Over the course of 52 episodes in 1974, the Japanese “tokusatsu” series Denjin Zaborger followed the adventures of a studly young secret agent and a transforming robot that could be a motorcycle or an armored martial-arts master, depending on the situation. Karate-Robo Zaborgar, writer-director Noboru Iguchi’s tongue-in-cheek revival of the Zaborger franchise, compresses what would’ve taken roughly two dozen episodes on the original series into one action-packed two-hour film, in which everything from the original is twisted—sometimes a little, and sometimes a tremendous lot. Yasuhisa Furuhara plays the hero, who still tools around on his robo-bike (now spelled “Zaborgar” in English), thwarting the plans of a mad scientist and his sexy, antenna-sporting cyborg sidekick. But while on the surface Karate-Robo Zaborgar is colorful and kid-friendly, some of its elements are fairly kinky. The bad guy’s floating fortress resembles a giant scrotum; his bikini-clad minions have screeching dragons that pop out of their breast area; and at one point Zaborgar is attacked by an acid-spewing “Diarrhea Robot.”
The result is a movie that offers all of the kicks of classic tokusatsu—robots, superheroes, gigantic stuff—without the tedium of grinding slowly through flat pulp plots. Iguchi’s best move is dividing Karate-Robo Zaborgar into two parts, with the second hour taking place 25 years after the first (and with Furuharu replaced by the older, more hangdog Itsuji Itao). The time jump allows Iguchi to thumb his nose at nostalgia, as he shows the human hero as a pathetic middle-aged man, bested by his worst enemy: diabetes. And yet, even as Iguchi is filling the screen with boob-missiles, he has all the superhero poses, cool gadgets, and flying kicks that made this genre so popular internationally a half-century ago. He even peps up the closing credits with clips from the original series that show that he didn’t take as many liberties as newcomers may think. Iguchi may have tweaked the meanings of some parts to make them more suggestive, but the parts themselves? Factory originals.
Key features: Nineteen minutes of short comic sketches featuring the heroes.