Karate-Robo Zaborgar (2011)
Director: Noboru Iguchi
Writers: Noboru Iguchi
Starring: Itsuji Itao, Asami, and Akira Emoto

The Plot: Karate-Robo Zaborgar tells the sentimental story of a boy and his motorbike. More specifically, this is the story of a boy named Yutaka Daimon (Itsuji Itao) and a bike named Zaborgar. Why does his bike have a name? Because it is a robot who transforms from a regular motorbike into a fearless cybernetic-humanoid warrior, duh! Daimon’s father was a very peculiar scientist. After allegedly poisoning Daimon’s older brother with his breast milk (indeed, the father nursed his children), Daimon’s dad was put in a position that would allow him to craft Zaborgar. After his father’s untimely death, Daimon is joined by his robotic pal and together they dedicate their lives to fighting for righteousness. Sound pretty crazy? Well, the movie is just getting started. It turns out that there is an evil corporation named Sigma that intends to create the world’s most destructive cyborg. Sigma plans to create a robot that will inevitably stand as tall as a mountain. For Sigma to achieve this goal, the corporation has to feed DNA to its gigantic robot. How does this work? Well, who knows, science isn’t a top priority in this movie. So, with DNA on their mind, Sigma intends to kill as many people as is necessary to complete their goal, but Daimon and Zaborgar are thankfully standing in their way. Will this duo be successful, or will the evil Sigma corporation bring total destruction to the earth?

The Review
Noboru Iguchi is a filmmaker that has been on my radar ever since first seeing The Machine Girl. I think this is the same story for almost every Asian cinema geek who saw that movie back in 2008. For better or for worse, he helped start something big. His work inspired interest in the world of Japanese gore, but his work was very different from what we had seen before from this island nation. There was a sense of humor in The Machine Girl that seemed very new to Japanese exploitation. It was as if someone had taken the most outrageous bits of J-splatter from the past and infused a tremendous love for Troma studios. His work, and later the films of Yoshihiro Nishimura, would go on and inspire the entire Vcinema (Japanese straight-to-video) marketplace. These films featured a heavy slant towards American distribution, and as such they often seem as if they are movies that are targeted at the wrongful expectations of American viewers. There is a prevalent misconception that all of Japanese culture is “wacky,” and in many ways the previously mentioned filmmakers capitalize on this. However, if you watch one or two interviews with either Iguchi or Nishimura, you will quickly learn that these gentlemen are quite simply as weird as any one of their movies. With Karate-Robo Zaborgar, Iguchi was given the opportunity to make a truly mainstream film. A throwback re-imagining of the 70s television program Denjin Zaborger, his movie turns out to be as wildly imaginative as one might expect from Iguchi.

I swear to you this, my dear reader, by the time you see Miss Borg’s (the female villain from Sigma) floating robo-head, an occurrence that happens within the first three minutes of the film, you will completely “get” this movie. A throwback to the hokey FX of the seventies, as well as the playful atmosphere that came from the best pieces of science fiction made in Japan during this era, Iguchi obviously came onto this project with no intentions other than making something fun. Yet, I have to admit, writing a review for anything made by Iguchi becomes very easy, since it would be simple to fill up a 1500 word review detailing the “cool” ideas that are at play. Indeed, if there’s anything that can be said about Iguchi, it is that he is a man of ideas. I have never seen the original television show, but I find it highly improbable that it featured some of the insane content that this feature film adaptation packs. I have long held the opinion that Nishimura and Iguchi are both two sides of the same coin due to their reliance on “ideas” rather than strong script architecture. Indeed, Zaborgar moves with the ridiculous speed and anticipation of a child suffering from ADHD. With no strict control over the plot, Iguchi runs wild with his bizarre character creations and ridiculous special effects. As with most of his “mainstream” features, there is a certain amount of violence within the movie, however it is fairly tame in comparison to some of his other films.

The “idea” factor is very high in Karate-Robo Zaborgar. Indeed, Iguchi is able to take a spoof movie such as this one and make it something that is truly unique. After watching the movie, any fans of this director will be able to positively identify it as a movie directed by him. He even revisits some of his favorite devices. Aside from the obvious stuff, like the juvenile sense of humor related to sex, the movie even brings back Iguchi’s infatuation with breasts as a form of weaponry. This is something that has been seen in his films before, and this time we get to see women who not only shoot missiles out of their breasts, but also have miniature dinosaurs who pop out of their brazeers. You did not read that wrong, there are tiny dinosaurs who pop out of the breasts of some female cast members. Speaking of constants within Iguchi’s work, he also pulls a bait-and-switch within narrative, which is something that he and Nishimura have done in the past. While the first hour of the movie establishes a very set-structure for the way we expect the film to go, there is an adjustment in the plot, which I won’t spoil, where our lead character Daimon is taken in a very new and different direction. Surprising stuff for an apparent “mainstream” effort like this, and it made the movie that much more interesting for me as a viewer.

It probably helps to have a certain amount of knowledge about Japanese television before going into Karate-Robo Zaborgar, but all a viewer really needs to know is generally what to expect from Japanese pop culture. Zaborgar is as much a “spoof” of its original subject matter as it is a delightful homage to a time and era from the past. This is not a movie that solely reflects one particular TV show from the 1970s, so if you’re familiar with the Godzilla series then you can also take a lot from the movie. As far as Japanese television goes, as long as you have seen a few episodes of the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers series and the resulting import of numerous Japanese television programs during the nineties, then you should be vaguely familiar with the style being spoofed here in this movie. Every action is done to the point of exaggeration, the costumes are excessively colorful, and everything seems reminiscent of the seventies-era science fiction films that came pouring out of Japan during that era. Miss Borg herself looks as if she could have walked off the set of a Godzilla movie, and of course there has been relatively little change made to the Zaborgar costume since the original incarnation during the seventies.

The Conclusion
For a movie that is two hours in length, I find it hard to think of any moments that truly dragged. While there are sure to be some viewers who do not enjoy what they find in Karate-Robo Zaborgar, I highly doubt it will be because of pacing issues. Unfortunately, the largest detriment for most viewers will be the over-abundance of silly content in the movie. While I find this film features a much more natural sense of humor than anything else I have seen from Iguchi, it is still a movie that seems as if it were trying to capture the attention of a Western audience who naturally equate Japanese culture with “otaku wackiness.” This is an unfortunate side effect of such a diabolically absurd piece of cult cinema, but there will be uninformed viewers out there no matter what Noboru Iguchi says or does. With that said, I loved Karate-Robo Zaborgar. It is probably the best project I have seen from the “new wave of Japanese splatter” since the release of The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police. An absolutely insane piece of cult cinema, Karate-Robo Zaborgar is certainly worth owning. The new Bluray release from Well Go USA is visually spectacular, but the short films in the special feature section is what truly makes it worth grabbing. Overall, the film is so much fun that it defies logic. I give it a nice 4 out of 5 rating. Definitely check it out!

Karate-Robo Zaborgar has been released on DVD and Bluray via Wellgo USA and should be available in most major retail outlets.

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