Zebraman (Review)


aka Zeburaman aka ゼブラーマン

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.

In the far far future of 2010, weird things are going on! (Hey, 2010 was the far far future back in 2004!) There are giant fish, men in animal masks robbing stores, and alien sightings. Freaking aliens, ruining everything. Alien goo is taking over people, giving them glowing green eyes. And don’t think it’s like the black oil from the X-Files, this is green. A totally different color. The government has their own alien investigation crew who are a complete Ghostbuster inspiration – they have an Eco-1-ish car, flamethrowers that look like proton packs, and their lab has slime everywhere in containers. But they aren’t the focus of the story…

Shinichi Ichikawa is a mild-mannered schoolteacher, with a wife who has better things to do than pay attention to him, a teenage daughter that sleeps with older men for money, and a young son who thinks he’s a loser. Shin’ichi escapes from his depressing life by dressing up as the old 1970s tokusatsu hero Zebraman!

Things begin to change at school with a new student, a wheelchair bound kid named Asano Shinpei, who also is a fan of the Zebraman tv series, which at this point is remembered by only a small group of cult fans. The flashback commercial trailer for the series we see as Ichikawa remembers looks exactly like an old school tokusatsu commercial.

This shared love inspires Ichikawa to improve his Zebraman costume. He is so proud of his work, he rushes out to show Asano in the middle of the night. But he gets lost, and hears a scream. A criminal with a crab hat is attacking a girl (this same criminal is one of the men his daughter is sleeping with, but Ichikawa is unaware of that fact) and Ichikawa suddenly has super strength and agility to fight the crab man. He beats him up, zebra style – that’s where he’s black and white and black and blue all over! The next morning investigators find the crab man’s dead body with a big hole in the head, filled with green goo.

Next night, another bad guy and another beatdown. Repeat as Zebraman gets more confident and takes on increasingly evil foes. Asano and his single mother also begin to become a surrogate family for Ichikawa, replacing the family that he does have that has no respect for him.

After some research with Asano, Ichikawa starts to get used to his role as Zebraman. Then he sees a mutated crab guy at the house, who grows to giant size and chops off Zebraman’s arm! But don’t worry…Zebra Nurse is here! She will heal your pain. And looks exactly like Asano’s mom. But it’s all a dream.

The slime is an ever-present threat, soon taking over a group of schoolkids, who then go on a rampage against a shopowner. One of the infected kids is Ichikawa’s son. Zebraman quickly snatches him away, but the slime is making him sick. Asano’s mom helps take care of the sick son, but a montage is quick to show us that the slime continues to cause problems, from green babies to slime creatures to a giant building filled with slime. It’s like Slimer’s wet dream up in Tokyo!

Ichikawa and Asano get scripts to unproduced episodes of Zebraman from a fellow schoolteacher named Professor Kyoto who was researching the alien green slime conspiracy before he died. The scripts contain all of the weird things that have been going on lately. The theory is that aliens crashed and began using Zebraman scripts as their outline to take over the world, and Professor Kyoto was one of the original aliens from the UFO who was human too long and begun to have feelings and regrets about their actions.

The finale of the series was to have Zebraman stop the aliens by flying up into the sky. However, Ichikawa cannot fly, and when he goes into the woods to practice flying, the subsequent falling does nothing but make his costume very raggedy. The alien slime menace continues, as the junior high school is flooded with slime. One of the government investigators gets Ichikawa to fight the slime at the school, and if he can’t do anything, they will blow it up, endangering everyone. And the slime has captured Asano.

Zebraman fights little slime guys, who are easy to defeat by themselves, but they soon start combining into larger slime men who are harder to defeat. Magic and the power of punching cause Zebraman’s raggedy costume to become a new modern tokusatsu costume. He rescues Asano with the little slimes in pursuit. They combine to form a gigantic slime monster. We shall call him…Snotzilla!

Zebraman must fly…and must believe he can fly, even though all he has done is hover for two seconds. Listen to R. Kelly, Zebraman! Believe you can touch the sky. Think about it every night and day. But be quick about it, because there is a giant freaking slime monster!

Zebraman soars, flies, and dodges laser blasts from the giant slime monster. Zebraman even turns into a zebra pegasus and carves a huge Z in the forehead of the slime. This Z carving causes the giant slime monster to crack and explode. Remember, kids, the mortal enemy of slime is the letter Z!

Shinichi Ichikawa is now a hero, and getting the recognition from his family and the public he though he wanted when he was a nobody. He’s gotten everything he dreamed of, but the reality it is more than he thought. He’s still unsure how to handle the public adoration. And that’s the story of Zebraman. Until the sequel. Which we will get to….shortly!

Rated 8/10 (Toei, crabhead, keychain, goo head, crab man, show goons, frankenface, stripe time!)

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