MIRROR MAN REFLEX: Mirror Image of the Original?
Tsuburaya Reimagines an Old Hero
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: Tsuburaya Productions
“On the other side of the mirror is the Hidden World (Kakuriyo). Lurking in the Hidden World are the Viscous Spirits (Jasen) who try to take over the souls and bodies of the Manifest Realm (Utsushiyo).” Not only are these the words and warnings of Akira Kageyama, a.k.a. Mirror Man, broadcast through his internet streamed radio station, but also the concept behind director Kazuya Konaka’s MIRROR MAN: REFLEX (Miraaman Reflex, 2006).
MIRROR MAN: REFLEX is a remake or retelling of the original MIRROR MAN television series, which aired back in 1971 from Tsuburaya Productions. However, this Mirror Man is very different from his predecessor!
As Konaka states, “According to some fans, Ultraman was the Sun, Mirror Man was the Moon. While ULTRAMAN was basic entertainment for children, MIRROR MAN was a darker program about a hero who battled evil. It had a lot of night scenes and a mysterious, surreal mood.”
All of these qualities from the original series survived in Konaka’s film, however, he takes the concept of a hero, which transforms in front of mirrors to another level. In this new version, the concept of an alien hero is abandoned and in its place, Konaka gives us more mythology and legend involving the Mirror World. The Mirror world is a world of the dead, where evil lurks. An idea drawn from ancient Japanese religious beliefs.
Jonan Technical University researcher Akami Hiro (Yuko Ito) attempts to decipher ancient writings on the back of a mirror. She is constantly distracted by an imaginary boyfriend, who enters her imagination and keeps her company. She reads an incantation on the mirror, “Makare… makare… magare!” (Calamity… calamity… calamity). These words release a Kotodama (language spirit) from the Mirror World, who captures her and forces her to recite the words again, releasing demons from the Mirror World to wreak havoc in our dimension.
The one savior, standing between the dimensions and protecting the humans is Akira Kageyama (Ryo Karato), who with the help of his niece Momoso (Miku Ishida), transforms into Mirror Man! Momoso must hold a mirror, pointing at Akira, and sing a chant that releases an eerie green glow from the mirror, which envelops Akira and allows him to change to Mirror Man.
Thus begins the battle between the dimensions with the demons and spirits on one side and Mirrorman on the other.
This review is based on the movie version of MIRROR MAN: REFLEX. The original version(s) was released as a three-part direct-to-DVD series. Episode one was KISHIN (Return to the Divine), part 2 was KODOKU (Vermin Poison) and part three was CHINGON (Spiritual Quietude). These episodes were edited together into a movie version that played in a limited run in select Japanese theaters.
Perhaps because of the edited together nature of the feature, this may explain the awkward pacing of the film, which tends to bog down in certain areas. The concepts, characters and action are all up to par and interesting, but not quite enough to carry it through some seemingly long, dry spells.
The special effects and choreographed battle sequences are quite good for the limited budget the filmmakers had to work under. The fights between Mirror Man and the demons/monsters are fast-paced and exciting in both normal size and giant sized forms. The demons he battles are renamed and updated versions of three monsters from the original series. The first demon to appear, Shiyu, is a new version of the kaiju Iron from episode one of MIRROR MAN. The second, human-sized demon to appear is named Kyuki, originally Darkron from episode 3 and the final demon is Reiki (Gold Satan from episode 7). Of the three, Shiyu/Iron is the best representation. Keeping with the face in the chest design of Iron, Shiyu is redesigned in a sort of Zeiram-like fashion, combining traditional Japanese kaiju with ancient Japanese design and armor-like garb.
The re-design of Mirror Man himself is actually based on the original Mirror Man design used in comics that was changed for the television series. The design is fresh, but the execution is a bit lacking with the use of green spandex, which while good for the action and fights, does not look as good as the traditional rubber wetsuit worn by most of the Tsuburaya heroes.
The sets are simple and sometimes barren, but the dark lighting and camera angles hide the limited miniatures so as not to make them a distraction.
The characters are fairly well developed. Akami drives the story along as she changes throughout the film from an introverted researcher, imagining make-believe boyfriends, to a confident woman with a new identity, ready to face the world and the horrors she now knows it holds.
Kageyama is not your typical hero. More scruffy and independent, he sits at home in his internet radio studio, broadcasting warnings about the Mirror World to anyone who will listen. Only to rise to action when the demons from that world escape into ours.
Momoso, his assistant, lost her father (Kageyama’s brother) and now stays with Kageyama. Both Kageyama and Momoso died seven years ago, only to be brought back to stand between the two dimensions and keep them apart. The part of Kageyama’s brother, Kyotaro, is played by actor Noboyuki Ishida, the original Akira Kagami/ Mirror Man.
The script for the features/movie was written by Chiaki Konaka, director Konaka’s brother. It works well, but again is victim to some slow pacing in certain parts. Anime fans will know Chiaki Konaka from his work on SERIAL EXPERIMENTS: LAIN and ARMITAGE III. This is the first time the two have worked together on a live-action project since the film DEFENDER in 1996.
Overall, MIRROR MAN: REFLEX was enjoyable and introduced some interesting concepts to an older, traditional superhero show. Check it out if you can. The beauty of DVDs is that you can speed up the pacing whenever you want!