Karate-Robo Zaborgar (Blu-ray Review)

When the safety of the world is at stake, Zaborgar will save the day!  Secret police officeer Yutaka Daimon inherits a mighty robot warrior named “Zaborgar,” an invention of his late father.  Equipped with super weapons, expertise in karate, and the power to transform into a motorcycle.  Zaborgar assists Daimon fight against Sigma, thbe evil organization responsible for his father’s death.  But when he discovers a beautiful female robot under Sigma’s control, their forbidden love shatters the once inseparable crime-fighting team of Daimon and Zaborgar.  Twenty-five years later, the now-disgraced Daimon works as a chauffeur for currupt Prime Minister Wakasugi.  But as Sigma unleashes a new robot menace upon the world, will Zaborgar forgive, forget, and save the world from total destruction?  From director Noboru Iguchi (The Machine Girl, Robo-Geisha) comes a hilariously over-the-top tribute to the transforming robots of 1970s Japanese television, in an exciting action-comedy that will stir the heart of anyone who longs for justice, love and mechanized mayhem.


Did you cringe at the idea of Tim Burton doing Dark Shadows as a comedy?  Were you outraged that Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson just kidded in the movie version of Starsky & Hutch?  Didn’t Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks betray an icon in Dragnet by mocking Jack Webb in their movie version?  Well, perhaps there are fanboys, otaku and NEETs outraged, OUTRAGED I SAY! that Karate-Robo Zaborgar doesn’t even try to find any Batman-style gravitas in the silly Robo Zaborgar TV series that aired on Fuji Tv in the 1970s.  No, it doesn’t – no operatically dark, brooding, psychotic why-so-serious? Robo Zaborgar here.  Instead, filmmaker Noboru Iguchi, armed with digital f/x that television artists of a generation ago could never have envisioned (but which still look gloriously unconvincing) revels in the kitsch and cheese, cranking up the dork-factor of the original past eleven.  Even western viewers who don’t know Zaborgar from Ultraman from Infra-Man could have a blast with this disc and sing along with the mighty Zaborgar theme-fight song (assuming your corner karaoke bar has it).

Martial-artist and Japanese secret-service supercop Yutaka Daimon (Itsuji Itao) fights evil with his inventor-father’s greatest creation, a motorcycle that converts into Zaborgar, a silver-and-red high-jumping karate-savvy robot.  And, since Zaborgar incorporates DNA from Yutaka’s younger brother (who died possibly because widowed dad tried to breast-feed him), the transforming motorcycle-droid is, yes, literally Yutaka’s own flesh and blood.  It’s a Japan thing; you wouldn’t understand.  The two “siblings” fight cyborg marauders from perennial enemy Sigma, a mad-scientist floating HQ which looks suspiciously like a big udder or scrotum.  It’s a Japan thing; you wouldn’t understand.  Sigma’s main shock troops include the seductive, head-detaching Miss Borg and her retinue of robots, including a samurai-warrior robot who kisses victims to death (Japan thing, wouldn’t understand), an insectlike “Diarrhea Robot” (Japan. Thing. No comprendo) and, ultimately, a number of scantily-clad cyborg girls.  The girls can launch missiles and occasional dragon-like monsters from their breasts (Japan. Thing. You. Wouldn’t. Understand).  But, unexpectedly, loved blossomed fatefully between Yutaka and the man-hating Miss Borg, a situation Zaborgar strongly disapproved.  The narrative jumps ahead a quarter century to find Yutaka a browbeaten has-been wracked with age infirmities.  His old secret-agent cohorts are penniless losers living together in squalor and denial, and Yutaka’s long-ago indiscretion has produced one pretty messed-up Tokyo schoolgirl.  Now where was Noboru Iguchi when Steven Spielberg had the bright idea to remake Transformers?

Too bad there’s no tacky English dubbing, the likes of which Speed Racer and Robotech pulled off back in the day. Even so, this is grand funny stuff, whether one grokks all the references back the original series or not.  Alas, I am not enough of a Zaborgar scholar to tell you if any of the original actors came back for this one.  Too bad, because the 25-year gap would’ve been the perfect opportunity for original Yutaka Daimon, a certain Akira Yamaguchi, to put on his silly costume again.  But maybe he asked for too much money.  Maybe he asked for human dignity. Something tells me these filmmakers weren’t about to fork over much of either.  It’s likely this is even more entertaining if you’ve never even heard of Zaborgar, or Ultraman, or Kikaider or the rest.  Hey, maybe North American series-TV, with our, how you Yankee say?…`crime-scene investigators’ and `lawyers’ looks just as weird to the Japanese as their robots-who-turn-into motorcycles look to us.


One must accept that even this remake-reboot wasn’t one of the bigger investments of the Japanese entertainment industry.  Still, the 16.0 widescreen NTSC should allow viewers to enjoy every stock-digital explosion and pixel-painted blood splash in bright and beautifully bold 1080p HD.  What’s wrong with that?  Just don’t expect reference.


Take your pick!  The Blu-ray has a choice of soundtracks…either HD 5.1 or 2.0 Stereo.  There is no English-dub dialogue, just optional subtitles.  I don’t know about you, but that’s just disappointing.  Needless to say, things sound on par and average here.


No making-of stuff here; you genre newbies are on your own.  There are, however, 19 generous minutes of all-new “Go Zaborgar Go!” comedy shorts, in which the transforming action-robo proves surprisingly inept at daily emergencies and situations such as behaving himself on a quiz show.  Note that these blackout bits are Japanese-language only, no subtitles – yet for most of them anybody should be able to figure out the pantomime gags, a la Mr. Bean.  There are also a handful of trailers for similar live-action J-cult flicks, and we particularly enjoyed Mutant Girl Squad (“From the producers of Tokyo Gore Police!”)


Bam! Biff! Pow! Zap!  Unlock your inner maladjusted 1970s Japanese 12-year-old nerd with a blissfully kooky reworking of an old-school kitsch-TV superhero, material one might have believed to be beyond parody.


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