True visual sophistication is such a rarity in techno-driven sci-fi that one is tempted to give 8 MAN a better review than it may deserve. For every BLADE RUNNER or TERMINATOR that exhibits an obsession with turning a darkly haunted environment into a character in the story, there exist
hundreds of counterfeits that are myopic when it comes to expressing a directorial vision. If 8 MAN could have matched its razzle-dazzle cinematography with a similar sparkle in realizing its narrative, this film might have been a spectacular success. As it is, 8 MAN offers elegant-looking
When ace detective Azuma (Kai Shishido) is gunned down fielding off bullets meant for Chief Tanaka (Etsuhi Takahasi), the chief can't bring himself to leave the heroic cop bleeding to death on a rain-soaked street. Recalling the android experimentation of Dr. Tani (Joe Shishido), the Chief enlists
his help in transforming the dead Azuma into 8 Man, a semi-robotic crimefighter with an erased memory. In his new guise as a private eye, Azuma/8 Man teams up with his former partner Sowaki (Daisuke Shima) in undermining the Yakuza empire of Yamafugi (Tadeo Nakamaru). When his former lover Sachiko
(Sachiko Ayashi) signs on as his secretary, Azuma/8 Man begins experiencing snippets of recall with a regularity that could jeopardize his effectiveness as an emotionless fighting machine.
Meanwhile, more untoward circumstances arise involving an earlier prototype created by Professor Tani. Although he worked his mechanical-Lazarus treatment on his deceased ne'er-do-well son Ken (Osamu Ohtomo), he didn't iron out all the kinks, including Ken's penchant for casual murder. When 8 Man
falls victim to enemy fire due to a burst of memory, he searches for clues to his dimly remembered past life. Meanwhile, Sowaki sets up a sting that eventually costs him his life, and Ken undermines the police force by cooperating with crime czar Yamafugi.
As the gangsters plot to annihilate 8 Man, Sachiko is taken hostage, only to be rescued by 8 Man (who also kills the assassin responsible for Sowaki's murder). Devious Ken backs out of helping Yamafugi, who is chased to a rooftop by the Chief. After Ken uses his mind control to coerce the Chief
into killing Yamafugi in cold blood, suicidal Ken challenges 8 Man to a deadly mid-air battle in which the superhero emerges victorious. Ken finds the peace he has been seeking, but the noble 8 Man is still caught in a demi-existence between life and death.
This superbly illustrated celluloid comic book looks like it was made with a million-dollar budget. Blue-filtered lighting and shadow-obsessed neon nightlife transform this crime saga into a film noir ghost story. Whereas American versions of this cyborg-zombie motif use the dysfunctional
ubermensch plotline as an action trampoline, this Japanese revamp views the dead-alive scenario as an existential dilemma which precipitates action. Perhaps this saki-soaked cousin of ROBOCOP puzzles over man-machine ambiguities too much, but the movie certainly can't be accused of mindlessness.
Journeying into Frankenstein territory, the film questions the legitimacy of scientific god-playing while also raising troubling questions about survivors' responses to grief.
With its superb fast-speed camera trickery and flawless special effects, 8 MAN exhibits an extraordinary command of film syntax. Unfortunately, its busy legerdemain with the camera overwhelms the screenplay and editing functions. Conversational sequences are comic strip balloon-serious. In terms
of the pacing needed to propel this fantasy, rapid-fire sequences are intercut with chat-fests that drag on past their prime. Talk! Talk! Talk! is followed by Zam! Boom! Pow! Whenever the film slows down to confront the characters' angst, it often slips into bathos. If you can forgive these lapses
and if you're a fan of the plethora of adult-oriented comic books now in specialty stores, then this thinking man's superhero saga is a cult-movie-in-the-making. Preponderantly hip, sometimes static,and always cinematographically splendiferous, 8 Man is based on the 60's Japanese cartoon
TOBOR.(Graphic violence, profanity.)
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