J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Karate-Robo Zaborgar: Coming to Kick Your Butt on DVD/Blu-Ray

Don’t call it a knock-off—this is a reboot.  Yutaka Daimon’s crime-fighting partner is a robot that can turn itself into a motorcycle.  You could say he transforms—just like he did in the early 1970’s Japanese television series Denjin Zaborger.  The spelling is slightly different, but the spirit is the same in Noboru Iguchi’s Karate-Robo Zaborgar (trailer here), which officially launches on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday from Well Go USA.

Somehow fabricated with the DNA of his twin brother who died in infancy, Zaborgar represents more than a weaponized motor bike to Daimon.  He considers him a brother.  Nursing a grudge against Sigma, the THRUSH-like international crime syndicate that killed his (their) father, Daimon is obsessed with “righteousness.”  Yet, he frequently finds himself protecting venal politicians (and their DNA) from Sigma’s machinations.  Further complicating matters, the secret agent starts developing feelings for Miss Borg, the chief hench-cyborg of Sigma’s evil wheelchair-bound mastermind, Dr. Akunomiya.  Despite her initial resistance, Miss Borg begins to reciprocate his affections.  Their resulting affair clouds Daimon’s judgment, leading to his disgrace and the apparent destruction of Zaborgar.

But wait, there’s more, including possible redemption for the older but possibly dumber Daimon and even a relationship with Akiko, the cyborg-daughter he never knew he had.  He needs to get his act together quick though, before Akunomiya completes his plan to turn Akiko into a giant, mindless, city-stomping robot.   Tokyo property values are depending on Daimon and maybe a rebuilt, reprogrammed Zaborgar.

Based on the clips of the original 1974 show seen during the closing credits, KRZ is remarkably faithful to its original source material.  A production of Sushi Typhoon, Nikkatsu’s low budget genre specialists, from Iguchi and FX director Yoshihiro Nishimura, the behind classics like Machine Girl, KRZ is not the sort of extreme gore fanboys might be expecting.  The Film Society of Lincoln Center actually programmed it as part of the children’s series, but that was really pushing it.  After all, those busty cyborgs have some lethal torpedoes.  It also has a strangely downbeat vibe at times.

Given Iguchi and Nishimura’s reputation as Japan’s answer to Troma, the effects in KRZ are surprisingly well rendered, even including the little remote-controlled bots coming out of Zaborgar’s head and feet.  Conversely, the performances are as cheesy as you would expect, except maybe more so.  As the tandem of Daimons, Yasuhisa Furuhara and Itsuji Itao are especially wooden and relentlessly un-self-aware.  Still, Mami Yamasaki somehow maintains her dignity as the tragic Miss Borg, regardless of her Metropolis-fetish wardrobe.

Not exactly a masterpiece of world cinema, KRZ still has a weird way of invoking nostalgia in viewers, even if they never saw Denjin Zaborger in the first place.  Anyone familiar with Ultraman of the mid 1960’s, or the subsequent Power Rangers, will be able to get it.  More of an exercise in manic energy than a comic send-up, per se, Karate-Robo Zaborgar is recommended for specifically self-identifying fans old school Japanese sci-fi monster movies when it releases tomorrow (9/11) on DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA.

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