aka Zeburaman: Zebura Shiti no gyakushu aka ゼブラーマン ゼブラシティの逆襲
2010 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.
2004 Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Kankuro Kudo
If you know anything about cult cinema, you know Takashi Miike is awesome. Miike is always firing with all cylinders, and even on his weaker efforts he never does a half-assed job or sleepwalks through a film. Miike hops genres like Q*bert down a pyramid, able to make the most disgustingly violent film you’ve ever seen and follow that up with a kiddie flick. Zebraman is a love letter to tokusatsu heroes, particularly those from the 70s and 80s on Japanese television. Miike takes a fictitious hero and series and turn it into much more than just a simple tokusatsu film. It becomes a tale of finding yourself, of destiny, of belief, and about doing what’s right because you’re a hero. And it also has a guy riding a flying zebra while battling a giant goo monster. Zebraman takes these conventions and has fun with them, turning some deadly serious and others into more ridiculous fare than they’re treated by the real tokusatsu shows.
The fun with Zebraman is how all these different conventions and story bits add up to create a good story, despite the difference in tone and style. It’s a testament to Miike’s talent that he can take so many differently shaped parts and put together the puzzle with no missing pieces. My biggest fault with Zebraman is that the sequel outshines it at every turn. But I’ll worry about that when the review of the sequel goes up. For now, let’s learn about the man, the myth, the hero, Zebraman!
Shinichi Ichikawa (Show Aikawa) – Mild-mannered teacher who lets his wife and children walk all over him. Has no respect at home, so he retreats into his costume of Zebraman.
Zebraman (Show Aikawa) – Old 1970’s tokusatsu hero that Ichikawa was a fan of, tothe point where he made a Zebraman costume when he was grown and wears it to feel good about himself. Ichikawa then starts getting involved in incidents that match aspects of the old show as things develop.
Shinpei Asano (Naoki Yasukochi) – New student in a wheelchair that becomes Ichikawa’s new friend due to their common love of Zebraman. Becomes a surrogate son to Ichikawa.
Kana Asano (Kyoka Suzuki) – A nurse who is Shinpei’s mother and becomes a surrogate partner to Shinichi Ichikawa, and also becomes Zebra Nurse in his fantasies. Kyoka Suzuki is somewhere in Godzilla vs. Biollante
Kazuki (Yoshimasa Mishima) – Shinichi Ichikawa’s son who has no respect for his father. But once dad starts showing some heroics and saves him from alien goo possession, things will change between father and son.
Goo aliens (Yoshimasa Mishima) – Crazy aliens that are using the plot of the original Zebraman tv show to take over the planet. Their goo gets into people and corrupts them. They also can form the goo into monsters of increasing size.