight with the « crab man », Shinichi finds out awkwardly that he does have powers, and he finds himself in a story that will quickly overtake him. So he will first take advantage of his powers to hunt vermin from the city, like every hero, before plunging into the heart of the story, the secret alien invasion. He will understand that to survive, he’ll have to master his various powers, and the last step will be to fly!

Miike had fun directing this film, and the audience have fun at the same time. Everything works well, and is bathed in a relaxed little film. We laugh following the adventures and misadventures of our new hero, still learning how to fight and use his power, to defeat his enemies, and to rebuild his family. But that’s not all, the biggest strength of the movie, it will really be the character’s development, and the relationship between them all. Of course, there is our failed teacher and hero, his relationship with the new student and his mother (big highlight of the story) who finally gave him a real family, a substitution family. But as always with Miike, we can easily find some bad aspects in his movie. Like always, maybe it’s a bit too long, and after all, the movie is a long one, almost 2 hours. Nothing really annoying or boring for the story, but sometimes breaking the pace of the action. Except for small flaws that always happens to many Japanese directors (Miike, Kitamura), Zebraman is a really good film, simple, with a communicative good atmosphere, but also with some bad digital effects towards the end, but still, it adds some kitsch touch to the film, and it works well as a tribute to Sentai.

The Good

Well developed characters

An interesting story

Aikawa Shô, Osugi Ren

A real tribute

The bad

Maybe a bit slow in the middle

Some CGI, not really good


So: When Miike does a commercial movie for a large audience, he puts his own theme in it, a lot of fun, and develops loving characters. Good job!

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