CUTIE HONEY, like DEVILMAN, is a 2004 live action movie based on a manga character created by Go Nagai. This one is much more comedic than DEVILMAN and comes from a more pedigreed director: Hideaki Anno, the anime auteur behind the Neon Genesis Evangelion series. I would like to try to watch those some day because I know how much people love them, but for now my impression of him comes from the excellent 2016 Godzilla reboot SHIN GODZILLA. That one has a really cool, weird Godzilla in it but is most notable for its really funny satire of bureaucracy (though at the time it came out it also worked for me as an appreciation of people actually trying to pool their knowledge and resources to solve problems). It was recently announced that Anno will be overseeing a shared universe combining his Shin (new) Godzilla with Shin Ultraman and Shin Kamen Rider. But before all that he made a live action movie based on one of the most famous manga by the guy who played the food critic in THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II.
Honey Kisaragi (Eriko Sato, DOOMSDAY: THE SINKING OF JAPAN) is a bubbly young woman who lives alone and works a temp job at an office where everybody hates her except a janitor lady. One interesting fact about Honey is that she’s actually dead but her late father built a robot body for her so her consciousness could survive. Another interesting fact is that she wears a choker with a heart shaped button on it and when she pushes it and says “Honey… FLASH!” she can change her appearance and disguise herself, or she can turn into the sword-wielding super heroine Cutie Honey to battle monsters and stuff. However, she has to eat rice balls and drink green tea to build up the energy to do this stuff, so in the opening she has to run through the streets wearing a garbage bag until she has enough energy to create her work clothes. So it’s not all glamour. It deals with the gritty real life hardships of being Cutie Honey.
Anyway the point is there’s an evil organization called Panther Claw led by a sorcereress called Sister Jill (Eisuke Sasai). You can tell she’s a high roller because she has a female-dressed-male-with-fake-mustache butler and a singer who belts out her theme music as she arrives to her strange lair. And I guess just because you gotta be pretty special to have a pad like this. Imagine if you stopped by somebody’s place and it looked like this! I would be impressed.
The Panther Claw organization employs a bunch of differently-colored “Claw” henchmen who all fight Cutie Honey. For example, pictured right we have Scarlet Claw (Mayumi Shintani, primarily a voice artist for anime including FLCL), who I’m guessing is a pretty big Queen Amidala fan.
They’re all weirdos, but the kinkiest one is Cobalt Claw (Shie Kohinata, SHARK SKIN MAN AND PEACH HIP GIRL). She has tons of piercings and wears shiny fetish gear that makes the BATMAN RETURNS Catwoman seem pretty reserved by comparison. She uses her long blue braids as nooses and whips. Here she is surprising Honey in an elevator.
But the first Panther Claw we see is Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri, also in SHIN GODZILLA), who leads an army of guys whose uniforms look kind of like Zorro but when they take off their hats their masks have cat ears on them.
When these troublemakers attack a bridge, police inspector Natsuko Aki (Mikako Ichikawa, also also in SHIN GODZILLA) is on the case and witnesses Cutie Honey using disguises to outsmart Gold Claw and save the day. Later she Honey becomes a suspect and she follows and hassles her for a while before figuring out that she’s Cutie Honey.
Aki is supposed to be very uptight, which we know because of her glasses but also because in her apartment we see her wardrobe consisting only of identical black shirts. I found her to be pretty likable though.
There’s also a guy named Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami, NEW BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY) who follows Honey around and says it’s because he’s a reporter but he’s secretly helping her and giving her information. He’s funny because even having no familiarity with the manga/anime you see him and you can tell he’s dressed as some anime character. It looks like cosplay, but also kind of a cool style, if the hair was real.
Seiji’s walls are covered in photos of Honey like he’s an obsessed stalker, which she doesn’t seem to take offense to. But he also has a couple pictures of Aki on his desk, so I guess he’s a complicated man. When Honey, Aki and Seiji all get together it’s kind of tense (in a not getting along way, not a love triangle way) until they get drunk and do karaoke together and then all is well. It’s cute. The next day Honey tries to impress Aki by doing her own hair rather than using Honey Flash powers, but she does a terrible job, so Aki braids it for her. Now we know they’re real friends.
I wouldn’t say this has as much of a story as DEVILMAN, but by the end the Tokyo Tower will rise up as the tip of a giant drill, Honey will see her dad in Heaven and Sister Jill will be happy to turn into a flower. So it’s a worthwhile journey. There’s lots of mimicking of cartoon style: fast speed, sound effects, even a TV style animated intro with theme song and everything.
One of the more interesting techniques I’m not sure if I can even describe accurately, but Cutie Honey flies into action using exaggerated, animation style movements and poses, and it looks like they did it by posing her for individual frames and then animating her in front of composited backgrounds. So it has a cool herk-jerky, artificial sort of look to it. I dig it.
This movie constantly reminded me of the Wachowskis’ SPEED RACER in its literalization of anime style, though much cheaper looking and not with the same hunger to make actual statements about the world. So I guess it’s really more like a hipper MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS. Hipper in the sense that it always seems to know exactly what it’s doing and I can’t really tell if it’s intended as children’s entertainment or as camp for adults or if it really matters.
I guess in the U.S. it definitely wouldn’t be marketed for kids on account of some horniness. It opens with Honey taking a bubble bath and there are some scenes where she lays around in underwear or bends over for the camera to ogle her butt, but from what I understand this is very toned down from the type of titillation the manga was known for. So it seems relatively innocent.
Although the character of Devilman is arguably more like Toxie than Cutie Honey is, this movie is a closer match to THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II. Both have an upbeat attitude, use cartoon sound effects and physics, and have a bunch of goofy costumed characters attacking the hero on Tokyo streets and other ordinary locations. Also both have a cameo by Go Nagai (here he plays “Car Driver”).
Weirdly, Anno co-directed a three episode animated remake of the movie, called Re: Cutie Honey, which started airing on TV only two months after the movie came out. Akira “Devilman” Fudo has a cameo in the animated version, but not the live action. Sadly, Toxie appears in neither. Still, I’m not going to give up hope that Anno hangs out with Go Nagai some day and Nagai mentions this old American movie he had a cameo in and next thing you know we have Hideaki Anno’s SHIN TOXIC AVENGER.