Astro Boy – Fuhrer ZZZ
Astro Boy is a Japanese manga/anime created by Osamu Tezuka in Japan in 1951. He is one of the most recognizable faces in cartoons, not just manga. A string of projects have been created over the years, including the popular 1960’s cartoons that spread Astro Boy throughout the world. What is of most interest to us now is the 1958-59 live action TV series on Japan TV developed by MBS. In 1962 they released either a continuation movie or a string of TV episodes that follow the Fuhrer ZZZ story in the manga as a movie, which still circulates today in bootleg format. Thus, we got blurry scenes, no subtitles for the Japanese, and little or no information about the film or any of the actors. We don’t even have an accurate array of the character names, especially since the Peg Leg guy doesn’t even get a name in the manga this is based on! But it is a good window into Japanese TV of the late ’50s and how it was turning into the groovy 60s with superheroes and other fun effects. And where else are you going to see a kid dressed up as Astro Boy fighting villains? Certainly not on Cnn.com!
As stated before, the film has no subtitles, so certain things are inferred by actions or deduction. There is precious little information about this film anywhere. There isn’t even a definite explanation on where it came from, if it is some TV episodes strung together or a movie sequel to the TV series. The series dates from 1958-59, but the few sources date this film as 1962. That could be an error, or a movie could have been strung together from episodes a few years later to capitalize on the cartoon series. Or maybe a sequel movie was greenlit. What is important is we don’t know.
In addition, I am not that familiar with Astro Boy the cartoon, so many of the characters I had to look up their back stories. It also matters that this TV adaptation doesn’t have some of the main characters from the comic, and uses its own versions of some main characters as well. So the Roll Call is as accurate as possible, but TarsTarkas.NET does not guarantee accuracy. But we did the best we could, and this should be the best review of the Astro Boy Movie to ever hit the net. We can’t even locate an imdb.com entry (but that is not unusual for a film here.)
The intro animation is people building robots, but the robots are all made of metal — so plastic skin is added! Robots were soon everywhere, and some begin to cause problems. That’s what happens when you make bootleg robots without using the Three Laws of Robotics. One of those robots is Astro Boy, which totally glosses over his origin. Not that we need to know it to enjoy the movie. The cartoon turns into live action as Astro Boy becomes live action Astro Boy. Astro Boy explains his rocket boots, then takes off for a ride as the opening credit roll. The special effects of Astro Boy flying are just a toy on a string with sparklers flaming out the end. The song playing during the credits is also a bit weird, but that is to be expected, as this is Japanese.
The actual movie starts with shadows dancing in front of artwork (that looks worse than the output of a typical kindergarten class) and a man in funky glasses blasts some guy we only see a shadow of with his gun. This gun is a prop gun, and the actor doesn’t do a good job of hiding the explosive cap inside the barrel that makes the gunshot effect. No time for reshoots, this is TV! Multiple murders are going on, and the radio starts talking about how countries such as Spain and Egypt are having their leaders killed. More and more deaths pile up (this alone would make an awesome movie without robot boys or funky spectacled goons, but I digress) and we get a quick glimpse of an island hideout (standard evil mad scientist motif.) A man with wacky specs, a top hat, chomping a cigar and wearing a costume that looks like the offspring of The Riddler and the Mad Hatter is the focus. We got our villain—Fuhrer ZZZ!
Professor Ochanomizu and his wife listen to the radio while Astro Boy walks in, makes a declarative statement, and then walks out. I don’t know what he said, but it can’t be important because we cut to different characters: white people! What are these gaijin doing in my Japanese movie? Is Astro Boy about to go all Gamera on us? Because I quit if a Kenny shows up! Wait a minute, Astro Boy is a boy, he’s a…Robotic Kenny! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! This new breed of super-Kenny will destroy us all! We must work fast to stop the robots, someone call Will Smith! This white family has a dad, a daughter named Michele, and a Japanese mom. Luckily for the plot, the father is President Lyon, or at least he is in the manga, I have no idea who he is here. A letter is delivered, and it concerns the mom and dad. Something interesting happens here, where the parents read the letter silently, and it is narrated for us, the audience. The daughter Michele overhears the narration(!!!) and becomes concerned. I would be concerned myself if I heard self-reading letters. The parents leave and Michele prays for her Mama.
Outside, a guy with a peg leg approaches. He’s the main henchman who never gets a name, so it is Peg Leg. Michele suddenly has a different hairstyle (the continuity guy was out getting some whale sushi) as Peg Leg and two masked goons bust into the house. Michele manages to outwit all three of them and escape (Peg Leg goes and falls down due to his peg leg of all things!) Michele, who is like 12, gets into a car and drives off. The other goons and Peg Leg get into their car and give chase. You won’t see three goons (2 and 7/8ths goons if you count Peg Leg as less of a man) car chasing a 12 year old in anything American! Also, Peg Leg is driving, I am sure his peg helps him hit the peddles more effectively. The car chase zooms by Astro Boy, who just watches it with the dazed expression he has the entire film. Our Hero! Michele then stops the care and tries to run on foot. What is interesting here is she stops the car at the very place she pulled out from in the beginning of the chase, you can recognize it by the same pile of wood! Also, she was doing pretty good by driving away, switching to running seems like a losing strategy. And it is, as she is cornered on all sides by goons now. Don’t be sprinting unless you are the Flash, missy!
Michele screams, which transmits to Astro Boy’s hair receiver. He flies off (oh, NOW he does something, but earlier he didn’t find seeing a 12 year old girl fleeing from thugs in a car worthy of doing anything about!) and turns into a toy during the pivotal flying shots. The Astro Boy Theme also plays while he flies. Astro Boy stops the villains, Peg Leg puts on his funky mask for the shootout where Astro Boy just grins while the bad guys shoot him repeatedly to no effect. Michele somehow manages to fall off a bridge during all this. Yes, that’s right, the dumb girl can’t master standing still well enough to not fall into the drink. Astro Boy jumps and grabs her, then toy he and toy her fly back to Astro Boy’s home. Dr. Ochanomizu examines Michele, and then Astro Boy says something that gives Dr. Ochanomizu and his assistant Banku an excuse to kill a guinea pig in an experiment! Japan! What the Hell is wrong with you?
The next day, Michele is better and playing in the park as Astro Boy buzzes overhead. Michele’s parents have returned, and introduce her to a Mr. Hakone. She says hello in English to him, and he responds in French! Now we know even less where Michele is from. This is Prime Minister Hakone from the manga story, so the movie will be veering closer to the actual tale now (there is no robot Michele in the manga.) Right after Mr. Hakone leaves, he finds a note in his car from the ZZZ gang saying they will get him by midnight. Hakone is back at his place waiting by the phone as Police Inspector Walrus Mustache paces and picks up a call. The message on the phone is shocking, and everyone leaves Hakone alone. Outside, Peg Leg is strolling around with a gun. Inside, Hakone has surrounded himself with bodyguards, and are waiting for it to be midnight so he can be safe. Midnight comes and nothing happens, so Hakone goes from being worried to relieved. This relief is short-lived, as Peg Leg walks in the door. All of Hakone’s bodyguards turn out to be fellow ZZZ gang members, and they all have donned their goofy masks! It looks like it is doom for Hakone…Astro Boy!?! Astro Boy bursts into the room and starts beating up goons left and right with his left and right hooks. Hakone gets shot anyway and all the bad guys escape when Astro Boy is distracted by his failure to save Hakone. Good job, Astro Boy.
The police try to arrest Astro Boy for the crime of killing Hakone, so Astro Boy flies over them and out the door, then grabs the car the ZZZ gang is in. But the cops have followed and grab Astro Boy instead, allowing the ZZZ gang to once again escape. The car then has wings fold out of its sides and becomes a flying car! Astro Boy escapes the cops and tries to chase the flying car, but fails and ends up going home. I hope the ZZZ gang steers clear of the Whomping Willow! At home, Astro Boy talks with Dr. Ochanomizu, and Dr. Ochanomizu uses Astro Boy’s antenna to detect radio signals to try to figure out what is going on.
Michele is on a plane somewhere over the Pacific, going to the island from earlier in the show where the ZZZ hideout is. Fuhrer ZZZ and Peg Leg are there, and Astro Boy is also flying there, I guess he tracked Michele or something with his antenna hair. The island defenses are activated, and big anti-aircraft guns fire at Astro Boy, but do little more damage than moths to an elephant. Oh, wait, they DO hurt him, and Astro Boy crashes into the sea. At least the doll of him did. Peg Leg laughs, everyone laughs, but Astro Boy lives and just strolls onto the island from undersea. Was it all a trick? Who knows.
Fuhrer ZZZ and some lady with a gun (who turns out to be the Japanese woman I thought was her mom) threaten Michele, while outside Astro Boy threatens four of the ZZZ gang members by picking up a boulder that looks like it is made out of cloth and tossing it far. But a fifth ZZZ gangmember arrives to remind the others that they should attack anyway, and Astro Boy makes short work of them. The alarm is sounded and defenses fire up into the sky again, and Astro Boy sneaks in. I’m not sure what the guns were firing at, maybe they thought Astro Boy was still in the sky.
Astro Boy walks in a building and sees Michele and her father tied to some device that I guess tortures them if a switch is pulled or something. I am not really sure, I apologize for not instantly recognizing this crazy Japanese plot device. Fuhrer ZZZ and Peg Leg pull guns and point them to Michele’s head, forcing Astro Boy’s surrender. Then Michele falls off a bridge again. Okay, I’m kidding there. Astro Boy is taken to the top of a tower, and he is zapped with electricity or something. A doll of him is zapped, at least, and falls to the ground when the zapping stops. Back at Professor Ochanomizu’s, the transmissions from Astro Boy’s radio antenna go dead. Michele is shown the dead body of Astro Boy as the villains laugh, and then her father is put at the top of the same tower Astro Boy was just on. Peg Leg is about to pull the switch, but Michele agrees to do whatever they want.
Astro Boy wakes up, for he was only pretending to be dead. He’s in a jail cell, anyway, because you always put dead bodies in jail. Michele and her father are flown away, so Astro Boy decides to burst out of jail, which upsets the guards very much. One of the guards has a guitar, for reasons not explained at all. They all get beat up, Astro Boy style! Michele and her dad go to a hotel, and Peg Leg joins them to ensure they do what they are being forced to do. Michele runs anyway, and Peg Leg chases afterwards. Before he catches her, Banku finds Michele and takes her back to Professor Ochanomizu’s lab. After being alerted to where her father is being held, they try to go save him, but Peg Leg has gone and moved him to another location. They go back to the lab to brainstorm. Once there, they get new transmissions from Astro Boy.
Fuhrer kidnaps Professor Ochanomizu, and attempts to offer him a large amount of money. Dr. Ochanomizu refuses, and Fuhrer ZZZ suddenly becomes a lot more threatening. He also brings in Michele’s Dad, and the Dad and Professor Ochanomizu talk and agree on something that ticks off Fuhrer ZZZ so he sends in some Z goons. Before the goons can beat up the men, Astro Boy bursts in and fights the goons as Michele’s Dad and Professor Ochanomizu escape. The two are chased by Fuhrer ZZZ himself, who shoots Michele’s Dad in the back. For some reason Astro Boy has been defeated or something, as he now lies turned off on one of the tables in the villain’s lair. I don’t really know what was going on there. Michele’s Dad is in the hospital, and Professor Ochanomizu goes to see him (Michele is there, but large amounts of police aren’t!) Banku calls Professor Ochanomizu at the hospital, and they decide to disguise Michele by dressing her as a boy and having Banku take her with him disguised as repairmen. They go to fix Astro Boy, where a scientists with a loooooooooooooooong goatee looks suspiciously at them. The pair are caught by the bad guys, and Banku is beaten around some, because the movie hadn’t had anyone being randomly beaten in a while now.
Astro Boy suddenly wakes up again (and the Astro Boy Theme blares loudly) and goes to beat up the goons. The Walrus Mustached Policeman from the beginning is called, and Astro Boy and the cops go to the villain’s base, but it is a mess. The police find pieces of Astro Boy’s armor lying around, and think he has been causing all the trouble, so arrest him. These police aren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch. Or even plugged into the wall. Astro Boy is in jail now, with a ball and chain on each foot. Professor Ochanomizu argues for his freedom, but is rebuffed. Also, Michele is captured for the third time by ZZZ gang members and….FALLS OFF A DAMN CLIFF! What the heck is wrong with this girl?
Astro Boy is sitting in jail, and gets some sort of radio transmission when Michele is knocked unconscious by the fall. Astro Boy then starts to blow-torch the ball and chain with his finger, which is a handy blowtorch. I guess the guards don’t care if you bring in blowtorches to jail! Astro Boy then rips out of jail and blasts off to where Michele is. The ZZZ gang left her at the bottom of the cliff, so Astro Boy takes her home. Michele’s Dad also returns from the hospital at this time, with his arm in a sling. That’s pretty odd since he was shot in the back, but maybe it was one of those magic bullets. Michele doesn’t even hear her father enter, as she is too busy getting Astro Boy a coat and turban as a disguise so they can go to the airport. Yes, they are going to the airport by making Astro Boy look more like the stereotype of a terrorist! Still, this is 1959 or so. There is someone important arriving in the airplane, which is why the plot cares at this point.
Astro Boy and the rest meet the arriving dignitary. Also at the airport are some ZZZ goons, who all put on their ridiculous masks and thus broadcast how evil they are before they even get into position to do their evil plan. They move to capture the dignitary, but Astro Boy emerges to stop them (cue the Astro Boy Theme.) Astro Boy flies off with two of the ZZZ gang member goons (thus giving us a shot of a doll carrying two other dolls.) We then go back to the hospital, where Michele’s father is somehow in bed there explaining the whole thing to the police. The ZZZ goons arrive at the hospital, and Peg Leg and Fuhrer ZZZ are there as well. They go inside Michele’s Dad’s room, and then the big reveal – Fuhrer ZZZ is Michele’s Dad’s twin brother, played by the same actor! But the attending nurse was Astro Boy, and now another big fight happens where Astro Boy beats up everyone, including Peg Leg. The cops jump in and catch everyone.
There is a brief sequence where everyone explains everything, and then Fuhrer ZZZ asks his brother to forgive him. At the end, Astro Boy is out of costume and now just the actor playing him, he talks to the camera about something, probably how kids should be good and not fall off cliffs all the time when bad guys attack. There is a remix of the Astro Boy theme as the movie ends And we’re out of here! Hooray!
This movie is not enough to make me an Astro Boy fan. But I am a fan of wacky Japanese movies, so the film had its moments. Especially the costumes of the villains, their zany glasses made my day. I award Astro Boy bonus points for that!
Rated 7/10 (Goofy Art, MBS, Real Astro Boy, Father, Brother, Dolls, The End!)
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