5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: Cutie Honey The Movie!
There are many things one has to worry about when sitting to watch a movie based on a different medium, especially when that medium is comic books. One task is to make the movie honor its source material while not making it feel like a children’s movie or being overly silly. At the same time a comic movie shouldn’t feel maudlin, unless it is some obscure indie comic that was maudlin to begin with. There needs to be action, drama and even a hint of romance with an actual story that links those elements together. Maybe this is what is wrong with so many comic book movies. They are failing to make the connection with all of the elements to make their stories cohesive and pop. Now what if the point of a comic book movie is to play up the campy angle. Remind the audience of the movie’s comic book roots and characters? What if the approach is to be as over the top and outrageous as the source material?
This brings us to Hideaki Anno’s interpretation of Cutie Honey. Cutie Honey is a manga by renowned writer/artist Go Nagai that ran in comic form from 1973-74. Of course Nagai was a hot commodity at this time, having rolled out such works as Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School), Devilman and the mighty Mazinger Z. Cutie Honey was Nagai’s take on the Magical Girl genre first set forth by “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka’s Ribon No Kishi (Princess Knight). Nagai combined the Magical Girl genre with elements of Pygmalion and Asimov’s Laws of Robotics along with just enough T&A to create one of the most enduring Japanese Pop Culture icons. Now add into this Hideaki Anno, he who traumatized many Otaku in both the east and west with Neon Genesis Evangelion. One semi-brilliant anime director taking on, arguably, Go Nagai’s most popular character. What could go wrong?
Well the truth is very little. Anno may have made one of the most depressing anime of all time but his approach to doing a live action Cutie Honey is very simple. Anno knew that to make a “serious” Cutie Honey movie was pretty much a futile thing. Cutie Honey is sexy and fun and just a bit campy in its 70s approach to things. Updating Cutie Honey has been tried before with mixed results. So instead of something serious or something as drastic as a re-imagining of the concept Anno opted to keep the absurdity of everything that encapsulates Cutie Honey and puts it to film. Yes, there is copious CGI used throughout this movie but they only enhance the camp vibe the movie gives off. Gravure model Eriko Sato plays Honey Kisaragi with such charm and goofiness that you can’t help but adore her. This despite her voice can get exceedingly high-pitched at times. Like so high-pitched she could probably summon dolphins.
There is no reason this movie should be any good. It is totally juvenile, violent and exploitive towards women. The thing is all those elements make me LOVE Cutie Honey The Movie as much as I love Cutie Honey in all her anime and manga forms. Look at it this way, If Takashi Miike was giving us a cautionary tale about exploitation with Audition, then Hideaki Anno is saying “Exploitation is a 2-way street so just enjoy the ride”. The movie has good action scenes, a razor-thin plot and an amply endowed Japanese Gravure Model running around in a menagerie of costumes, many of which get strategically ripped throughout the course of the movie. This is exploitation I can get behind!
Now I am not saying Cutie Honey is some classic example of great film making but I can think of far worse ways to spend 90 minutes of my life. Not all movies need to be taken seriously and Anno proves this by taking a ludicrous and somewhat dated concept and turning it into a zany, fun romp of a movie. Not everything has to be analyzed by a classroom of pretentious film students and compared to the work of Bergman. Sometimes all you need is a movie to be fun, intentionally fun at that. This is exactly why I’ve included Cutie Honey in 5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See. 2LDK is about bad interpersonal relationships with 2 women seeking to be exploited, while Audition is about the misguided revenge of one exploited woman. Like the previous 2 movies reviewed, Cutie Honey is very vaguely about exploitation but the exploitation is mutual exploitation. Eriko Sato bounces around onscreen yelling “HONEY FLASH!” with a smile, knowing full well who the audience is. Sato is engaging in self-exploitation in order to let us know that she is in on the joke and it is actually okay to watch and enjoy this movie.
Cutie Honey is worth every penny I paid for it. I watched it knowing what it needed to be and was pleased that it ended up being exactly what I thought it should be. Go ahead and diagram that sentence if you want, it makes plenty of sense. It is a film that is fun for children and adults, though I would hardly consider it a “Family Film”. If anything Cutie Honey The Movie is Hideaki Anno’s love letter to Go Nagai’s original concept that gives fans of Nagai and Cutie Honey the movie they deserve. It proves something, namely that a movie with a minimal story, cute girls and some good action scenes is all one really needs to enjoy the cinema. The Japanese really do understand how to make FUN movies, be they schlock or just plain zany fun. Cutie Honey is a little bit of both and I, for one, am grateful for that.
In summation, if you want to turn off your brain and watch a genuinely fun movie then Cutie Honey is the movie to watch. As much thought goes into watching it as probably went in to making it. Wow, that might have been the most backhanded compliment I’ve given any movie and I totally didn’t mean it to be. What I’m trying to say is, Cutie Honey takes one of the sacred idols of anime and does it justice. It does it with comedy, sex and violence. For a fun movie those are pretty much the 3 things you need for me to really enjoy it. Most importantly, it FEELS like how a live action Cutie Honey ought to feel. It is modern, yet simultaneously a throwback to a different time. It is original yet seemingly faithful to its source material. It is a movie of incongruity and contradiction, yet it makes perfect sense all the same. There is no reason this movie should be good but it is. So with all that said how can Cutie Honey The Movie be anything but one of the 5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See?
The Answer: It is and you should watch it and thank Go Nagai and Hideaki Anno for entertaining you. You really couldn’t ask for anything more than to be entertained after all. Would now be the time time to mention that there was a live action TV Series after Cutie Honey The Movie? No? Well we’ll just save that review for another time.