009-1: The End Of The Beginning (Japan 2013)

Rating: **(*)
Review Date: 12/20/14
Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Cast: Mayuko Iwasa, Aya Sugimoto, Nao Nagasawa, cameo by Mami Abe

A live action adaptation of the manga and anime series, starring glamour model Mayuko Iwasa as Mylene Hoffman, a.k.a. cyborg agent 009-1. The world is divided into two superpowers called Eastern Bloc and Western Bloc. When Eastern Bloc agents kidnap a top Western Bloc scientist (Aya Sugimoto), agent 009-1 is assigned to rescue her. Unfortunately, she botches the job, but something isn't quite right and Mylene goes rogue in order to learn the truth and recover her lost memories.

It's nice to see that adorable Mayuko Iwasa is still working, even if it's in low budget, softcore action porn like this. Mylene is a combat cyborg with a ravenous hunger for sex, and her breasts happen to house a couple of high powered machine guns. Naturally, the film takes advantage of the exploitive nature of the source material, but keeps it tasteful and clean with carefully choreographed implied toplessness. Mayuko does an admirable job as a sexy, cold-hearted killing machine, and expresses just enough emotion to be both intimidating and vulnerable. Unfortunately, she wears a shamelessly embarrassing outfit for the majority of the film, and her skin is often subjected to obtrusive smoothing filters. On the other hand, her hair is absolutely perfect, to the point where it actually becomes distracting. How does it stay in place like that? Pretty Nao Nagasawa (also with perfect hair) shows up as a cyborg adversary and gives Mayuko a good challenge, while super sexy Mami Abe makes an appearance as an agency controller. Like any good female action film, the men are all incompetent fools, except for the devious generals and dirty politicians who are manipulating things behind the scenes.

Where the film really shines is in Koichi Sakamoto's action direction, which comes as no surprise since he worked with Steve Wang as a stunt coordinator on "Guyver 2: Dark Hero" (1994) and "Drive" (1997). The stunt work is very good and surprisingly hard hitting, especially for a Japanese production. Much to their credit, the actresses perform a respectable amount of their own stunts, but are obviously doubled for the more elaborate and physically demanding scenes. Unfortunately, even though the stunt doubles look exceedingly good, the doubling happens so frequently that it becomes visually disruptive. Similarly, shoe continuity is a big problem in the action scenes. The film is also surprisingly bloody, but an overuse of digital blood lessens the impact and makes the film look cheap. Other CGI effects, including an embarrassingly awful helicopter gunship, also add disappointment, and unnecessary shaky-cam shots become increasingly annoying. Apart from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and found it to be a surprisingly satisfying female action outing. Sadly, the poor visual effects and heavy stunt doubling keep me from giving it a three-star rating.