Anime Boston 2019 hosted the North American premiere of the new movie City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes, with producers Goh Wakabayashi and Naohiro Ogata, director Kenji Kodama and screenwriter Yoichi Kato in attendance to answer questions afterward.
When introducing the film, the first entry in the City Hunter franchise in 20 years, the panelists asked the audience how many attendees were familiar with the previous TV series and movies. From the show of hands, the crowd appeared evenly split between fans and newcomers.
City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes is accessible enough to jump into without prior knowledge of the property. It's a straightforward, and self-contained, action-comedy B-movie. The only moment that screams "you'd enjoy this more if you got the reference" isn't even a nod to the old City Hunter, but to Tsukasa Hojo's other manga, Cat's Eye. Everything you need to know about the main characters is easily established: Ryo Saeba the "city hunter" alternates between fighting crime and ogling women, while Kaori keeps his excesses in check with her trusty hammer.
Shinjuku Private Eyes is at its most entertaining when Ryo is in fighting mode. The hand-to-hand combat and gunplay are always thrilling. The choreography is so precise and lifelike at points one might wonder whether the movie was rotoscoped, but no live-action reference footage was used. The quality is due to the skill of the animators and Kodama's love for professional wrestling.
The raunchy comedy material, on the other hand, gets tedious quickly. The movie acknowledges at the beginning that its hero's lecherousness doesn't play well in 2019, and the female characters are strong enough that it's clear Ryo's behavior is being mocked, not endorsed. Still, the joke grows old, and when so much of the film's midsection is dedicated to Ryo's "boner time" (yes, that's his actual catchphrase), it's easy to lose interest.
The film's aesthetics are appealing. As with the recent Universal Century Gundam titles, Sunrise's animation seamlessly translates old-fashioned character designs into the high-definition era. The backgrounds faithfully recreate present-day Shinjuku (the filmmakers mentioned they hope it inspires fans to want to visit). The soundtrack is awesome, much of it repurposing tracks from throughout the history of the City Hunter franchise. The voice acting is even more impressive when you realize that many of the actors, returning from the original series, are now in their 60s and 70s.
The story, however, is more derivative. There was a conscious choice to have a high-tech villain as part of the attempt to modernize the setting. Even so, this story still feels like it could have been 1990s sci-fi, the only real difference being today the science is just slightly less fictional. The most interesting aspect is how the villain's philosophy, presented as theoretical in the Japanese context, is more biting when viewed in the context of a gun-obsessed America. Otherwise, this isn't a movie that will make you think. It's simply trying to entertain, which it does to mixed results, depending on whether its focusing on action or comedy.
For what it's worth, the crowd at the premiere was entertained throughout. Kodama said that, compared to the Japanese audience response, "this was the biggest reaction we've ever received ever." Kato went even further, calling it "the best reaction in the entire world." This sort of popcorn fare really does benefit from viewing with an enthusiastic audience.
The panel discussion illuminated the thought process behind the making of the film. Kato talked about how the TV series could wildly change tone between episodes, and that the film's fluctuations were an attempt to capture all of the original's qualities. Kato also admitted he was initially apprehensive about Ryo's pervertedness, but Kodama found jumping between Ryo's heroic and sleazy modes became "addicting" as a director.
City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes has been licensed for release by Discotek Media, along with all of the classic City Hunter anime.