Cutie Honey (2004)

An office worker by day, Honey Kisaragi (Erika Sato) has the extraordinary power of being able to change her appearance at will with a press of her heart necklace. She keeps her power up by eating copious amounts of her favourite food: onigiri. Her alter-ego Cutie Honey is a powerful crime-fighting superhero who as well as being able to transform into various costumes and disguises is virtually indestructible and fairly handy in a fight. When the Panther Claw group, led by Sister Jill along with her four supervillain underlings, Gold Claw, Cobalt Claw, Scarlet Claw and Black Claw, appear causing trouble, Cutie Honey steps in to save the day. She is assisted by Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa) and Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami).

Directed by Hideaki Anno (Love and Pop), the film revels in a hyperactive comic-book style. Rather than attempting to turn the fantastical premise into a real-world drama, it instead embraces its origins in manga and anime. The manga was written by Go Nagai and later adapted into several television series. The opening scenes, with outlandish costumes, wacky special effects-driven fight sequences, frenetic editing, and ridiculous levels of destruction setthe stage for much that is to follow. The film is an out-and-out comedy and there is rarely any serious threat or emotion on display. Cutie Honey is a likeable lead. Kisaragi is absent-minded, obsessed with onigiri, while Cutie Honey is strong, resourceful and more than capable of taking on the bad guys. A great performance and Erika Sato excels in both roles. There are also nods to the somewhat exploitative anime version with former model Sato either in the bath, or in her underwear. The supporting cast gleefully ham things up in this comedic melodrama. Cutie Honey is full of surprises, unrestrained by a desire to be realistic, such as when one villain introduces themselves with a song and dance number. The extravagant costumes of the villains show an attention to detail and a desire to faithfully recreate the feel of a live-action anime.

Cutie Honey has some great visual gags and is clearly aimed at a younger audience. An entertaining protagonist and the film’s sense of anarchic freedom gives it an exciting edge. A lot of live-action adaptations shy away from the silliness of their source material, whereas Anno embraces it, attempting at every turn to outdo the original and utilising every tool in his arsenal to do so. The character has a good, if predictable, message about friendship and doing the right thing. But it is surprisingly fitting for the character, whose admirable qualities outshine her apparent naiveite.

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Following a thrilling action packed opening sequence of an unknown creature emerging from Tokyo Bay and rampaging through the city streets, destroying buildings and forcing people to flee before it, various government departments must work to find out what it is and how to stop it. Their response will determine the fates of millions of citizens. Soon a task force of scientists and experts is set up to discover the nature of the being, led by government official Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) and his American counterpart, Kayoko Patterson (Satomi Ishihara). Together this team establishes that the creature seems to be radioactive and capable of rapidly evolving. The seemingly indestructible force, that they name Godzilla, continues on its destructive course, putting them in a race against time and raising difficult questions about how they deal with it.

Written and directed by Hideaki Anno (Evangelion, Love and Pop) with additional directing duties for Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan), the film wastes no time by getting straight to what people want to see: a giant creature knocking down buildings and terrorizing the population. This opening sequence is a great way to start as it gives the audience no time to settle and draws you right into the crisis rooms where they are scrambling to counter this unexpected catastrophe. Anno’s face paced directorial style works well to create a sense of panic and the script is perfect in evoking high level discussions on military response, scientific analysis, and the political considerations of the prime minister and his team. Throughout the pacing is good, giving us a couple of lulls in the action to establish characters and spell out more clearly what is happening and the import of the decisions they are taking. There are moments of humour throughout though the film never becomes a parody. It has a satirical edge that doesn’t undermine the drama, perfectly balancing a great action film with a more intelligent discussion on various real-world events. A great cast help to bring to life the script and it doesn’t shy away from complex explanations that help establish a sense of realism to the incredible concept. The use of large casts, in conference rooms and in action sequences works well to give the impression that this is something of incredible significance. Rather than a few isolated characters, there are always larger groups of people listening in or reacting to events. The scenes of Godzilla are exciting, increasing in scale and ferocity as the film progresses. Using a mixture of miniatures, practical and digital effects, the filmmakers create some incredible set-pieces, but always with one eye on the human element by cutting back to reaction shots or the smaller scale impact.

The film continues the tradition of the original Godzilla by creating an interesting subtext to the action. The monster is discovered to be radioactive, a theme that ties in with Japan’s recent Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. The way that government responds to this threat is especially poignant given the real world correlation. Shin Godzilla also appears to be a pointed attack on government incompetence and conservative mindset (evidenced by their consistent sidelining of a female expert who turns out to be correct in everything she suggests). It praises scientists, experts, and using intellect over raw firepower to overcome Godzilla. As with the original there is a discussion of the use of nuclear weapons, and an even more heavily emphasized consideration of Japan-America relations. It celebrates international co-operations, intelligence, warns of the threat of nuclear power while also acknowledging its benefits, and provides a satire of government inadequacies. However, all of these things tie into the story and are never forced. A fun, intelligent monster movie that succeeds on every level. Spectacular action sequences tempered by thoughtful exploration of the underlying themes.

Love & Pop (1998)

Based on a novel by Ryu Murakami (In the Miso Soup, Coin Locker Babies), “Love and Pop” tells the story of four high-school girls as they get involved in the world of “compensated dating”. The film’s protagonist is Hiromi (Asumi Miwa) who lives with her parents and younger sister. As the girls wander round the streets of Shinjuku they engage in the practice of compensated dating, where older men will pay them for their time. While out shopping, Hiromi spots an expensive ring that she would like to buy. Her friends agree to help her by going as a group to karaoke with a man. At the end of their date the man asks them each to chew a grape and spit it back into their hands. These he puts in sealed containers, asking them for a false name or high-school to attribute to each. Following the date Hiromi decides they should split the money, still leaving her short of the cash she needs to buy the ring. Heading off alone she finds other men to accompany and becomes involved in increasingly dangerous and sexualised situations.

Director Hideaki Anno, who also wrote the screenplay, is best known for his work on the anime series Evangelion. In “Love & Pop” it seems that his creative energy was focussed on the style, with Murakami’s story providing the structure. Utilising various unusual camera angles, switching aspect ratios, fish-eye lenses, cameras attached to cups, train-sets and more, help to create an endlessly inventive world that is in keeping with the minds of these young protagonists. You get the sense that you are seeing everything from their perspective, one that is vibrant, inventive, full of fun, curious, a little disorientating, but above all alive. The actresses all do a great job with their characters and you quickly learn to distinguish them by their particular traits. Tadanobu Asano also appears as a peculiar figure who communicates primarily with a stuffed animal.

The film is essentially a coming-of-age story. We see Hiromi grow up rapidly from a fun-loving teen to someone who realises the dangers that life presents. “Love & Pop” deals with the issue of “compensated dating” in an even-headed way, with most of their encounters being fairly mundane (albeit perhaps incomprehensible to people outside Japan), while not ignoring the inherent dangers of what they are doing. The men that approach them are portrayed as oddballs, but not psychopathic. Similarly the girls are rarely portrayed as victims, but bold, confident young women, despite a certain naivety or carelessness. Another of the themes, and one that I feel Anno particularly drew out, was that of communication and isolation. One sequence features two characters using sign-language to converse over train tracks, and much of the plot revolves around the use of a phone on which characters leave message which are later replied to by unknown men. Throughout there is the feeling that characters are speaking at one another rather than genuinely communicating. The friendship of the main characters is described not as them telling each other everything, but knowing when not to ask questions. The endless stream of voice messages on the phone are a tragic example of a multitude of people who are calling out for somebody to genuinely connect with. I would highly recommend this movie. The story is unique and it is layered with various themes that make it worth thinking about.