Film / Reviews

‘Hentai Kamen: Abnormal Crisis’: Japan’s pervy hero is top-crotch

by James Hadfield

If you’re craving an alternative to the self-important bluster of Hollywood’s never-ending superhero pageant, there’s no need to wait until “Deadpool” opens in Japanese cinemas next month. For a quick fix of trashy comic-book irreverence, this homegrown product should do the trick nicely.

Keishu Ando’s manga series “Kyukyoku!! Hentai Kamen” (“Ultimate!! Pervert Mask”), the tale of a schoolboy who transforms into a steroidal superhero by pulling a pair of women’s panties over his head, gained instant cult status when it appeared in Shonen Jump in the early 1990s.

Japan’s mainstream media has become considerably less indulgent of such kinkiness during the intervening decades, though, which made Ando’s creation seem an unlikely candidate for the big-screen treatment. Commercial expectations for the first “Hentai Kamen” movie in 2013 (released overseas as “HK: Forbidden Super Hero”) were so low that it initially opened in just a dozen cinemas nationwide, only to become a surprise sleeper hit.

The studio hadn’t counted on the appeal of the film’s star, Ryohei Suzuki, perhaps the only Japanese actor of his generation who’s both brave and brawny enough to pull off a role like this. Showing a Channing Tatum-esque disregard for propriety, Suzuki buffed, trimmed and oiled himself to perfection for the part, which required him to appear in little but fishnet stockings and a bulging thong, fashioned by pulling a pair of underpants over his shoulders.

It was silly, it was shameless, and — against all logic — it worked.

Of course, this was before Suzuki had starred in an NHK morning TV drama, the ultimate ticket to clean-cut respectability, and fronted billboard ad campaigns. That he would so eagerly reprise a role that his talent agency probably considered career suicide is encouraging. After all, nothing scares off lucrative advertising clients faster than overt displays of sexual deviance, even if they’re as immaculately toned as this one.

In this second outing, Hentai Kamen’s alter ego, Kyosuke Shikijo, has graduated to university, but he’s struggling to abandon his career as a masked crime-fighter. When his girlfriend, Aiko (Fumika Shimizu), forces him to return the embroidered panties that were the linchpin of his HK wardrobe, Kyosuke resolves to put his superhero antics on permanent hold. However, with a mysterious villain vacuuming up women’s panties nationwide, it isn’t long before he’s drawn back into the fray.

Ando’s original manga was a classic case of what’s known as “deochi,” the term for when a comedian gets their biggest laugh at the start of a skit, and “Abnormal Crisis” runs into similar problems. Hentai Kamen is the main joke, and once the absurdity of this dandyish S&M superhero wears off, there isn’t much else for the film to do. The second half drags noticeably, as Kyosuke seeks counsel from a mountain-dwelling sensei (Ken Yasuda, in a role that should have been a lot funnier) and battles against a dull Doctor Octopus-style villain (Yuya Yagira).

Though the climax is worth the wait, taking advantage of a significantly bigger effects budget, director Yuichi Fukuda would have benefitted from shaving at least 15 minutes from the running time. And while Shimizu is good value as the virginal Aiko, Ayame Misaki is miscast as a sultry university lecturer who attempts to seduce Kyosuke. (Would it have been asking too much to get an actress who was actually older than Suzuki?)

What’s missing, of course, is anything genuinely transgressive. As befits a character that originated in a magazine for teenage boys, the humor in “Abnormal Crisis” is relatively tame, especially compared with the excesses of many current American comedies. Suzuki spends plenty of time smooshing opponents’ faces into his crotch, but that’s about as tasteless as the film is willing to get.

Still, what a crotch.