April 24th, 2006


giant robot, come!

Stayed up late Saturday night watching bad television with Eric, as has been our tradition for about two months now. The Cable Co-Op Channel, bless its sick, twisted soul, was showing a marathon of a late '60s Japanese TV show called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. It's about a large cardboard military robot that, under bizarre circumstances, imprints on a little boy named Johnny Sokko, granting him the ability to control the robot by shouting vaguely obscene phrases into his wristwatch. A talented scriptwriter could have made something intelligent and genuinely moving out of this premise--Disney's highly underrated The Iron Giant comes to mind--but this is '60s Japan. So what we get instead is a hilarious sci-fi campfest involving toy tanks, monsters in rubber suits, and a secret global organization of Earth-protectors called--I shit you not--UNICORN. There's an interesting dynamic in which the boy's creepily overenthusiastic man-friend Jerry must protect him from the goofy, yakuza-like criminal organization GARGOYLE, which invariably shows up to kidnap him every time he uses the robot to fight a giant rubber-suited monster from hell or something. Why is GARGOYLE so interested in the robot? In the words of its creator: "Nothing can stop it! Whoever controls it cannot be stopped!"

The primary appeal of this show, however, is the localization. The hilariously oxymoronic "American International Distribution Company" went through great pains to hide everything Japanese about this movie, going as far as to miscredit some Italian guy as the director (the show was created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama), Anglicize the names of all the characters, and redub all the voices with jarringly inaccurate, archetypal '70s movie voices. It's worth a small laugh to hear the wide-eyed, overzealous Jerry Mano talk in the voice of a Chicago gangster, or to hear the demure Marie Hanason talk like a sultry jazz singer--but the real killer is the unintentional innuendo. Maybe I'm just immature or something, but I crack up every time someone delivers a line like, "Oh no! The giant robot is coming! It is coming very fast!"

It's also hilarious how hard the voice actors strain themselves to fool the audience into thinking the characters are speaking English. I don't mean that in a sardonic way--it's honestly very, very funny, in a way the voice actors probably never intended. There are long pauses in the middle of words, phrases shouted in machine-gun staccato, emphases on strange syllables ("Quick, we must run! Don't let him get aWAAAAAAAAAY!"). This is Godzillaspeak at its finest.

The show also gets bonus points for employing '60s Sci-Fi Logic. What does UNICORN do now that they are in possession of the most powerful military robot known to man? They heat it to three thousand degrees, just to show how strong it is! What do they do when they realize said robot is unstoppable? They create a metal that is completely immune to its attacks! (Which, of course, GARGOYLE steals.) Not that GARGOYLE is any better--they kidnap Jerry and Johnny only to leave them unattended in an unlocked Buick, and shoot Jerry at point blank range and miss, and frighten small children for absolutely no reason. Also: full frontal lobotomies are apparently reversible with the power of love.

My favorite episode is the one where the giant robot fights a giant katamari. I'm probably not spoiling much by saying that the robot defeats the katamari by doing the Macarena and shooting missiles out of its fingers. (All of the giant robot's attacks involve doing the Macarena.)

Best thirty yen Japan ever spent.
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