Yatta! Yatta! Yatterman doesn’t compromise in its quest to be as accurate an adaptation as possible, to both its benefit and its detriment.
Formula. It’s often given a bad rep. You’ll read television shows or films be derided because they’re formulaic. We’ve seen it all before, show us something new. But sometimes, something new isn’t what we want.
I grew up with some of the most formulaic TV in existence: MacGyver, Pokemon, House, The A-Team: all of these shows went through the exact same phases week after week, with The A-Team taking the prize for the most straightforward and predictable TV since Lucy Ricardo decided she’d get a job at a candy factory. For some properties, this is exactly what the show needs. And like a favourite meal after a long day you got exactly what you expected, sometimes with a couple of twists to the formula, but otherwise with nothing changed.
So where does Yatterman come in? Yatterman was an anime that aired from 1977 to 1979 about two kids – Gan Takada (aka Yatterman #1, played by Sho Sakurai) and his girlfriend Ai Kaminari (aka Yatterman #2 played by Saki Fukuda) who ride giant mecha in order to stop the villainous Doronbo Gang from riding their own giant mecha and stealing magical Skull Stones, which can probably do something incredibly powerful. This happens every single week without fail.
We’ve seen in the past film adaptations of these kinds of shows fail because the nature of film and the nature of TV generally don’t gel: they are different mediums that tell their stories in entirely different ways. The recent film adaptation of the A-Team didn’t work not because of a lack of trying, but because it spent its entire running time telling their origin story and not doing anything the opening narration promised – and then it went and ruined everything by having the Faceman come up with the big plan and even say Hannibal’s catchphrase. The film did not feel like the show, and suffered for it. For Yatterman, director Takashi Miike seemed to know all of this coming in, and decided the best thing to do was roll with the punches.
The result is a film that looks, feels and acts exactly like an episode of the anime. The film packs on the meta-humour at the beginning and the end to reassure us that it knowswhat it’s doing, even going as far as to include voiceover and dialogue that informs us that they do this “each week”. Not to mention that even though the film concludes in a quite decisive way, there’s a post-credits scene that serves as a fake teaser for “next week’s episode”.
Takashi Miike is not a man known for his half-measures, and no expense is spared in making Yatterman look exactly like its anime counterpart. The costumes and casting is spot on, and the props and sets fuse the colourful lunacy of anime with the dullness of reality perfectly. It’s definitely a fine-looking film, if a bit visually overbearing at times. I’ve never seen an episode of the show in my life, but after watching this, I feel like I’ve seen every season.
What makes it work is that it doesn’t exactly play out like an extended episode – it’s almost like two or three long episodes strung together, made all the more obvious by the fact that plot kind of repeats itself about halfway through. After our heroes travel halfway across the world and defeat the Doronbo gang (who created a weird themed mecha after having funded it through bizarre, overblown means), it all starts again: the Doronbo fund their mecha via convoluted scheme, they travel somewhere, Yatterman follow and they fight. The big dog mecha releases a bunch of little animal mecha (just got with it), that defeats the bad guy’s mecha and at the end it doesn’t seem to matter that the humans were there at all because the robots did all the fighting anyway. By the time the movie finishes, you don’t get the impression of having seen a movie at all, except in a few select moments I can’t help but imagine were created to make it seem more like a theatrical experience and both of them take away from the finished product.
The first is the final fight scene which takes up a good thirty-five-to-forty minutes: It’s overly long, a mess of CG robots and weird set pieces and gets a bit boring after a while. The second is a romance subplot that goes practically nowhere, although it is one of the only times we see either one of the heroes show any kind of personality. See, while Sakurai and Fukuda do a decent job in their roles, the characters are inherently boring. It’s the Doronbo gang that really shines, and definitely the ones the audience are going to see. Kyoko Fukada plays Doronjo, the leader of the gang while her bumbling goons are played by Kendo Kobayashi and Katsuhisa Namase, and good grief are they fun to watch. All three actors are having an absolute blast playing the roles and their chemistry really shows on screen.
At the end of the day, Yatterman is a faithful adaptation of an anime that aired forty years ago, and is beginning to show its age. It’s beyond silly, featuring many songs (despite not being a musical), but it’s hard to take your eyes off. The formula is fun to watch, and the tongue-in-cheek self-aware humour stops the film from becoming unbearable but despite its neat visuals – the CG isn’t terrible, it’s played more for laughs than believability – the story is not all that compelling and it definitely starts to overstay its welcome fifteen minutes too early.
Verdict: It’s a lot of fun to watch, but maybe you’re better off turning on the show for a couple of episodes.