Monday, July 21, 2014

Cyber Monday: LADY BATTLE COP (1990)

Early RoboCop prototype (left)
Space Sheriff Gavan (right)
As we all know, 1987's ROBOCOP was a major success in the US as well as around the world. In spite of being a scathing satire of American corporations, no matter where you lived or where you worked, there was something in the movie for you. If not the skewering of modern (anti)social behavior in the corporate business world, there was the over-the-top action, gruesome effects and the slick design of RoboCop himself.

Rob Bottin was tasked with creating the design of RoboCop, which originally was intended to be a pretty obvious reworking of Judge Dredd. Interestingly, as tokusatsu fans could have told you, the second RoboCop design was inspired by the title character of Toei's 1978 Japanese TV series "Space Sheriff Gavan". Because of this connection, it's rather amusing to see things come full circle with this Toei DTV ROBOCOP knock-off LADY BATTLE COP.

Set in the not too distant future, or as the film tells us "sometime... somewhere...", Neo Tokyo has fallen into a rubble and burn-barrel littered chaos of drunks, prostitutes and syndicate killers. According to the Neo Tokyo news, the latest virus to spread from the United States is a new arm of the Cartel, an organized crime outfit that has arms across the globe, but you know is American because they have one black guy working for them.

Opening in a bar full of punks dancing to bad metal, two groups of tailored suit clad Yakuza are about to draw down on each other when a group of camo-clad militants with automatic weapons burst in and blow the living crap out of everyone. Even the liquor bottles aren't safe! The head of the Cartel's cap-busting subdivision is known as Phantom (Masashi Ishibashi recognizable from a dozen Sonny Chiba films and a couple of "Kamen Rider" series) lets one member of each gang live however, so that they can send a message back to their bosses: "From now on, this town will be under the control of the Cartel! Senseless fights won't be allowed anymore!" Damn straight! Senseless fighting is bad, senseless killing is just fine. It's an important distinction, I guess.

Neo Tokyo cop, Saijo (Kisuke Yamashita), has a plan to crack the Cartel case and before executing his plan decides to do a television interview where he announces his dedication to squashing the syndicate. Brother you better be DirtyfuckingHarry if you are going to be identifying yourself on national TV as a threat to the mob. Saijo is friends with another cop, Naoya, who is trying to crack the case from a different angle, but with the same subtlety. Paving the way for a new wave of crime control, Naoya is the leading cop/scientist on a project that will bring robotics to the police force (take that Captain Coldyron!). The project is so hush-hush that even the audience can't be allowed to know any of the details, except that the project is in the last stages of completion and all they need is someone to donate their body in order to finish the project.

The Cartel knows damn well what is going down (though how they know is apparently also top secret), and sends Phantom and his thugs down to the lab to kill everyone and blow up the building. Unfortunately, or fortunately as we see later, Naoya and his champion tennis player fiancee, Karu (Azusa Nakamura), descide to stop by the office on their way home from a boating trip (complete with an Alan Hale captain's hat). Of course they are caught up in the shootings and are both gravely wounded. They manage to escape from Phantom and a telekinetic roid-rage dude, named Amadeus (I don't make this stuff up) who pops up out of nowhere. Scrambling back to Naoya's lab, Karu begs him to use her as his donor for the project before she dies. Surprisingly this only takes a matter of minutes and is completed before the bombs go off and completely obliterate the facility and Naoya as well.

Six months later Saijo still hasn't learned how to conduct an investigation, opting this time to try to browbeat some information about the Cartel out of a random bartender at the same club from the beginning of the film. Such a blundering tool is he that even when an ex-cop offers to help him with some information that he uncovered before being fired from the police force, Saijo refuses to even listen to the guy accusing him of being a drunk. If he read any pulp detective novels he'd know that the best information is obtained by interrogating raving alcoholics. Leave every stone unturned, that's his motto!

While walking home from the club through a dirt street filled with homeless, drunks and a staggering number of hookers who are clearly pleased to see a man in a suit and tie, Phantom and his men corner him among some conveniently placed boxes and barrels and just before they kill him RoboChick comes to his aid! Presumably she was in the neighborhood to show the prostitutes how to attract Japanese men - cybernetics are hawt! Unfortunately for them, Phantom brought along Amadeus to compose a symphony of death (note this line is not actually used in the movie, but should have been)! Amadeus' main power, aside from appearing to have an aneurysm every time he sees our fetching fembot, is hurling I-beams via telekinesis. Apparently all of the drunks have dropped them while reaching for the bottle, so there are always plenty to be found.

We know the Lady Battle Cop is a woman, not because she wears red lipstick, has an earring and high heels, but because her armor is shaped to give the suggestion of breasts and a curvaceous oishi. This begs the question, were they actually looking for a female donor? I mean, I realize that these are Japanese scientists and this is probably the only way they would be able to get their hands on a woman's body, but it seems odd all the same. Particularly given the Japanese view of women at the time which is spelled out in the endlessly repeating theme song that features the lyric "women are made for tennis." The only other option is that Naoya was able to reshape the armor into a semblance of femininity and perform the procedure before the bomb goes off. No wonder the Japanese damn near took over America in the '80s. Frankly, I'd rather them than China. I mean, it's a pretty easy choice between Ultraman and Super Inframan, who would you rather see save the world from giant rubber monsters? Sorry Danny Lee, go back to playing cops.

After Phantom fails his assignment yet again, the Cartel decides he can have a shoulder mounted laser cannon, but if he takes it, he will no longer get any assistance from Amadeus. Why? Presumably since they are a large bureaucracy, they have some sort of check-out policy where you cannot have two superweapons out at the same time. You don't even want to know what their late return penalty is.

Now it's time for all out war between Phantom and Battle Cop in several abandoned factories and warehouses. Of course in spite of the refusal to allow both the laser and Amadeus to be used by Phantom at the same time, you know he has to show up again for a final battle.

Briefly legitimately released to Western audiences in the latter days of VHS, the film was given fanmade subtitles and made the rounds in the trading circles of the '90s. The movie is definitely a mixed bag. On the one hand, the action is satisfyingly bloody, the futuristic setting is entertaining, and there are some interesting twists on the formula. On the other hand, the movie has some serious pacing issues. Director Akihisa Okamoto seems to have made his career as a second unit and assistant director in the '70s and it shows here. The movie lacks the scope that it could have had by using matte paintings, miniatures or even simply skylines to show the expanse of the futuristic city. It feels like Okamoto is trying to make up for this larger world-view by giving us lots of scenes of people walking, hanging out, or just having Lady Battle Cop riding around the countryside on her motorcycle. Granted, no metal hero outing is complete without a motorcycle, but don't expect any cycle stunts or even a wheelie here.

While we do get some cool character actors (the late Toshiaki Nishizawa of "Gavan" fame shows up as Soijo's chief), the character of Amadeus should have been fleshed out a bit more. I hate to say it in this day and age when in Hollywood films even the neighbor's dog has to have a back story, but while we get some great shots of Amadeus and we are told that he was a government experiment that the Cartel corrupted, we never get any scenes of him doing anything other than randomly popping up and attacking Battle Cop. Some scenes of Amadeus wreaking havoc and Lady Robo taking out some random criminals to set the stage for the big battle on the Cartel would have gone a long way. Even worse the film ends with a bit of a cliffhanger setting the stage for a sequel that never happened, and honestly I would have loved to see some sequels from different directors. The concept of a RoboCop taking on psychic cyborgs has inconceivable potential.

Even with its flaws, the film has enough low-budget entertainment value to warrant a visit, and if you dig tokusatsu stuff, you'll definitely want to give it a spin when in a forgiving state of mind.

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