009 Re: Cyborg
Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama
Cyborg 009 is one of those anime/manga properties that keeps cropping up now and again, but never seems to catch on as anything other than a fond nostalgic distraction among anime fans.
Originally conceived of in the 60s by manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori, it tells the story of nine cyborgs with a Captain Planet-eque (to be fair, 009 came first, so it should really be 009-esque) level of cultural diversity and boasting super powers of various levels of usefulness. There’s the titular Cyborg 009, alias Joe Shimamura, a Japanese youth who can freeze time, Jet Link, the flying American cyborg, the super strong Native American Geronimo Jr, and Pyunma, the African cyborg who can….breathe underwater. It was written in the 60s, it was probably a more impressive power then.
After numerous attempts at revival including a various anime series and even a radio drama or two, 009 is making another attempt at a comeback, with 009 Re: Cyborg, a new movie courtesy of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama, and which is screening at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
Re: Cyborg promises to take a page from Kamiyama’s work in the Ghost in the Shell franchise to turn Cyborg 009 into a smart, futuristic political action thriller for the modern age….at least, that’s the idea. The reality turns out to be something a tad stranger.
After being contacted and seemingly brainwashed by a mysterious entity called “His Voice”, people across the globe are enacting a series of terrorist suicide bombings against skyscrapers and symbols of human decadence and hubris. In response to this, the 00 cyborgs are brought back together to solve the crisis and wear snappy scarves. But without spoiling things, when it’s finally revealed what “His Voice” is, the film seems to switch gears from “Futuristic political action thriller” to “Futuristic religious allegory action thriller”, at which point a lot of the rules just fly out the window and things take the train to unintelligible mess town.
Not just because the big twist is what it is, but because it’s incredibly half-baked and vague, so much so that at one point the exposition-delivery cyborg responds to questions of how the big revelation explains anything whatsoever with “I really don’t know”. Remember that Simpsons scene where somebody explains that every time something weird or non-sensical happens, a wizard did it? Well, apparently Kamiyama was watching that, and said “I can do one better!”.
The script over all feels lazy and half-formed. Characters thought dead will just turn up alive and well, or disappear for the entire movie with the flimsiest possible excuse. Only about half of the titular cyborgs get any kind of meaningful contribution to the story or even get to suit up. Poor ole’ Pyunma has maybe five minutes screen time before vanishing without a trace, and others like the English Cyborg Great Britain (yep, that’s his name) get nothing to do. Even the characters that are put in the spotlight feel hollow and uninteresting. It feels like Kamiyama only ever had half an interest in the property to begin with, and it feels like the message (whatever that is…) is more important to him than the characters.
Now, there are some things to like. The fight scenes are pretty impressive, and the shell-shaded CGI animation is very easy on the eyes, when the animators aren’t obviously cutting the framerate to save on production costs. Kenji Kawai, another Ghost in the Shell alumni, proves himself still capable of writing kickass jams, and delivers a great soundtrack. If nothing else, the film looks and sounds good, and when it isn’t trying to have some kind of weird statement and is just focusing on cool cyborg action and Tom Clancy-esque political shenanigans, it’s pretty fun.
But this is a car with a broken engine. Polish it up, put ten inch spinning neon rims on it, and paint a firebird humping a unicorn on the hood all you want, the script is just fundamentally awful, with a twist that no one clearly thought about particularly hard and an over-reliance on lazy logic and empty characters.