Note: The pictures included in this review are not taken from the Blu-Ray and should not be considered representative of the picture quality on the disc itself.
Before anyone accuses me of not having a sense of humor, I have seen and enjoyed seen gonzo Japanese comedies before. In particular, I had a great time with Yūdai Yamaguchi's Battlefield Baseball, which combined a sharp eye for the cliches it was spoofing and a wicked sense of timing. However, I was thoroughly defeated by Karate-Robo Zaborgar, a flimsy, tin-eared, monotonous cacophony of lunacy that never displays the slightest bit of nuance or wit for all of its non-sequitur logic. The idea that any nutty thing that pops into director / writer Noboru Iguchi's head could happen next is fun for about five minutes, but it's not long before even the most tolerant audience member will long for at least some sense of a hand on the wheel.
Police officer Daimon (played first by Yasuhisa Furuhara, then Itsuji Itao "25 years later") is a man on a mission. His distant father was a dedicated scientist desperately trying to invent a formula to turn human beings into robots. When the mother of Damion and his twin brother dies, dad picks up where she left off (including breast-feeding duties), but the distraction provided by his research leads to his brother dying ("It's unclear if man-breast milk was the cause"). Years later, Daimon, now a championship martial artist, sees his father jump to his death from a floating city, and finds a filmstrip revealing his father's secret research: Damion's dead twin, resurrected in the form of Karate-Robo Zaborgar, a crime-fighting karate robot who can transform into a motorcycle. Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki), a cyborg with a detachable head and bug-helmet, is kidnapping prime ministers and using their blood to form a bigger cyborg, and it's up to Daimon and Zaborgar to stop her.
If that sounds awesome to you, I don't blame you. There's an undeniable hint of zany fun whenever Karate-Robo Zaborgar drives up as a motorcycle, pops a wheelie, turns back into a humanoid robot and kicks a guy in the face. However, that kind of joke will only remain funny if the audience stays interested in the characters and the story, and both elements are so overshadowed by the film's non-stop onslaught of madness that the movie may induce ADHD in those who watch it. The film is based on a 1970s Japanese TV show by the same name; I have no idea if the film is faithful, but the twenty-fifth time someone gave a weird line-delivery of something nonsensical and then did something extraordinarily silly, I was over it, and the movie was only ten minutes into its gargantuan 114-minute running time. Produced by Sushi Typhoon, the folks behind RoboGeisha and Machine Girl, the experience is reminiscent of an Asylum production in that the ridiculousness is hysterical in a two-minute YouTube video, but quickly turns into a nightmare when one is faced with 114 minutes of it.
Iguchi's primary problem is that he seems to have no idea that an audience needs tonal peaks and valleys to spice things up. Everything in Karate-Robo Zaborgar is pitched at an 11, and soon the action becomes a static mush of things happening. Iguchi also hasn't ever met a joke he didn't like; the movie keeps getting stranger and stranger faster than it can even define each bit of strangeness. First there is Diarrhea Robot, which looks like a dung beetle but (thankfully) does not spray diarrhea (instead, acid). Diarrhea Robot is quickly followed by Bulldog Truck Car, which is a truck with a man-eating bulldog face, and arms, even though bulldogs do not have arms. Later, Miss Borg is joined by three beautiful female cyborg football players, two of whom are eventually revealed to have dragon boobs -- the heads of dragons literally pop out of compartments on the girls' chests. Kicking explosive footballs at the hero I understand, dragon boobs, not so much.
I've seen many movies for DVDTalk, but few beat me down as much as Karate-Robo Zaborgar's relentless wackiness. When I looked at the Blu-Ray player's display and saw I still had an hour to go -- around the time another villain abducted Daimon and Miss Borg's twin egg cyborg/human hybrid baby -- I knew in my gut that I wasn't going to make it. I shut off the film roughly an hour and twenty minutes in, because the dialogue was beginning to seem unexpectedly profound:
Karate Robo-Zaborgar goes simple for the artwork: a photo of Karate-Robo Zaborgar, standing in front of a darkned city skyline. The tagline ("Part Motorcycle. Part Karate Expert. All Robot!"), box copy, and the one quote on the back help clarify the film's ambitions, but I wonder if the art itself doesn't adequately prepare the viewer for the pure silliness of the movie. The disc comes in a Vortex Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Between the chintzy digital effects, soft focus, and just general cheapness, this 2.35:1 1080p AVC transfer only sporadically looks like HD. Noisy grain swarms around whenever the background is dark or black. Banding is frequently visible around digital effects, fine detail is on the minimal side, and flat contrast delivers the final blow, flattening out the image. Daytime scenes fare better, but there's still a faintly blocky look to the image, and it remains flat and dimensionless. Throughout, there's enough positives to put this transfer over an SD-DVD presentation, but not by much.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is not much better. Surround activity exists, but the goofy sound effects and low budget make for a very flimsy mix. The movie looks like it was shot in a warehouse over a weekend or two, and the sound matches. The most vibrant and exciting thing going on in the film, sound-wise, is the little title cards read by a narrator. Not inferior on a technical level, regarding the disc, but just not a particularly inspiring mix in the first place. English subtitles are provided.
"Go Zaborgar Go!" (18:59, HD) is a series of shorts done to promote the feature film. In these tiny doses, and with the addition of some actual wit ("You should've been a bike the whole time!"), these shorts are slightly better than the feature.
Trailers for Doomsday Book, Cherry Bomb, and Shock Labyrinth 3D play before the main menu, and additional trailers for Helldriver, Yakuza Weapon, Mutant Girls Squad, and Deadball are accessible under the special features menu. An original trailer for Karate-Robo Zaborgar is also included.
Sorry, Iguchi. Karate-Robo Zaborgar has plenty of champions, critics and casual viewers who claim it's a sharp spin on the property and one of the director's best films, or just enjoy the wackiness. Me?
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