Most superhero sequels pick up the action shortly after the first film, of course there are exceptions but the majority of the time they’re on familiar ground and feature most of the same characters. But this is director Takashi Miike so things were never going to be that simple, and though the first one was a fairly grounded origin tale about a meek teacher who gained the powers of the superhero from a tv series he used to idolise, which came with a surprisingly touching subplot about a friendship he made with one of his students, this relocates the action to twenty five years in the future and is a quite different piece.
The plot’s all kinds of convoluted but the short version is that the Tokyo’s been turned in to Zebra City, and became a model city of experimental political reform, one of which is Zebra Time where the Zebra Police are allowed to kill people for no good reason for five minutes, twice a day, and for those in power all criminal acts committed during that time are forgiven. Apparently crime rates have halved and 20 American states are thinking of taking it on, but I’m not convinced it’s the best ever idea, but hey, in these post Brexit times maybe it’s worth giving it a shot.
Also involved in this madness is the Zebra Queen (Riisa Naka, camping it up delightfully), a pop star who murders her rivals, and is in league with the mayor of Zebra City. She wants to bring back the aliens from the first film too as a young girl is still possessed by one of them, though no one knows where she is right now. And Zebraman (Shô Aikawa) himself? Well, that’s a long old story, but at the beginning of the film he’s wandering around suffering from amnesia, and it looks like his time might be up when he encounters a large group of Zebra Police during Zebra Time, whose mission is to wipe out the weak.
As you might have guessed then, yes it is a surreal old thing, made all the more unusual by Zebraman encountering an old student now working as a nurse who’s looking after survivors of the Zebra Police’s ultra violent actions. He’s helped out by an out of work actor who’s trying to train the patients in to becoming an army, and he just happens to have played Zebraman in a tv series based on the events of the first film, which conveniently helps Zebraman remember who is but also allows Miike to satirise his own movie. The possessed girl is also a key part to proceedings, and the reveal of what happened to Zebraman in the past to cause his amnesia is a truly bizarre one.
Like the first film the absurdity of such a character, and the tv show(s) he appears in are responsible for a lot of the laughs, but the evil Zebra Queen is also deliciously over the top and one of the best villains I’ve seen in ages. Miike’s direction is playful (as the above picture shows), but unfortunately there is one minor issue when it comes to the Zebra Queen in that sometimes the camera lingers over her body in a way that feels rather creepy, and there’s no need for such a revealing costume. Fortunately that’s the only downside to a film though which is incredibly odd yet just as lovable as the first, and the ending is one of most memorable in cinema history, making it a definite must see.
Our review of Zebraman