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Movie Review: Testsujin 28, The Movie

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Tetsujin 28 was an anime series that became more widely famous when it was repackaged for American TV as Gigantor. Recently celebrating its fortieth anniversary, the series was remade as a new anime with the latest animation techniques and a more adult tone (which I've also reviewed here on Blogcritics).

This live-action feature film version was also released last year for the anniversary, but it seems to be aimed more at family consumption.

Testsujin 28 is a giant robot built for peaceful purposes but in danger of being commandeered as a war machine. The late inventor's son, Shotaro, has to face his family's demons when a rival inventor unleashes a menacing giant black robot to terrorise Tokyo. Only Shotaro can operate the remote controls of his father's robot that's been hidden from the world, the only one that can stop Black Ox.

The film peaks early when ‘bad robot’ Black Ox makes its spectacular appearance and beats up the Tokyo Tower, while it's still filled with tourists. There's a marvellous moment when it comes face to face with a little girl.

It’s a marvelous set-piece, but there’s little else like it for the remainder of the film. If there had been more robot interaction with people, like you get with the Godzilla films, it could’ve saved the film for me.

The CGI FX are seamless, and the compositing is uncanny, like the placing of robots into the Tokyo landscape from constantly shifting helicopter viewpoints. Close-up, the robots' original manga designs have been turned into 3D CGI models and look wonderful. They are also realistically sized at about four stories high, rather than the ridiculous scale of the monsters in Japanese Godzilla films.

But we’re starved of drama on a human or a robot level. The adults haven’t much to do but run around, and the robots don’t even do that. When Black Ox meets Tetsujin 28, they have a dull, slow-motion boxing match, even sticking to the Marquis of Queensbury rules (no punching below the belt). Where’s Ultraman’s dynamic fight choreographer when you need him most?

Also, rather than stick to the original story's post-war Japan setting, the film is set in modern day, meaning that many of the original plot elements have had to be lost, like the black market gangsters. At least the filmmakers pay homage by having some of the characters in retro outfits (or hats) to hark back to the anime characters' original looks.

Stripping too many sub-plots away has left the story virtually plotless, and all uncontroversial enough to be a family film. It’s interesting that in Japan, family movies are made less violent than their cartoon counterparts, whereas in America the live-action movies based on comics are more violent (I’m thinking of the Batman and Spiderman franchises specifically).

It's basically 'good robot versus bad robot', and I must have blinked because I missed the whole reason why the baddie was making the bad robot do bad things in the first place.

The cast is good, especially Sosuke Ikematsu as Shotaro, the boy who operates Tetsujin's remote control. A couple of the adults overact a little, but it’s in keeping with their characters’ anime counterparts.

In a nutshell, if you like giant robots (or as the Japanese call them, 'Mecha'), you’ll probably want to see this. The special effects are superb, but the whole tale is severely lacking in momentum or drama, and may not be pacey enough for a younger audience.

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