February 24, 2010

Mechanical Violator Hakaider

The first time I bought this movie (yes, I have bought it more than once), it was as a stand alone DVD. I remember carrying it to the counter where the young girl behind the counter gave it, and me, an odd look (she just didn't get it) and proceeded to ring it up. The funniest part of the exchange was glancing over the receipt (both of us, for accuracy) and discovering that there were not enough characters for it to say "Mechanical Violator Hakaider," instead it simply said "Mechanical Violator." Now, I do not know about you, but that gave both of us a cash of the immature giggles. Why not? After all, it did look funny written there, oh so lonely on the slip of paper. I wish I still had it. I eventually re-bought the film as part of a bargain deal on Tokyo Shock's Keita Amemiya Collection.

This was the first Amemiya film I ever saw. Some of you are probably wondering why I would want to watch any others after seeing one. Doesn't one satiate the desire to see low-budget, Power Ranger-esque, Japanese science fiction? The simple answer is "No." It takes a special person to truly appreciate a film like this, or others of its ilk. Even when I give bad reviews to these movies, they still hold a special place in my heart. They may be bad, they may not always be good, but they are made by people with heart and desire to make a movie. They have soul and personality.

Mechanical Violator Hakaider was made only a year after Zeiram 2, the last Amemiya film I bore witness to. In that short year, the budget seems to have increased a bit, plus the writer/director's ability to tell a story seems to have improved, especially on the visual side of things. Yes, he is still dealing with robots, and yes the look is like an evil Power Ranger episode, but there is something more going on.

This movie takes a look at a dystopian future. In a place called Jesus Town the people are ruled by Gurjev, a man who fancies himself as some sort of angelic savior for the people under his charge. With the help of his robotic right-hand man, Michael (what kind of robot name is that?), Gurjev ensures that no crime happens in Jesus Town, even if that means lobotomizing his citizens and taking away their emotions. Fighting against his rule is a small, multi-cultural group of freedom fighters, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We begin with a group of treasure hunters entering an underground tunnel system in search of riches. Instead of gold, the group finds a man bound by chains in the darkness. This does not seem right, the room had seemingly been sealed for quite some time. Then, a flash in the darkness and the man was free, but changed. He is the robot Hakaider in his human form. He changes into his menacing, deadly robotic form, quickly dispatching the treasure hunters (they didn't seem all that nice anyway.

Once freed, Hakaider mourns his similarly chained motorcycle and makes a beeline for Jesus Town. Now what could he have against Gurjev, I wonder? In any case, no sooner has out menacing hero entered the town that Gurjev's forces are sent out to protect the citizens and destroy Hakaider. At the same time, the rebel force is making a strike.

Before long, Hakaider is teamed with the rebels, seeking to regain their freedom from the tyranny of Gurjev and the murderous ways of his angel, Michael (oh, I get it now, Michael as in the Arc Angel Michael).

What follows is a series of escalating battles as Hakaider makes his way to Michael and Gurjev. We get chases on motorcycles, a sneak attack by Gurjev's robotic army, and a knock-down drag-out fight to the death with Michael. Each battle is expertly staged, and rather thrilling when you consider what little they really had to work with.

In addition to the fights, the story has some philosophical elements. There are pieces of things like the value of life, the idea of destiny, what a leader must do to protect is subjects, among other thoughtful concepts. It is definitely thin on the story and the deeper meanings are tenuous at best, they are there and help add to the experience of low-budget dystopian science fiction/action epic.

Writer/director Keita Amemiya's career is littered with low-budget bot-based fare, and wit each one he seems to bring something a little new to the table and always within the low budget constraints. The tone of this outing is a somber one as it balances action versus the search of self in the face of potential destruction.

Audio/Video. The non-anamorphic widescreen video looks pretty good. It is a touch soft and the colors are not all that bright, but the detail is pretty good. For a low budget movie, this is a good transfer. The audio is also pretty good. It is not terribly dynamic, but both the English dub and original Japanese tracks have decent volume and are clear. Where it shines is in the sound design, things like ricochet bullets and metal on metal contact, when there is likely no metal at all!

Extras. There are a few trailers for other Tokyo Shock titles and some production stills. The highlight of the extras section is the original theatrical cut (the main feature is the director's cut). It has no dub track, only Japanese (no problem with that). This version runs more than twenty minutes shorter, it doesn't even run an hour long! A lot of stuff is cut, particularly with the rebels. It feels short and lacking in substance next to the director' cut, still it is cool to have.

Bottomline. I like this movie. It is sort of cheesy, distinctly cheap, and all fun. If you can appreciate low budget genre film making, do yourself a favor and give this title a shot. Highlights include the tail end of the soldiers raid on rebels (won't give it away) and a tender moment between Hakaider and the rebel Kaoru (listen to the English track and turn on the subs).



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