Plot: superhuman vigilante leads the rebellion against an oppressive regime.
Twelve years removed from the first Cutie Honey (2004) there were bound to be some significant differences between the original and its eventual sequel. Cutie Honey: Tears (2016) takes more after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) than it does after the earlier Hideaki Anno adaptation and sees Mariya Nishiuchi (西内 まりや) taking on Eriko Satô’s role. That the 2004 adaptation was acquired taste was putting it mildly and Cutie Honey: Tears is as much of a reboot as it is a sequel, direct or otherwise. Outside of a few character names Cutie Honey: Tears bears almost no resemblance to the 1972 Gô Nagai manga from whence it came. It probably would have functioned better as a stand-alone feature. Instead of adapting one of Nagai’s storylines Cutie Honey: Tears feels more like an introductory chapter to a much larger narrative than a continuation of an already established one. This Cutie Honey is much more inspired by classic science-fiction literature than its goofy predecessor.
In a desolate, colorless metropolis under a repressive, totalitarian regime society has organized itself into a fortified vertical city. The upper-class elite continues its decadent lifestyle in the upper floors of the skyscraper causing acid rain and poisonous fog below as an unfortunate by-product of their living. The designer of the city Doctor Kisaragi (Kôichi Iwaki) built the fortification with the noblest of intentions, to offer shelter from the increasingly deterioriating weather conditions caused by pollution. One day his daughter Hitomi (Mariya Nishiuchi) is involved in a near-fatal accident. The good doctor resurrects Hitomi as a near-invincible android powered by nanotechnology and allows her to retain her memory and human emotions. Lady Yiru (Nicole Ishida) is the steely-eyed, iron-fisted matriarch that oversees the day-to-day operations of the city. Together with her assistant / security detail Rukia (Hina Fukatsu) she does not tolerate any form of opposition. Fearing that the doctor has ulterior motives she corners him on the top floors of the city. While Doctor Kisaragi is killed in the ensuing firefight Hitomi falls to the floors below where she is accepted among the lower caste as one of their own. The bowels of the city are overflowing with dissension and a rebel enclave is forming.
A small group of resistance fighters consisting of Kazuhito Uraki (Sôsuke Takaoka), Ryuta Kimura (Tasuku Nagase), and Yukiko Kiyose (Ren Imai) believe that they may have found a way to stop Lady Yuri’s oppressive regime. Reporter Seiji Hayami (Takahiro Miura) is sympathetic to their cause ever since he saw what he purported to be an angel falling from the sky when he was a small boy. Researching an article for an underground publication he runs into a reclusive stray girl. When he sees her single-handedly laying waste to some heavily-armed patrolling security units intimidating civilians on the lower floors he’s impressed. Hayami’s discovery plays into the hands of the rebels who finally have found the one who could help them overthrow the repressive regime. Hayami is instructed to recruit Hitomi Kisaragi to the cause. Hitomi is initially reluctant but it isn’t until the armed personnel of Lady Yiru force her to don her long dormant Cutie Honey costume, an alter ego she had since shed or at least hidden very well. Together with Hayami and the rebels Cutie Honey stands up against the regime but to save the city’s inhabitants a mere confrontation will not suffice. It will require Cutie Honey to take a decision with far-reaching consequences that will change everything for everyone.
There seems to be a concerted effort on part of director Takeshi Asai to take Cutie Honey into more edgier, more intellectually stimulating realms. Cutie Honey: Tears incorporates about every known cyberpunk convention since time immemorial or at least since Metropolis (1927) and George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984 set them in stone. The production design echoes Blade Runner (1982) and Nemesis (1992) with desolate, fog-shrouded featureless grey cityscapes drenched in neon lights and giant LED screens. There’s the prerequisite ubiquitous monitoring system with surveillance drones and automated armored personnel patrolling the streets. A totalitarian dystopia presided over by an authoritarian AI that just happens to look like Nicole Ishida (石田ニコル). It’s as if someone read Conception 5, the short story Burton C. Bell wrote that served as the conceptual basis for “Obsolete”, and fleshed it out into a 90 minute feature. Cutie Honey: Tears answers the question what the Fear Factory music video for ‘Resurrection’ would have looked like if it was extended into medium-budget feature. Who would’ve thunk we’d see the day of there being social commentary in a Cutie Honey flick.
That Cutie Honey: Tears distances itself as far as humanly possible from Cutie Honey (2004) is evident from the opening. Cutie Honey and her scientist father excluded there’s only reporter Seiji Hayami from the Gô Nagai manga. Conspicuously absent is police officer Natsuko Aki which could easily have been Ren Imai’s part as a member of the resistance. Lady Yiru is the closest thing to a Sister Jill and Cutie Honey herself is nigh on unrecognizable from her earlier incarnation. There are no instances of Mariya Nishiuchi either running around in skimpy lingerie (which is strange considering she rose to fame for just that as a gravure model), lounging in a bubblebath or pressing the heart-shaped button on her collar and yelling: “HONEY FLASH!” before transforming. Even the Cutie Honey costume is much more practical and quite a deviation from the Nagai original. Whereas the Cutie Honey portrayals of Eriko Satô and Mikie Hara was little more than thinly-veiled fanservice Mariya Nishiuchi offers a more brooding take on the character. There are more than a few shades of Batman Begins (2005) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012) as a whole to be found here. Even the action direction has improved in strides and there’s some good bouts of wire-fu to be had.
Cutie Honey: Tears offers a measure of restraint and some honest-to-Odin effort went into the plot, predictable as though it might be. The giggly performances of Eriko Satô and Mikie Hara in the role were mostly played for chuckles and cheap tittilation. Mariya Nishiuchi on the other hand offers a more nuanced, layered interpretation of a character that never had much depth to begin with. Nishiuchi is mostly a television actress that has done little of importance outside the romance The Land Of Rain Trees (2015). In the West Nicole Ishida is perhaps best known for her recurring guest role in a handful of episodes of the limited series Atelier (2015) (known as Underwear in North America). Ishida is, of course, sassied up quite a bit in her part here. Nishiuchi and Ishida are surrounded by a mostly unknown array of supporting players. Sôsuke Takaoka and Takahiro Miura are by far the most famous, even moreso than Nishiuchi and Ishida combined. Takaoka debuted in Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000) and has worked with Takashi Miike on several occassions. With the avalanche of Marvel and DC Comics that has been flooding the multiplexes in the last decade or so Japan was bound to do some reinventing of its own. Cutie Honey: Tears reinterprets Gô Nagai’s most enduring creation for a new time and it does so in a way that might even appeal to Western audiences. Perhaps that was what the Cutie Honey franchise needed. If Krrish (2006) can find a mass audience in India, then why not Cutie Honey in Japan?