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
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 ingénue 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
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?