Review: ‘Cutie Honey’

An explosion of camp pleasures and candy-coated, comic-book giddiness, "Cutie Honey" is an embarrassment of kitsches. WB rolled this out on home turf last summer, and could find receptive auds Stateside for this "Kill Bill" for kiddies -- or is it a "Power Rangers" for stoned adults?

An explosion of camp pleasures and candy-coated, comic-book giddiness, “Cutie Honey” is an embarrassment of kitsches. WB rolled this out on home turf last summer, and could find receptive auds Stateside for this “Kill Bill” for kiddies — or is it a “Power Rangers” for stoned adults? Curvaceous, henna-haired model Eriko Sato is a highly marketable plus as the sexy superhero who shouts “Honey, flash!” whenever it’s time to slip into spandex, and then bloodlessly dispatches bad guys by the score.

There’s more humor and a lot less perversion in Hideaki Anno’s witty, occasionally soulful adaptation of Go Nagai’s beloved manga character from the early 1970s — more Japanese here than was the buxom blonde original. Honey Kisaragi works as an office temp, making just enough money to keep herself in rice balls. She needs the carbs when she’s called to fight crime, although she doesn’t quite get why her hobby’s so super. Fact is Honey was killed in a car crash, about a year previously, and her father retrofitted her with nano-robots, effectively giving her aturbo-charged life as part of his new I System.

Dad was subsequently killed by the dreaded Panther Gang, a Saban-ready group of color-coded cross-dressers working for the glory of Sister Jill (Eisuke Sakai), who has dwelled underground for centuries, in Dr. Seuss-like splendor, draining the life-force from children to stay alive. Now the gang has kidnapped Honey’s uncle, still trying to get their claws on his refinements to the I System. Helping our hero, with grim reluctance, is by-the-book female detective Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa), who might be pretty if she took off her glasses and let down her hair.

Pic takes time out in the third act to examine odd dynamic between Honey, Natsuko and Austin Powersish reporter Seiji (Jun Murakami) who have some kind of unspoken attraction to each other. Seg in detective’s apartment — filled with dead plants Honey brings back to life — has a haunting quality worthy of Tim Burton at his most unnerving. Final round of fights with the Panther Gang are pretty zippy, too, most backed by buzz-saw rock guitars — although the soundtrack sometimes unexpectedly dips into Mozart or brassy ’60s jazz.

“Cutie Honey” might be toned down from its manga origins, but the helmer, best known for “Neon Genesis” series, slips plenty of subversive elements into the mix. Sato’s endless parade of bustiers, nighties, and short shorts make her a cheesecake dream. And yet her combination of wide-eyed innocence — she is only 1 year old — and comic timing make this ditz less objectified and more, well, heroic.

CGI and matte work are crude by H’wood standards, but they somehow contribute to the childlike flow of fantastic images and media-savvy spoof elements. There are a few animated segs to reminds auds of the pic’s origins, and results are a mostly credible live-action rendering of a make-believe world.

Anno also made an animated tube-series spinoff aired in Nippon later last summer.

Cutie Honey

Japan

Production

A Warner Bros. Japan presentation of a Gainax, WoWow production (Tokyo), in association with Dynamic Planning. (International sales: Towani, Tokyo.) Produced by Makai Moro, Tomoo Kawabata. Directed, edited by Hideaki Anno. Screenplay, Anno, Rumi Takahashi, based on the comics by Go Nagai.

Crew

Camera (color), Kokusuke Matsushima; music, Mikio Endo, Kumi Koda; production designer, Takashi Sasaki; costume designers, Dango Takeda, Yutaka Izubuchi; animation director, Tadashi Hiramatsu; f/x supervisors, Tetsuo Oya, Makoto Kamiya; martial arts choreographer, Cynthia Luster; assistant director, Katsuo Onoue. Reviewed at Hawaii Film Festival (Extreme Asia), Oct. 29, 2004. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Eriko Sato, Mikako Ichikawa, Jun Murakami, Eisuke Sakai, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Hairi Katagiri, Toru Tezuka, Mayumi Shintani, Shie Kohinata.
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