The possibility of a live-action 8-Man sequel
goes up in flames.
There are few video box covers as misleading as the one for 8 Man. It promises an action-packed film about kick-ass robots. Suing for false advertising might be feasible here, because these 'bots are anything but kick-ass. Sure, they've got neat powers and stuff, but they spend so much time angsting over the cyborg condition that they hardly ever get around to doing anything.
The basic concept behind the Japanese-made 8 Man is quite similar to that of Robocop, and this movie was probably made to capitalize on that earlier film. However, 8 Man is actually based on a Japanese cartoon that was shown on US tv in the mid-1960's. The cartoon and the movie have pretty much the same plot, and it was reprised for another anime series called 8 Man After.
Police officer Yokoda, killed in the line of duty, is put to service as a cyborg agent for the police force. Chief Tanaka (Etsushi Takahashi) takes the downed detective to Dr. Tani (Jo Shishido), who transfers the Yokoda's mind into a robot with superhuman abilities. All the better, Tanaka thinks, to take down Yamafugi, the crime boss around whom the plot revolves.
The robot is called 8 Man to symbolize his independence from the seven divisions of the Japanese police force, and he's given a secret identity, that of Private Investigator Azuma. Azuma (Kai Shishido), whose memories of his previous life have been erased, can morph back and forth between his human form and the more combat-ready robot form of 8 Man at will.
Lighting cigarettes in the rain: exactly what
you'd expect from a robot.
Here's where things start to feel contrived: Azuma is thrown in with his former partner, of whom he has no memory. The partner, Sowaki (Daisuke Shima), doesn't know Azuma's true identity, and doesn't recognize his old partner because Azuma has a different face. To make things worse, Yokoda's old girlfriend, Sachiko (Sachiko Ayase), has somehow become Azuma's secretary.
Most of these developments are delivered via narration by Chief Tanaka, which is a pretty dumb way to go about things. Either the budget was running low and they couldn't afford to film certain scenes, or portions were cut from the Japanese version to make it more "understandable" for American audiences.* That trick never works, Bullwinkle -- just let us see what's happening, and we'll decide whether or not it's comprehensible.
These aren't the only problems in Azuma's life. It seems that Dr. Tani has made one other cyborg, Ken (Osamu Ohtomo), who was Tani's son. Now Ken is a bitter, vicious robot who, upon discovering 8 Man's existence, throws his lot in with Yamafugi in order to execute his revenge against his father. If only Dr. Tani had bought young Ken both Pokemon Red and Blue, this whole awful situation could have been avoided.
These could all be interesting plot developments. Ken and 8 Man could mix it up a few times, Sachiko could discover what really happened to her boyfriend, and 8 Man could wrap it all up by kicking Yamafugi's drug-dealing butt. Instead, we're treated to the Soulful Robot of the Month music video.
"Sure, my father brought me back to life, but look what he did to my hair!"
In this version of the story, memories can never truly be erased. As Azuma remembers more of Yokoda's past through his exposure to Sachiko and Sowaki, it interferes with his electronic brain and he starts to short-circuit. So most of the film deals with our hero 8 Man recalling moonlit walks with his long-lost honey as we watch his bionic eyeballs scramble and a lovelorn Michael Bolton track plays in the background. What is this crap? It's not like any Japanese action sci-fi movie we've ever seen. Well, not any good Japanese action sci-fi movie, anyway.
Ken, on the other hand, is a robot we could at least enjoy watching. His scenes rarely go by without someone ending up dead, and he makes fairly liberal use of his powers. The coolest power by far is his green force field/telekinesis ray, which he uses to force his victims into performing acts against their will. He's not the good guy, but in an action film, you tend to appreciate the guy who initiates the most action.
8 Man really wants to be a tearjerker version of Robocop, and in a way, it succeeds. Those who appreciate daytime soap operas might be moved to tears by the plight of Azuma, but the rest of us will have our tears evoked by sheer boredom.