On his Invincible Super-Blog, Chris Sims wrote a fine review of the 1987 Japanese movie Sukeban Deka that was enough to make me put it at the top of my Netflix queue, and for that I’m thankful.
Still, it’s hobbled by the old “aren’t those Japanese people wacky?” mentality that doesn’t really capture the sheer awesomeness of a movie like this. I mean, he hits on the old stand-bys of tentacle rape, bukkake, and goofy translations — frankly, it’s all just a little too easy and obvious.
An hour after reading that review, I was already hungry for a more detailed analysis of the movie, one that I could tell apart from all the other reviews (you see what I did there?!?) of wacky Japanese action fantasies based on a TV show based on a manga. So I’ve prepared the following photo essay to explain exactly why Sukeban Deka: The Movie is required viewing for anybody who likes things that are awesome:
1. The movie knows what the people want, and it doesn’t waste time. We only spend 15 minutes or so in flashbacks to the TV series and scenes of our heroine as an 18-year-old retiree, happily readjusting to her normal life as a high school senior. She’s quickly back on the bus and kicking ass with her yo-yo.
2. After torturing a schoolgirl with a defibrillator, the foppish silk-glove-wearing villain makes an offer for her to join his team. Extra credit for including his main henchman in the Foster Grants, Roy Orbi-san.
3. The mission is to infiltrate an evil school (called “Hell Castle”) trying to overthrow the Japanese government. In a flashback montage designed to show how evil the school is, a Japanese girl with “Edge of Seventeen”-era Stevie Nicks hair fails to completely identify a gun, causing her teacher to push a button that clamps leg-irons around the girl which jolt her with a few thousand volts.
4. The equivalent of Q and Oscar Goldman for the Sukeban Deka program is this dude in his early 40s who drives up and picks up our heroine while she’s waiting on the side of the road. Nothing at all creepy about that. You can’t see it in the picture, but he’s just whipped off a pair of tinted sunglasses, David Caruso-in-CSI: Miami style.
5. The head of the program is an old chubby man called the Dark Director, who’s always indoors and wearing sunglasses and these awesome gangster suits.
6. To establish how dangerous the villain is, we see a flashback to his supposed death, which I’m guessing is from the TV series. They’re talking very gravely about what a horrible threat the villain is, while we see stills of some effeminate dude gasping and then blowing up.
7. Marble Girl O-Kyo is my favorite character in the movie. Attacking people with marbles is the lamest power in the movie — and keep in mind the coolest power in this movie is attacking guys with yo-yos — but she’s not going to let that stop her. She’s even cocky about it.
8. There’s not just one, but two deadly yo-yo wielding schoolgirls in this movie. Apparently “Saki Asamiya” is a James Bond-style code name, and our heroine is actually the second girl chosen to fight crime via yo-yos. This is her annoying successor, who does have a cool glove but that’s about it. Everybody calls her “SD3” which we’re supposed to assume stands for “Sukeban Deka” but really stands for “Scrappy Doo.”
9. The villains in this movie really enjoy their jobs. This is right before Saki uses her yo-yo to make the helicopter explode. In case you’re wondering, this scene happens when the girls decide to meet a friend in a quarry filled with explosive barrels, and they’re surprised when that plan goes horribly awry.
10. The girls make a nice dinner for themselves while they discuss their battle plans on elaborately-detailed maps they drew themselves with colored markers.
11. Pervy Q guy drives up quietly in the middle of the night to the seaside apartment where the teenage girls are having a slumber party. Nothing at all creepy about that. He gives our heroine the Ultimate Yo-yo, which is 4 times as powerful as her previous yo-yo and does 16 times the damage. He also gives her a brace to wear under her schoolgirl uniform, with the warning that if she uses the Ultimate Yo-yo too many times, it will shatter all the bones in her shoulder.
12. After their moonlit aquatic assault on the island, the girls tear off their matching pink jumpsuits to reveal matching schoolgirl uniforms underneath.
13. The girls synchronize their watches. Really, this one shot sums up everything about Sukeban Deka: the thing to remember as a westerner watching anything Japanese is that yes, they get the joke. The death count for this movie is at least 50 people, and there’s a lobotomy, torture scene, and a cyborg who gets half his face ripped off. In the US in 1988, that would’ve been too graphic for adult TV fare. In Japan in 1988, the making-of feature for this movie said that it was run as a double feature with “another kids’ action movie.”
14. This guy is an undead creature who goes on a psychotic rampage through the evil base. Okay, that doesn’t really happen. But you get the sense that it could have happened, and with everything else going on, that’s enough.
15. With her friends chained up and forced to look on, our heroine is attacked by the cape-wearing elite squadron of Hell Castle. Not much remarkable about this scene, in retrospect, but you’ve got to admit the capes were a nice touch.
16. The dramatic final showdown begins with 20 seconds of these two shots flipping back and forth at a seizure-inducing rate. And the villain turns out to have a cyborg hand (even though we already knew that from the previous fight, but whatever).
There’s 16 reasons right there, and I can’t even convey how perfect the 80s action movie music is. So after all of that plus the movie review I linked to at the top of the page, there’s really no excuse for you to still be reading this instead of renting, buying, or downloading the movie right now.
Great exposition of the movie and I love those photos. Creativity is alive in Tokyo. Thanks a lot.