2004, Movie, NR, 110 mins


If not quite as family-friendly as prolific, genre-hopping Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike's THE GREAT YOKAI WAR (2005), this superhero spoof scripted by Kankuro Kudo comes close.

Yokohama, 2010: Japan is under attack by alien invaders, but the government is hushing up the real reason for a recent plague of strange happenings and grisly murders for fear of starting a panic. As government agents Oikawa and Segawa (Atsuro Watabe, Koen Kondo) surreptitiously scour the country in search of the alien headquarters, mild-mannered third-grade teacher Shinichi Ichikawa's (Sho Aikawa) can't help but wonder where his life went so terribly wrong. His students hate him and take it out on his meek son, Kazuki. His colleagues have no respect for him, his teenage daughter, Midori (Yui Ichikawa), spends her afternoons picking up older men, and his wife is having an affair. Ichikawa's only happiness comes from retreating into his childhood love of a TV superhero named Zebraman; sadly, Zebraman was no more popular than Ichikawa, and his 1978 show was canceled after only seven episodes. Still, Ichikawa has stitched himself up a handsome Zebraman suit and likes to imagine a secret life of fighting crime and protecting the helpless. When he discovers that one of his little charges — wheelchair-bound transfer student Shinpei Asano (Naoki Yasukochi) — is also devoted to this obscure TV character, Ichikawa decides to give him a thrill by arranging for him to meet Zebraman in the flesh. Ichikawa puts on his costume and makes his way to the Asano home, only to find himself in a dark alley, face-to-face with the crab-masked killer who's been terrorizing local women. Ichikawa/Zebraman takes on the villain and lands a lucky kick: To his combined delight and horror, his opponent melts into a puddle of green slime. Matters go from silly to sillier as the green-slime aliens possess local residents — including, in one memorable scene, Ichikawa's entire class — and Ichikawa becomes more deeply invested in his alter ego. Though Ichikawa isn't a full-fledged superhero, he's got some kind of connection to the aliens — his hair rises into a bristly zebra mane when they're in the vicinity — and he's getting the strength to battle them from somewhere.

Goofy, raunchy and very Japanese, Miike's film will probably play best to fanboys who love Power Rangers and Ultraman — and there are plenty of them to go around. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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