Cutie Honey: The Movie (2004) is too good to be bad. I started watching it in hopes that it would be a typical example of a “so bad it’s good film”, but it was great. It is an over-the-top superhero movie in the tradition of Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon or the 1960s Batman television series. It is intentionally absurd and campy, and no one does absurd and campy like the Japanese. No one even comes close.
Cutie Honey: The Movie is far more frenetic and distorted than Flash Gordon or Batman, and it has the added advantage of cheap and ready CGI to play with. Instead of evil goons getting punched and then flopping on the floor, Cutie Honey can punch them and they tumble head over heels through the sky and disappear over the horizon. Villains can sprout extra arms and crawl along the ceiling. It doesn’t matter that the CGI looks cheap, it’s all part of the aesthetic. The movie throws anime into the mix, and a heavy dose of Power Rangers-style tokusatsu. There are lots of distorted wide-angle shots and giant random explosions. It’s a breathless orgy of cute, sexy violence coupled with Japanese pop-metal and sparkly sound effects. By now, you should have opened another browser window to find the film.
Cutie Honey is an ordinary, but exceptionally perky office worker by day, and an ebullient sex kitten superhero when duty calls. She somehow manages to be both cute and kinda ditzy, while also being fearless, sexy, and strident.
The story is a little hard to make sense of. The evil Sister Jill has hired “the four panther claws” to assist her in… taking over the world? I couldn’t really figure out what she was after. At one point, she says she wants to “absorb” Cutie Honey’s power by taking her “into her womb”, *ahem*, and then wanted to “become one” with the tree of life? Anyway, she gets the Black Claw, the Gold Claw, the Cobalt Claw, and the Scarlet Claw to help her. Cutie Honey must defeat each of them in turn, while dealing with an intrusive news reporter Seji, and the straight-laced and very severe policewoman named Natsuko.
It doesn’t matter what it’s about or what motivates who, they all make evil speeches and shoot lasers and stuff. The Gold Claw can use his hair braid as a helicopter, and the Black Claw can turn into a spinning saw blade. There is one odd, little quirk about The Black Claw. He has a group of violin-playing minions that follow him around playing Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Watching an all-out battle of exploding swords and spinning jump kicks set to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik definitely can cause some mental dissonance, but then the whole film does.
Cutie Honey’s full moniker is Cutie Honey, Warrior of Love. Her body is enhanced by nano-bots that run on love and rice balls. Every few hours, she has to devour two or three grocery bags full of rice balls to keep up her energy. The gorging and gobbling are pretty entertaining.
Her dedication to love is a bit saccharine. It wouldn’t be a Japanese film without the fervent and sincere appeal to higher morals. There’s lots of dumb “only love can save you” speeches, but what can you do? It’s an unchanging feature of the genre.
Of course, Cutie Honey was originally a manga. It was produced by Shōnen in 1973. Cutie Honey was the first female hero in their pantheon. She became a very popular character, featured in TV shows, manga, movies, and even stage plays. She is a thorough and inclusive melange of Japanese contemporary culture. She’s a little bit anime, a little bit Hentai, part Power Ranger, part Gundam, part Hello Kitty cuteness, and part samurai bravado. She’s got it all.
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It's also worth noting to anyone unaware that this was directed by Neon Genesis Evangelion's creator Hideaki Anno - this was essentially his big nerdy pop movie after a few years of experimental, moody arthouse films which are underrated in their own right. If it seems super anime and too batshit to be live action, we gotta remember the craftsman behind it is a bit of an expert in that. The genuine love for the form and source material shines to me, personally, when directors of these backgrounds tackle these materials in comparison with sloggish adaptations like Takashi Miike's JoJo's Bizarre Adventure film. On a similar beat, he's been making it his mission lately with the Shin series to fulfill childhood geek dreams and it's an absolute joy to watch.