Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995)

Original title: Jinzo ningen Hakaida

Some rather dystopian future. A luckless bunch of thieves breaks into an old, locked down prison searching for valuables, but ends up awakening the android/robot/cyborg/whatever Hakaider, who's about as much of a morning person as I am and therefore kills them all.

Hakaider then grabs his motorcycle and makes his way to the city of Jesus Town, where a certain Girjev (overacted, somewhat effeminate, accessorizing with angel wings) lords over what he sees a paradise of order, but what is in fact a place where every dissent is destroyed through a silver psychopathic robot named Michael, masked stormtroopers and the judicious application of lobotomies.

Hakaider falls in with a small band of morally rather dubious revolutionaries against Girjev's interpretation of freedom, but making the guy's acquaintance and getting slaughtered all lie in the space of just a few minutes for the not very righteous few. Still, at least one of the freedom fighters, the comparatively pure-hearted Kaoru (Mai Hosho), has had prophetic dreams about Hakaider, so surely the kinda-sorta hero will go and do some mechanical violating on a certain bad guy's ass.

I don't seem to be able to get away from the works of tokusatsu specialist Keita Amemiya these last few weeks. Fortunately, most of his films are well worth a minor obsession, Mechanical Violator Hakaider being no exception.

As seems to be the case with all of Amemiya's feature films, he's obviously not working on a budget much higher than those of the tokusatsu TV shows he's spent a lot of his artistic life on here, so there are the usual tolerances against stiff (Hakaider) or overly broad (Gurjev) acting needed if one wants to get something out of the film.

While Amemiya's design sense, crossing the borders between kitsch and art, and arriving somewhere in the middle, is as wonderful as always, much of the futuristic production design has the look and feel of something a genius mad scientist put together out of normal household items in her garage (though there's nothing as extreme as the cuckoo clock battle robots from Mirai Ninja). It gives the effects the feel of something made by actual people instead of faceless design functionaries, so I tend to find this sort of thing charming and very human, but I know the film's obvious monetary poverty will be enough to make it nearly unwatchable for some without constant mocking.

As is also typical of Amemiya's work, Hakaider does some rather clever things within the bounds of its chosen genre. Most obvious is casting Hakaider as his film's hero, a character that was an enemy of classical tokusatsu hero Kikaider/Kikaida (depending on whom you believe either as a plain bad guy or some sort of anti-hero; I can't afford the overpriced DVD box of the show, so I'm going by hearsay here), and putting him against a robot that looks as much as a typical tokusatsu good guy as Michael does. Amemiya does the same thing with the white/black colour coding of good and evil, using mostly whites for the bad guys and their lair and black for the revolutionaries. So far, so obvious, but the director does take the deciding step further and also shows the revolutionaries (except for Kaoru) as violent egotists and even takes an empathic look at the victims of one of the scenes of Hakaider's awesome violence, complicating the usual bad guy/good guy affair quite a bit more than he has to.

Obviously, Hakaider is still mostly a film about that awesome violence, guys in spandex beating each other up and explosions, but to me, Amemiya's attempts at adding complexity make all the difference. Watching the movie, I also couldn't shake the feeling that the film's political side, sledgehammer-y as it might be, isn't some perfunctory stuff the director just threw into the mix to make his film more "mature", but based on actual anger about a state of things that's not so different from what is happening in the world right now. Except that the real world has a decided lack of robotic heroes or easy solutions through cathartic violence, but one of the beauties of genre cinema is of course that its problems are a lot easier solved than those of our world.


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