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Feature


Shotaro is just like any other twelve year old boy. He’s a gifted individual starting a new school but he’s having problems fitting in with the rest of his class and believes that his late father never loved him. The lives of Shotaro and everyone else in Tokyo are turned upside down with the arrival of a giant robot called Black Ox that inflicts incredible destruction on the city.

Tetsujin 28
The attack is followed by a communication by someone called Zero who says he’s going to take over the world. Shotaro then finds out that his father used to work for the government on the secret Iron Giant project, to design and build huge robots to keep Japan safe from attack. Our young hero discovers that his father has entrusted the controls of Tetsujin 28—the only robot left—to him and he is the only hope for the human race.

Tetsujin 28 begins in a way that betrays its science fiction roots. Instead of getting straight into the action, the first ten minutes focus on Shotaro’s life at school and his awkward relationship with his mother since the death of his father. The viewer could be forgiven for thinking this would turn out to be a deep and meaningful melodrama, examining the effects of death on the family unit. That is until Black Ox arrives and starts tearing up Tokyo.

Tetsujin 28
The combination of a kid with problems to overcome and giant robots is a great setup for a film for a family film and it’s no surprise the film was made as the original manga has been popular for nearly fifty years. The problems come in the execution of the story. First of all, no doubt in an attempt to maintain the comic roots of the robots, their composition is smooth and colourful, which would have looked good in a completely computer generated movie but this is live action and the cartoon-like metal monsters look hideously out of place. The CG itself is pretty shoddy as well, giving the film the look of a low-budget video game.

The video game similarities don’t stop there. The robots move incredibly slowly and have a pitiful selection of moves they can make so when they fight each other, it’s like watching two people playing a beat ‘em up on the slowest setting with their finger stuck to the punch button. When they hit each other, no damage is registered so the fights just look like two big bits of metal banging against each other with no indication of who is winning.

Tetsujin 28
Since this is a movie for kids, I feel that I shouldn’t pick too many holes in the plot but I feel compelled to point out the major failings because the writers don’t give enough credit to the intelligence of their audience. My main problem with the story is that for no apparent reason, the government give Shotaro the task of saving the world. At no point in the film does he do anything to deserve the job, other than being his father’s son and he got his hands on the controls of Tetsujin first. Once he failed in the first battle with Black Ox, I would have yanked the joystick out of his hand and given it to the best military person I had, but no, he’s given chance after chance even though he has no edge over any other twelve year old.

The rest of the elite team set up to rebuild the robot after the first battle and are so incompetent and make such bad decisions that by the end I thought they fully deserved to lose. For example, why give the controls of the robot feedback so the user feels pain? Every time Tetsujin 28 gets hit, Shotaro takes a virtual punch to the gut and falls on the floor. If Shotaro is the saviour of the world, why send him out into the street on his own with the controls? The bad guy is no better. If the kid with the controls of your adversary is running around unprotected, why not get your robot to stamp on his head? And if your robot’s special move is an EMP blast, why fly around it in a helicopter? If you got in the way, you’d definitely be up the creek without a paddle.

Unfortunately there’s not much to recommend in Tetsujin 28 at all. The performance of the boy playing Shotaro is pretty good, especially in the scenes with his mother and he looks a bit like a young Chow Yun Fat, but that’s not much to go on and certainly isn’t enough to hold your attention for the length of the film, which goes on a bit too long and doesn’t really know how to end.

Tetsujin 28

Video


Tetsujin 28 is very colourful and in the scenes that aren’t spoiled by CG, it’s fairly pleasant to look at. The contrast is high though so some scenes can be rather garish where there are large blocks of primary colour. In general there is a lack of detail in long shots and the credits at the beginning are very small and difficult to read. The picture becomes blurry in the scenes where handheld cameras are used but the scenes without action are adequate.

Audio


I’m happy to say that more work has gone into the audio tracks, of which there are three: Japanese Dolby Stereo, Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 (which I listened to). There is an impressive attention to detail, with wind chimes, insects and plenty of diegetic noise coming from the rear speakers in the non-action scenes and powerful clunks of metal on metal from the front in the fight sequences. The whole track is very clean and the balance between music, dialogue and sound effects is pretty much perfect.

Extras


All we get are trailers for the feature and a couple of other Manga Entertainment releases.

Tetsujin 28

Overall


It’s fairly shameful that Manga haven’t provided an English dub for Tetsujin 28. I’m a supporter of the view that the audience should watch a film the way the filmmakers intended it to be seen, but if you stick an eight-year old in front of this with subtitles they’ll run a mile. I recommend everyone else considering buying this does the same.


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