Positing that each goody-two-shoes male superhero must have an evil Lady Gaga inside that can’t wait to be unleashed, “Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City” takes the concept of yin and yang to places it’s never been. In the original 2004 kidpic by beyond-prolific Nippon filmmaker Takashi Miike (who also presented “13 Assassins” in Venice), a nebbishy man with superhero aspirations but no superpowers faced a real-life alien invasion. This bigger, louder sequel offers more silly, convoluted and cartoonish fun and, though no B.O. monster in Japan, will appeal to Asian genre aficionados in ancillary.
Things are literally black and white in Zebra City (formerly Tokyo) in 2025. Some 15 years after the first “Zebraman,” the eponymous protag (star Show Aikawa, encoring) wakes up in a city where police randomly shoot people twice a day, during “Zebra Time,” as a crime prevention measure. Since his adventures in the first film, he has clearly grown older, having grayed almost to the point of becoming an entirely white superhero.
Holed up in a hospital hideout of Zebra Time survivors, Zebraman and his fellow patients plan an attack on the powers that be: the evil governor of Zebra City (Gadarukanaru Taka) and his sexy, black-leather-clad daughter, Yui (Riisa Naka), who moonlights as a hugely popular singer called Zebra Queen, a pop act to rival Lady Gaga (MTV-style performances are interspersed throughout). Though constantly sidetracked by subplots that go nowhere, Zebraman will eventually discover he’s got more in common with Zebra Queen than he ever could have imagined.
The convoluted screenplay, again by the prolific Kankuro Kudo, takes full advantage of the sequel’s bigger budget, making room for jaw-dropping setpieces, complicated machinery and decor, and CG-heavy battles involving resuscitated aliens. Though the plot’s many disparate elements at times feel as though they’ve been assembled by a narrative contortionist, scripter Kudo and the rest of the crew keep things coherent by always coming back to the underlying yin-and-yang philosophy and its basic idea that nothing is entirely black or white, something also clearly expressed in the production design and lighting (though surprisingly little is made of the fascist-like politics of Zebra City).
Though the film is not as fluidly directed as either the original “Zebraman” (which did indeed feel more original) or his more high-wire efforts, Miike keeps things lively with an energetic mise-en-scene. And the actors are all clearly having a ball, adding to the general sense of fun, though it does seem geared more toward young adults who nurture their inner children than toward actual children.
Pic again includes a clever nod to the original, short-lived TV series that introduced the character to Japanese auds.