by Jaime Grijalba.
a.k.a. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger vs. Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie
(Japan, 64 min.)
As a child, one of my favorite TV shows was one silly, cheap-looking and badly-acted kid series called “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”. It was a silly show that even to this day I’m not even sure what appealed to me (I wasn’t a kid that liked the Transformers cartoons besides those made in 3D animation… ‘Beast Wars’ I think it was called), it featured explosions and big robots that fought with rubber suited monsters from the silliest and wildest of our imaginations. The bad guys were monsters based on the predicaments or the lesson that the show tried to hammer into our fragile minds in a daily (at least in the schedule that followed my country, we got the show every single day, monday to friday, on the afternoon, just after school) basis. Obviously, it was just many many years later and after shrugging the series as a bunch of badly acted stunts mixed with some nice special effects, transformation sequences and a crazy assortment of characters, that the thing that I was seeing was just a diminished and changed version of something that may be of greater interest to me right now. Toei, a japanese production house famous for its sci fi and fantasy material, turned what would be one of the most profitable ideas in the history of kids television: the super sentai, five normal high-school kids (that look like they should be in college) one day receive the power of certain kind of animals or elements or whatever, from space, and they can transform and fight the bad guys that come in a weekly basis to try and destroy the world, they were called the SUPER SENTAI, and they were exactly the same as the POWER RANGERS. When I learned that I noticed that all the sillyness and bad acting from my childish days may have been probably not fault of the original product, but of the americanization and posterior conversion and plastering of bad ideas that we are so used to have whenever something foreign tries to get into the United States of America. So, when I was seeing the good bits, the fights of the power rangers and the rubber suited baddies, I was seeing unedited fights made by japanese guys from the original super sentai series (dubbed, but who cares), and when I was watching bad american actors, I was seeing reshoots of similar (or maybe entirely different, who can really tell unless you watch them back-to-back) scenes done originally with japanese actors and scenery. So, after many years of thinking about that, along comes an opportunity to finally see if the sillyness comes from the americanization or if it is an imbedded thing into the DNA of what a Sentai series should be, with a feature-lenght movie released on theaters based on the latest installment of the Super Sentai series. My body and mind were ready, so I clicked play and watched.
So I find myself in the midst of already stablished characters and plot devices, which is always confusing, even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t review films that were sequels or based on tv-series, or continuations of the same, or spin-offs, I had to watch this one, it was something else that commanded me to do it. I was inside a flying pirate ship in what seemed a semi-futuristic Neo Tokyo, and inside the ship we had our characters, that I always found silly how they used the colours of the power… I mean, the super sentai that they would become: red, blue, pink and yellow. The other thing about the Power Rangers and the Super Sentai, accodingly, is that the series had to renew from time to time, when the narrative got expanded enough and it ended, new Power Rangers/Super Sentai had to appear, in different circumstances, with new enemies, new characters, new places to visit, it was as if in Doctor Who instead of just changing the actor you also changed the model of the TARDIS, and not even colour wise, I mean in the way of changing it to a can of tunas… so in that case, we had space (which was a favorite of mine in its americanized version), samurais, dragons and now… pirates, I guess they are becoming popular nowadays, but still, I think this hasn’t been translated to an american audience/version still, and I know it’s hard, but if you have kids, or you’re just a kid yourself, or you’re a grown man with a sick fascination with the Power Rangers, you know what’s coming: POWERRRR RANGERRRS ARRRRGH MATEY. So, whatever, this is a movie just over an hour that not only features all the characters and baddies from an already stablished series, but it also features a crossover from a classic sentai series from the 80′s: Space Sheriff Gavan, from the Metal Hero Series, played by veteran sentai actor Kenji Ohba, who not only played the sheriff himself (the role he is mostly known for) but also many other heroes from other big robot and fighting skills tv series, and even some of them feature in a small role inside this barely feature-lenght film, joking about how similar they look to each other.
Anyway, the plot. Uhm. Ok, the plot. Uhm. Well, we begin our story with our heroes crossing the skies on their ridiculously colourful flying pirate ship (that, of course, turns into a giant robot when needed), until they are under attack by the Sheriff Gavan himself, that is looking to put our Super Sentai heroes under jail. Quickly they are overpowered by an amazing catching weapon owned by our oldie superhero and they are sent to some sort of space court that is more similar to a school gym or a hockey stadium than anything else (why decorate when you have a cost-effective place that looks kinda futuristic, but actually doesn’t and that just looks that they didn’t have money for more sets) and right there we see that the boss of Sheriff Gavan, some kind of authority of the universe, had put a warrant for them, and just there he is unveiled to be the bad guy of the series, he had fooled Gavan and he is just appalled by it, so he tries to fight it off alongside our heroes (whose powers have been taken by Gavan, and are returned when he finds out the truth), it all ends when the bad guy come and takes Gavan away, to a prison in a parallel dimension, where he will be tortured forever until our Super Sentai guys come to the rescue. The problem is that the prison in this evil ash-filled dimension is the greatest prison ever made, the most secure and the most dangerous, because in every floor there is a bad guy, and the architecture of the place doesn’t help either, when you can jump from room to room and find yourself in another planet with another rubber-suited baddie waiting for you. A classic in videogames, some kung fu films (Game of Death comes to mind) and animes in general (the 12 houses of the Zodiac in Saint Seya is a classic in that genre of ‘going up levels and defeating bad guys’), the Super Sentai guys and gals split in the different floors and bad guys to try to overpower this quickly. The film turns into a pletora of explosions, fight scenes and cheesy customes that is nothing but a joy to watch.
There is one really silly part of the whole movie in which they arrive at one floor and they find the other inmates of the cell, supposedly, enemies from other episodes of the series in which this movie is based, trapped there since they got defeated, and how they ask and plead our heroes for salvation and freedom. They are, obviously, released, but the whole scene is played for the laughs so clearly that I can’t help but laugh along and remember the sillyness of the american-made series that was so clumsy at trying to achieve the same kind of over-the-top acting in the worst way possible, with stereotypical characters and just clichéd situations that were not good at all. So, the film is cheesy and fun, but that doesn’t make it a good thing, the film is filled with silly good and silly bad moments, after all, we are watching a movie based on a kids series that features giant robots and fights that end up in explosions and sparkles, super bad CGI (I prefered when everything was done the old fashioned way in the first series) and an ending that is not satisfying at all (even if it has an awesome angle to it: it features every sentai encarnation played by Kenji Ohba, but it’s just lame how it all ends up there and not beyond), and even with that, it was a needed trip down a nostalgic path for me, I enjoyed the ride and I’m ready to get on whatever is next in the realm of Power Rangers/Super Sentai with no guilt, because it doesn’t get old, is just you that gets old and doesn’t appreciate the wild imagination that requires for you to believe that rubber-suited guys are actually monsters and that juvenile kids have super strenght and have access to the strongest weapons in the universe. Give it a watch if you’re like me.