give credit where it is due, the underground bouts produced by a shadowy
criminal syndicate are not fixed. On the other hand, they often end with a
fatality. Three of their up-and-coming
wrestlers have a distinct advantage. After
all, they are not wearing that headgear for Lucha Libre style points. The cult 1960’s wrestling manga and anime
series gets a darkly super-heroic face-lift in Ken Ochiai’s The Tiger Mask (trailer
screens tomorrow as part of the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival.
watching the landlord bully the gentle director of his beloved orphanage, young
Naoto Date resolves to stop being a victim.
Unfortunately, this makes him ripe for recruitment by the mysteriously
powerful Mr. X, who whisks him away to train in the Tiger’s Lair to as a
wrestler. Most of the boys arriving with
him will not make it, but the top three will be awarded Tiger Masks. Either through science or black arts, these
strange accessories amplify the natural powers of those who wear them, but
leave them drained after their matches.
years later, Date receives the Black Tiger Mask and duly triumphs over his
first opponent in the ring. His friend
Dan will grapple as the Gold Tiger Mask and the final White Tiger Mask will go
to Jo, the mean-spirited trouble-maker.
Obviously, there is a grudge match brewing between him and Date,
especially when the disillusioned wrestler decides to go rogue.
Tiger Mask is a beloved franchise in
Japan that spawned a succession of real life Tiger Masks in Japanese
pro-wrestling. Even by cartoon
standards, the ring action in Ochiai’s reboot is pretty crazy, with the Masks’
opponents looking more like Dick Tracy villains than underground athletes. It definitely follows in the darkly stylized Sin City tradition, but it carried the
seal of approval of its late producer Hisao Maki, the younger brother of Tiger Mask creator Ikki Kajiwara, who
passed away shortly before the film was created. Obviously, there must be hopes this will be
the start of a new franchise, but uninitiated viewers might be somewhat frustrated
by the limited ground covered by the narrative, basically giving viewers the
temporary closure of a ninety minute TV pilot rather than a feature tent-pole.
there is some unapologetically meathead action in Tiger, staged with relish. Yet, the film also has some heart, especially from Gantz’s Natsuna Watanabe, pleasingly upbeat and idealistic as Ruriko
Wakatsuki, the grown-up daughter of the old orphanage headmaster. Cross-over pop-star Eiji Wentz also broods
decently as Date, but perhaps the considerable amount of time he spends masked
it not such an unfortunate thing.
Ochiai keeps the energy level nicely pumped-up
and never lets the quite presentable special effects overwhelm the human
element. In terms of tone and themes, it
is like a fusion of Ender’s Game, Battle Royale, and Rikidozan. Despite the more contemporary sensibility, Tiger Mask will probably still be best
appreciated by those familiar with the original series, as well as Japanese
(non-sumo) wrestling. Recommended for
fans of action films based on manga and anime, The Tiger Mask screens tomorrow afternoon (8/4) at the J.A. De Seve
Theatre, during this year’s Fantasia Festival.
Labels: Fantasia '13, Japanese Cinema, Manga-based films, Superhero movies