I suppose it goes without saying that you can’t take a movie called “Cutie Honey” too seriously. And even if you were to mistakenly believe this was a serious superhero movie, one glimpse of the heroine sporting form-fitting pink foam rubber that conveniently leaves a large gap to display her generous cleavage, should dispel that notion post haste. Based on a popular 1970s manga and anime by Go Nagai (who also gave the world “Devilman”, which was itself turned into a live-action movie this year), “Cutie Honey” works when it sticks to being zany, but stumbles mightily when it tries to insert heart into a film where the camera never misses a chance to linger on Cutie’s almost-nude body, a state that this gal finds herself in quite a bit.
“Cutie Honey” stars Eriko Sato (recently seen in something called “Playgirl”) as the titular superheroine. Cutie died a year ago, but was resurrected by her scientist father and endowed with the “I System”, a fancy McGuffin that imbues her with superpowers, such as the ability to transform into Cutie Honey and fire off neato things like a “Flash Boomerang”, etc. An office worker by day and superhero by, well, whenever the need arises, Cutie suits up to do battle when a mysterious organization called the Panther Claw kidnaps her scientist uncle. Cutie thwarts the first kidnapping attempt, bringing her into contact with Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa), a no-nonsense cop with black-rimmed “nerd” glasses.
It seems the Panther Claw are led by a super being called Sister Jill (Eisuke Sakai), who despite the name actually looks and sounds like a guy with a very bad hair day. Sister Jill is in search of eternal life, and requires Cutie to complete his eternal quest once and for all. And oh yeah, he seems to have tree branches for limbs. To help him/her/it complete his/her/its mission, Sister Jill has the services of four bumbling superpowered beings, all color-coded for our convenience. With the reluctant aid of Natsuko and Seiji (Jun Murakami), a dapper reporter (or is he?), Cutie must rescue her uncle and look cute doing it.
Clocking in at a tenable 90 minutes, about half of that running time consists of filler material. The film starts off with a bang, as Cutie is forced out of a bubble bath to race down the street barely dressed, searching for junk food. You see, before she can turn into Cutie Honey, she needs to fill up on junk food and acquire “energy”. Luckily for us, Cutie is forced to race down a street, causing accidents along the way, in little more than bra and panties. Which, if you were wondering, she’s in most of the time. Fortunately for the guys in the audience, Eriko Sato has the body for the part. As for her acting skills, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, since the entire “casting process” probably consisted of various scantily clad women trying to fit into Cutie’s “uniform”.
As attractive and fetching as Eriko Sato is, I have to admit that the real treat of the film is Mikako Ichikawa (“Blue”), who makes the most of a very limited role. Forced to put on an eternally dour, severe face throughout much of the film, not to mention a landslide of wacky angles and extreme close-ups that purposely distorts her features, Ichikawa still manages to radiate sex appeal. In fact, the film’s other bright spot is her burgeoning relationship with “reporter” Seiji, who is himself quite the character. As it turns out, Natsuko is just a lonely woman who needs some attention, something Seiji seems to be willing to provide. For his part, Jun Murakami (“Red Shadow”) looks cool and suave, which seems to be his character’s only traits.
Speaking of which, there’s no one in “Cutie Honey” that you would call complex. It’s probably by choice that everyone is a cardboard cutout, given a singular personality and asked to play it for 90 minutes. As such, sometimes Cutie’s ing’nue act gets a bit tiresome, as well as all the “cute moments” she goes through. The pouting, the child-like voice, and all the usual things that make up the “cute” factor that is the rave in Japanese culture. I’m sure it does nothing for the average non-Japanese, but I’m almost equally sure it does lots for your average Japanese male. The whole tenor of “Cutie Honey”, in fact, has the feel of a fetish film programmed to sell to the large niche that loves these “cute girls in costume” movies. Japan is practically drowning in these things, in particular the adult versions.
For cinematic superheroics, one shouldn’t expect too much from “Cutie Honey”. The action is overly stylized, with director Hideaki Anno (the “Neon Genesis” films) using everything from CGI to simple animation — albeit in a strange, LSD-inspired way. When Cutie transforms, we see a 3D version of a spinning Cutie (who is very naked, with strategically placed hands to cover her, er, assets) as her uniform magically grafts onto her. Much of the film is like that — an odd mixture of CGI, bluescreen work, and obviously cartoonish special effects. Actually, it reminds me a lot of Robert Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids” movies, but unlike those films, the shoddy special effects in “Cutie Honey” seems to be on purpose.
Having never seen Go Nagai’s original “Cutie Honey” comics and animation, I couldn’t tell you if this is a faithful translation to big screen. Although, as I understand it, the gimmick of the animation was that Cutie is constantly gets her costume ripped off. The live-action Cutie also keeps losing her clothes, and routinely ends up in bra and panties, although I don’t think there was a case of her clothes being ripped off. Mostly, they sort of just disappear when she gets knocked out, or when Cutie is at home playing with her cat. Yes, she likes to play with her cat while wearing bra and panties. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
If you like your superhero movies goofy and cartoonish, “Cutie Honey” will suffice. Eriko Sato fits the part well enough, and the supporting cast keeps things mostly interesting, especially during a very dull middle. Curiously, the ending doesn’t quite come through with the “slam bang action” one expects from a comic book movie. In fact, after seeing Cutie in about a dozen gratuitous scenes showing off her almost-naked body, I’m not sure how we were suppose to relate those scandalous moments to the “power of love” and all the other new age nonsense that creeps up at the end of “Cutie Honey”.
Needless to say, the way Sister Jill is ultimately dispatched leaves a lot to be desired. If you wanted slam-bang action, you got a whimper instead. And worst of all? Cutie kept most of her clothes on for the final 50 minutes or so. Now that just doesn’t seem right, does it?
Hideaki Anno (director) / Go Nagai (comic)
CAST: Eriko Sato …. Honey Kisaragi/Cutie Honey
Jun Murakami …. Seiji Hayami
Mikako Ichikawa …. Natsuko Aki
Eisuke Sakai …. Sister Jill
Mitsuhiro Oikawa …. Black Claw
Sie Kohinata …. Cobalt Claw
Hairi Katagiri …. Gold Claw
Mayumi Shintani …. Scarlet Claw