Mechanical Violator Hakaider is a standard tale of an individualistic antihero and a corrupt utopia. It’s pretty much exactly the sum of its parts, and that’s okay.
Hakaider’s strength lies in its simplicity. Its titular hero has a simple goal backed by a clear personal philosophy, and its symbolism is clearly defined and easily accessible. You’ve seen all of tropes in the film before, and often paired up together, but the film makes it work because screenwriter Toshiki Inoue doesn’t overreach. The main draw is director Keita Amemiya’s visual sensibility, which is front and center.
The setting is Jesus Town, on the surface a paradise in the midst of a wasteland, ruled by the angelic Gurjev. Everything in Jesus town, from the clothes to the walls, is white, while the requisite group of rebels all wear black. Gurjev, in his position as overseer, wears angel wings on his outfit. His enforcer robot Mikhail, named after the Archangel, is a devoted true believer in the religion of “order.” I especially like how during one fight, part of Gurjev’s inner sanctum is wrecked and we see red innards underneath the white walls. The implication is that no perfect society can be built without bloodshed. The symbolism is clear, but the film thankfully lets it speak for itself as opposed to constantly beating the viewer over the head with it.
Par for the course in stories about utopias, we find out from the rebels that the paradise is built on oppression. In Jesus Town, if you commit a crime you earn a one way ticket to lobotomy city. I especially like how that’s not even a secret, Gurjev advertises the fact on television! All that stands in Gurjev’s way is the prophetic Kaoru and her team of freedom fighters. The scales tip in the rebels’ favor when killer robot Hakaider is unleashed.
Hakaider himself really ties the film together the way a good protagonist should. Early in the film he mentions the importance of following one’s own will, and this theme satisfactorily returns throughout the film. It’s simple yet well-fitting idea to press in the face of a false utopia built on conformity. The one aspect of the character I wasn’t fully on board for is his origin. This isn’t the same Hakaider from Shotora Ishinomori’s original story, revived after decades of slumber and given new purpose. In this film his origin is tied closely to that of Jesus Town and Gurjev. I’m not usually a fan of elements that make a film’s world smaller, but it’s not that big of a deal here.
The action is over-the-top and exciting, which is to be expected from Amemiya. The first time Hakaider fires his gun he takes out two nameless henchmen, whose heads explode into feathers, because the angelic imagery is strong with this one. I’m pretty sure the gun gets more powerful each time he uses it, and things explode in steadily more ridiculous yet awesome ways. There’s even a decently choreographed tracking shot early on. Some of the editing is a little uneven, and some of the sparks don’t go off in the right places, but none of that is too distracting.
Having gone into the film knowing that it was helmed by Amemiya and Inoue, I can say it turned out exactly how I expected it to. I wish Kaoru and her gang had more screentime, but I can totally understand why they don’t. That’s really how I feel about the whole film. There are some things I wish were done differently, but they don’t detract from the film. Everything has a clear purpose, and the movie makes a good argument for why it does what it does.
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