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Tetsujin 28 (JAPAN 2005)

Director : Shin Togashi
Producer : Kanjiro Sakura
Cast : Shosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Yuko Nakazawa, Akiro Emoto

Based on the classic postwar manga anime series, TETSUJIN 28: THE MOVIE comes from the creator of GIANT ROBO. In the movie, Tokyo gets attacked by an enormous robot called the Black Ox. Powered by a cyber-terrorist with plans for revenge, the Black Ox is so strong even the whole Japanese police force can’t stand up to it. A savior comes in the most unlikely package of elementary school student Shotaro who, after receiving a mysterious phone call from an older man in possession of an even stronger killer robot, comes to the city’s rescue. But even with the Tetsujin 28 by his side, Shotaro may not be strong enough to defeat the Black Ox.  

by Edmund Yeo

Based on an old cartoon series (known to the West as Gigantor) created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Tetsujin 28 is the first live-action feature I can think of that has actual mechas in it since the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie (ah, nostalgia!). Which is cool, since I do like my dose of anime giant robots (anything but Gundam, though, never recovered from the trauma I had after watching Gundam Wing back when I was a kid…).

So, the story’s about a sulky fatherless boy called Shotaru who has photographic memory and is constantly bullied by classmates. A badass-looking giant robot called the Black Ox invades Tokyo one afternoon, and causes all kinds of insane damage that made me giggle with glee, especially when even dear old Tokyo Tower isn’t spared.

Shotaru receives a mysterious phone call, and meets an old man from his father’s past (some reviews say that this old man is Shotaru’s grandfather, but the subtitles I had when watching this film said that he’s the ASSISTANT of both Shotaru’s grandfather and father), telling the boy that he’s destined to control the Tetsujin 28 robot, which had been gathering dust in a hidden lab since World War 2 (obviously, being a Japanese film, it’s hinting that Japan could’ve won the war if the robots were unleashed upon everyone, just that they pulled their punches). And he has to do battle with Black Ox to save humanity from total annihilation.

Of course, due to the fact that characters are so utterly shallow, the relationships between them seldom mean much, they are just horribly scripted stuff meant to push the plot along. I mean, seriously, who was that mysterious old dude? The grandpa? Or the grandpa and pa’s assistant? Why didn’t Shotaru speak to the old geezer much after getting his hands on Tetsujin 28? The kid, like most annoying protagonists in kiddie movies, does become increasingly annoying as the film progresses (child actor Shosuke Ikematsu does not really show a wide dramatic range in this film), coming off as a self-centered, whiny jerk whom I wanna bitchslap. Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion may have been an angsty, self-pitying nut, but at least his actions were somewhat justifiable given the situations he had to endure in the anime. Shotaru, on the other hand, is an entirely different case.

He’s haunted by daddy issues too, never understanding why his dad, who died under mysterious circumstances, … shoved him aside so roughly the very last time he saw him. (And because Shotaru’s dad is played by the great Hiroshi Abe, from the Trick TV drama series that I love so much. The kid’s an asshole for thinking that daddy’s an asshole.)

And kid’s still struggling to bond with his mom, or so I think, I have no idea, I doubt there were any conflict going on with the mom, since all she did was share a scene with the kid, then was hospitalized after Black Ox’s first attack (don’t worry, she merely broke her leg, no traumatic Graveyard of Fireflies ‘seeing momma wrapped up like a mummy’ scene in this film, haha).

However, Shotaru also developed some schoolboy crush for Mami Tachibana (either she’s a scientist or a military chick… I have no idea, like the uniform though, yummy), played by Yu Aoi, a young actress I recently fell in love with after watching Shunji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-Chou (she’s the poor chick who killed herself) and Hana and Alice (she’s in the greatest ballet scene in film history). Which sucks, because snotty little brats like him aren’t supposed to Which shows that the brat does have some good taste, since she was the ONLY reason why I bothered to continue watching the film.

But seriously, what’s so wrong to me is the fact that the script in this film is so bad, despite how pretty some of the CG effects are, the paper-thin characterization just made this film a bore. Where’s the sense of wonder? The joy? Of being chosen as the saviour of the world? Of inheriting secrets lost to the rest of the world? No, this isn’t meant to be Neon Genesis Evangelion, or Rahxephon, this one’s meant to be (somewhat) Harry Potter, but with mechanical behemoths instead of sorcery and wizards. But unbelievingly, I enjoyed the Harry Potter films (!!!!!!) more than watching this, because at least I care more for the Potter characters than… well, the ones wandering around in Tetsujin 28.

This comes from a guy who separates the Harry Potter films from the books (they are separate entities, I judge them based on their own merits, not whether they measure well to their source materials) Remember the sense of awe in the first Harry Potter film when Harry first stepped into Hogwarts? Or the joy we felt for him when he first won the Quidditch match? There’s nothing like this in Tetsujin 28 at all. And yes, I am pretty surprised I actually compared a film to Harry Potter films.

As old-school as this film attempted to be with the robot designs, and the battles, what could’ve been a spectacle to watch turned into something underwhelming. When the two gigantic robots squared off… their moves consist of, punch, roundhouse punch, more punch, and then punch… cut to hero boy grimacing in pain as his robot gets hit… then a punch… cut to the bad guy scowling as he watches his creation gets hit… and then Yu Aoi flashing her dazzling smile… and then… the old geezer nodding in approval… and then hero boy smirking with confidence… and then another robot punch… hero grimaces… it goes on and on and on.

I noticed some similarity between this story in Tetsujin 28 and the underrated animated masterpiece The Iron Giant (one of those rare films that made my eyes well up in tears despite repeated viewings), and it was said that the book The Iron Giant was based loosely on Tetsujin 28. Well, I’ll have to say that you people should go watch The Iron Giant instead, now THAT’S a film that hit all the right emotional notes…. *sob*

Plot : 1/5
Acting : 2.5/5
Entertainment : 2/5
Overall : 2/5

Notable Scenes

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Tetsujin 28

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