Stephen reviews: Black Jack (1996)

blackjack_1Black Jack [ブラックジャック] (1996)
AKA Black Jack: A Surgeon With the Hands of God

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Mayo Suzukaze, Yuko Mizutani, Ai Orikasa, Shin Aomori

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


Black Jack is one of my favorite Osamu Tezuka characters. Upon first reading the manga, I was struck by the parallels he had to American superheros. Just like a superhero, he has a code name while the general public has no idea what his real identity is. Just like a superhero, he operates outside the law, saving lives through a kind of vigilanteism. He has superhuman skills that allow him to perform amazing feats no one else can. He doesn’t quite have a cape, but he’s got a cool trenchcoat that looks like one. He’s even got a kid sidekick that he rescued from certain death. (One character in the film refers to Pinoko as his daughter, but that’s not actually true. However, her origin story is too complicated and irrelevant to the film to bother getting into here.) The only real difference is that Black Jack doesn’t fight crime; he fights disease.

He’s an unlicensed surgeon that can perform any surgery on pretty much any living creature, and his villains are the illnesses that threaten their lives. I wondered even after my first encounter with the character whether Tezuka was making a deliberate critique of the comic book superhero, or if it was all just a coincidence. There’s definitely something to be said about Black Jack’s inherently peaceful means of saving people. With the kinds of superpowers showcased in the comic book industry, why do they almost never seem to be used in constructive ways? A superhero claims to be saving the world, but even though that is true, saving the world usually turns out to be a massive fist fight that levels half of Manhattan. Was Tezuka subtly wagging a finger at the superhero genre for proclaiming violence as the sole means of solving the worlds problems by creating his own superhero that did the exact opposite? I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, but watching this movie made me contemplate these questions more than ever.

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Stephen reviews: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

36672_280812_112738Space Adventure Cobra [スペースアドベンチャー コブラ Cobra Gekijōban] (1982)

Starring Shigeru Matsuzaki, Akiko Nakamura, Toshiko Fujita, Jun Fubiki, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Reiko Tajima, Akira Kume, Goro Mitsumi

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


The ’80s were a magical time, as anyone who lived through the era can attest. Space Adventure Cobra got an extra dose of that special charm, and if you’re a fan of that time period you will love it. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it got an extra dose of ’70s charm (another magical era all its own), since the manga it is based upon began in that decade. Cobra is a bizarre psychedelic space opera filled with over-the-top action and a heaping mountain of sexy girls in varying degrees of undress. Sense? We don’t need sense. We have crazy-awesome, and that’s even better.

The space pirate Cobra is famed for being the only guy who can transform his left arm into a psycho gun, which is apparently pretty damn powerful. But since he pissed off just about everybody in the galaxy, he’s racked up the largest bounty ever. So Cobra has decided to lie low for a while. But he falls for Jane, a beautiful bounty hunter that’s been tracking him down. Turns out she wants his help rescuing her sister from prison. Cobra is eager to please, even though it means showing his face again and tangling with his old rival, Crystal Boy. If you think that name’s a little too cheesy, there are other translations that call him Crystal Bowie, but screw that shit; I’ll take my ’80s action adventures with extra cheese, thank you.

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Stephen reviews: A Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose (1983)

553689-primerose_largeA Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose [タイムスリップ 10000 年 プライム・ローズ] (1983)

Starring Yuu Mizushima, Mari Okamoto, Junko Hori, Katamasa Komatsu, Kaneto Shiozawa, Shuuichi Ikeda, Yuusaku Yara

Directed by Osamu Dezaki & Satoshi Dezaki


It’s time for another Osamu Tezuka film, and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now. The few images I had seen of it convinced me that it was going to be crazy, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s very unusual for a Tezuka film, and I’m a bit flummoxed on what to think of it. For one thing, it has virtually no cameos of other Tezuka characters. I only noticed one small appearance by Ban Shunsaku, and the cast felt somewhat lonely without the usual ensemble of familiar faces.

The film also has a much more defined narrative flow. The other Tezuka films I’ve reviewed have all bounced between tangents in a manner that anyone unfamiliar with his works would likely find jarring. But Prime Rose rarely deviates from its central course. The comedy elements are also downplayed a bit. It has plenty, but the jokes don’t saturate the film in the same way that they do in most Tezuka stories.

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Stephen reviews: Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1998)

golgo13queenbee_1Golgo 13: Queen Bee [ゴルゴ 13: Queen Bee] (1998)

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Masako Katsuki, Kinryuu Arimoto, Ryusei Nakao, Mugihito

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


I’m trying to think of what I can say that I didn’t already say in my review of the first Golgo 13 anime (which is not the first Golgo film; there were also two live-action films from the ’70s). The two are very similar. This is all the more impressive for the 15-year gap between the two. I could point out a certain science fiction trilogy that had a similar time gap between it and its sequel trilogy, and that one didn’t turn out so good at all, even though it too kept the original director on board. But Osamu Dezaki brings back the stoic assassin as if not a day has gone by.

As such, you’ll probably enjoy, or hate, Queen Bee as much as you did the original. It’s still filled with sex and violence. Golgo is still the silent badass that always gets the job done, and gets a few ladies done along the way. If anything, it feels even more like an ’80s film than The Professional since the second half of Queen Bee sends Golgo to duke it out with a drug cartel in a South American jungle.

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Stephen reviews: Undersea Super Train: Marine Express (1979)

marineexpress_1Undersea Super Train: Marine Express [海底超特急マリン・エクスプレス Kaitei Chō Tokkyū Marine Express] (1979)
AKA Seabed Express

Starring Junichi Takeoka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa, Mari Shimizu, Hisashi Katsuta, Fumi Koyama, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kaneta Kimotsu, Toshiko Ota

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


I’ve got another Osamu Tezuka film lined up for you. Marine Express doesn’t have the same crazy aliens that Bander Book reveled in, but it still has all the wacky antics that gave Bander Book its charm. It also has a more cohesive plot that more than makes up for any lack of strange wonders.

It starts out as a murder mystery in which the bodies dissolve into nothing, making it difficult for detective Ban Shusaku to convince people the murders are actually happening. The short, pudgy detective takes on the mysterious assailant in an epic martial arts battle that leaves trees broken and toppled. Old ’70s animation couldn’t keep this scene from being fantastic fun and it immediately absorbed me into the film, and the rest of the movie kept me just as eager to keep watching.

When Ban later sees one of the villains board the experimental Marine Express, he slips aboard himself. The Marine Express is taking its first test run across the bottom of the ocean from California to Japan, and the whole affair is fraught with skulduggery, hijackings and more recurring Tezuka characters than I could count.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Undersea Super Train: Marine Express (1979) →

Stephen reviews: The Professional: Golgo 13 (1983)

The Professional: Golgo 13 [ゴルゴ13] (1983)

Starring Tetsuro Sagawa, Goro Naya, Reiko Muto, Toshiko Fujita, Kumiko Takizawa, Koichi Chiba, Kousei Tomita, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Shingo Kanemoto

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


A decade before Leon, it was a Japanese hit man called Golgo 13 that had “The Professional” added to the title of his film for its U.S. release. This long-ago spy thriller follows the adventures of a blue spectacled badass as he scours the globe, taking out hits on various high-level political and criminal leaders, and earning one huge grudge along the way.

Unlike Leon, Golgo’s story is not one to delve into the human psyche, or even delve into his personality at all. Golgo remains a calm and controlled professional at all times, and has the sex appeal to make every girl in the room swoon on sight. So he really bears more resemblance to James Bond than Leon, though Bond has more personality and flare. Golgo handles every situation, no matter how unexpected, with the same stoic and taciturn demeanor, even when having sex, which he does at every opportunity. It’s rather humorous to see him sit there as if he isn’t even interested while the girls flail and moan in uncontrollable ecstasy.

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Stephen reviews: Champion Joe (1980)

Champion Joe [あしたのジョー, Ashita no Jō] (1980)
AKA Tomorrow’s Joe, Rocky Joe, Joe

Starring Teruhiko Aoi, Shigeyoshi Fujioka, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Fumi Dan, Shirō Kishibe

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


Joe is one of the most iconic and recognizable characters in all of anime. The series was so popular that when one of the characters died, a real funeral was held, with a Buddhist monk presiding and several hundred mourners attending. I’m no expert on funeral customs for fictional characters, but this is the only time I have ever heard of one.

Champion Joe is a tale of a young man’s rise in professional boxing, and as with any sports drama, it has its share of intense training sessions. It’s got improvised punching bags (a tipped over mattress, not a slab of beef), jogging (on dirt roads, you’re more likely to sprain something on pavement), and plenty of jump rope. This naturally invites comparison to Stallone’s iconic Rocky films. In fact, the comparison is so unavoidable that some western fans even refer to it as Rocky Joe.

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