Monday, March 14, 2011

Mechanical Terror Week: Hakaider (Live-Action)

Anime is strange.  I state that obvious, obvious statement for a reason.  If this shit is so strange, why does Japan keep making them into live-action films?  So many of these films are just built around bizarre concepts and don't make sense as live-action films.  Case in point: Battlefield Baseball.  Why I love- and own- the film, it is too weird for a 90-minute, linear film.  If you want a second case, I'll just give you two words: Cutie Honey.  I don't think that I need to say any more.  Obviously, this is all building up to Hakaider, the 1995, live-action version of the anime.  Fun fact: Netflix labels this as Mechanical Violator Hakaider, which sounds like a film that would only be released in Germany.  This brings up another issue with adapting anime to live-action: a lot of these cartoons are rip-offs of other works of fiction, at least in some way.  What does this rip off, you ask?  Well, let's just say that it has something in common with Fist of the North Star.  Prepare to shoot your local angels in preparation for the arrival of...
The film begins with a bunch of people breaking into a deserted building.  This never ends well, does it?  They wake up a guy in chains and get killed by him in silhouette.  This is apparently our lead character, although the narrative of the film makes it hard to figure out.  On the plus side, it's not one of those films that takes an hour to explain who the hero is.  This one only takes about 50 minutes.  The guy escapes and rides off on a motorcycle.  For those keeping track, he's riding around in a desert-style wasteland, has a shotgun and is wearing a leather jacket.  He drives through a checkpoint run by a fat, British guy who's dressed like he should be unearthing a mummy.  How did he get in this movie?  He continues to drive about as a bunch of robot guys attack him.  Thankfully, the guy is bullet-proof, except until later when shrapnel can pierce him.  He also can turn his skin into a metal suit...even though he's a robot.  What?  Huh?  He kills the guys and...the movie just kind of forgets about him for a while.  He's still driving, I guess.  We meet the villains of the movie: a flamboyant guy dressed in white and a robot who looks like a slightly-cool Stormtrooper.  Oh yeah, the bad guy has angel wings too.  I'm confused.
The crazy guy with the tiny wings is the guy in charge of Jesus Town.  No, really.  The place is called Jesus Town, just driving the metaphors into a brick wall!  The place has an oppressive government that has been keeping all of the criminals in line.  The downside, of course, is that it keeps everyone in line by force too!  This has led to Movie Cliche #564- A rag-tag rebel resistance.  That's so amazingly-uninspired.  They face off with the white, robot guys when our hero finally shows up again.  Wasn't he going towards the bad guy's building earlier?  The fight is reminiscent of Prince of Space, in that the bad guys can't hurt him, but think that the 600th shot will do something different.  He kills all but one of them, who lives long enough to report what happened.  To really confuse things, the 'angel robot' kills him in cold-blood!  Huh?  Hakaider had some sort of weird flashback/fainting thing at the end of the fight, so he awakens in the rebel base.  He falls for a lady there, but the romance is short-lived.  Quite literally, in fact, as the bad guys attack within three minutes of them meeting!  Another fight ensues and Hakaider gets wounded by a rocket shot, sending his body out a window.  Our hero?
Our hero recovers and gets to the girl, but she's been wounded.  This leads to a bizarre, five-minute dream sequence that's a mix of Camelot, a Michel Gondry film and a 'bodice-ripper' novel.  I guess she dies, since she doesn't appear after this...but the movie is not explicit.  Angry at her death (I assume), he goes back to the task of taking down the villain.  It's about this time we learn the hero's origin.  He was a robot created to stop violence, but he was too violent.  He was locked away- since he couldn't be killed- and thought lost forever.  The replacement, of course, is the white robot...who kills his own men for no good reason.  Good trade!  Hakaider takes out about two dozen more foot soldiers along the way inside the building.  The high point: when a shotgun/rocket blast blows off about four soldiers heads in a row!  He fights the white robot and the thing goes back and forth, with Hakaider wounded and winning.  He's grabbed and pulled into a different room to fight the new Hakaider model- a giant, stop-motion version.  After 80 minutes of suits, we suddenly get stop-motion?  He beats that too and faces off with the villain.  Finally, the whole thing is over as Hakaider leaves the room busted, banged up (the walls full of what looks like red velvet cake) and full of floating feathers.  Yes, feathers.  They drive the Mad Max rip-off to full hilt as Hakaider rides off down the road in a blatantly-stolen visual.  The End.
Jesus Town- that's all I need to say.  The plot of this movie is not bad, but the execution is a bit dubious.  We don't know who Hakaider is for a long time and just sort of have to guess.  Throw in some confusing plot elements like the good/evil villain, his angel robot and a resistance movement that sucks & you have a weird stew!  Stuff like the woman's dream/death visual is dragged out, since I guess they were trying to closely-replicate something from the anime.  Aside from all of that, however, you get some good action and characters who are men in suits, as opposed to CG.  Mind you, CG was still pretty lousy in 1995, so it's not like they had a lot of other choices.  Even so, I'm a sucker for practical effects, most likely a backlash against fully-CG monsters that look like shit!  Of course, the stop-motion final boss was still a weird choice.  Honestly, if the narrative wasn't so bizarre and confusing, this would be something I'd recommend.  Unfortunately, it is, so I can't.  If you like Japanese action films or, more importantly, anime-to-live-action adaptations, you may like this one though.  For the rest of you, probably not.
Next up, I review a film that first showed up in VHS For the Win.  Will the film entertain as much as the video box though?  Stay tuned...

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