Back after thirty years, can Gavan steal the minds and hearts of kids again?
In my review of Gokaigers, more specifically the movie “Gokaigers vs. Gavan“, I spoke ever so briefly about the movie Gavan. Or as it’s officially known: “Uchuu Keiji Gyaban Za Mubi”… or “Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie”. Released in 2012, it was part of a 30 year anniversary of the Metal Hero series that started with Gavan in 1982. Sadly, things haven’t actually changed in that regard and I have yet to see any more Metal Hero series so going into this movie I didn’t know much more than I did watching the versus movie. Well, I do know a little more but not a lot, mostly information scoured from various Wikipedia articles and the like.
And yes, for those of you keeping track of my promises (you really should stop, it’s a bit creepy), I did promise to review this movie a lot sooner than I ended up doing but shut up, I’m in charge here! It was just a bad time for me and the blog ended up getting sidelined. And by the time that I was in the mood to review it again, I was so far removed from it that I felt I should re-watch it before trying to give a fair opinion on it. I did this very recently so I now feel completely comfortable giving it an honest review.
One year ago, Itsuki lost two of her childhood friends, Geki and Touya. On a mission to investigate a gravity anomaly near Mars, they disappeared with no trace of their fate ever discovered. While the rest of the world has moved on, Itsuki refuses to give up and continues Touya’s research into black holes so he can pick right up when he comes back. But on the anniversary of their disappearance, she’s seemingly randomly attacked by a monster while at work. But in the nick of time, she’s saved by a hero clad in silver. It doesn’t take long for her to guess that her savior was none other than Geki, now a member of the Space Police. But their sweet reunion must wait as a much bigger plot is brewing and they soon realize that the villain’s plan is to revive Don Horror and bring back Makuu Space, a dimension sealed by the previous Gavan. With no other choice, the new Gavan must join forces with the previous Gavan to defeat this evil once again.
This movie is primarily a sequel to the old series and nothing is really mentioned about any space pirates or the Zangyack so apparently all that was cleared up. As such this movie focuses more on a new generation of potential space sheriffs, first and foremost the young Geki Jumonji who is being trained to become the next Gavan. Played by Yuma Ishigaki, he is a hotheaded, young man with more courage than sense. Impetuous by nature, he’s only allowed to stick with the case by passion alone though it eventually does slip out of his hands simply because he didn’t think things through. It’s a pretty typical arc for a hero in a Japanese story, having to learn discipline to unlock the true potential of his innate skills.
His mentor ends up being none other than the previous Gavan who went under the name Retsu Ichijouji (assumed identity during his operations on Earth), again played by the delightful (and my new fanboy crush) Kenji Ohba. Yup, it’s the same guy that was in “Gokaigers vs. Gavan” playing the exact same role (plus a few). And much like there, Ohba has lost very little in terms of presence on the screen and is a pure pleasure to watch. For an old man (relatively speaking), he’s still impressive to see in action as it’s clear he’s lost very little of his skills. Either that or it’s extremely well done stunt work as I swear he’s doing his own moves outside the suit (mostly).
Other actors to reprise their roles from the series is Toshiaki Nishizawa as Commander Qom, the leader of the Space Police, and well known voice actor Shozo Iizuka as the voice of Don Horror, the big bad. If I hadn’t been told, I never for once would’ve thought that the voice of Don Horror himself, in this movie, was done by an eighty year old man. That’s impressive.
The rest of the cast consists of Takuya Nagaoki as Touya, Suzuka Morita as Shelly and Yukari Taka as Itsuki. And honestly I wish I could say impressive things about them but there’s not much to say. Touya doesn’t have much of a presence in the movie and isn’t particularly well acted. And the two women are, true to Japan-style, not very useful. Itsuki is just a damsel in distress and Shelly, the new Gavan’s partner, despite showing some combat prowess, disappears for much of the movie, appearing only to state the bleeding obvious before being pushed aside for her own safety.
Any other cast can at most be considered glorified cameos which is a shame. One addition I particularly enjoyed was the inclusion of Kai Hyuga and Shu Karasuma played by tokusatsu alumni Riki Miura (GekiRanger‘s Violet) and Hiroaki Iwanaga (Tomica Hero Rescue Force‘s R5 and Kamen Rider OOO‘ Birth) respectively. A.K.A. Space Sheriff Sharivan and Space Sheriff Shaider, again, respectively. Meaning the red and blue guys in this picture:
Sharivan was the sequel to Gavan back in the days and Shaider followed Sharivan, making up the Space Sheriff trilogy. Seeing them together like this was a great deal of fun and it’s nice to see that they weren’t entirely forgotten. The trio were eventually reunited in the “Next Generation” shorts in 2014 but I have yet to see that though I am quite eager to. They also returned together in 2013 for the “Super Hero Taisen Z” movie which brought together the Kamen Rider, Super Sentai and Metal Hero franchises in one, big movie. Not seen that either so looking forward to that as well.
Despite never having seen them before nor since then, their inclusion was definitely one of the highlights. Especially since I didn’t even know they were in the movie when I first saw it so when their identities were finally revealed, I couldn’t help but to clap my hands a little. They appear early in the movie in their unarmored state so it was only near the end, when they armored up, that it finally clicked for me.
Sadly the villains of the movie left me feeling rather unimpressed. The only one who was any kind of memorable was Witch Kill, a monster and character clearly supposed to linked with a villain from the original show. She more or less states this out loud when she wants to punish Gavan for killing her sister but it’s pretty obvious from her general design which screams glorious eighties tokusatsu. I wish they’d done more with her in terms of story and character because she ends up being pretty one note despite being the only other villain with an axe to grind.
Revenge may be an old cliche in terms of character motivations but it works because it’s easy to relate to. The other two henchmen, Lizard Doubler and Zan Vardo, adds so little to the movie they might as well not have been there. I realize they needed to pad the numbers to give everyone someone to fight in the end but still, could’ve been done so much better. Removing the two and just having Witch Kill would’ve given her more room to grow. Just replace the two henchmen with generic, easily summonable monsters and you’re set.
Zan Vardo is especially obnoxious because he’s killed early on then revived with a bunch of add-ons and even the other villains start asking how, why and how… yes, especially the how part. He dies and is somehow revived even better. They never give a good reason why or how, the big bad Lord Brighton just does it.
Ah yes, Brighton. Or, as the Japanese would say, Buraiton-sama! He’s the bad guy behind all the evil in the movie and if you haven’t figured out his identity even by now, just reading this, I’d like to welcome you to the world of movies and wish you well on your first step. His identity isn’t much of a secret since the director, Osamu Kaneda, never… ever… lets you forget. To say that it is spelled out is putting it lightly. Saying it’s written on the sky in bright neon colors in the middle of the night is more accurate. I know this show is for kids but give them some credit. Goseigers played around with villain identity far better than this movie and that was a series that took patronizing to heart and ran with it. I’m not going to spoil the identity of the man behind the mask just for those few of you who haven’t figured it out already but come on, it’s not that difficult of a mystery to solve.
Of course, the reason you should be watching this is not Brighton. Hell, it’s not even the new space cops or the henchmen. There’s a singular reason, a single person that’s worth watching this movie for and that is Kenji Ohba. Yeah, I gushed a fair deal over him when I was talking about him in the “Gokaigers vs. Gavan” review and the gushing is just gonna keep on going here. But it’s not necessarily him as an actor that I like even though I do love that he’s very old fashioned in his acting. When both Gavans are sent into Makuu Space, their comedic antics is so old school I felt like I was watching something from the eighties and that suited Ohba far better than Ishigaki. Though Ishigaki was no slouch, I should add, it’s just that Ohba did it better. They finally let loose and not only is it funny, there’s some fourth wall breaking moments as well that aren’t in your face.
He is extremely old school but then so is his character and it’d be odd if they played him any other way. When Geki is hesitant, Retsu simply punches the doubt of him and tells him to be a proper man again. They even fight it out in a river for added effect and Geki’s transformation is finalized when he lands a punch on Retsu. No joke, that’s how it plays out and it’s glorious. Even the fact that the Makuu Space (something returning from the original Gavan) is simply a normal set tinted a different color goes back to how they did it in the past. It’s cheap, it’s ugly and it totally works here for those nostalgia vibes.
And I don’t know if Ohba actually knows any martial arts or not but he’s certainly competent at making it look like he does. But considering his history as a stuntman, going back to the original friggin’ “Himitsu Sentai Gorenger“, martial arts training is not really a stretch. His entry in the movie doesn’t come until the 45 minute mark, way too late in my opinion, but his entrance is flashy, impressive and totally bad ass. He turned sixty this year and I’ve seen people in their twenties less agile than this old man, another reason why I totally adore him. This guy could still easily return to the role of Gavan for a series or few movies and I so want that to happen.
But what I love about him is that he proves the genre still has plenty of room for the middle aged and up. He too returns for “Super Hero Taisen Z“, proving he’s at least popular enough to warrant several returns to the franchise. Or perhaps he’s the only willing. Either way, capitalize on this, dammit. Seeing old Sentai, Riders and Heroes join forces in their old days, as I said in a previous review, would still kick all kinds of major ass. Plus, the old actors often knew quite a bit of martial arts going in which just added to their coolness factor whereas today that’s not much of a requirement and you can tell.
One thing his physical talents gives this movie is some great action scenes. And surprisingly it’s not the armored fights that proved the best here but rather the unarmored ones. Tokusatsu, especially lately, has a really bad tendency to hide the fact that their actors don’t know kung fu, as it were, and instead of hiding it behind thinly veiled stuntmen they quickly toss them into their suits and let the stuntmen take it from there. And I don’t approve. I’m a fan of martial arts movies and while I don’t think the in-suit action is bad (mostly), once you hide their faces behind helmets you KNOW it’s not the same people. They used to hire stuntmen a whole lot for their tokusatsu shows and it’s one of the reasons why, despite the sometimes poorer acting, I prefer the old shows. At the end of the day, it’s an action show, not a drama show so the focus should be on finding actors that can do the action part first and the drama second.
You don’t hire Jackie Chan for his drama skills or his good looks, you hire him because of kung fu.
That being said, the action is overall pretty nice but there’s surprisingly little of it for a movie of this size. The focus lies instead on the plot and watching the mystery unravel, however obvious it might be, which I’ve been told goes back to how Gavan as a series worked. However, this unfortunately means you have a lot of time to think about the plot and… well, it doesn’t work. The mystery simply isn’t compelling enough so to put it out in the spotlight for as long as they did simply breaks the flow. Normally this is weighed up by flashy battle sequences but there’s only like three battles throughout the movie with some additional chase scenes sprinkled throughout and these are easily the good parts. That and anything with Ohba. The scene where he takes on, and beats, the three henchmen unarmored is going down in my personal favorites-book.
Whenever the movie tries to be serious it becomes very uninteresting and you quickly lose focus. These were often the times where I’d play a few games on my phone or check my e-mail. You can look away for five minutes and even without knowing Japanese, still get the gist of it. I have no problems with uncomplicated movies but they in turn need to stop pretending like their stories are deep.
And you can’t talk about tokusatsu without talking about the suits. Both Gavan’s have very similar suits… well, I say very similar but they’re nearly identical but for detailing.
This makes complete sense since their armor is similar to a uniform. What doesn’t make sense, at least to me, is that Retsu is still running around with his armor from thirty years ago whereas Geki gets a brand spanking new one. From a practical viewpoint, I get why they did it for the audience. We know from the Gokaiger crossover movie that he’s still active so saying he’s retired doesn’t quite work. Surely they’d upgrade his armor? If there were significant updates, anyhow.
That being said, I still prefer the retro design for Retsu over the modern Geki design. To make it appear more modern, instead of the colored buttons most prominently on his chest he has an LED screen that lights up during special attacks. That’s fine, modern and all that, but the lack of color makes it a bit tedious to look at as it’s… well, just silver. I don’t like silver much as a color personally but in this case it just makes it too samey. It lacks a proper identity and is far too generic. It’d make sense if it was a standard uniform of sorts but it’s not, by all accounts there’s only one Gavan active at any given time, except for team up movies.
In that sense I much prefer the Sharivan and Shaider because at least they were red and blue. Plus the detailing and minor design choice were better on those two. But if I had to pick one over the other, I’d pick Retsu’s design over Geki because that splash of color makes it more bearable.
But the rest of the suits in the movie aren’t all that much to look at, at least design wise. Zan Vardo and Lizard Doubler look and act like generic monsters of the week and is easily forgettable. Brighton is gold, a better choice than Gavan’s silver but still not that interesting as a color choice. The only villain with an interesting design is Witch Kill, going back to her roots in the eighties.
Maybe they’re all supposed to link back to old villains, perhaps from Shaider or Sharivan, but I wouldn’t know any such connections, sadly. I also don’t get what Doubler is supposed to reference so I definitely feel like I’m missing something here.
All my complaints aside, though, I actually enjoyed this movie far more than I should have. I see the flaws but ultimately it all boils down to a sticky, sugary mess that I can’t get enough of. It’s that treat you know is shit for you but you can’t help but to say “Oh yum, more please.” whenever it’s presented to you. It takes willpower to resist and here I’m just powerless. Kenji Ohba coupled with the, even for my hobbies, obscure (at least in terms of availability) franchise makes this a delicious treat for people who enjoy tokusatsu, especially the old stuff.
And even if it’s not a great movie on its own, I think there’s just enough here for even people with no interest in tokusatsu to enjoy. The action is at worst just decent, the suits are perhaps not all that interesting but they are high quality and it’s a colorful and different enough action movie from Hollywood to make it at least curiously interesting. I really do hope that despite not materializing yet, the continued appearance of the three Space Sheriffs suggest that Toei at least have a passing interest in reviving the series, Ohba or no Ohba… but it should have Ohba in it.
I don’t know, maybe I am scurrying to find reasons to give it a thumbs up and… well, okay, maybe I should just stop that. It’s worth a watch, in my opinion, ’cause it’s fun. And what more do you really need?