Cutie Honey

Original title
Kyuti Hani
Japanese title
  • キューティーハニー
Running time
90 minutes
23 September 2004
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Cutie Honey comes riding a wave of nostalgia. Dozens of titles by legendary manga creators have had new anime adaptations made over the last few years, as the original manga are reprinted in disposable magazine format and sold in convenience stores, where middle aged men and women relive the stories they remember fondly from their childhoods.

Until now, Go Nagai has not been a part of it, aside from the exceedingly awful Shin Getta Robo OAV series six years ago. But he is one of the seminal creative minds in manga and anime. He has been creating hit properties since the 1960s, in all kinds of genres. He is best known in the West for Devilman, a dark, bloody series filled with demon battles and apocalypse that pretty much invented the genre. He is best known in Japan for Mazinger Z and a series of heroic robot shows in the 70s. But Cutie Honey is a third aspect to the sideburns-loving manga artist; a bubbly magical girl series originally aimed at young girls.

Go Nagai currently seems to be leading the pack of people collectively realizing that we now have the technology to make live action films from these properties without looking completely stupid. Cutie Honey is, to my knowledge, the first live action anime that actually preserves the feel and look of the original series successfully. It sets the bar pretty high.

They wisely chose a former anime director the handle the project (Evangelion's Hideaki Anno, who also wrote the script with Shomuni's Rumi Takahashi), and he makes full use of time honored animation techniques to get around the inevitably low budget; when Gold Claw unleashes an absurd amount of missiles at Cutie Honey, for example, we get computer animated missiles streaking towards a leaping, twirling Cutie Honey (Sato) who is not actually moving at all; instead, a series of posed still photos flicker past quickly creating the illusion of actual movement.

This Gold Claw is one of four absurd looking lackeys for the immortal unemotional tree demon Sister Jill. Cobalt Claw has lots of hands and is rather stretchy; Scarlet Claw (played by popular squeaky-voiced anime veteran Mayumi Shintani) who shoots giant death beams out of her mouth, and Black Claw (Oikawa), who is fond of karaoke and spins up giant tornados. They are attempting to steal Honey's "Love System" which her father invented to bring his daughter back from the dead and bestow immortal life and immense superpowers upon her. They have killed her father and kidnapped her uncle. This all conspires to make her perpetually late for work.

Cutie Honey is essentially a very campy, harebrained comedy. Eriko Sato, who plays Cutie Honey like a 5-year-old pretending to be a grownup, is hardly an actress. She seems to be famous mostly as a pin-up girl. She attacks every scene with an energy that is both obnoxious and infectious. She is backed up by an ultra-professional policewoman (Ichikawa) who has the strangest bedroom since Branded to Kill) and a jaunty, suspiciously well-informed reporter (Murakami). They bond over booze and karaoke.

While fun, all of this is relentlessly shallow. The movie would be entertaining and completely forgettable except for a few moments when Hideaki Anno instills an unexpected depth. This is his third live action movie, and his first two films Love & Pop and Ritual (Shiki-jitsu) were essentially character studies filled with nuanced performances that played only to tiny audiences. His anime work as well is famous for bringing a realism and depth of character into tried and true genre shows. It probably accounts for no more than five minutes of Cutie Honey in all, but there are these beautiful moments where the shells of their crafted personae crack and we see the human beings beneath. Sato in particular manages to make you feel the deep loneliness at the core of her character. For all her speechmaking about the importance of love, she's a girl with no parents and no friends.

And of course, no Anno movie is complete without a dose of his trademark incomprehensible symbolism. He makes it fairly accessible here, providing a nice emotional climax in the middle of flashy special effects battles. In the end, Cutie Honey is a far better film than it has any right to be.

Then again, I think you should understand that I genuinely enjoyed both Charlie's Angels movies.