Batman of Japan: Looking At Every Japanese Take on The Dark Knight

Batman: Gotham Knight (dir. various, 2008)

The third title in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, Gotham Knight is probably still the most experimental of those films. Released to tie-in to The Dark Knight and set in the 18 months between Batman Begins and that film, Gotham is an anthology film consisting of six shorts written by American writers and animated by different Japanese studios.

It was a gamble but one that paid off, as this film is immensely rewatchable. Like Batman: Black & White, the stories are impeccably measured, offering concise summaries on the Dark Knight, his character and his abilities, woven together with sumptuous, striking visuals, tied together by a stellar voice cast led by the one and only Kevin Conroy.

All the segments are worth checking out but if you want recommendations, I'd first go with "Have I Got A Story For You" (written by Josh Olson, directed by Shoujirou Nishimi, and animated by Studio 4°C) sees three kids at a skate park talking about how they each saw Batman tackle a villain called the Man in Black, but with different views. One sees him as a combat robot, one as a vampire, and the other as Man-Bat. The way Nishimi and 4°C bring the kids' tales to life with fluid animation, and the short's ultimate resolution, is really something.

My other favorite is "Field Test," written by Jordan Goldberg, directed by Hiroshi Morioka, and animated by Bee Train. A tense techno-thriller involving an advanced sound sensor that can repel bullets, the death of a community activist, and a shootout between Sal Moroni's men and Russian mobsters, it's some of the best "Batman fighting in the rain" action you'll see anywhere.

Batman Ninja (dir. Junpei Mizusaki, 2018)

Aside from Batman: Gotham Knight and this film, most of the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line has been animated by Korean studios. But for Batman Ninja, DC Entertainment and WB Animation reached out to acclaimed Japanese animation houses Kamikaze Douga, Yamatoworks and Barnum Studio and director Jinpei Mizusaki and, from the looks of things, told them to go buckwild.

RELATED: View the Batman Ninja Trailer

The film, written by Kazuki Nakashima and adapted into English by Leo Chu and Eric S. Garcia, is not, as the trailers might've indicated, a simple Elseworlds about a Batman of feudal Japan. Rather, it's a time travel story. While apprehending Gorilla Grodd at Arkham Asylum as he prepares to activate his time machine, Batman, along with Alfred, Catwoman, Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, Nightwing, Joker, Two-Face, Deathstroke, Poison Ivy, Grodd and Harley Quinn, is sent back in time to feudal Japan when the machine explodes.

But because Batman was at the outer edge of the explosion, he arrives two years later than everyone else. Disoriented by this and the fact that none of his tech works, Batman gets sideswiped by samurai working for the Joker. Escaping, he finds Catwoman and learns that all the other villains but Grodd have established themselves as warlords vying to unify Japan, with Joker & Harley controlling the largest territory. Meeting up with Alfred, his sons and a clan of Bat Ninjas led by a man named Eian, Batman sets out to take down the bad guys, return home, and possibly fulfill a legendary prophecy along the way.

The overriding directive for this film seems to have been this: take Batman and throw him into a mix of the wildest chanbara (samurai movies) and the whole...everything of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (which Mizusaki and Kamikaze Douga worked on). The result is something wildly entertaining and completely bonkers. This is the best movie you'll ever see involving Damian Wayne having a monkey sidekick and Joker commanding a giant megazord.

It's not perfect. The decision to blend lovely traditional animation sequences (including a key sequence that recalls the late Isao Takahata's final film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) with a main story largely done with CGI anime models doesn't quite work. The motions are fine, but Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki's busy character design results in some pretty limited facial animation, which doesn't do the dialogue any favors.

While the English-language cast, led by Roger Craig Smith as Batman and Fred Tatasciore as Grodd, are pretty solid, Tony Hale's Joker takes a while to find his footing, transitioning between a Mark Hamill impression and a high-pitched dervish before finally settling down into something more original.

Still, these are minor faults and the movie's weaknesses are outshone by its astonishing battle sequences, visual inventiveness and a bottomless supply for pulling out whatever set piece can appeal to the audience's inner ten year old. It's remarkable and if DC and Mizusaki decide to explore this world further through more films or a manga, plenty of fans would be on board.

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