Thursday, May 10, 2012

Movie Review: Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995)

Somewhere after a devastating global apocalypse, at an unspecified time, a group of scavengers stumble upon and awaken a sleeping humanoid robot kept imprisoned and wrapped in chains. In a flash, they are dispatched with frightening efficiency, and instantly this blood-stained machine hops onto his trusted motorcycle, and sets off to Jesus Town - possibly the last refuge of humanity. Only the citizens of this armed fortress city live under the beautiful bootheels of one Gurjev, and his lethal assistant robot, Michael. With their draconian use of force, and vegetable-creating microchip implantation, they have fashioned a society aligned with Gurjev's own brand of justice and harmony. Unbeknownst to them, a bike-riding messenger from the past is en route. And not necessarily bearing goals to liberate the humans of Jesus Town. Feel the burning righteous fist of Hakaider!

In the past, I have considered doing writeups I have felt would perhaps come at odds with certain fandoms, thereby alienating myself from them. But in the name of honest critical discourse, it only felt just that a personal record be set in regards to my feelings on practical special effects movie maestro, Keita Amemiya. As fun as some of his films are at a character craft level (his main claim to fame is his use of often brilliantly realized creatures, props, and stop motion. Those familiar with the Zeiram films, this is the guy responsible.), his films simply lacks any sense of dramatic flow, rhythm, or weight. They are often awkwardly staged, hypnotic works, and not in a good way. Often times, the bulk of his work seem more attenuated toward tokusatsu fans, and enthusiasts of finely crafted creatures and machines, offering little else to the proceedings. And in the case of Hakaider, this is made threefold, as it becomes glaringly clear that despite being inspired by the works of manga legend, Shotaro Ishinomori, there is nowhere near enough budget or script for Amemiya and crew to even begin working with.

For starters, as something of a side story to the title character who is the arch rival of the one and only Kikaider, there is little to no real exposition laid out for anything in the piece, which largely consists of Hakaider riding his bike somewhere, only to be stopped, start fighting, kill everyone, and then continue toward the city. The movie is just a series of events strung together by often haphazard action sequences that offer no real context for anything, except to establish that Hakaider is something of a nihilist amnesiac. He knows nothing of his past before the events displayed here, and only seems to be around to screw up anyone or anything who wanders into his path. We don't even get an idea of what's at stake, who are the real villains, or who we can even pretend to care for. Not even the innocent would-be resistance-fighter, Kaoru (Mai Hosho)can truly serve as audience surrogate when it seems that all of her dialogue seems to have been summoned up on the spot- right on down to completely puzzling notions involving "becoming a bride". This lack of any real structure gives Hakaider a glacial, frustrating vibe that is only remedied by its clearly unintentional laughs.(not to mention groans when the film attempts humor-most notably an out of nowhere shot of Kaoru's scrapper companions simultaneously chewing gum, when clearly some setup was required but did not have) And when considering Amemiya's previous body of work, this is really saying something.

Digging even deeper, I'd even postulate that this was a project that was essentially hoisted upon the director, and in turn, the film is possibly a glimpse into his psyche as he attempts to stem the tide of mid-1990s manga tropes that he possibly doesn't, or isn't interested in understanding. That's right. We may have a film that feaures a number of visual fluorishes that are highly indicative of the era (Visual Kei fashion, faux-goth imagery, tons of feathers), they come at a clip that in many ways implies a certain disdain for them. As if these ideas were implemented via committee despite the director's wishes. The general phoniness of it all, runs concurrent with the entire film's lack of overall energy. All the angel wings, and co-opted bishonen evoke images of the works of CLAMP, Kaori Yuki, and even Tetsuya Nomura, in some halfhearted attempt to invite a new demographic to the film, do nothing to ground the film in any manner of actual flair or style. It's all far too limp to even bother.

So when all one has left are Amemiya's mechanical concepts, and action scenes, one cannot help but feel like these are the only reasons for the film's existence. And even then, perhaps surprisingly, the action choreography is even more weightless and hollow than usual. So the majority of the film comprises of this manner of scraping for anything, and in my estimation, it's again the design work, particularly of the mechanized second in command, Michael, that steals the show. Gurjev's mechanical (?) army is relatively flimsy. And Hakaider's overall design is decent, albeit pretty standard despite his glowing brain, and green grimace.

And as mentioned, the biggest issue that plagues the entire affair, is a general lack of real exposition, or motivation behind any of the characters and their actions. The closest to any agency we actually witness is from Gurjev and Michael. (Especially Michael,who actually seems to genuinely wish to do right by his master. One cannot help but feel as if he could strike out on his own here, but alas..) Hakaider never really gets explored despite his supposed importance be it in machine or humanoid form. All we get from him is that he's something of an id pressure valve for a director clawing for a reason to make this film. And while this may seem unfair to say, it's the only reasonable explaination for all the dark machine does in the whole 90-minutes we are witness to. We know he likes to beat up and often kill those without agency of their own, and can burn flowers just by walking past them. And that's about it. Even his final showdown with the pretty boy dictator, and his robo-buddy cannot escape the oodles of awkward spewing forth throughout. If one cannot laugh, how can one survive? Without it, Amemiya's paean to one of tokusatsu's greatest antiheroes is not terribly different from the Magic Eye paintings from the same era whence it came. Nothingness that isn't afraid to stare back into you. But I guess those who don't mind their nothingness with a cool-looking winged robot might be fine with it.


  1. I like the part with the van that they tried to dress up as a tank. But it was totes a van! Its explosion was amazingly underwhelming!

  2. Any more would have blown the whole remaining five dollars. No way it could have been any more spectacular.