HOFF 2011: KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR Review

(As it just played at the Haapsalu Film Festival we're reprinting our review, originally published for the IFFR this year)
Known primarily for making films which contain buckets of blood and some naughtiness (or sometimes the other way round even), Iguchi's latest "Karate-Robo Zaborgar" seems to be aimed at a different audience. For starters it's a remake of a popular television series from the 1970s and made with a decent budget.

Is it a wholesome film for the entire family though? Read on!


The Story:

An evil secret society called Sigma kidnaps Japan's political and business leaders, to harvest DNA for the creation of their Ultimate Weapon. Sigma's only serious opponent: secret agent Yutaka Daimon with his faithful robot motorcycle sidekick Zaborgar. Daimon has a personal vendetta against Sigma as they killed his father, but he starts doubting his mission when the people he protects turn out to be cowardly and corrupt. Disaster strikes when Daimon starts to have romantic feelings for Miss Borg, a sexy cyborg agent from Sigma, leading to a split between Daimon and Zaborgar.

As Sigma rises to destroy the world, will Daimon be able to repair the trust between him and his motorcycle to once again fight evil together?


The Film:

Although it's based on an existing television series which aired in Japan in the 1970s, "Karate-Robo Zaborgar" is very much a Noboru Iguchi film. Because even though distributor Nikkatsu had basically ordered him to skip his trademark gore and / or erotic content, from the moment a sword-wielding robot ploughs through an army of policemen to plant a skull-deforming kiss on its target you know that... well, Nikkatsu's message may not have reached the director completely intact. Especially as the robot is controlled by a bikini-clad (and VERY busty) cyborg.

Thing is, it's hard for Iguchi to just focus on making his film sillier than the original series was. Zaborgar is mostly remembered for having a hero who was not a human changing into a hero, but a robot who changed into a vehicle (and therefore thought to be a precursor to the Transformers-craze a decade later). The original series looks impossibly dated when seen today. Imagine the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers done straight-faced and serious. Brrrr....

On the other hand, because of the series' inherent outdatedness it would be a bit too easy to just spoof it, also because Miike Takashi already did the perfect send-up of this whole genre a few years back with "Zebraman".

But Noboru Iguchi is a smart guy so he did something different. For the first ten minutes or so, his "Karate-Robo Zaborgar" seems to take the path of the easy spoof (kissing droids notwithstanding), complete with Daimon doing his Bruce Lee routine whenever he needs to put the karate in the title. The stereotypes are all so well known that ten minutes is all what is needed to completely paint the Zaborgar universe.

And that's when Iguchi really starts to have fun with his source material, stretching it beyond any known boundaries. Were you ever disturbed by changes to Spiderman in the movies, when compared to the original comics? Or Batman? Did the Superman in "Superman Returns" lose you because he had a son? All I can say is: this is your movie. "Karate-Robo Zaborgar" wipes the floor with every "extreme character change" ever incorporated into a movie script, mercilessly spoofing anything a scriptwriter can come up with, and the end result is often hilarious.

It helps that Nikkatsu put some real money in this as well. Believe it or not, the film includes some real pyrotechnical explosions. Wow! This must be a first for Iguchi.
And during the final monster-fight, there are a couple of extra layers of compositing added to the usual cheapo-looking destruction, making it all look suitably epic.

I always wonder when the splattergore joke stops. How long can Iguchi and Nishimura come up with new ways to make their one big gimmick interesting? But "Karate-Robo Zaborgar" shows that even without their signature gallons of blood, they are able to entertain an audience.


Conclusion:

By now genre fans know what to expect from director Noboru Iguchi, and those who feared that his newest would be a watered-down version of his usual deranged vision need be afraid no longer. "Karate-Robo Zaborgar" is just as unhinged as Iguchi's other recent output, and while there may be less entrails and blood geysers this time, the overall sense of fun is still there.

Those expecting a loving tribute to the television series may be in for a nasty surprise, but fans of Iguchi and Nishimura's brand of madness will be delighted.
And this time, everyone else is invited as well.
"Karate-Robo Zaborgar" comes highly recommended for everyone who likes a bit (or a lot) of silliness in their cinema.
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