Kite Liberator (2008) Movie Review

The original “Kite” was a controversial, yet fascinating exercise in style and mood. Thematically similar to Luc Besson’s near-classic “Le Femme Nikita,” which was, at its core, a remake of the classic tale ‘Pygmalion,’ “Kite” explored the dark and seedy subjects of child abuse, emotional deconstruction, sexual perversion and revenge. The ugly thematic content was emphasized by layers of raw, graphic violence and fairly gratuitous hentai content which guaranteed the film’s notoriety. A decade later, director Yasuomi Umetsu revisits some of these themes with “Kite Liberator.”

This latest film is not a direct sequel, but rather a spin-off that borrows the basic themes of the original as a launching pad for its story. This time, the adolescent femme fatale is a girl named Monaka. By day she’s high school student who works part time as a waitress at a seedy bar. By night, she’s a deadly assassin, known as The Angel of Death, whose calling card is a puff of white feathers left floating over her victim’s bullet-riddled corpse. That was enough material for the original film, but not for this one. See, Monaka’s father is an astronaut who’s currently on a four year stint aboard the International Space Station. However, this current mission doesn’t go very smoothly and soon a horrific turn of events leaves nearly the entire crew massacred and the station blown up. A few survivors manage to return to earth, but something may have followed them back down. But wait! We’re not done. There’s also the brash young police inspector who’s on the trail of a group of perverted psychopaths who crosses paths with both of Monaka’s personas and finds himself falling for both of them.

As you can tell from the quick plot rundown, “Kite Liberator” is a smorgasbord of just about every action and sci-fi theme that has ever been committed to celluloid. Female assassins, dogged cops, space exploration, corporate malfeasance, genetic mutation, conflicted family loyalties… Oh, it keeps going, I assure you. It’s great to have thematic range and all, but this is just ridiculous. “Kite Liberator” feels like several movies force-fit together. They’re all connected, but they don’t work as a cohesive whole. There are just too many plot threads floating out there and none of them gets enough time.

It doesn’t help that Umetsu’s script keeps baiting us with the promise of greater things to come. He peppers the film with hints and red herrings that suggest ties between the new film and the original. What exactly is the background of Monaka’s tough-as-nails coworker Mukai? And is there a connection between Monaka’s handler and Sawa’s handlers in the original film? And what’s with that ugly scar on Monaka’s back? With all that’s going on, you’d think that this was the start of a multi-part series. There’s literally a dozen episodes worth of material to work with, but it’s crammed into a one hour feature. And to top it all off, just when it looks like the various plot threads are about to come together, the movie abruptly ends. The viewer can be forgiven for feeling cheated and frustrated.

The movie’s animation also runs the gamut of styles ranging from the cutesy facial deconstructions seen in goofy comedies like “The Slayers” to the hyper realism of films like “Ghost In The Shell.” Cutting edge CGI is mixed rather uneasily with traditional hand drawn cell animation that ranges in quality from excellent to low-budget. It’s all a bit disorienting, given that it’s easy to pick out the scenes where corners were being cut on the animation. The end result of all this stylistic blending is an uneven viewing experience. In an animated film, the style of the animation goes a long way towards setting the tone of the film. With “Kite Liberator,” there is no discernable theme. Is it supposed to be light-hearted and flippant or morose and serious? Well, that depends on which scene you’re watching and what style of animation is being applied. There’s no real continuity and it leaves you scratching your head wondering what this film is trying to be.

The original “Kite” made its intentions clear from the start. It was going to be an ugly, uncomfortable trip through the underbelly of society and the themes and animation style consistently reinforced that objective throughout the film. “Kite Liberator” is too scattershot in both content and style for its own good. It just has too many disparate parts being made to fit to be taken seriously. Umetsu should be applauded for being so ambitious, but the final product is a disappointment. I suppose the best way to say it is that “Kite Liberator” is way less than the sum of its considerable parts.

Yasuomi Umetsu (director) / Yasuomi Umetsu (screenplay)
CAST: Marina Inoue … Monaka Noguchi
Akemi Okamura … Manatsu Mukai
Masakazu Morita … Rin Gaga

Buy Kite Liberator on DVD