Today’s selection: Gunhed (1989, dir. Masato Harada)
Available from: ADV
Gunhed is the crowning jewel of practical-effects giant robot movies, rivaled perhaps only by Robot Jox. Ironically, it almost wasn’t: as originally conceived, it was going to be a Godzilla movie. With Toho moving Godzilla vs. Biollante into production and not wanting to have two Godzilla movies at the same time (despite the fact that most fans wouldn’t hesitate to see two Godzilla movies at the same time if there were two released), the script was repurposed into a mecha story in the vein of all those anime that were growing in popularity around the world (there was even a manga adaptation by Kia Asamiya, which got released stateside in 1990/1991, way ahead of the film, and the US release of the video game adaptation was in 1989 as Blazing Lazers). Despite the Toho connection and always being brought up in compilations of Toho SF/fantasy films, Gunhed‘s never really been revisited in Godzilla games or comics, never gotten vinyl toys (c’mon MonsterArts, look at those beautiful transforming Shoji Kawamori designs!), and as a result is on the verge of disappearing out of memory, which would be a shame.
The plot is that in 2025, a supercomputer named Kyron 5 decides to destroy humanity, a threat averted when a platoon of soldiers in 6-meter robots called GUNHEDs (Gun UNit Heavy Elimination Device… hey this is the same studio that gave us the Mobile Operations Godzilla Universal Expert Robot Aerotype, after all) who invade Kyron 5’s mechanical fortress island 8J0 in an event called the Machine Wars. 13 years later, a scavenger named Brooklyn happens upon a busted-up Gunhed unit while exploring (for “texmexium”, fictitious Toho science element #~278), and winds up having to pilot it to 8J0’s core to prevent Kyron 5’s reboot.
The movie gets a lot of crap for its acting, since it has a largely international cast of characters, and gaijin actors are usually cast with non-English speaking audiences in mind. But that’s not what people should be watching the movie for! It’s the robot designs, the complex sets and miniature work that really sell the film.