Film / Reviews

'City Hunter The Movie: Shinjuku Private Eyes': Dated gags in modern-day Tokyo

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

It’s back. “City Hunter,” the Tsukasa Hojo-penned manga about a crime-solving “sweeper” for hire named Ryo Saeba (Akira Kamiya) was pretty much an anime institution in the 1980s, adapted into a string of anime series and films starting in 1987. It even spawned a live-action version in Hong Kong starring Jackie Chan.

Throughout, the concept stayed largely the same. Those in trouble would write “XYZ” on a signboard at Shinjuku Station to enlist the services of Ryo, who, aside from his skills as a master marksman and all-around badass, was also a creep whose attempts to fondle his inevitably beautiful clients would be comically crushed — literally — by his hammer-wielding partner Kaori (Kazue Ikura).

With its “Miami Vice”-inspired pastel-and-neon depiction of Shinjuku’s seedy bubble-era underbelly and danceable synth-pop soundtrack, “City Hunter” definitely captured a cultural moment, but the franchise eventually petered out with a final made-for-TV anime film in 1999.

City Hunter The Movie: Shinjuku Private Eyes
Rating
Run Time 95 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens Feb. 8

Cut to 2019. The first “City Hunter” film in two decades, “City Hunter The Movie: Shinjuku Private Eyes,” brings Ryo and company into the 21st century, where they haven’t aged a day — much like whenever James Bond gets recast. Unlike the Shinjuku of “City Hunter” past, the city has become a squeaky-clean tourist attraction — in the opening sequence, Ryo saves Kabukicho’s new Godzilla statue from near destruction, after which it lets out a roar in ostensible appreciation. Product placement in anime has come a long way, too. While the original series featured copyright infringement-dodging storefronts like “Pizza House,” Ryo now downs glasses of Suntory beer, complete with big ol’ logo close-ups.

“City Hunter” shares something else with Bond: Ryo’s womanizing has not aged well. The fact that Kaori has to keep a constant eye on him, lest he put his hands all over the woman he has been hired to protect, is not a good look in 2019.

The woman Ryo is protecting this time around is Ai Shindo (Marie Iitoyo), the daughter of a scientist recently killed in a suspicious traffic accident. She’s being trailed by a team of mercenaries dispatched by Shinji Mikuni (Koichi Yamadera), the young genius founder of a giant tech company. As it turns out, his company is secretly developing an army of advanced military-grade attack drones. Ai’s father created the final, essential component of those drones, and now Shinji needs her help to unlock it. Fearing for her life, Ai writes “XYZ” on that iconic Shinjuku signboard (now powered by smartphone augmented reality), and it’s Ryo to the rescue, his attempts to cop a feel notwithstanding.

It’s probably not spoiling anything to reveal those drones don’t remain dormant throughout the whole film — the climactic battle features some classic “City Hunter” action as Ryo repels them with his trusty Magnum.

“Shinjuku Private Eyes” is clearly working the nostalgia angle hard. Drones, smartphones and other signs of the times aside, this is the classic “City Hunter” formula, down to the iconic closing theme by TM Network. There’s even a cameo from the women of “Cat’s Eye,” another classic Tsukasa Hojo property. Longtime fans will no doubt have fun seeing Ryo on his first mission in 20 years, and newcomers will probably dig the well-animated action sequences. But the film’s out-of-touch attempts at humor may find them hunting for the reason the franchise was so popular in the first place.