Takashi Miike might be best known for boundary-stretching yakuza flicks (the Triad Society trilogy, the Dead or Alive trilogy, Ichi the Killer, Gozu, etc.), uncompromising horror (Audition, Imprint), out-there domestic 'dramas' (Visitor Q, The Happiness of the Katakuris) and more recently jidaigeki (13 Assassins, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai), but of late he has also found room in his massive filmography for children's films, with The Great Yokai War (2005), Ninja Kids! (2011) and between them Yatterman (2009).
Yatterman may strike British viewers as just another camp oddity from the prolific filmmaker, but for Japanese viewers who grew up with the Japanese anime TV series on which it is based (108 episodes between 1977 and 1979, and a remake series that ran in 2008-9), this live-action colorgasm of postmodern kitsch is steeped in a cultural nostalgia that enabled it to top the Japanese box office in its opening week.
Not that Yatterman isn't odd anyway. By having squeaky-clean (if mildly lecherous) teen hero Gan (Sakurai Sho), his 'annoying' girlfriend Ai (Fukuda Saki) and their clockwork canine Yatterwoof "transform", as the film's narrator puts it, "into Yatterman every Saturday at 6.30pm" for a weekly showdown against Doronbo gang leader Doronjo (Fukada Kyoko) and her devoted henchmen Boyacky (Namase Katsuhisa) and Tonzra (Kobayashi Kendo), Yatterman knowingly clings to (and deconstructs) the repetitive, episodic structure of the TV show, with the Doronbo gang even declaring in upbeat resignation (and in song!): "We get beaten over and over / but we don't care at all / We're immortal!" In other words, all the gravity-defying, whizz-bang fight sequences of Yatterman bring with them both an inevitability and an ennui that are (improbably) familiar from Miike's numbing exploration of male violence, Izo (2004).
Under punishing orders from mysterious 'God of Thieves' Skullobey, the Doronbos use mechas (of ingenious if implausible design) to do trans-global battle with Yatterman for possession of the macguffinesque Skull Stone's fragments. As in the cartoon series, these robo wars unfold in the name-altered locations of an alternative world ('Tokyoyo', 'Narway', 'Ogypt', the 'Southern Halps') – and Miike stays true to his film's cartoon origins, dressing his sequences in abundant day-glo CGI that recalls the fantasy universes of Speed Racer, the Spy Kids franchise and The Residents music videos far more than anything approaching photorealism.
The resulting confection may be lurid, treacly overkill for the eyes, but the the story's innate good-versus-evil wholesomeness, not to mention its grating cutesiness, is constantly offset by outrageously inappropriate Miike touches and subversive humour. The Doronbo gang's buxom 'Bridesmaidiot' mecha, complete with 'Titty Machine Guns', seduces an overtly excited Yatterwoof into a hot, climactic Liebestod (her final, explosive words: "I'm coming"). Skullobey possesses Indy-like archaeologist Dr Kaieda (Abe Sadao) by sitting on his face. Jealous, frustrated Ai's weapon of choice is referred to as a 'tickle stick' (and looks decidedly dildo-like). 'Operation Mecha Puberty' causes the Doronbos' mini fish robots to transform into over-sized, self-destructive embodiments of adolescent recalcitrance. Dream sequences reveal that Boyacky fantasises about painting Doronjo's toenails on a giant human pyramid formed from "every single schoolgirl in the country", and that Doronjo herself secretly yearns to play devoted, pregnant housewife to Gan's masked salaryman. Indeed she never seems sure whether to kiss or kill her nemesis.
All this adds up to a bizarre, if self-consciously broad and boring, blend of gleeful teen perkiness and sniggering adult wrongness – perhaps best viewed on a sugar high or acid trip.