iSugio

009-1: The End of the Beginning – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Working as the first live-action film adaptation of the late Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga series 009-1, it is a franchise that has already had its own accompanying television drama and anime series, with the latest addition being that of 009-1: The End of the Beginning, a film project with quite a lot of expectations residing behind it primarily due to its source material and historicity. Stemming from the mind of one of the most influential manga authors of the past century, Ishinomori published the 009-1 manga series between 1967-70 (only to briefly return to it in 1974), but he is perhaps more largely renowned for crafting the extremely popular Kamen Rider and Super Sentai television series as well, both which have gone on to be solidified as frontrunners of Japan’s tokusatsu genre.

But despite the considerable history of the source material, there is also some hefty talent behind the film itself; director Koichi Sakamoto takes the helm here, an individual who has previously directed numerous Kamen Rider film installments, and writer Keiichi Hasegawa handles the script, who wrote such films as Ultraman Saga (2012) and Great Decisive Battle! The Super 8 Ultra Brothers (2008). Without a doubt there is some considerable presence behind the film’s production, but is it enough to sufficiently translate Ishinomori’s vivid manga worldscape onto the big screen?

If you enjoy the exuberant action frenzied nature that accompanies the likes of such franchises as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, then the answer is an unequivocal yes. Despite its premise sharing some of same elements as the original manga series, Sakomoto and company apply a slightly different look and feel from that of the Cold War-centric one envisioned within Ishinomori’s version, leaning towards presenting a dystopian future that merely resembles the military and political tension of the aforementioned era. Occurring sometime in a world divided into Western and Eastern Blocs in the 21st century, the film follows Western Bloc cyborg spy agent Mylene Hoffman, also known as 009-1, as she works to uncover the secrets behind a human trafficking service, ultimately leading to her being ousted by her own agency and journeying to discover her origins. It is a serviceable narrative that is pretty much used as an excuse for the film’s main focus upon espionage, beautiful women, and action.

While espionage, beautiful women, and action is the primary backdrop of the film, there is an exploration of 009-1 and her yearning to learn more about her past that provides the film with some emotional investment on part of the viewer. The conflict between knowing one is a cyborg and uncovering their human background is present here, with 009-1 continually questioning her overall role as an individual and her affiliation to the organization she works for. Model turned actress Mayuko Iwasa portrays 009-1 here, a role that does not really require too much on her part besides looking overtly flirtatious in her all red attire. There is not too much backstory provided to make Iwasa’s portrayal of 009-1 anywhere near as sweeping as the original manga, but then again, this can always change in regards to future sequels. Nao Nagasawa portrays her rather wicked counterpart with a similar flair, furthering the conflictual nature of her own past as well.

This is all rather superficial though as the film veers into full throttle action in its last half that pretty much does away with all the prior established character development as the two battle for supremacy, with Hasegawa’s interesting yet convoluted script being put quickly aside. Fortunately for the film, the action segments is where it truly finds its footing, with Sakomoto’s expertise in creating elaborate physical engagements coming to a head in some rather creative ways. Those accustomed to Sakomoto’s work on the the Kamen Rider films should be right at home here, with use of vibrant special effects and ambitious battle sequences. While these moments are integral given the nature of the narrative itself, one may have preferred more of a focus upon developing 009-1’s opposing nature of being both a human and a cyborg, but alas the constraints of film rears its ugly head once again. Furthermore, both Iwasa, Nagasawa, and other characters are seemingly put in place for purposes of being eye candy, with not much depth applied towards their characters. This is rather unfortunate considering original manga only shares some sentiment to this, but also focusing more appropriately on the story itself.

From the perspective of the film being a lighthearted representation of Ishinomora’s universe though, it does fair pretty well. Those going in expecting some grandiose retelling of the manga series will be sadly disappointed though, as the film vaguely attempts in only doing so, relying more on superficial traits to pull it through. One could consider this Sakamoto’s interpretation more than anything, simply interpreting Hasegawa’s rather simplistic script as he sees fit. With such a formidable duo behind the film, it is somewhat frustrating to see them produce a resulting film that does not necessarily reflect the distinctness of source material. While this is certainly a negative element of the film’s purpose as a whole, 009-1: The End of the Beginning is still one entertaining experience despite its stumbling blocks, with the potentiality for future sequels paving the way for a more dedicated and serious adaptation of Ishinomora’s epic cyborg saga.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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