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Gunhed (Harada Masato 1989)




Genre: Giant Fighting Robot Snooze Fest

review in one breath

The year is 2038 and a rag-tag team of misfits must save the world from the doomsday plan of Kyron 5, the most advanced computer ever built. Their only weapon is Gunhed, a massive talking robot with a soft spot for baseball. This sci-fi film replaces kaijuu with robots but keeps all the miniature scale special effects and explosions.


Here is a film which follows the generic kaijuu narrative and has the look and feel of a Godzilla film, only without Godzilla and the other monsters. Instead, this is a sci-fi film revolving around large armored robots which smash each other to bits in fiery explosions and massive architectural collapses. I wasn't surprised to learn that the idea for this film came out of discussions over a possible Godzilla film, "Godzilla vs. Biollante" in which Godzilla would have fought a massive robot. And that it precisely how this film comes across, except that there is no Godzilla here.

The film is directed by Masato Harada (of Inugami fame) and stars a spectrum of international "talent". The languages are so mish-mash, as the narrative swings wildly from English to Japanese to hybrids of the two, that I ended up just listening to the English dubbed version to save myself the headache. In all there are only eleven human characters in the film, half of which are Westerners or English speaking. That number, however, is whittled down to four almost immediately following the opening scenes, leaving one Japanese guy, one stoic gun-wielding blond chick, one highly gesturous mute girl, and one kid with what appears to be Tourettes Syndrome (!).

The film seems to take itself seriously, although some of the plot elements and inconsistencies are laugh-out-loud funny. For example, the name of the newly discovered, indestructible compound is "Texmexium". Why they name it after a particularly gaseous variety of southwestern cuisine is beyond me. Add to that the fact that "Texas Rangers" have shown up on the isolated pacific island in a helicopter in order to thwart Kyron 5's doomsday plan. This seeming cowboy fetish, combined with a deep-seated affection for the Brooklyn Dodger's baseball team, results in enough syrup to drown even poor old Aunt Jemima. Oh, and the giant robots love Whiskey. (Etc.)

In order to enjoy this film you are really going to need to love giant robots built from junkyard spare parts, because apart from that there is very little else here. The general premise is that the team lands on the top of a 400 story complex, and travels down to the 390th floor where the computer's epicenter is. There they hope to find valuable computer chips which they can sell on the black market.

Well, after most end up getting killed, the remaining team FALLS to the 10th level (!!) setting off the entire complex's security system in the meantime. On level 10 they find two grubby little kids and a massive robot in shambles. They then deem it their best chance if they rebuild the robot and climb back up the 390 floors to escape. The only problem is that the complex's own robotic security is on level 389... just waiting for them.

Oh yeah. They also have only 20 hours to get off the island before the entire complex blows up. (!!!)


This is not quite my cup of tea, and I found it barely watchable. After about five minutes of exploding models of robots and walls, I've pretty much seen enough. And some of the holes is this plot are simply gaping. Explain, for example, how that little kid miraculously appears on whatever level he wishes. And what is with the creepy mute girl with light coming out of her mouth? I HAVE NO IDEA!

If you really love that show where they build stuff out of junkyard pieces, you might like this. Otherwise, I'd recommend you simply watch a good old Godzilla/kaijuu film instead.

PS: This would have been a good film to recommend for kids and family, especially given the two child roles herein, except that the language here is far from kid-friendly. In line with the entire film's propensity to idolize Western motifs, they even have the Japanese characters strongly cursing (rather strangely and ineffectively) in English.

Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Nope. Plenty of robot on robot mayhem, with some human demise thrown in. Not enough lubricant to get Gunhed worked up. A godzilla film without godzilla!

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