Astronauts Geki Jumonji (Yuma Ishigaki) and Toya Okuma (Takuya Nagaoka) bid farewell to their childhood friend-turned-scientist Itsuki Kawai (Yukari Taki) as they set forth on a mission to Mars. To Itsuki's dismay their space shuttle mysteriously disappears. A year later at SARD headquarters, Itsuki is suddenly attacked by a space monster known as Zan Vardo (voiced by Dai Matsumo). Only to be rescued by titanium-clad, karate-kicking, laser sword-wielding intergalactic champion of justice Space Sheriff Gavan. Who turns out to be Geki. Having survived the cosmic tragedy that claimed Toya, Geki inherited the mantle of the legendary superhero and now works for the Galactic Union. Together with his perky pink-clad partner, Shelly (Suzuka Morita), he battles the minions of the mysterious gold masked Master Brighton who aims to use experimental Earth tech to open a wormhole for his master, the evil entity Don Horror (voiced by Shozo Izuka), to wreak havoc on our galaxy.
Allegedly the inspiration behind Rob Bottin's design for Robocop (1987), the iconic 1982 sentai (Japanese superhero) serial Space Sheriff Gavan is a much beloved property in Japan. Hence Toei Films produced this feature film to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of its original broadcast. Compared to lavish Hollywood superhero epics it is an obviously lower budgeted affair. Yet showcases that killer combo of expertly choreographed karate action, seizure-inducing rapid-fire editing and ingenious costume-and-optical effects that remain Toei's unique area of expertise.
Screenwriter Yuji Kobayashi fashions a soap opera back-story for a new cast of characters to appeal to Japan's current generation of teen drama fans. It is talkier than the original half-hour shows with sluggish moments between action scenes, not helped by the stoic nature of the principal cast, but evolves into an engaging, albeit still simplistic story. While the script milks some mileage from the love triangle and a predictable though still impactful plot twist its juvenile antics will seem fairly familiar to fans weaned on Power Rangers or Super Infra-Man (1975). Right down to the inclusion of a sexy white-wigged, whip-wielding vixen (Sanae Hitomi) commanding an army of rubber monsters.
As events play out Yuma Ishigaki, from Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins (2010), gradually becomes a livelier, more endearing character. He also shares an appealing dynamic with gal pal Shelly whose fashion choices while working undercover on Earth are especially amusing. Seriously, she looks like a psychedelic Raggedy Ann doll. The film also has plenty of intentional comedy including priceless sequences where our heroes battle rubber monsters on a crowded commuter train and at a live sentai event of the sort commonly staged at Japanese shopping malls. Its ace in the hole however is the crowd-pleasing return of original Space Sheriff Gavan actor Kenji Ohba! Original Galactic Union commander Toshiaki Nishizawa also reprises his role from the show as does voice actor Dai Matsumoto. Still spry in his autumn years, Ohba executes back flips and spin kicks like a total badass. At one point, in a scene seemingly calculated to appeal specifically to curmudgeonly fans of the original show, he literally smacks some sense into the callow Geki. More so than the dramatic moments the film is at its best when it lets both Ishigaki and Ohba crack their stoic facades and indulge in goofy comedy.
While one could argue that the computer animated effects are less durable than the original Gavan's remarkable miniatures it is worth remembering the Japanese effects tradition is less interested in realism than fashioning eye-catching images. Taken on that level the set-pieces are charmingly ambitious and visually appealing. It is not a film for tokusatsu newbies but fans will likely smile nostalgically at the familiar disco theme song, voice-over narration accompanying Gavan's superhero transformation and the return of Gavan's awesome mile-long transforming robot dragon.