Saturday, 21 May 2011

Mechanical Violator Hakaider

Mechanical Violator Hakaider/人造人間ハカイダー (also known as "Robo Man Hakaider" according to a US promo) is actually anything but junk, but it is a bit obscure.
And a bit cheesy.

Hakaider is actually the villain of the 1972 tokusatsu series Kikaider, created by famed author Shotaro Ishinomori. This 1995 movie by Keita Amemiya is a non-canonical story in which Hakaider takes centre stage. Unfortunately, due to the protagonistic light he takes, many Japanese fans rejected this at the time, a bit drastically too, as there is not much wrong with this film.

Then again, I have not seen or read anything starring Kikaider and his signature rival, and all I know is that Hakaider is supposed to be purely evil. If I had the same upbringing I would possibly have a very different opinion. In this film, he is fairly indifferent, lapsing slightly between 'anti-hero' and 'villain', but without the unknowing coldness characters like M.D. Geist possess. In a typical dystopian future where a fanatical government rules, many are still left outside of there reign. A group of treasure hunters plunder some ruins in hopes of finding what else more than treasure; they are greeted by a man covered in black armor and held down with chains. This man, Ryo (played by Yuji Kishimoto, isn't actually called this throughout the film, but seeing as how I know nothing about the actual character, I can only assume Japanese fans already knew this) slaughters each of the treasure hunters in an extremely stylish sequence. He does all this while transformed as the robotic Hakaider, the gore shots in this sequence are all very subliminal, but combined with the use of sound, it looks incredibly cool and cold.

Ryo/Hakaider unchains his bike, which is still working for however long he's been left there, and takes off. In a deserted block of buildings, a man runs from the police carrying an unknown briefcase, he eventually hides in a warehouse and attempts to commit suicide as they start to gas him out. He is spared however when a robot named Mikhail suddenly knocks the gun from his hand and claims that even though he is a criminal, his life must be respected; this plays a bigger role later on. We return to Ryo, who is about to pass a border and enter Jesus Town (connotations are fun), here we meet one of the many non-Japanese actors in this film who appear to be dubbed. Ryo breaks through the electric security, and the rotund guard gives quite a funny "get-off-my-lawn!" fistshaking to the long-gone Ryo. First sign of cheesiness, but all in good health. Jesus Town is inhabited by many happy peasants all dressed in white but are beset by a band of freedom fighters, who of course are all dressed darker.

Next is what this film does best; an action scene showing off some incredibly impressive special effects. Ryo drives straight through the town's defences, gaining no more than a scar, before transforming into Hakaider and destroying the gates with a single bullet from his super shotgun. Jesus Town is ruled by Gurjev, who keeps his headquarters in spotless white, along with his uniform, oddly enough he wears the skeleton of a bird on his suit with a single feathered wing propped up. Mikhail serves him, and dispatches a squad of their soldiers when they learn about their intruder. We then cut to a surreal dream sequence, in which a winged girl is chained to a tree and confronted by quite a gruesome angel. This rotting angel is quickly slain by a black knight on horseback; the symbolism is obvious, regardless, it's a nice scene. This dream was dreamt by Kaoru, a member of the freedom fighters, who are quite multicultural; just like the tubby guard, they're dubbed. I can't help but wonder if it would have been better if they just went subtitled to give this film a bit more of an authentic feel, that and any cheesy acting that's not masked by someone else's voices would probably feel right at home in this flick.    

The freedom fighters attack a parliamentary truck and steal its goods, very soon though, they find themselves in the middle of a battle between Hakaider and government soldiers. Hakaider lasts long but is eventually worn down from a relentless attack. After the battle is over, the freedom fighters take him into their company. At their base, we learn how no one is truly free in Jesus Town; the "respect of life" Mikhail spoke of earlier, basically meant that not a thing should go to waste, so criminals and anyone who disobeys Gurjev has their emotions robbed of them. To him, they are reborn as his children, we also learn that Hakaider preceded Mikhail as a bodyguard, but he proved rebellious and was later kidnapped by a group of scientists, only to become something of a ghost. Kaoru takes a liking to Ryo/Hakaider, while her teammates don't trust him, she begs for him to join, but he sees them as no different from Gurjev with how they want to establish their own government. Suddenly, their base is attacked by Mikhail's men; Hakaider is blasted to the ground outside while the rest of the fighters are murdered. The next sequence is what I can only guess must be Kaoru's final dream as she dies, in which she is shown spending time with Ryo, I say this only because I do not believe they found the immediate time to recover and enjoy themselves at an oasis.

Regardless, Hakaider has inherited a piece of her jewellery as a memento, and heads off on his bike to destroy Gurjev, Mikhail, and their control of Jesus Town. Being a product of Gurjev designed to enforce his law, he appears to have an entire map of their headquarters programmed into him, allowing him to fire a guided shotgun shell that sends itself to the core, disabling 95% of their robotic soldiers and knocking out a lot of power. The entirety of Hakaider and Mikhail's showdown is excellently shot, tense and highly-satisfying. 
While not perfect in a lot of areas, Mechanical Violator Hakaider is one of the most fully entertaining films I have seen in a while. For a Japanese film from 1995, it manages to look brilliant throughout, so much so a simple comment won't do. Many of the backgrounds feature painted objects to emphasis the barren dystopian landscape; they look obvious, but undoubtedly look good and certainly add a charm to the film. The sets themselves all look good too, showcasing various bits of a slumtown and industrial section that look convincing. The all-white interior of Gurjev's headquarters looks plain, but it looks perfect once Hakaider enters to reduce everything to wreckage. The costumes too are well-defined and generally look quite good, but the show stealers are of course Hakaider and Mikhail; they're fully-geared, contrasting costumes may be two of the most gorgeous things in the entire tokusatsu genre, and they're only aided by the superb body language that's breathed into them by suit actors Jiro Okamoto and Toshiyuki Kikuchi (Hakaider and Mikhail respectively). Additional special effects include some dated CGI, however, these hardly reflect badly on the film and look decent; the most obvious instance of it being used is toward the end when Hakaider sprouts a gun from his chest, but it's not too noticeable. An actual prop would have been nice, but we can only guess it was cheaper to make use of the other resource. There is even some stop motion, which, while again obvious, is better than a whole scene of old CGI, and stop-motion almost always has to be admired. 

While the fight scenes are well-choreographed and damn impressive, there are a few glaring instances of dummies stiffly colliding into things, it's quite damaging. Also, the fights aren't exactly fast-paced and fluid, but this isn't an entirely bad thing, as it leads to a bit of tension, though there are odd moments in which people slowly fly back after being struck. There is not a lot of gore in this, in fact when Hakaider blows the heads off of soldiers, they burst into feathers; it's obvious they were trying to connote images of heaven as much as possible (even if they had enough with just "JESUS TOWN"), it does look a bit silly, though it is undeniably stylish. Even if, again, the symbolism does not take a genius to figure out, as it's all meant to tie in with how Hakaider is the black knight in Kaoru's dream, with feathers billowing around him from the angel he's just slain. Oddly enough though, one soldier does spray blood from having one of Mikhail's claws thrust through his face, so why doesn't it happen any other times?  

The acting ranges from cheesy to serviceable; Kishimoto doesn't have any lines as Ryo but creates an excellent presence just through body language alone and looks so cool in his role. Hakaider is actually voiced by someone else entirely, that being Hiroshi Matsumoto, who does a good enough job for how few lines he has, as does Kazuhiko Inoue as Michael, who has more lines. The rest of the cast though, don't offer anything too special, and the freedom fighters all act a bit too cheesy; they also do some of the WORST deaths on film, it's painfully wooden and feels too daft for this movie's good. Mai Hosho, as Kaoru, oddly looks dubbed at times. It finally has to be said that some of the musical score is quite decent, the gentler pieces sounding nice and attributive to their scenes, and the main theme is not bad at all. With some shortcomings, this isn't a bad film, Hakaider could have possibly been colder but as this isn't canonical to the Kikaider, I see his depiction here as acceptable. Then again, I have not seen anything of Kikaider.

A Sega Saturn videogame was created to tie in with this and apparently features more characters from the Kikaider universe, but I can't say for sure, and I would like to see more on it myself.
  • Costume: 5/5
  • Spectacle: 3.5/5
  • Strikingly obvious symbolism: 5/5 
-James, 11 August 2009 (original date)

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