James Reviews Noboru Iguchi’s Karate-Robo Zaborgar [Fantastic Fest 2011 Review]

Sometimes a film comes along, shoves insanity right into your eyeballs and you accept it right from the start. This is one of those films and it continues the line of craziness that Noboru Iguchi has given Japan and the world since departing his formidable pornography years. Karate-Robo Zaborgar is a love letter to the 1970’²s and in particular the tokusatsu TV series Denjin Zaborgar. Most people, on the outside appearance of this film, will just think this is another kitschy film that will appeal to hipsters who seek out ‘˜so bad, it’s good’ films but in this case, Iguchi injects the film with this frenetic energy throughout and a beating heart as well.

Yutaka Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) is a young karate expert who alongside his robotic brother Zaborgar are trying to stop the evil Dr. Akunomiya (Akira Emoto) and his criminal organization SIGMA from stealing the DNA from prominent business leaders in order to construct a giant robot to destroy the world. Along the way he must fight an evil female robot dominatrix, a diarrhea robot, a bulldog car and even a blossoming love affair. It comes to a climactic conclusion and then we are fast forwarded 25 years later.

That’s right, the first third of the film is the prologue, sort of, to the actual story within which is Daimon (now Itsuji Itao), who is a loser after losing his friend Zaborgar, the love of his life (the dominatrix) and his job which was being the driver for the politician he wishes he hadn’t saved all those many years ago. He now has to deal with his unstable robotic daughter, a son who hates him, diabetes and the still living Akunomiya who is hell bent on finishing the giant robot with his daughter in mind to be the catalyst. Can Daimon fight back or will his age and sugar intake be the death of him?

Iguchi takes a premise that should have only worked as a 20 minute parody video and gives life to a feature film that in most cases would be a train wreck. He has perfected this world, taking more than you’d think from the original 1970’²s kid’s show and bringing them up to speed, but still showcasing the off kilter humor, one liners and crazed spectacle of a robot who goes from being a motorcycle to the ultimate weapon against evil. A fine line to traverse, and Iguchi has been doing films like these for years. Alongside colleagues Yoshihiro Nishimura and Yukihiko Yamaguchi, they’ve been paving the way to depravity with a soul. With films like Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl, Sukeban Boy, Robogeisha and Mutant Girl Squad, they’ve taken what a lot of the video and TV generation of the 80’²s and 90’²s love, which is chaos on screen, blood and guts by the truckload and beautiful women with monstrous appendages attached. It’s as if they tape traded, edited all these videos together and presented the end result, which is utter lunacy on the screen.

It tends to not be for everyone, but Iguchi has taken a step and a half back from full fledged gore, nudity and horror and given Karate-Robo Zaborgar more of a lighthearted tone. Well, as lighthearted as one can be while a stink bug monster ejects acidic feces and robotic women’s breasts double for missiles and organic dragon beasts. Somehow Iguchi crosses together a kid’s show, extreme violence, family turmoil, acceptance and three cops who can’t help but smile, no matter the case, even when a beautiful but deadly giant is destroying the city. It’s ridiculous while being believable in the world they’ve created around them, which is something I can’t say for many other homages to certain eras of nostalgia.

Another film I saw earlier in the summer at the New York Asian Film Festival, it is a film I had so much more fun the second time around at the Alamo Drafthouse. It hit all the right cues, getting the audience to react exactly the way you hope a film like this will do. Tons of fun and hopefully it will be available much more easily in the months to come. Definitely check it out if you can.


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