aka ヘルドライバー aka Nihon bundan: Heru doraiba

Written by Yoshihiro Nishimura & Daichi Nagisa
Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura

Ah, Helldriver. How damn awesome are you? Pretty damn awesome! If you love the Japanese gore flicks where blood flows like an Old Faithful orgasm-quake covering everyone and everything as they scream, if you love films where zombies build things out of parts of other zombies like the world’s grossest Lego set, if you like chicks with chainsaw swords and cowboys in blade-covered trucks, if you like stories of loss and redemption and revenge, then Helldriver is a movie for you. Helldriver goes…FULL THROTTLE!! Ha! Okay, sorry, that will be the only car pun.

Another in the line of Sushi Typhoon crazed gore flicks, Helldriver features many of the repeat players along with some new leads. Yoshihiro Nishimura is the makeup effects wizard who also helmed Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, and a chapter in Mutant Girls Squad, along with a massive amount of makeup work in cult flicks. He keeps the tradition alive with Helldriver, and attempts to break new ground. Each of these features attempts to one-up the last one, going further and further over the top. But it’s important to be more than just gross. It must be entertaining. I’ve seen a few that haven’t been so hot. Helldriver is long, has a complicated back story, parts are redundant, and at least one part looks thrown in at the last minute just to add Asami to the cast list. But overall it is pretty cool and zips along.

Helldriver clocks in at almost 2 hours in length. Partially because they need to explain the setup, which is an alien zombie infestation that caused half of Japan to be walled off and the survivors forced to crowd into the remaining half, and the various cultural problems that it would result in (arguments over the rights of the infected, overcrowding and stranger families being forced to live together, lack of proper food, and an illicit drug trade based on the horns of the zombies, which can get you high but also randomly explode.) There is a brief bit of narration setting a lot of this up, then later Kika observes the same things herself after she’s revived.

Zombies play a major role in Helldriver, but Helldriver put some thought into their creation and mythos. This isn’t your standard Romero zombie where a brain shot kills them (thank goodness!), they are more of Return of the Living Dead zombies, but with one weak spot – a horn that grows out of their head. People were infected by breathing in an ash, which then dissipated after 6 million were infected. No one bitten becomes a zombie. Zombies are ripped apart and sewn together, creating new and horrible chimeras of destruction.

There is more than just the zombie element to Helldriver. There is a strong theme of family throughout the film. Many of the proponents of zombie rights have relatives who are infected. They even go so far as to bring body parts to their infected children to feed on. Kika has an adversarial relationship with her psychotic mother, Rikka, and her equally crazed brother Yasushi. Rikka literally becomes the zombie queen, and snatches away Kika’s heart just before she dies. Kika doesn’t die, both women are cocooned in space goo, Rikka becoming the queen while Kika being preserved until she’s revived by Japanese government and turned into an instrument of revenge. A generator is built into the hole in her chest, and it powers a chainsaw sword. She’s then abandoned until the powers that be can use her for their own ends to kill the queen. Her heart still lives in the chest of Rikka, cpnnecting the two together. Kika’s last memories are of her father being eaten and burned alive by her mother and uncle. Further flashbacks seem to imply that he was wheelchair bound as a result of their abuse, that everything the family ever had was taken by Rikka and Yasushi for their own. Rikka is so bad it is a wonder she ever even had a child, or a husband who is kind. But the family must have their reunion, Kika wants her heart back, wants to confront her mom for everything she’s done, and can’t ignore her because her mom can torture her through hurting her heart. Side characters deal with their own family issues, from missing relatives to ones that were killed by the zombies. These themes help build Helldriver into something bigger than it sounds like it would be, based on the title and premise.

And then it gets even more nuts when you figure out all the North/South Korea analogies!

Kika Miyata (Yumiko Hara) – Just your average girl from a troubled home whose psychotic mother eats her dad and tries to murder her just before being turned into a space zombie queen. Kika is then turned into a weapon of revenge against the zombie hordes, as she fights for the right to have her own life and be free of her mother. Easeir said than done, as her mom literally holds her heart in her chest. Yumiko Hara is awesome and can hit the right notes both in the action sequences and the family drama scenes. Nishimura uses how good she looks in action to great effect, there is plenty of visual eye candy.
Rikka Miyata (Eihi Shiina) – Crazed murderess cannibal turned zombie queen when a meteor crashes through her chest. Shiina plays Rikka as a mad goddess, dancing and spinning as the world burns around her, destruction and chaos is her playground. She does what she wants when she wants, and becoming a zombie only enhances her ego and lust for power. Eihi Shiina is a familiar face to cult cinema fans from Audition. Believe it or not, she has been in films where she’s not be a complete psychopath.
Yasushi Miyata (???) – Rikka’s brother and fellow crazy. Yasushi has a Nazi symbology thing going on, wearing Nazi patches and flags, and he even has a swastika burnt into his head by Kika (a la Charles Manson.) Is non-stop energy, a perpetual motion of manic crazy.
Kaito (Kazuki Namioka) – As Kika and her crew travel the zombie-infested wilderness, they are almost killed..until a cowboy shows up and saves them! Yes, a cowboy. Kaito here has been living in the infected zone after he found his wife dead. He even has an Ennio Morriconeish theme and drives around in a Helltruck, with giant blades on the front hood.
Taku (Yurei Yanagi) – Son of an orphanage runner who has resorted to harvesting drugs for money. Is saved by Kika when she first revives, and then he saves her. Is dealing with the legacy of his father, who was killed by one of the children he tried to save when it turned out to be a zombie.
No-name (???) – An orphan who barely talks and won’t give his name. All we know his he has a missing sister named Maya. And he fights with a giant blade.

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Revenge of the Zebra Miniskirt Police (Review)

Revenge of the Zebra Miniskirt Police

aka Zebura Minisuka Porisu no Gyakushuu aka ゼブラミニスカポリスの逆襲

Directed by Nishiumi Kenichiro

Revenge of the Zebra Miniskirt Police is a spinoff prequel to Zebraman 2. In the future of 2024, Tokyo is a crime-ridden cesspool, but Governor Kouzo has just come to power and has turned the town into Zebra City. He’s formed Zebra Police to clear the streets of criminals (and anyone else) with lethal force during Zebra Time, and just because we need to get 1000% more fascist, now Governor Kouzo is setting up his personal bodyguards, the Zebra Miniskirt Police!

The Zebra Miniskirt Police are three chicks in identical miniskirt uniforms that are way more fetish-driven than the normal fascist police military industrial complex uniforms used by the rest of the Zebra Police. Their black skirts are so short you see their white panties when they kick, because the black uniforms with white panties are zebra stripes…I guess. It’s hard to say that it’s symbolism, because Revenge of the Zebra Miniskirt Police is way more black and white than Zebraman 2 (pun both intended and not intended), but the uniform designs are probably from the parent film Zebraman 2 and not this spinoff. In any event, I’ve mentioned white panties often enough I’ll probably get some weird Google referrals. Hello, pervos, welcome to the site!

This is an origin film for the Zebra Miniskirt Police, because that is a story that demanded to be told. By someone. His name is Jerry. Go bother him. The three actresses chosen to star got the roles through a reality television series where Zebraman himself, Show Aikawa, choose the three women from 776 applicants. Thus they are mostly unknown models who have done little and will probably continue to do so.

Being a low budget direct to video affair, it shows blatantly. The makeup and production values are not up to par to the original film. The video even looks different, as it was shot on a different type of camera. Most of the money seemingly went into the action choreography, which is never a bad thing. The film is helmed by Nishiumi Kenichiro – Miike’s assistant director on Zebraman 2, but while Miike could have turned this low budget affair into something fun and excessive, Nishiumi Kenichiro plays it more straight and similar to a lot of the low-budget Japanese flicks I’ve seen in tone and in content. I don’t know if that was the order, or if Kenichiro just hasn’t learned enough from Miike. It basically turns into one of the hundreds of direct to video Japanese films produced each year for specific fetish audiences, this one for those who like seeing women beat up and have large bruise makeup all over them. That’s the only reason I can figure for the excessive bruise makeup. The tone is a mix of the depressing Cool Dimension and the blatant exploitation of Sukeban Fighter Misaki.

And once again, at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles!

Yumi Kisaragi (Miki Inase) – a former rebel cell member, whose group fought against the Governor’s power grabs. She lived as a poor girl in the slum with a bad attitude and computer hacking skills. Before all that, she had happy parents who were killed by the Zebra Police
Risako Yuki (Sayoko Ohashi) – Zebra Miniskirt Police recruit who is out to revenge a friend. Sayoko Ohashi is a model best known for appearing in the video game Need for Speed: ProStreet.
Yu Maki (Yuko Shimizu) – Zebra Minkskirt Police recruit who gets almost no characterization at all. And I can’t find any information on Yuko Shimizu, because she has the same name as the lady who created Hello Kitty!
Governor Aihara Kouzo (Guadalcanal Taka) – The crazed governor who converts Tokyo into Zebra City. Dresses like every day is Halloween!

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Zebraman 2 (Review)

Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City

aka Zeburaman: Zebura Shiti no gyakushu aka ゼブラーマン ゼブラシティの逆襲

Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Kankuro Kudo

Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City is Miike’s followup to the 2004 film Zebraman, and like Zebraman before it, the sequel takes what could have been a straight story about a guy dressing up as a tokusatsu hero to find himself and takes it in unexpected directions. Zebraman 2 goes far beyond its predecessor, and has so many things going on it that you will be blown away by the result. Miike takes inspiration from the black and white stripes of the zebra and spins it into a yarn about the duality of man, good and evil, but sets it in a futuristic dystopia with fascist imagery and an MTV sensibility. The film is just frakking crazy. And brilliant. Brilliantly crazy.

Miike has a lot of fun inverting color schemes while still keeping up the black and white dichotomy. Governor Aihara Kouzo dresses in an all-black version of Alex the droog’s costume from A Clockwork Orange, his footsoldiers wear mostly black (with a stylized white zebra face on their masks – both showing their zebra origins and showing where George Lucas got the design for General Grievous!) as they stomp their way through town. In contrast, the hospital that serves the victims of the Zebra Police is the White Horse at white horse, all white, everyone dresses in white. Zebraman becomes whiter and whiter, beginning with his hair, while ZebraQueen becomes increasingly blacker in costume as the film commences, even commenting on how she wants more black. As their powers develop and they become more of a threat to each other, the characters are threatened with becoming more striped, a sign of weakness as they strive for their more purified forms.

The video direction is great, the pop star videos of ZebraQueen are indistinguishable from the stuff that should be playing on MTV (if garbage like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom wasn’t polluting the airwaves and forcing us to retreat to YouTube to watch actual videos!) Zebraman 2 is like a hyperactive music video at times. The songs aide you in throwing you right into the crazy world of the future, making you just as disoriented as Ichikawa as he wakes up in a world he doesn’t know. The violent imagery of the video matches the violence he encounters in the street.

Shinichi Ichikawa (Show Aikawa) – Our hero awakens years later with no memory of being Zebraman nor any idea of where he is. Can he find the power to become Zebraman again?
Zebraman (Show Aikawa) – I guess so because Zebraman is in the Roll Call. Now he’s more white, and ready to fight crime and stop AIDS. Seriously.
Yui Aihara/ZebraQueen (Riisa Naka) – ZebraQueen, also known as Zebra Q, is the daughter of the governor of Zebra City and a Christina Aguilera-ish pop superstar. Just imagine if Lady Gaga bought a bunch of zebra items and Nazi costumes on sale at Ross that weekend and turned it into a music video. ZebraQueen is the evil version of Zebraman, and because the duality of man is a plot point, she’s a woman.
Kohei Asano (Masahiro Inoue) – Why, Asano from the previous film is all grown up as a Japanese Idol guy and changed his family name! And he runs the White Horse hospital to take care of victims of Zebra Time. And he’s just a nurse, not a real doctor. Masahiro Inoue has the lead role in the series Kamen Rider Decade
Junpei Ichiba (Naoki Tanaka) – A resistance guy who also played Zebraman in the revival tv series that happened and came up for the idea in the final episode. Wants to lead an army against the Zebra Time troopers, but the injured people he’s training couldn’t defeat a stuffed zebra.
Aihara Kouzo (Guadalcanal Taka) – governor Aihara Kouzo was in charge of cleaing up the school from the last film, and also responsible for treating Ichikawa over his stress that lead to Ichikawa awakening in 2025 Zebra City
Sumire (Mei Nagano) – She’s an Alien Girl who is the last batch of alien goo left in Zebra City. Thus, she’s been a target for years by the Governor. She’s 25, by the way.

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