As the Western infatuation with Eastern cinema grows we are seeing an ever increasing amount of action and horror titles based on manga and anime reach the UK. Cashern, Golgo 13, Ichi the Killer are examples of a growing trend which I for one hope will one day stretch to the action comedy of Cutie Honey.
Cutie Honey is based on a thirty year old manga series aimed at girls from multi-faceted creator Go Nagai, a name many will associate more with sci-fi horror. Another of his titles - horror series Devilman - has already received a pretty poor live action adaptation, so it's great to see that the lighter hearted Cutie Honey fares somewhat better.
The story follows the young Honey Kisaragi (Eriko Sato), who died in an accident but was resurrected by her scientist father using a technology he developed known as the I-System. The system uses nano-technology to rebuild dead cells and create things from elements in the ground and air, allowing Honey not only to return to life but also to instantly generate clothes and tools by pressing the heart clasp on her choker. However, such technology is highly coveted by the evil Panther Claw who will go to any length to prevent the ageing and death of his leader - the demonic Sister Jill (Eisuke Sakai). Honey's father died shortly after resurrecting her so when her only remaining family - her uncle - is kidnapped by Panther Claw's subordinate Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri) she teams up with the loner policewoman Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa) and enigmatic reporter Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami) to get him back and defeat Panther Claw and Sister Jill once and for all.
The above may seem relatively serious, but Cutie Honey keeps its tongue firmly in cheek throughout and is all the more entertaining for it. Humour is the name of the game, whether the ludicrous Power Rangers style villains, hilariously over-the-top action set-pieces (there's even tumbleweed during a standoff) or just good old fashioned drunken bonding! Hideaki Anno has delivered a masterclass with this film, superficially it is shallow and flashy with cheesy villains and a sexy heroine in revealing outfits, but there is a lot more to it. To start with it cheerfully takes the mick out of its source material, but not to the point where it is disrespectful or self-righteous, but still retains all of the aspects that made the manga and anime good. Anno also uses all of his experience from anime in the style and pace of the film, the cinematography of the action scenes are full of bright colours and he has managed to pull off some great stunts by cleverly animating still images of the characters rather than filming them. He must have saved a lot of money from the effects budget by doing this but it still leads to some really unusual and impressive scenes, especially during the first battle Honey has against Gold Claw.
The central characters are great too, Eriko Sato is more than just eye candy as Honey (although she is absolutely stunning, and spends several scenes running around in her underwear), instilling her character with an infectious brand of wide-eyed innocence, but underpinning it with a palpable sense of loneliness. Mikako Ichikawa makes you feel for the loner policewoman Natsuki whilst Jun Murakami comes across quite naturally as playboy journalist Seiji. The villains don't fare quite as well, I know you are not supposed to take them seriously but Sister Jill lacks the menace you expect from a major villain, and minions Gold Claw and Cobalt Claw (Shie Kohinata) are a bit crap. The highlights from the supporting cast were probably the creepy Scarlet Claw (played with real cackling menace by Mayumi Shintani) and the butler-like Panther Claw himself, who is decidedly unsettling.
The story to be fair isn't anything special, but it is more entertaining as it has any right to be. As it progresses it gets increasingly bizarre (one villain has violin wielding henchman who play classical music whilst he fights) but successfully manages to explain all of Honey's back story in time for the climactic ending. To be honest the overly cheesy ending is a bit disappointing, but everything that has gone before more than makes up for it, especially the superb anime intro and a hilarious scene where the three main characters get drunk. Look out for the cameo from creator Go Nagai late in the film too!
Cutie Honey is a very camp but extremely enjoyable film. The highly stylised action sequences are superb and Honey makes for a really sexy and likeable lead, who is given a bit more depth than you may expect as her story is revealed. If it had tried to be serious it would have failed miserably but as it is it can even get away with rubbish characters like the stretchy Cobalt Claw, which is a feat in itself. Cutie Honey takes the best things from its source but manages to inject it with some modern style without losing its identity, it is great fun to watch and is packed with likeable characters and great scenes. Please, please let someone release this in the UK, it is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in years!