Gunhed (1989)

Rating: N/A

Dir: Masato Harada
Star: Masahiro Takashima, Brenda Bakke, James Brewster Thompson, Aya Enyoji

[6] As a general rule of thumb when it comes to trash cinema, it’s Hong Kong for live-action and Japan for animation, but occasionally Japan produces a film with real people in it that delivers the pizza. Gunhed certainly is worth watching, though I kept having to remind myself that it wasn’t just very good animation, as it has all the elements of some anime: large weaponry, enormous robots and explosions that dwarf both. This feeling of unreality isn’t helped by the fact that the comic of the movie has already been published here, so that it feels more like a movie-of-the-comic rather than the other way round.

Virtually all the characterization is done through action, with little in the way of an initial set-up. A voice-over gives the basic facts: in the year 2005, Chiron-5, a massive computer controlling an industrial complex on an island, went rogue and declared war on humanity. Twenty years later, Chiron-5 is dormant and a team has been sent to try and reclaim the island. Before you can say “influenced by Aliens?”, they’re trying to fight their way through the automatic defence system.

And coming off seriously runners-up. Damage and power loss means this is merely the back-up defence system but it rapidly proves itself capable of shrinking the team, thanks in no small amount to its bio-droid which combines the power of a machine with the cunning of a human. This first third has a heavy cyberpunk feel with the characters looking like refugees from Chiba City, switching from English to Japanese almost at will. This is cool, and has the added benefit of meaning that the story isn’t too hard to follow, even in its original Japanese version. Before too long, the team is sliced ‘n’ diced down to two, Brooklyn (a mechanic who can fix anything) and Nim (a bounty-hunter picked up on the way). Her appearance came as something of a surprise – in the comic, she looks about 12, in the movie she’s definitely not (conclusively proved thanks to her penchant for tight-fitting costumes!) but one thing that’s faithfully transferred is the large weaponry she wields.

The remainder of the story has the pair struggling to reach Chiron-5’s core and stop it turning itself into a nuclear reactor – the only reason it went dormant was to wait for humanity to develop Texmexium (wince!), a nuclear fuel which it wants to use to destroy the world. Brooklyn rebuilds a GUNHED (Gun UNit/Heavy Elimination Device) left over from a previous assault and starts charging up the 400 storey central building which houses Chiron-5, while Nim, aided by two children who are the descendants of the team that originally maintained the computer, runs interference against the bio-droid. A nasty twist is that after its original bio-droid was destroyed, Chiron-5 builds a new one using the corpse of one of Nim’s colleagues as an ingredient…

There are plenty of other memorable moments as the story unfolds, notably GUNHED’s use of a novel fuel and Brooklyn wielding what may well be the largest gun ever carried by a single character! Overall, it’s highly enjoyable stuff, if scarcely mind-taxing – the effects and sets are mostly very impressive, save the odd squirm-inducing model and it’s definitely a loud movie, that should ideally be seen in 70mm Dolby stereo, or since this is virtually impossible, perhaps on laser-disk with a top-notch hi-fi system (all contributions gratefully accepted). However, it is due out in the States this summer and who knows, perhaps it’ll follow Akira across? [Footnote: it did, but in such a horrific version that, sadly, “Alan Smithee” took over the directorial credit. 🙁 Front Line Assembly used a lot of it in their video for Mindphaser.]