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Tetsujin 28: The Movie
A region 2 DVD review by CNash

The live-action adaptation of the legendary animé series, Tetsujin 28: The Movie, was made to tie in to the more recent animé (previously reviewed); it was previewed at the London MCM Expo back in May, and now comes to DVD courtesy of Manga. Unlike the series, which seemed to be aimed more towards children than the usual animé crowd, the movie is a great family romp that boasts high production values and good acting talent.

Plotwise, the movie follows the classic Tetsujin (known as Gigantor stateside) story: a young boy named Shotaro (Shosuke Ikematsu) discovers that his father had built a massive robot for use in Japan's defense forces during the postwar years, and that – as his father has since passed away – it is up to him to learn how to control the giant mecha and lead it into battle against similarly-robotic enemies that threaten Japan. With the help of his grandfather Ayabe (Katsuo Nakamura) and teenage technology whizkid Mami (Yu Aoi), Shotaro discovers a newfound courage within him and takes on the challenge of beating the Black Ox robot, created by mad scientist Reiji Takani, as it rampages through the city.

The crucial difference for this movie adaptation is that while the original series was set at the time the series was conceived (1963), this new production is set in modern-day Tokyo. I don't think it could've worked well as a period piece; the script already calls for the viewer to suspend disbelief that giant robots can be created, and to add an extra layer of false reality to the film would have damaged it.

Tetsujin 28 is a coming-of-age tale along the lines of Spielberg's 80s classic ET, and the glut of similar films that followed (Flight of the Navigator, The Last Starfighter et al). All feature a young boy who has to find the confidence to stand up and be courageous when he needs to be, and must learn not to back down in the face of adversity. And, for the most part, the film fits right into that archetypal legacy; it's a film that a family can sit down and watch. Its mature plot points – especially the threat of nuclear destruction in the closing scenes – are constructed so that younger viewers will know what's going on without delving deeply into the realities of the situation.

What Tetsujin suffers from is a lack of danger. Robots being robots, they attack slowly and seem to be limited only to punching eachother – which, when both combatants are made of metal, doesn't do a whole lot of damage. Later on in the film, the gimmick of Shotaro "feeling" Black Ox's hits to Tetsujin as real punches helps to provide a little empathy, but the combat is still all too stoic. The real money shots are those that feature the two giants crashing into and through buildings; the level of realism afforded to the special effects shots of destruction is excellent, and you can really believe that a giant robot has just crashed head-first into Japan's main parliamentary building! Also of note is the way the robots change from CGI to life-size props seamlessly; this is especially apparent in the scenes of Tetsujin's construction.

I can only praise the character dynamics shown here; the relationship between Shotaro and his mother is developed upon first in a humourous exchange over dinner, and then as the movie goes on, with both mother and child coming to terms with what Shotaro must do. The development of the villain of the piece, Reiji, isn't quite as well-done. Despite occasionally talking of a desire to remake the world in his own image, Reiji sometimes seems more concerned with vengeance for the death of his son, and this obfuscation of his aims – while not especially important to the flow of the movie – leads to him becoming little more than a cypher; a villain merely out to cause chaos.

A small aside here about the language of the movie: the film is presented in Japanese with subtitles. While I'm used to watching dubbed animé, I do have some experience with live-action films, and I have to say that watching them with subtitles is by far the better way to go. While in animation, dubbing is often convincing, the few English dub tracks I've seen on live-action films (Shaolin Soccer springs to mind) are rather laughable. Thankfully, there is no English dub here; whether you choose to view this as a good or bad thing is entirely up to you.

Going back to the movie, the quality of the CGI used for the robots is good, but not exceptional. Up close, they clash against the real-life buildings, appearing noticeably unreal. I believe the fault lies in the shininess of their metallic bodies; if the designers had gone for a more weathered, matte finish to their exteriors, I think it would have seemed more real. However, I respect that this was probably a conscious design decision, to keep Tetsujin's overall "look" consistent between the movie and the animé series. From a distance, the robots blend into their environments better. I also noticed some interesting animation effects in the opening credits and in Shotaro's dream sequence. As for music: The animé's rousing main theme is used for the opening credits; the incidental music used for the action and character sequences is appropriate to the mood of the scenes.

In conclusion, Tetsujin 28: The Movie would be a great film to sit down and watch with your family, but only if all of them can stand to read subtitling over Japanese audio (or are fluent in Japanese!). The family-friendly quality of the film is therefore "lost in translation"; it fulfills this purpose in its native language, but not otherwise. Nonetheless, while I think it's something that true Tetsujin fans will either love or hate, I found this movie to be enjoyable afternoon fare, perfect to keep fans of the genre occupied.

sound and vision

The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks good, depite being an NTSC to PAL transfer, which results in some minor blurring on motion. Certainly the detail levels are pleasing, although the colour is just a little removed from natural, most noticeable in the skin tones. Contrast is fine throughout.

Of the three tracks on offer here, I can't help wondering if the Japanese stereo 2.0 is probably the most true to the original mix – the 5.1 and especially the DTS certainly have kick, with the loud crashes of robot footsteps really pumping out the bass, but the surrounds are not always used with precision, the rears sometimes over-active when the action is taking place up front. All the same, for the clarity, spread welll mixed lower frequences, the DTS is hard to resist.

extra features

Disappointingly, there are no extra features on the disc save for a couple of trailers. However, Manga have included a complicated-looking model kit of Tetsujin in the packaging; unfortunately, I hadn't the patience to assemble it myself, but those more adept with scissors and glue should have a field day. 

Tetsujin 28 – The Movie

Japan 2005
125 mins
Shin Togashi
Hiroshi Abe
Yû Aoi
Akira Emoto
Masatô Ibu

DVD details
region 2
1.85:1 anamorphic
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
Cut-out robots
release date
16 October 2006
review posted
2 October 2006

Related review
Tetsujin 28, Vol 1

See all of CNash's reviews