The cinematic curiosity that is writer/director Noboru Iguchi’s (The Machine Girl) 2011 film, Karate-Robo Zaborgar, serves as both a comedic send-up of the live action mecha dramas so popular in Japan in the 1970′s and a fairly faithful adaptation of 1974′s Denjin Zaborger, according to my cursory research into the series. Although it’s not uncommon for filmmakers to employ the plot of an existing work as the skeletal basis of their spoof, in doing so Iguchi limited the piece comedically and artistically in his misguided attempt to remain faithful to the source material. Ultimately, this results in an awkward narrative that seemingly restarts halfway through, and makes sitting through the second, superior half of the film an unfortunate chore.
The problem here really owes to the fact that the film’s two halves serve as completely self-contained narratives. Each half has a complete three-act storyline, and thus the film winds up with six acts total. This might work for an experimental film, sure, but here the extra narrative arc is unwarranted. The first half of the film follows Yutaka Daimon, who capably battles the criminal organization known as Sigma alongside his motorcycle/robot/brother Zaborgar until his emotions get the best of him. The second half, set 25 years later, finds the washed-up Daimon forced once more in to action.
This is a fine story to tell, and one that could conceivably work in perfectly in a film, but not with each portion of this narrative, as detailed above, allotted half the running time. Ideally, the earlier events of the film would have taken up no more than 15-20 minutes, so as to constitute a first act, with the remaining acts devoted to the has-been superhero Daimon, who is ultimately far more interesting than his younger counterpart. In this way, the already hilarious and epically-cool movie might have achieved some sort of thematic unity throughout. Instead, as the film showcases in the credit scroll’s montage of imagery from the original Denjin Zaborgar, Iguchi spent too much time trying to do the series justice in his picture to do the picture itself proper justice, and it suffers greatly for it.
The special features on Well Go USA’s release of Karate-Robo Zaborgar, available on Blu-ray and DVD on September 11, 2012, includes an extensive series of “Go, Zaborgar, Go!” promotional shorts. At a combined running time of nearly 19 minutes, these hilariously nonsensical shorts sadly provide a more rewarding overall experience than the film itself. You get the distinct sense while viewing these shorts that the film could easily have been as funny as they are if Iguchi had simply omitted much of the superfluous material from the first half of the film as detailed above.