Big budget blockbuster versions of old school anime and manga favourites are still very much in vogue in Japan, with the likes of “Space Captain Harlock”, “Space Battleship Yamato” and others having hit the screen in recent years. “Gatchaman”, better known to western viewers as “Battle of the Planets” (or possibly “G-Force: Guardians of Space”) is the latest to make the leap, director Sato Toya (“Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler”) offering up a new, special effects heavy take on Yoshida Tatsuo’s early 1970s series “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman”, with Ayano Go as Joe (“Rurouni Kenshin”), Matsuzaka Tori as Ken (“Love for Beginners”), Goriki Ayame as Jun (“Kiyosu Conference”), Hamada Tatsuomi as Jinpei (“Umizaru Brave Hearts”) and Suzuki Ryohei as Ryu (“Forbidden Superhero”).
The film is set in 2050, with the world having been invaded by the Galactors, an evil race of humanoid beings led by the evil Berg Katse, who manage to conquer half the planet, forcing the survivors to live in resettlement zones. The Galactors being armed with mysterious weapons and protected by powerful energy shields, humanity’s only hope lies with a team of five ‘receptors’ called Gatchaman, who harness the power of ancient stones to help them fight back. When one of the Galactors decides to apparently defect, past secrets are revealed and the heroes have to overcome their own problems while thwarting their enemy’s apocalyptic ‘Last Suicide’ plan.
Updating a much loved nostalgia piece like “Gatchaman” is never an easy task, though at least in this case director Sato Toya and writer Watanabe Yusuke (also responsible for the live action “Gantz” films) had a fairly blank canvas to work with. While the series was undoubtedly popular, for most viewers or fans the finer details of its actual plot will likely be hazy at best after 40 years, aside from the vague concept of a group of bird themed superheroes taking on galactic invaders. Perhaps unsurprisingly as a result, the film has the feel of an origin story, clearly marking itself as the first in a potential franchise, spending most of its running time introducing and exploring its characters.
This isn’t in itself too bad an idea, and the reasonably engaging script does put a fair amount of effort into fleshing out the receptors and their relationships and personal issues, with subplots revolving around a love triangle and various twists. Friendship and loyalty are very much the order of the day, and while the film gets a bit heavy on the melodrama, especially during an overly long action-free middle section, it does a decent job of generating a sense of camaraderie between the team members.
A lot of money was clearly spent on “Gatchaman”, and for the most part it’s all up on the screen. The film certainly opens with a bang, with a spectacular opening sequence featuring a giant robot wheel causing mass destruction before the receptors bring it down. This does prove to be the biggest and best set piece in the film, though things do pick up at the end, Sato building towards a suitably spectacular climax made moderately more exciting by the investment in character work. Though a bit more action would certainly have been welcome, the film generally does enough to keep fans happy. Also in its favour is a bright and colourful look throughout, giving it the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon, and though the effects are variable, ranging from the highly impressive to the bizarrely shabby, the iconic receptor costumes are fun in an amusing impractical kind of way.
“Gatchaman” is perfectly acceptable fare, either as an anime adaptation or taken as a popcorn friendly blockbuster in its own right. While somewhat lighter on the action and science fiction than might have been expected, it’s an entertaining bit of nonsense, which inevitably sets things up for what might well be a more streamlined and explosive sequel, having gotten the origin story niceties out of the way.
Tôya Satô (director) / Tatsuo Yoshida, Yûsuke Watanabe (screenplay)
CAST: Tôri Matsuzaka … Ken
Ryôhei Suzuki … Ryu
Gô Ayano … Joe
Ayame Gôriki … Jun
Tatsuomi Hamada … Jinpei
Eriko Hatsune … Naomi
orô Kishitani … Dr. Nambu
Ken Mitsuishi … Dr. Kirkland
Shidô Nakamura … Iriya