Zëiram (US - DVD R1)
Gabe finds himself trapped in virtual reality with a really hot alien chick...
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Teppei and Kamiya, two average Joes working in the Japanese electronic services industry, stumble upon the intergalactic bounty-hunter Ilia and her partner, the artificial intelligence named Bob. Both men are accidentally transported to the ‘Zone’, a virtual reality in which Bob has trapped Ilia's latest prey, a biological weapon named Zeiram. The Earth natives must both survive the experience and help Ilia capture Zeiram before the Zone disappears around them.
Though most Manga and Anime based live action films fall very short of grace, I always enjoy watching them. I'm a fan of the less fantastical features in the genre, like OldBoy, Ichi the Killer, and Lady Snowblood, but I also enjoy the films that make genuine attempts at filming real people as cartoon characters. I've seen both Guyver films more than once, I've laughed at the unadulterated stupidity of the unofficial Chinese adaptation of Dragon Ball, and I've probably watched Riki-Oh more times than The Godfather.
Zeiram isn't specifically based on a previously released Manga or anime series, but it plays like one, and there was an animated prequel released after its success. For readers that like the brass tacks I'll lay the flick out as simply as Tron meets The Terminator meets the live action Guyver. It's also a Toho production, the super-studio behind the Godzilla series, so you can expect plenty of slow-motion, man-in-suit action. It's not high art; it's pure entertainment.
Though the action is defiantly not wall to wall it's imaginative and, like the rest of the film, visually striking. The Sci-Fi costumes and rubbery special effects may turn some harder to please viewers off, but fans of the old school should be in stop-motion, kung-fu fighting, over-the-top pyrotechnics heaven. The film's strongest elements are its visual presence and its willingness to embrace its silly plot, but its secret weapon its very Japanese sense of humour. The electrician everymen see just as much, if not more screen time than Ilia, ensuring there are plenty of laughs.
Research tells me that this special edition is a vast improvement over the previous R1 release, but the transfer is still plagued with problems. The big thing here is the transfers overall darkness. I couldn't get a decent screen cap of any of the films big fist fights because when the image isn't moving everything tends to blend into itself. The details are reasonably sharp, but the contrast is washed out enough that it's hard to notice. This is a colourful film, evoking a cartoon's pallet, but the colours on the transfer are often dull. The anamorphic enhancement is a big plus, and I've seen much more poorly handled transfers, but I expect a little more from Media Blasters these days.
When given the choice of an original language track and an English dub I'll always go with the original track, as any cineaste should...unless the film is a particularly cheesy man-in-suit romp. In this case I'm leaning towards the extra added fun of mismatched and overacted voices awkwardly spewing out of characters' mouths. I switched between both tracks throughout, like a good reviewer, but really liked the film more when it was bastardized by the English dub. Apparently the old release only included the English dub, so fans should be happy to double-dip.
Both tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and neither is particularly impressive. There is very little dynamic range, and bass is quite weak. The English track has much louder dialogue than the Japanese track, but neither is the epitome of digital clarity. The flick is low budgeted and hasn't aged all that well, but the soundtrack is pretty aggressive, and adds to the overall animated feel. It's too bad neither track stepped up to task.
There isn't much here in the order of extras for a so called ‘Special Edition’. I guess the anamorphic enhancement and original Japanese soundtrack are pretty 'special'. The one interview/behind the scene here is pretty long and informative to make up for a lack of solid documentary or commentary track, but it grows dull pretty quickly. It features director Keita Amemiya and actress Yuko Moriyama, both of whom strike me as insanely shy, beyond that of a normal Japanese person, and their general discomfort is rather contagious. It's nice to hear the film's history; this just isn't the best format for it. The disc also features a gallery of Media Blasters' Tokyo Shock releases.
Entertaining, well shot, funny, and featuring fun art direction, Zeiram isn't a great film, but it's probably perfect for those knowing what to expect. Did you like the live action Guyver series? Do you still watch Godzilla movies from the '70s and '80s? Are you honestly not bored by Tron? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, then I see a rent or purchase of Zeiram sometime in your near future.
You can find this, and many other Japanese action flicks at xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 7th November 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Surrond 2.0 English, Dolby Surround 2.0 Japanese
Extras: Director/Star Interview, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Keita Amemiya
Cast: Yûko Moriyama, Kunihiro Ida, Yukijiro Hotaru, Masakazu Handa, Mizuho Yoshida
Length: 97 minutes