Weekend Review – Hakaider

This weekend we have another Tokusatsu movie review. This time it’s a modern spinoff of a series that made it to the US in more or less its original form back in the 70s – Kikaider.

Cast and Crew Information

Original Title: Mechanical Violator Hakaider

Mai Hosho as Kaoru
Yuji Kishimoto as Hakaider
Kazuhiko Inoue as Mikhail (voice)
Hiroshi Matsumoto as Hakaider (voice)
Toshiyuki Kikuchi as Mikhail
Yasuaki Honda as Girjev

Written by Shotaro Ishinori, based on the series Kikaider by Yoshinori Kitase
Directed by Keita Amemiya

Available on DVD from Amazon.com and RightStuf.com

The Premise

In a post apocalyptic future, the robot Hakaider is awakened from a slumber by a group of treasure hunters. He soon discovers that in his sleep the world has become a post apocalyptic wasteland, with the last bastion of humanity in the city of “Jesus Town” ruled with an iron fist by the tyrant Girjev and his android enforcer, Mikhail. It’s up to Hakaider to bring down Girjev and free humanity.

High Point

Considering that Japan doesn’t have a lot of good places for shooting a post apocalyptic film on location – particularly in terms of getting the kind of iconic Road Warrior-esque shots, that a film of this kind of calls for, this film does a good job of getting this post apocalyptic sense across, through some well done location scouting, as well as some good use of miniatures and some decent matte paintings.

The fight scene between Hakaider and Mikhail is well done. They do a good job of not having the character meet before the fight, so that when the fight finally happens, the audience honestly doesn’t know how this will turn out. The choreography for the fight itself also makes for a nice mix of grab-and-shove Terminator style fighting, combined with the martial arts that’s expected in Tokusatsu films of this type.

Low Point

The film’s inconsistent about the degree of punishment Hakaider can take. When he drives into town he shrugs off a hit from an artillery shell. A later shot from a cannon mounted on a vehicle causes some harm. Also, the film has a habit of giving Hakaider new abilities out of the blue. In the final fight with Mikhail, he suddenly produces not only an arm cannon which he can use to, ahem, disarm him, but he then produces a Guyver-esque chest cannon to finish the job.

We could have done with a bit more time with our rag-tag group of rebels, if only to establish them a little bit further, before they’re gunned down by the Parliament Storm Troopers.

The film’s also inconsistent about its gore. Hakaider dispatches the treasure hunters who attack him in a rather gruesome fashion. However, when Hakaider kills Parliament Storm Troopers its entirely bloodless, even when he crushes one of their skulls under his boot. On the other hand, when Mikhail kills one of those same soldiers for failing him by shoving his hand into their head, he ends up awash in blood.

Finally, some of the effects aren’t pulled off quite right. In the aforementioned sequence where Hakaider shrugs off artillery fire, we get a close up of Hakaider’s physical actor with squib hits superimposed on him. However, the actor isn’t in motion, and not attempt is made to give the impression that he is. This wouldn’t be too bad if we weren’t inter-cutting to shots of him in motion on the motorcycle.

Content Notes

As mentioned under the Low Points, this film does have some blood. No real gore, but there are some squib hits, and the aforementioned bit with Mikhail.

The Scores

Originality: This is a spinoff of the original Kikaider TV series and manga, but the plot is essentially original – Kikaider does not appear and is not mentioned aside from a possible cameo appearance by his helmet. Hakaider himself appears to have a different personality from the series – though to be fair, my knowledge of the series is secondhand. 4 out of 6.

Effects: These are really hit-or-miss. While the miniatures effects are behind what Hollywood was doing in 1995, Japanese live-action film special effects tend to be 5-10 years behind anyway, and what miniatures we get look good. The matte paintings look good, though they fail to set up any sense of real world geography, in terms of explaining where, geographically, we’re supposed to be. 3 out of 6.

Story: The film’s story is alright. The portion with the revolutionaries is paced poorly. There’s little emotional response to the characters, so as the film stands, it feels like padding. However, if the characters had gotten some more time to let the audience connect, then the scenes would fit in just fine and I wouldn’t have any real complaints. 3 out of 6.

Acting: Decent. Yasuaki Honda’s performance as Girjev is good, playing up the way the character is totally collected until everything goes irrevocably wrong and his demeanor all falls apart. On the other hand, the revolutionaries are a giant mass of cliches, and the character of Kaoru, whose supposed to be the leader, really doesn’t look or act the part, and it’s not because of dialog. You could play the character as a tougher woman without changing a line of dialog, just performance and makeup, and it would work. As it is, it doesn’t quite do it. 3 out of 6.

Production: As mentioned under the high points, the film did a good job in its location scouting, and did a decent job of giving the sets a little bit of a sense of being lived in, with what little budget they had for a film this ambitious. The sound design in the film has a few problems though. The fight between Hakaider and Mikhail sounds great, and the guns sound pretty good as well. On the other hand, there are some sequences which don’t quite feel done. In one scene, when Hakaider is fighting off some Storm Troopers, Hakaider blows up a vehicle and a whole bunch of troopers are running around on fire. The moment is kind of ruined by having no score during this and no ADR either to give the impression that the fire is effecting the troopers beyond their attempts to extinguish the flames. 3 out of 6.

Emotional Response: Again, middling. I really didn’t care about the rebels. On the other hand, because we came into the Hakaider/Mikhail fight without having had them fight earlier, and considering this is a Japanese film, there’s the possibility that Hakaider might not walk away from this fight. 3 out of 6.

Overall: This is a film with a lot of ambition. I can tell that this film really wanted to be Japan’s Mad Max, and it kept getting close. However, it feels like things kept getting in the way – money, acting performances, a little bit of confusion in terms of what the landscape for “Jesus Town” would look like. However, under these circumstances, I can’t fault them for trying. 4 out of 6.

In Total, Hakaider gets 20 out of 42.