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Cutie Honey has perhaps the greatest opening scene in history. The first thing you see is a kitty. The second thing is a beautiful girl in a bubble bath. That is AWESOME. Luckily, the rest of the movie holds up to those high standards. The film, a live-action adaptation of the old anime series, was directed by Hideaki Anno; best known for his animation for GAINAX, including Neon Genesis Evangelion and Kare Kano/His & Her Circumstances. This isn’t his first live-action film; it’s his third, after the beautiful Love & Pop and the not-released-in-the-US-yet Ritual, and though it’s a bit of a departure from those two “serious” films, Cutie Honey still fits right in with Anno’s style. Lots of his signature shots as well as his trademark style of exploring character emotions — though admittedly not quite as in depth this time.
Above all, however, it’s an exercise on how to make a film that’s best described as “a live-action cartoon” that isn’t terrible. Usually, you hear that phrase and know to run away screaming. But this one works — it’s goofy, fun, and follows its own cartoon logic. The film could have been animated, but in a weird way, it works better not animated. The goofiness is heightened a bit seeing real people do various anime cliches and quirks, which just makes it all the more fun.
The plot is pretty straight-forward; the evil Sister Jill has used her goon squad, Panther Claw (and their armies of anonymous henchmen), to kidnap one of the most renowned scientists — who also happens to be Cutie Honey’s uncle — and Cutie Honey’s got to save him. The police are also interested in Honey as well as a friendly-enough reporter who seems to know more than you’d expect on such things. The plot, however, is basically secondary to the feel and mood of the film — and very, very well crafted and shot. Anno’s background as an animation director shows he has a great eye for composition and layout, and as usual, the beauty of the film keeps you interested as well as the actual film itself. It’s clearly an entertainment and it does that job well; enough action to keep things moving along at a good pace and lots of humor.
The film itself just oozes good-natured-ness, which I’m a complete sucker for. The bad guys are more goofy than scary, and the whole thing wraps up with a sequence on the Power Of Love (not the song). Everyone’s friends in the end, and, well, one of the bad guys has a staff with a microphone in it. That doesn’t have anything to do with the good-natured quality of the film, I just had to mention it somewhere. He’s backed up with four of the anonymous henchmen playing violins.
Honestly, I’ve never seen the original Cutie Honey — I came to this as an Anno fan — but you don’t need to have any familiarity with the original. It tells you basically all you need to know in the film, and about the only thing you would need to know is that it was based on an anime — otherwise, the cartooniness might take you askance. But I figure about 99% of the people who’d be interested in this film already know that, so it works out. Luckily, however, I’ve heard from fans of the original that this film is equally as fun and enjoyable, so if you’re a big fan of Cutie Honey, it sounds like you don’t have to fear a Michael Bay-esque version of one of your favorite cartoons. And avoiding those is always a good thing.