The Masked Girl (Movie Review)
Silly, absurdist Japanese action movies have recently become an obsession of mine. Instead of taking personal responsibility for my addiction, I tend to blame "The Machine Girl" and "Tokyo Gore Police" for enslaving my brain and corrupting my already questionable taste in cinema. However, I've a feeling all of this really began after my initial viewing of Kinji Fukasaku's impossibly enjoyable high school slaughterfest "Battle Royale" several years ago. Up until earlier this year, the infection has remained inactive, dormant, waiting oh-so patiently for another crazy, action-saturated film to awaken its unstoppable powers.
My desire to properly investigate Isao Kaneko's goofy 2008 schoolgirl superhero epic "The Masked Girl" is directly related to my ambition to consume as many Japanese action movies as I possibly can before my body rots away. The film, which was shot in just under two weeks with an extremely limited budget, isn't nearly as surreal or hyperviolent as its contemporaries, but it still manages to provide its audience with an abundance of crazy stunt work, a few nifty villains, and more Japanese schoolgirl tomfoolery than you could ever hope to see in 45 minutes.
Yuki Shimizu and Shizuka Nakamura star as Ai and Yumi, respectively, two extremely perky and energetic best friends who are, in fact, completely different from one another. While Yumi is a natural born athlete who excels at a wide variety of sports-related activities, Ai is a hopeless klutz and a frequent source of laughter for her giggling classmates. To add insult to injury, Yumi also has much larger breasts than her teenage companion, though this will ultimately prevent her from fitting into "The Masked Girl's" power-enhancing uniform. Too bad.
On the way home from school, Ai is mistakenly abducted by a sinister crime syndicate known as "Joker," a large gathering of ambitious villains who are about to hatch a most nefarious plot. To put a finer point on it, this unapologetically wicked organization will kidnap the world's top athletes, transform them into killing machines, and unleash them upon the unsuspecting masses in their quest for world domination. Unbeknownst to Ai, she has been scientifically altered against her will, drafted into an army of supernatural soldiers. However, before her powers can be used for evil, Ai flees the scene, much to the dismay of her captors. And so the chase begins.
"The Masked Girl" is beyond idiotic, though its tongue is always placed directly in the center of its cinematic cheek. Nakamura and Shimizu, the latter of whom is a member of a Japanese pop group, handle their roles with a surprising amount of charm and dedication. By no means are these award-winning actresses; their abilities are extremely limited, but they do the best they can with what they're given. Besides, who in their right mind is watching an action flick featuring superhuman Japanese schoolgirls for the plot and performances, anyway? No offense to those who do.
The film's numerous fight sequences, meanwhile, are really nothing special. It's akin to something you'd find in an episode of "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," except with a little less polish and a much smaller budget. Nobody on-board appears to be an accomplished martial artist, and on occasion, it definitely shows. This doesn't detract from the picture's ability to entertain; as awful and clumsy as some of these physical showdowns may be, you can tell that everyone is having a blast, which in turn makes for an enjoyable watch.
"The Masked Girl," I’m afraid, will only appeal to those who absolutely adore Japanese action films. The picture's certainly not for everyone, and even if you consider yourself a hardcore fanatic of such stuff, you should think twice before spending your precious time and money on Isao Kaneko's endearing little gem. Overall, it’s a nice little slice of inoffensive, empty-headed fun, a tidy action piece that understands its B-movie roots. As long as the film is approached with this mind, the Gods of Goofy Action Cinema will smile kindly upon you.