I think that most of us, in some way, need to pay attention to a film’s aim and if it nails it or not. It’s a different story when films aim for everything – the nature of the human condition and humanity’s place in the universe. Filmmakers master the feat, as Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch did with “2001: a Space Odyssey” and “Mulholland Drive,” respectively. Otherwise, they end up lost in the clouds, such as Terrence Malick with “Tree of Life” and Lars von Trier with “Antichrist.” Honestly, have there ever been more pretentious titles (and approaches) in filmmaking? Both men have sent their projects to the respective afterlives – i.e., by murdering their films.
As for filmmakers with smaller targets, if they nail ’em, we’re satisfied. I’m glad to see that the filmmaking team behind the Japanese film Karate Robo-Zaborgar did just that. While they have a risky endeavor (especially for viewers in their homeland) of remaking a popular 1970s television series, the project is a fast-paced, well-handled diversion. True, you won’t find much time to think about it while watching, especially if you catch it on the festival circuit, as it moves on from a recent screening at the summer version of the Danger After Dark festival in Philadelphia. And even if you catch up with it up DVD eventually – I hope it sees a release in the US – the pause button will offer you little time to reflect.
The people and cyborgs are a hoot, but the robots take the spotlight. Wisely, the new film chooses to tribute its inspiration with analog robots that capture that old-time, cheesy fun. The title character is a fresh breath of air in another summer oppressed by Michael Bay. While his Transformers exhaust CGI into the dust, Karate Robo-Zaborgar‘s have all the personality that Bay’s idiot-bots lack, thanks to a human cast that shows 100% belief in their non-human counterparts. In a snap of stop-motion collapse, the robots transform into motorbikes, their heads propped under the windshield. The sensibility of the villainous bots is in the toilet – one spits bile and another is associated with “the runs” – but the costumed actors playing them dance through the fight sequences right in sync with the camera. Like the others, director Noboru Iguchi’s title robot appears deployed for action, but its pathos nearly upstages the other actors. They realize this and respect their costars. I’d guess that depth of field and movement were well thought out beforehand, and on the set Iguchi, effects specialist Tsuyoshi Kazuno and cinematographer Yasutaka Nagano fine-tuned their vision into perfection. It’s fast, funny, and a pleasure for the eye. In my mind, that’s a triumph of popcorn-crunching entertainment.