Thursday, 27 December 2018

Batman Ninja (2018) - Movie Review an encounter with a time travel built by a super-intelligent gorilla (because this is the world of comic books), Batman, his closest allies and his greatest foes are all transported to the days of feudal Japan. This is the kind of high-concept lunacy that makes for some of the best Elseworlds stories and, as Sony/Marvel would end up showing months after this film’s initial release, there’s a lot of room in the market for bonkers reimaginings of our favourite superheroes. And quite honestly, even if for pure geek-out value, this is most definitely one to check out.

The visuals are in-line with director Junpei Mizusaki’s past work… in that it all looks like a video-game cutscene. It combines more traditional 2D backgrounds with CG-assisted character designs (done by Takashi Okazaki, well-known for another Eastern-Western mash-up with Afro Samurai) in a way that definitely gives it a controller-friendly sheen, but the end results absolutely stand out as visual storytelling. The character remodelling is solid across the board, right down to the Joker who gets this almost Popee The Performer-esque facelift that somehow makes him even more terrifying than ever before (it’s like standard Joker scares combined with the Uncanny Valley; it’s a strange but frighteningly effective result), and it even dips into the more experimental with a side story done in a more traditional Japanese art style.

But yeah, for the most part, it’s CGI city and it makes for some of the most jaw-droppingly awesome moments I’ve seen all year. Explaining precisely why would only serve to deaden the surprise factor for bits of it, but I’ll put it like this: It takes the iconography of Batman and his colourful rogue’s gallery, and combines it with Japanese anime staples like ninjas, samurais and big mechs that combine into an even bigger mech. The levels of sheer joy that register when watching the action scenes here are staggering, especially when some of the animals join in on the big climactic throwdown. On sheer Rule Of Cool, this passes with flying colours… and the best part is that this has a curiously viable reason to watch it more than once.

When most Japanese animated products make their way to the West, the process of changing it to English-speaking actors or even just adding English subtitles can end up altering the original in often unavoidable ways. There are some things that just don’t translate across that language barrier, and when you’re dealing with characters well-known for making puns, that can be a problem. What I’m getting at with all this is that the Japanese version by Kazuki Nakashima (who wrote Gurren Lagann) and the American version by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia are very stylistically different in their dialogue.

The Japanese version leans heavier into the setting, highlighting more of the historical context as well as building on a nature vs. technology theme that ends up giving the finale some subtext to read into while your brain explodes from the awesomeness. Meanwhile, the American version focuses more on the characters, viewing the change in locale through their eyes while also giving more emphasis on individual character traits, particularly among the villains like the Joker and Poison Ivy.

Usually, going for either the dub or the sub comes down to personal taste, but here, both versions honestly have their individual benefits and deficits over each other. As an experiment, after reading up on this dichotomy, I watched the film with the English audio but also with the subtitles for the Japanese audio track. While most of the dialogue is largely the same, the moments that differ do so quite wildly. It legit feels like two different films operating under one name. And quite frankly, a film this glorious having a legit reason to watch it more than once is kind of genius in its own way. It’s an act of cultural exchange where both sides have something unique to contribute and worth hearing out on their own terms. It’s not just badass; it’s the kind of badass that brings nations together.

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