December 14, 2009

Zeiram 2

It is a movie of epic proportions produced on low-budget scale with some Full Moon Pictures sensibilities. Zeiram 2 is a movie made on what looks like a shoestring budget and looks it. Despite the obvious handcuffs that the lack of dollars presents, the finished product is something to be admired, if not something to actually like. Writer/director Keita Amemiya is able to string together a film that makes sense and that desires to be a big budget actioner. The concept and story are there for the taking if someone were to make a big time feature out of it. If not, we can always enjoy what was created and fill in the "what ifs" from our own imaginations. Although, I would not begrudge anyone who dislikes the movie, as it really is not all that good, and at times looks downright cheap.

I have never seen the 1991 original film, for some reason was not included in the Keita Amemiya box set. I assume it has something to do with with rights issues. Fortunately, the main thread of the film is simplistic and easy to follow. The most confusing element would be introductions of characters from the first film.

The first film found intergalactic bounty hunter, and all around beauty, Iria (Yuko Moriyama) battling it out with a cyborg creation called Zeiram, a nasty, weapon filled creation with an organic core. At the conclusion of the feature, Iria wins the battle and Zeiram is believed dead. As we all know, in the world of genre film making, success means sequel, and sequel means pretty much anyone can come back, even from the great beyond. How successful Zeiram was, I am unable to ascertain. The one thing I can make a successful guess at is the film was obviously successful enough to warrant the bankrolling of this 1994 sequel. Granted, it was probably not that much money, but the fact remains, besides the definition of success is fluid with regards to budget versus profit.

As the sequel begins, we find ourselves in a desert landscape on what I am assuming is an alien world. Alien voices can be heard discussing the work of a new robot soldier. They only need a test with a challenging opponent. Do you know who that could be? That's right, Iria. This leads directly into the opening sequence, featuring poor computer graphics showing the creation of what we come to know as the new Zeiram. It features an organic core in the visage of a creepy white face in its chest plate.

Following the credits, we meet up with Iria who is brokering a deal with some werido bad guy and his two goons for the return of an ancient artifact. The deal is being made through Iria's partner, the insane Fujikuro. The deal goes bad and a Power Rangers-style fight ensues. It ends with the duo being called back to their apartment by Iria's other partner, the computer Bob.

They then learn that they have a new back up unit arriving nearby, a robot. Yes, Zeiram. However, as Iria arrives at the drop point, she is met by the baddie from earlier, this time he brought a horde of friends, all of them intent on taking down Iria. Zeiram has a different idea of how to deal with the mass of bad guy bodies. I'll let you figure that one out.

Anyway, this is where the movie begins to take better form. The players are all in place, Fujikuro is revealed to be treacherous, looking to take the artifact for himself, a couple of humans, Teppei and Kumiya, are getting in on the fun, and Zeiram revels itself as the next mission.

The gang is transported into "The Zone," a stand alone battlefield that replicates where they just were. This makes it easier to destroy things indiscriminately. What comes next is an ever escalating battle between Iria and the Zeiram unit that sees the appearance of a variety weapons, some nice staged action (yes, even with the budget constraints), and even a few explosions. Oh yes, there is also this bizarre alien dog thing that almost defies explanation.

While nearly the entire second half of the movie is a battle sequence, it is constructed in such a way that there is a natural progression to the escalation of aggressions that benefits the story. Fujikuro is trying to get away with the artifact, Iria is trying to stop Zeiram, Teppei and Kumiya are trying to help while staying alive, and Zeiram just wants to destroy. Watching some of this makes me think that Charles Band would be proud, some of the puppetry is very reminiscent of his Demonic Toys.

The movie comes to a close pretty much as one would expect. What I didn't expect was the considerable tension that builds. As the fighting becomes more personal and with more players involved, the tension is palpable. You can really feel for everyone involved as you wonder how it will end, even realizing what the end will be.

Zeiram 2 is very far from being a good movie. It is no classic by any stretch, and there are probably even fewer who truly get it. The script is laughable, the performances silly, and the overall look bears more than a passing resemblance to a episode of the Power Rangers. I will say that I liked the look of Zeiram, from his overall design, that looks like a cross between Yoshimitsu from the game Tekken and the rabbit from Donnie Darko, to the creepy white organic face, that gave me the willies.

Director Keita Amemiya seems to have made his career working on low budget science fiction films, and he does a good job working within those constraints. Tries to inject heart into these characters n an attempt to get you to care, and that is admirable. Where he succeeds is in directing the action. There is a nice pace and progressive build that makes the whole work better than it probably should.

Audio/Video. The tech specs are not all that great. The video is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, but the whole is very soft to look at. The detail is jut not there, it is sort of like watching through a fog. The audio is also pretty flat, whichever track you choose. They do the job, but are nothing particularly special.

Although, I do feel the score by Koichi Ota is fantastic. It is rather simple, but I really enjoyed it.

Extras. Nothing. There is no extra material on this disk, one third of Tokyo Shock's Keita Amemiya Collection.

Bottomline. I like the movie, although it is not one I thin I will be revisiting any time soon. Before tackling this film, be sure to assess your enjoyment of B movies, low budget films, and cheese. If you have high tolerance or enjoy films that fit that description, this is one for you, have at it!

Mildly Recommended.


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