The English title “Forbidden Superhero” really doesn’t do justice to the amount of madness offered by the Japanese film “HK: Hentai Kamen”, its literal translation “Pervert Mask” giving a far more accurate indication of its content. A live-action adaptation of Ando Keishu’s 1992 manga, the film was written and directed by Fukuda Yuichi (“Kodomo Keisatsu”), with help on the script by “Crows: Episode 0” actor Oguri Shun, and follows a high school student with a superhero power that is, to say the least, rather unusual. Very popular in both Japan and Taiwan, the film is certainly a wild affair, and whatever else can be said about its subject matter, it’s undeniably a fresh and frequently jaw-dropping take on the genre.
The hero at the heart of the film is high school student Kyosuke (Suzuki Ryohei, “Gatchaman”), the unfortunate son of a crazed S&M madam mother and a masochistic, tough as nails detective father. One day when trying to rescue his classmate Aiko (Shimizu Fumika, also in the decidedly more straightforward “Kamden Rider” series) and other hostages from a gang of gun wielding maniacs, he accidentally discovers that by putting women’s panties on his head he can transform into a powerful superman, clad only in his unusual headgear, fishnet stockings, and a shockingly skimpy crotch covering. Not unfairly being labelled Hentai Kamen (Pervert Mask) by the press, he sets about fighting crime while struggling with his inner pervert and trying to win Aiko’s affections. Things get more complicated when an evil karate club, led by the bizarre Ogane Tamao (Muro Tsuyoshi) tries to take over the school, enlisting the help of the mysterious teacher Towatari (Yasuda Ken, “Rakugo Eiga”).
There’s one all-important question here, namely whether or not the viewer finds the idea of a man with panties on his head thrusting his crotch repeatedly into the faces of criminals to be appealing. If the answer is no, well, then “Forbidden Superhero” probably isn’t going to be a good fit. However, for open minded fans of perverse humour and with a tolerance for absolute nonsense, the film has a great deal of creative wackiness to offer, most of it pleasingly degenerate in nature. Though it’s worth noting that the film features no actual nudity, Hentai Kamen’s constant state of near undress aside, this doesn’t detract from its supreme dedication to perversion, and the approach works well, allowing Fukuda Yuichi to treat the material with a kind of straight faced liveliness that makes it even funnier. Certainly, at least for those not offended by its premise or by HK’s impressive collection of sexually suggestive combat moves, there’s nothing nasty about the film, and if anything, it comes across as an oddly innocent and heart-felt affair.
Thanks also to some surprisingly slick production values and a much higher budget than expected, the film is a very effective spoof on the superhero genre, both following its usual character arc while at the same time sending it up in humorous fashion. Though the plot itself is daft and random, the main focus is obviously on far-out comedy, and the film has some uproarious set pieces, HK coming up against a colourful and weird series of villains, cumulating in his battles with his even more depraved nemesis, Fake Hentai Kamen, a nefarious deviant and serial lifter of women’s skirts.
There’s a huge amount of creativity on show, and what it lacks in sense, the film makes up for in inventive hilarity, and Fukuda Yuichi does a great job of maintaining this through to the end. Crucially, the cast are all very likeable, Suzuki Ryohei brave and charismatic in what must have been, to put things mildly, a challenging role, Shimizu Fumika suitably cute as his love interest, and Yasuda Ken superb as the camp and creepy Towatari.
All of this combines to make “Forbidden Superhero” a very entertaining piece of perverse, though non-sleazy fun, and a very successful subversion of the form. Though undeniably absurd, there’s a great deal here to enjoy, and really, anyone who finds the very idea of superpowers being derived from a pair of inappropriately worn panties even vaguely amusing should have a pretty good time with the film.
Yûichi Fukuda (director) / Keishû Andô (manga), Yûichi Fukuda, Shun Oguri (screenplay)
CAST: Fumika Shimizu … Aiko Himeno
Ryôhei Suzuki … Kyosuke Shikijo