Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Marvel Media Mania: Toei Spider-Man (1978)

Spider-Man is a live-action television series that aired in Japan starting in 1978. It was on the air for 41 episodes. It was made by the Toei Company.
Japanese Spider-Man... Notice the "Spider-Bracelet"
Wow. Where to start with this one.

First, this IS an officially licensed Marvel product. The similarities between the Japanese and American versions are mostly superficial, however. Japanese Spider-Man has the same superhero name, costume, and webbing that American Spider-Man does. Besides that, they're are COMPLETELY different - and I mean COMPLETELY. But that's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, right?

Sure. Except, in this case it is. It totally is.

Spider-Man isn't Peter Parker - he's Takuya Yamashiro. Makes sense since all of the main characters are Japanese after all. Takuya's motivation is revenge for the death of his father who was killed by the Iron Cross Army. Who are they? They're an invading alien race that is lead by Professor Monster. Another alien, Garia, gives Takuya a Spider-Bracelet from which he has access to the Spider-Protector (the Spider-Man suit), Marveller (a gigantic, transforming robot), and GP-7 (a Speed Racer car look-alike). Professor Monster uses Amazoness to unleash an unending horde of monsters that can grow to Godzilla sizes called Machine Bem and he also commands unending swarms of faceless foot soldiers that look like they have a bird beak on their faces.  

So, if I had to explain it in one sentence, every episode is almost exactly like an episode of the Power Rangers.

The actual Spider-Man action is remarkably similar to the 1977 American television show. I'm guessing they used many of the same techniques the American film crews did. While Japanese Spidey does his fair share of climbing up buildings, he spends a lot of time in the forest as well.

The actual character of Spider-Man is almost unrecognizable. Sure, he has the suit but that's about it. His motivation is revenge, pure and simple. At one point, he grabs a machine gun and shoots up a lab, shouting, "Get down if you want to live!" When he arrives at the scene to stop the bad guys, he announces himself as an, "Emissary from hell!"

The production value on the show is very low. You can tell they put their whole budget into the Machine Bem monsters. Spider-Man's webbing is obviously just plain rope (even more so than in the US series). The camera work is very shoddy and shakes. Scenery and props almost serve as mere visual suggestions such as a gray tarp that is suppose to be a rock cave wall.

If this show has any redeeming value it is as accidental humor. It's almost like a horrible cultural train wreck - it's too horrible to look away. Somehow, the end result of the combination of gutting a beloved character, cheap production, and thin plots is strangely and unintentionally amusing. This is the cinematic equivalent of the bearded woman. You don't want to look but you have to just to verify that it does, in fact, exist.

1LR Review - 4 out of 20! It's a Total Failure!

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