Reviews

Japan Cuts Review: Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero

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Hentai Kamen is a superhero movie about a guy who becomes an unstoppable force for perverse goodness whenever he wears a woman’s panties on his head. I know, you’ve heard that story countless times, but this movie makes that familiar set up seem fresh.

While I usually don’t like watching movies in a large crowd, Hentai Kamen is a film enhanced by seeing it with the right large crowd. An enthusiastic audience like the one at The Japan Society last Friday is ideal. For long stretches, Hentai Kamen was so hilarious that the dialogue was drowned out by laughter. (Thank goodness for subtitles.) The most interesting thing about watching Hentai Kamen with a receptive audience, though, was an uncanny, hive-mind feeling during the parts of the movie that didn’t work.

[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]

Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero (HK Hentai Kamen | HK 変態仮面)
Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Rating: TBD
Country: Japan
Release Date: April 6, 2013 (Japan)

Hentai Kamen is a mix of Troma schlock during their heyday and a low-rent porn parody of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies with all the porn bits cut out. The most surprising thing about Hentai Kamen is that it’s a generally competent superhero movie, automatically making it twice as good as Green Lantern. Right at the beginning we see the odd circumstances that gave rise to our hero Kyosuke (Ryohei Suzuki). There’s his father’s intense commitment to justice and his mother’s intense perversion. And then he puts panties on his face. Sure, it’s a flimsy set-up, but it works for the weird world of the film.

Kyosuke’s a high school student who’s inept when not wearing panties on his head. He’s awful at martial arts, though very good at taking hits to the solar plexus. He’s so shy that he has difficulty making small talk with his classmate Aiko (Fumika Shimizu). He’s a pushover. His alter ego Hentai Kamen (which means “Pervert Mask”) doesn’t have those problems. Hentai Kamen’s a near-naked ass-kicker through and through, beating up foes left and right, and shoving his crotch in their face as a stunning coup de grace. Aiko is totally in love with Hentai Kamen too.

The plot of Hentai Kamen is episodic and has something to do with a crime boss with braided pigtails trying to find treasure buried under the school. It’s got more holes in it than a pair of edible crotchless panties made of Swiss cheese, but just go with it as a framework for lunacy.

From the first minute, Hentai Kamen had control over the audience. Laughter erupted all around me, and I couldn’t help but be swept up in it. I probably would have found the film funny had I watched it on my own, though I’d probably feel really weird watching Hentai Kamen alone. (I picture my roommates coming home midway through the film. I’d quickly shut off the DVD player and pretend I was reading in the living room. “Hey, Hubert. Why are you reading an upside down copy of The New Yorker… with panties on your face?”) I also would have laughed a lot if I were watching it in a room with some friends. But in a big crowd the laughter is like a pandemic.

And it’d be hard not to laugh at Hentai Kamen, if you’re the right sort of person for it. (If you’re even remotely interested in the movie, you’re the right person for it.) There’s just something absurd about it all, and director Yuichi Fukuda milks the wackiness in each scene. We watch as Hentai Kamen jams his crotch into his opponents’s faces, and the look of fear and awkward disgust was probably real. Some of Hentai Kamen’s special moves involve fanciful ways of smothering mouths in ballsack or general crotch-to-face gyrations. At one point a guy screams, “He’s snapping my nose off with his dick!”

Because the audience was in hysterics for such long periods of this movie, the sudden lull about 2/3 of the way through stood out really bad. About as bad as a mostly naked man with a pair of panties on his head, come to think of it. Hentai Kamen is 105 minutes long, which isn’t that long, but it feels like the film is around two hours. This is a 90 to 95-minute movie that’s been padded out for some unknown reason. You can feel that extra 10 to 15 minutes like a pair of warm testicles on your cheek.

I think a large part of that lag has to do with the story’s structure. Hentai Kamen was adapted from a manga series and part of me wonders if the filmmakers attempted to translate the story in the manga directly to the screen rather than adapt the story or alter it to fit the screen. Hentai Kamen was also intended as a DTV release rather than a theatrical release, so maybe some quick-fast-cheap disregard also played into the film’s execution. We kick back into gear for the finale, though it ends on such an underwhelming, cheap-o note (again, the DTV vibe) that only half the audience seemed to get back in the spirit of the film.

Maybe Hentai Kamen just laughed the audience out early. If you get tickled long enough, it goes from enjoyable to annoying to painful/masochistic. Most of us aren’t as perverse as the hero of the film, so we didn’t get back into it after it hit the masochistic stage.

So how do you score something like this? Well, I was originally going to give Hentai Kamen a 70 despite its dip in momentum and its finale that was so cheap-looking that it made movies from The Asylum seem like great examples in production value. Then I was considering a 65 just to demean it and humiliate it, but finally I decided to give the movie the only score that makes sense.

You like that, don’t you Hentai Kamen? Just short of good? Oh so close. But oh so right. You should beg to be good, but this is all you are. You were also so bad. I bet that makes you feel like less of a movie. And I bet that turns you on.

You pervert.

Alec Kubas-Meyer: Hentai Kamen is about as stereotypically Japanese as a thing can get. A teenager puts panties on his head and suddenly he’s a superhero. The only thing it’s missing is tentacles, and thank god there aren’t any of those (though given the rather blatant Spider-Man references, I’m surprised there wasn’t a Doc Ock knockoff).

It’s also way too long. How anyone thought the concept could last for more than 90 minutes is completely beyond me, but it’s not surprising that my enjoyment of the film ran into a wall right about that time. The last 15 minutes or so went from being hilarious to excruciating, and it’s not that the film got any stupider (although it did); the joke just wore off. And the film has literally nothing else going for it. The atrocious CGI could be endearing but really isn’t, and the pathetic attempts at color correction (Magic Bullet Mojo, anyone?) make it look like a student film.

For a while, I loved Hentai Kamen, but insert early climax/totally spent joke here. Shave off a half hour and you’ve got something amazing. But as it is… it’s just 68 – Decent

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.