Flare up your favorite Cuban, and shine your psychoguns, the news is now feeling very real. Nearly a week ago, the folks at AICN revealed a surprising piece of promotional art that pretty much stopped me dead in my nonbelieving tracks. Upon first hearing that French horror favorite, Alexandre Aja was looking to step beyond the confines of scream fuel, and take on a manga icon even less known stateside than Mach Go! Go! Go!, my first reaction was simple; another director’s dream project, never to come to fruition. As I just mentioned, with such a title that has more recognition in Europe than here, a big budget live-action version of Buichi Terasawa’s Space Adventure Cobra seemed doomed to remain collecting dust in some development dustbin somewhere. But to finally see this poster, it is hard to express in words how surreal a feeling it is to even see this considered. And seeing as how the anime version was mostly sheperded by the just recently late, great Osamu Dezaki, a part of me feels mixed, and yet strangely hopeful that we will see a grand compliment to both creators in what is clearly something that the recent AKIRA flap feels nothing like; a labor of deep love.
So for those unfamiliar with the character, and the super-retro high romantic sci-fi fantasy world he wreaks havoc upon, here’s a little breakdown: Cobra features the adventures of a one-time self-administered amnesiac coming to terms with his former life as a brazen & wily space pirate as he performs all a manner of thievery & derring-do in a distant future complete with human & alien civilizations co-existing in distant galaxies, all the while dodging the near omnipotent hand of the space-mafia like Guild; a rogues’ gallery of weird villains. Mix this Star Wars-esque universe with enough love for the wilder early James Bond films, as well as a hopelessly old-world regard for those films’ feminine elements. That’s right, Cobra almost always seems to get himself in enough trouble that he is often seen saving, or receiving assistance from any variety of exotic women.
Further adding to the campy flavor of the original manga, Cobra’s main partner-in-crime is a Sorayama-like cyborg, Lady Armaroid, an ever loyal, and serious counterpart to our often aloof hero. And let’s not forget Cobra’s signature cannon for an arm & ever-present cigar, and one has one of the more iconic characters to come from Japan that never really hit it big here. As part of the whole “space war” obsession Japan media dabbled with for a bulk of the decade, Cobra represented a longing for another era of high adventure that possibly went a long way toward inspiring cosmetically similar projects such as Dirty Pair & even Cowboy Bebop.
(Only recently did Cobra receive a little 30 year revival, and remains one of the very last projects to bear the name of Dezaki, who has long been a favorite of mine.)
My first exposure to the franchise was, naturally via the Matthew Sweet music video for the track, Girlfriend, which was something of a revelation moment for me as I almost instantly recognized the animation & art style. And being a big admirer of the 1983 Golgo 13 movie, my desire to see this earlier film was something of a holy grail chase that ended years later when Urban Vision brought the film dubbed to US audiences. And by that time, the name of Osamu Dezaki was already a well-regarded one in the domicile, as one of the early anime guard with a flare for character iconography, and incredibly versatile hand-drawn mastery. The Cobra movie, while by all accounts typical of a compressed movie version of a much longer story, remains a fun remnant of a Japan ready to embrace escapism with loving, manly arms, and with a wink of an eye. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to delve into the original tv series, as well as some of the Terasawa manga.
Which leads me to why I’m nowhere near as bothered about this project as I had been over the Hughes Brothers’ apparent clusterpunk of an AKIRA adaptation. The simple fact is that as something that has less of a fan-centered shadow stateside, perhaps this is the kind of project that can be the making of a cult anomaly. A part of me still envies many a fan from europe who grew up watching the original television series, and over the years have wondered why this hadn’t been brought up before. Looking back it seems as if this had been something of a dream project for someone to eventually take on. (Anyone remember the meetup between Terasawa & La Femme Nikita/ Leon director Luc Besson in the mid-90s? And anyone else notice a little Cobra DNA well nestled within the color & camp of his cult-fave, The Fifth Element?) It’s always felt inevitable, and it’s nice to see it in the hands of a director known for being able to push the energy button when necessary. Now surely, there is worry that is valid since Aja’s filmography has largely been centered on either relentlessly dark horror tales, or shamelessly hyperbolic 3D revamps, but a part of me feels that horror has never been terribly far from humor, which is very necessary when dealing with the over the top world that Cobra inhabits. Not everyone can mix laughs with tension, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing Aja give this a go, even if it’s a leap outside his normal realm. One of Aja’s biggest strengths is his lack of fear when dealing with just how crazy his films can get. He can be pretty unhinged when he wants, and even when one thinks it can’t get crazier. And that’s something of a boost in my mind. Call me silly, I’d rather have this than another production by non-understanding Hollywood committee. And besides, something tells me, Besson is watching closely. And with that comes a little added dash of faith.
Cobra is at its most memorable, a wild, sexy, and fun fantasy world rife with some real potential for a global movie project. Now from what I’ve gathered, they may be taking on the ever-popular Royal Sisters story, which could go either way on us, especially in lieu of how much has changed in the world since the manga. But as an admitted fan of the oversimplified 1982 movie, I’m eager to see how much Aja is willing to bring into the live version. Personally, I’d love to see a truly psychotic, and visually impressive Crystal Boy brought to the big screen. (Creepy internals and all.) Maybe we’ll see some Rugball(!!). If anything, this all feels like a project made with energy and enthusiasm for the source material, because otherwise, it really doesn’t scream box office, particularly to an audience not familiar with the character, or the world he lives in. And that’s something that has me curious.