Cutie Honey: The Movie Review
Cutie Honey has quite a rich history all in all. Created by the legendary Go Nagai (who helped paved the way for giant robot anime throughout the seventies) it became almost singularly responsible for spurring on endless Mahi Shoujo imitators: magical girl series aimed at a young female audience that to this day prove to be as popular as mecha oriented shows, and places another gold feather in the cap of Nagai, who is all too revered within the industry. But Cutie Honey carries with it quite a reputation as well. Originally appearing in 1973 as a manga story it simultaneously made its television debut, and while it was aimed at children its content would make it one of the most controversial shows of its time. Go Nagai, being the pioneer that he was, didn’t stick all too closely to convention; he defied censors and used his artistic vision to infuse animated productions with strong violence, nudity and humour of a sexual nature: the manga in particular was far racier with taboo subject matter, but being something of a separate entity it was better tolerated amongst the masses. Still the animated series did its utmost to cross borders. It’s not hugely surprising, then, that parents across Japan were seething as their children stared onward at a skimpy dressed women who fought against other skimpy dressed lesbian women - though I suspect that grown men dug it quite a bit really. The backlash resulted in Cutie Honey being taken off the air within six months, overall having lasted for twenty five episodes. And then things went quiet for a while.
1994 saw an attempted revival for Honey and her friends in New Cutie Honey. Lasting for just eight episodes the series was actually very good, but it failed to generate enough interest to carry it further: its sexual nature doing little to seperate it from before. And so in 1997 the series was once again revised, this time as Cutie Honey Flash: a far cutesier Shoujo anime that did away with heavier sexual tones and the original premise of Honey’s character being a mechanical creation (which of course fit in with Nagai’s ideals) so that it could take over the mantle that Sailor Moon left behind and entertain kids and leave adults safe in the knowledge that there was nothing to worry about. It lasted for just one season.
So while Honey’s various incarnations have been short lived she has none the less proved to be a staple part in the anime kingdom for the past thirty years; influencing so many and maintaining an alluring presence which assures that she’s never really been away. In 2004 GAINAX celebrated Honey’s thirtieth anniversary by producing a live-action adaptation, alongside a three part anime OAV. Directed by the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion and starring one of Japan’s hottest swimwear models it met with little fanfare, but it’s no doubt destined to become something of a cult item.
The story tells of Kisarugi Honey (Eriko Sato), a cheery office worker who has a healthy appetite for Onigiri (rice balls) and carries a special secret. When Uncle Utsugi (Masaki Kyomoto) is kidnapped by Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri) - a member of the Panther Claw gang - Honey is called into action. Utsugi had once helped her deceased father create the AI system, which is capable of extraordinary feats and if placed in the wrong hands can lead to dire consequences. At the scene of the crime, Squad Chief of the Public Safety Division Det. Aki Natsuko (Mikako Ichikawa) and the Tokyo police force are struggling to apprehend Gold Claw. Suddenly a female heroine clad in bright pink shows up. Her name is Cutie Honey: Warrior of Love. After a crazed battle Honey rises victorious and her name is suddenly on everyone’s lips. Just who is this mysterious superhero? Natsuko sets out to uncover her true identity, although her seniors warn her of stepping over the mark. Meanwhile a newspaper reporter by the name of Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami) believes he’s found out who Cutie Honey really is. He tracks down Kisarugi Honey and offers his services. Eventually Natsuko also learns of Honey’s secret and soon the trio join forces in a bid to stop the evil panther Claw gang. Head of the gang is Sister Jill (Eisuke Sakai) who sits patiently in her tree-like coven, while her minions Golden Claw, Cobalt Claw (Sie Kohinata), Scarlet Claw (Mayumi Shintani) and Black Claw (Mitsuhiro Oikawa) head out to defeat the young and feisty warrior. But there is more to Sister Jill’s plan: she needs to harness the power of the AI system, but only Honey has the capabilities of channelling its powers.
Cutie Honey: The Movie is an amalgamation of sorts from various Cutie Honey series; it loosely connects to previous storylines and makes some character compromises to fit within a short run time. The general feeling here is that the film can be enjoyed by fans who already know the ins and outs of the main storylines, while newcomers can get a solid idea of what’s going on. While Honey is introduced to us rather simply, as is her newly formed friendships with supporting players, much of her character’s history is glossed over, being merely touched upon in brief flash-back sequences. It’s important to note that GAINAX’s OAV, produced in the same year, reportedly explores these aspects on a deeper level, though having not seen that production I can’t say how much of an important companion piece it actually is. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t still try to provide some form of development throughout: indeed it does, but more of that shortly. The film kicks off in grand fashion; I mean opening scenes don’t get much better than Eriko Sato taking a foamy bath before running down a street half naked to the local 7/11, from where she then transforms into Cutie Honey in order to fight an evil golden lesbian (assumption on her orientation). Respecting the source material, Hideaki Anno opens with a nice credit sequence featuring pleasantly animated sequences accompanied by the classic signature theme - as performed by pop princess Koda Kumi. It sets the tone perfectly for this unabashed production that’s visually comparable to Toei’s “Super Sentai” series and a fair few Godzilla flicks. Dubbed as “Digital Comic Cinema” Cutie Honey often does feel like an anime brought to life, right down to the deliberately stylised fight sequences and visual humour. Anno uses minimal frames as Honey jumps from point A to B in order to create the feeling that these characters have literally leapt off the page and onto our screens. The film is home to typical Japanese production values as done on a low budget: exploding toy cars, non-too-convincing, though effective CG and cheap corner cutting. But its strength lies in its sheer voraciousness. It just keeps going and going, becoming madder and madder until it has very little left to offer: there are even a few bizarre song routines which are belted out by one or two bad guys.
But that doesn’t stop Cutie Honey: The Movie from dragging a little. While never boring it continues to spend much of the middle act dancing around the trio of Honey, Natsuko and Seiji. In establishing their relationships, but never truly exploring them, it paves the way for a series of situational light-hearted gags. It’s all quite charming nonetheless and Anno still manages to throw in some surprise sequences, such as a battle which takes place in an elevator between Honey and an leather-clad S&M villain. For the most part however the heavy handed action and unusual aesthetics are saved until the final twenty minute showdown - in which the director moves into more serious territory. It’s toward the end that the movie offers more in the way of Anno’s real sensibilities - his need to inject some moral value by getting to the core of these characters, such as channelling the importance of love and its place in the world. Nevertheless he truly does craft some beautiful moments. There are times when it’s difficult to hold back a slight tear, particularly as Honey overcomes her conflicted feelings and for once in her life embraces a true friend. The themes that Anno explores are often prevalent throughout the feature, but they have a certain amount of subtlety to them. Yes the film does border on sentimentality in key areas, but if anything the build up ensures that they’re viewed upon with a firm understanding of what they’re trying to convey. This can initially threaten to damage Cutie Honey: The Movie’s outwardly fun appearance because it reaches a point in which it tries to balance comedy and poignancy, but Anno seems to be in full control in where he wishes to allow these moments to unfold.
I’m instantly reminded of 2004’s The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai in which AV actress Emi Kuroda did a remarkable job in presenting her character. And while her and Eriko Sato’s professions are quite different, as are the movies in question, Sato is still a model who is required to act. For such a newcomer, much like Kuroda, she is often a joy to watch. Not only does she have an amazing figure - and boy is she flexible to boot - but she brings a great amount of personality to the role. Watching her invoke her character’s quirks is very sweet; she’s like a naïve young girl getting excited about the smallest of things. Sato brings boundless amounts of energy and enthusiasm for her initial less-than-demanding role. The character of Honey herself is quite engaging, although today she can be considered the clichéd prototype, complete with her loud special move declarations a la any number of magical girl and super robot shows. In a nod to the series we have some amusing dialogue whereby Honey responds to the question “Who are you?” It always depends on whatever she got up that day: she can take on any form she pleases and here it’s “At times a bike racer. At other times a female officer…”, and it’s fun to see her wind up the baddies by revealing herself in the end as “The Warrior of Love”. But Sato is actually quite surprising all round. She’s by no means an actor in the strictest sense, but she seems to impress more as the film moves on. She can act like a child and scream convincingly, show her character as being quite the overly cute cardboard cut-out, but when it comes to the crunch and she has to go for the big guns she can instil a lot of emotion. She has the skill to win over the viewer on an empathetic level, showing us that this girl tries her best to remain positive in life despite the fact that she has no one close to her: her family is gone and nobody wants to be her friend. All Sato could ever hope is for us to look past her seemingly ditzy attitude and well rounded figure, and on that level she succeeds whole-heartedly. Saying that though it doesn’t stop director Anno from showing a montage of her wearing loads of different skimpy outfits. Not that I’m complaining mind you.
In addition to a host of cameo appearances, from the likes of Go Nagai, Ryuhei Matsuda, Ryo Kase and Suzuki Matsuo we have some familiar characters from the series. Panther Zora’s “Panther Claw” returns, led by Sister Jill and her oddball cohorts who all ham it up immensely (which is no doubt intentional) while Honey’s best friend Aki also makes an appearance. And it’s here that Aki is given something of a love interest in the form of newspaper reporter Hayami Seiji. The relationship is underplayed and rarely goes anywhere, merely hinting at possibilities, but at the end of the day it’s neither here nor there. The characters make for accessible points and are likeable enough, even if in comparison to Honey they lack that extra dimension. But then considering that this film is a swift ninety minutes in length it’s a surprise that Hideaki Anno has managed to achieve as much as he has here.
Cutie Honey: The Movie is released by Australian company Madman Entertainment. Suitably the amaray case is neon pink, while the sleeve work is reversible.
Note: I purchased the R4 DVD from Australian retailer EzyDVD. You can find it here
The film is presented on a dual layered DVD-9 and is given an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I have to say that it’s almost a perfect transfer. The film looks striking with it’s wonderful colour scheme that’s been perfectly replicated, in additional to a solid amount of detail. Black levels are really nice and contrast appears natural. Happily Madman has negated the need to employ edge enhancement and there are no major signs of aliasing. So why isn’t it quite so perfect? Well unfortunately it suffers from poor compression. Cutie Honey’s action scenes are loaded with fast paced visuals and the transfer struggles to keep up without showing digital artefacts, in particular macro blocking. Quite a shame then considering it’s a DVD-9 with not much in the way of extras. I’ve included two captures below to demonstrate (click to enlarge):
As for the soundtrack we’re given a choice of Japanese 2.0 and Japanese 5.1 Surround. The film comes into its own with the latter, making extensive use of the rears during action sequences. The first twenty minutes or so sound great and then things become a little more subdued when much of the film deals with character interaction. When the final act comes about the sonics turn up a notch and we get some nice rumbling effects and wonderful ambience, such as the rain pouring down on Sister Jill’s tree or Tokyo Tower getting pummelled. Likewise the chirpy soundtrack is well catered for and separation is pleasing, with equally crystal dialogue and no sign of defects. A very impressive soundstage which makes up a little for the slightly disappointing transfer.
Optional English subtitles are also available and the quality is excellent all round. The font colour is yellow, which sometimes upsets people, but they're not distracting.
A twenty minute “Making of Cutie Honey” provides the bulk of extra material on this release and it covers a fair amount of detail with the help of an enthusiastic narrator taking us through. It covers parts of the shooting period which started back in July 2003 and spends a couple of minutes going over the main storyline. We’re shown some location shoots which involve set pieces involving rigged explosions and miniature effects, in addition to various character information being shared. The piece also looks at the film’s uniquely branded “Honeymation” style, which essentially mixes live action and anime expressions thanks to a type of stop motion photography. Throughout the featurette we get brief interviews taken from a press conference which has the principal cast talk about their experiences filming.
Also included on the disc is a teaser trailer for the film, the theatrical trailer and a collection of TV spots. Finally a gallery containing 33 stills and Madman trailers round things off
Warner Bros. must have tried to cut their losses after Cutie Honey’s less than stellar theatrical release in Japan. It’s good to see it finally get an overseas DVD release. By no means is it a perfect movie, but it is a purely entertaining bubblegum romp. Enjoying Cutie Honey: The Movie boils down to going along with it and becoming swept up in its visual eccentricities and fun performances. I won’t say it’s for everyone because it isn’t, but if you enjoy a little bit of action, with plenty humour mixed in and swimsuit models wearing loads of skimpy outfits then you may just be entertained for 90 minutes.
7 out of 10
7 out of 10
9 out of 10
5 out of 10