Mechanical Violator Hakaider (Japan 1995)

Rating: ***
Director: Keita Amemiya

Keita Amemiya is back and blazing with this strange, but absolutely gorgeous robot show. The story is pointless and disjointed, and everything is just a setup for Hakaider to get down and kick some butt. There's a really cute girl who is attracted to the charismatic (in human form) Hakaider, but she unfortunately gets abandoned early on in the show. The look of the film is fantastic. The art direction swings from really cool to totally bizarre. For instance, the head bad guy has a large bird skeleton (perhaps a vulture) resting on his shoulder. Also, the bad guy's fortress is incredibly sterile with everything being white or silver, except that the internal structure is entirely red. This makes for some really strange scenes when things start getting destroyed! There's also a large emphasis on feathers throughout the film. I didn't get it, but it sure does look cool. And finally, there's a really cool stop-motion fight sequence at the end. Like "Zeiram 2" (1994) Mr. Amemiya has trouble telling a good story and seems to concentrate on outstanding imagery instead. Great stuff, just don't think about it too hard.

Notes on the director's cut: Keita Amemiya must have been inspired by George Lucas when "Star Wars: Special Edition" (1997) came out. With the director's cut of "Hakaider," Amemiya restored some originally deleted material, digitally enhanced some existing footage, and totally reworked a few scenes. And much like "Star Wars: Special Edition," some of it works and some of it doesn't. The deleted footage is good, and fills in several continuity holes that were in the original. They include an extended opening sequence, an extended sequence of Jesus Town's "reformed" citizens, a spectacular dream sequence (that oddly shows up in the credits of the original), and lots of tiny clips here and there. The digitally enhanced scenes add blood splatters and ripple effects to the fight scenes (someone had too much fun with their copy of AfterEffects...), and expand environments with digital matte paintings. The results vary from fair to very good. However, the worst part is the climax when Hakaider is fighting the big bad robot and a giant cannon materializes out of his chest to blow the baddie away. In the original, he grabs the cannon that was in his severed hand and uses that. This seriously reduces the impact of the scene and entirely changes the tone. Instead of a clever attack in a desperate situation, Hakaider now uses a super secret video game styled finishing move. Not only does it change the way the scene plays out, but the jarring appearance of computer animation in the midst of the climax spoils the look of the fight. Overall though, it's a fun outing, and I would probably recommend the director's cut over the original to anyone who hasn't seen it yet.