I'd like to start this review by quoting Aunt May from the Spider-Man franchise:
"I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams."
I believe there's a zebra in some of us.
Takashi Miike's offbeat comedy is an hysterically funny send-up of 'Power Rangers'-style live -action children's television shows. Despite your best efforts to hate the spandex-wearing titular hero, you'll most likely end up loving him.
Shin'ichi Ichikawa is a lowly, unrespected middle school teacher with a wife who cheats on him, a young son being bullied at school, and a wayward, tarted up daughter. Ichikawa finds solace by dressing up as the hero of an all-but-forgotten Japanese show: ZebraMan. The titular hero stood for truth, justice, etc. and Ichikawa longs to be ZebraMan.
To escape his life, Ichikawa constructs a ZebraMan 'suit' from paper mache and practices 'Flying Hoof Kick' and 'Zebra Stomp' behind locked doors. Ichikawa finds an unusual friend in a young schoolboy who also hero-worships the striped superhero.
While patrolling his neighborhood one evening dressed as ZebraMan, Ichikawa battles a strange crab-headed serial-killer, and actually displays a superpower by performing a 'Flying Hoof Kick'! Before long his life starts to slowly turn around as his new powers develop, but an alien menace emerges.
Can Ichikawa master his ZebraMan powers in time to avert total annihilation? How is it possible that he has powers in the first place? Were the original ZebraMan shows something more than just a cancelled television show?
'ZebraMan' has a lot going for it -- it has a surprisingly catchy theme, the acting is superb, and the whole concept is so funny I had a very hard time keeping my composure. There's something in the 'Ultraman'/'Power Rangers' phenomena that begs to be comedically skewered, and this film does it. But surprisingly, for all the ridiculous heroic posturing from Ichikawa, you will most likely end up cheering for him.
'Zebraman's great strength is that it heaps one unbelievable scene on top of another until it feels almost impossible to endure. For example, while Ichikawa has mastered a wide array of impressive zebra-inspired kicks and punches he is told that he cannot possibly avert an alien attack unless he masters the final zebra-esque ability: flight.
So we see poor Ichikawa crashing through trees and landing (badly) in a very funny montage, until he is left battered, bruised and unconscious, his once mighty costume now in tatters. Ichikawa's situation gets more dire and funny when a police detective informs him (after his 200th attempt at flying) that if he doesn't figure it out everyone's going to die and nonchalantly adds, "You'll figure it out."
I never even realized zebras could fly.
If you're a fan of over-the-top cinema, give 'ZebraMan' a shot.