Zebraman is a typically bizarre film from Miike Takashi. It tells the tale of meek school teacher Shin'ichi Ichikawa and his secret double life as Zebraman. This is a light hearted comedy romp full of strange characters and events, which serves as a tongue in cheek laugh at the world of superheroes.
Shin'ichi is played by Takashi favourite Sho Aikawa. He leads a pretty miserable existence as a lowly school teacher, his wife takes no interest in him, his daughter is sleeping around with criminals and his son gets mercilessly bullied at the same school he works in. Shin'ichi is largely ineffectual and so he constructs a fantasy world based on a superhero TV series he watched as child. The TV series of Zebraman lasted just seven episodes but Shin'ichi remembers it so fondly that he makes himself an outfit and wears it while alone in his room.
As Shin'ichi meanders through life strange events start to occur around the city and there are reports of crab creatures and a potential alien invasion. He forms an unlikely friendship with one of the kids under his tutelage based on their mutual love of Zebraman and as his confidence grows he resolves to battle evil for real and goes out onto the streets wearing his costume. Before long he is getting into all sorts of scrapes and amazingly seems to be developing Zebraman´s powers for real. With the help of his young friend he is able to get the original TV series and they realise that the events therein are now starting to happen which means there will be an alien invasion and Zebraman is the only guy who can save humanity.
This is a spoof of sorts and full of comedy moments and yet it is ultimately about achieving your dreams in the face of adversity. As with virtually all superheroes mild-mannered or unremarkable people can become something special. Shin´ichi also develops a really touching relationship with his fellow Zebraman enthusiast, not to mention his pretty and friendly mother.
The direction from Miike Takashi is typically top quality although some of the CG stuff looks very cheap. The farcical nature of the affair makes up for the rough and ready look and actually adds to the comedy in places (like the ridiculous the crab mask one of the baddies wears). This is also lacking the visceral violence that Takashi is known for, although anyone familiar with some of his more obscure output will know that he makes all kinds of films.
The plot is predictable and does conform to the superhero genre exactly but this is not meant to be taken seriously and it works well as a comedy film. Sho Aikawa is good, playing the mild mannered teacher with skill. The rest of the cast also do a good job and include Kyoka Suzuki, Teruyoshi Uchimura, Koen Kondo and Yui Ichikawa.
This is the first Miike Takashi film I have seen which is suitable for children. It is funny, inventive and enjoyably bizarre and as always with Takashi it brings something new and pokes fun at a tired genre.