I was chatting last night with Sean Moore, and before our talk was truncated due to bad weather and spotty Internet on my side of things, we discussed MECHANICAL VIOLATOR HAKAIDER. Sean hadn't realized that HAKAIDER was not only a theatrical release, but also the anchor of the third (and final) "Toei Super Hero Fair" kiddie matinee show in 1995. Of course, one reason for that is that the "Director's Cut" has largely superseded the original edit, which was under an hour like both KAMEN RIDER ZO and KAMEN RIDER J (the centerpiece films of the earlier Super Hero Fairs). There's also the little fact that HAKAIDER is wildly inappropriate as a film aimed at children.
Seriously, what was everyone thinking here? Well, I know what I was thinking, as I was all of 22 years old when HAKAIDER came out - "Cool! This looks awesome!" And yes, HAKAIDER is pretty cool and awesome. But c'mon, it's also downbeat as heck, especially for a crowd of kiddos that had just sat through preliminaries of OHRANGER and B-FIGHTER as a warm-up. HAKAIDER is dark in tone and it's just a dark LOOKING film. I think Keita Amemiya is supremely talented, but I also think HAKAIDER was a case of miscalculating an audience. I would be totally unsurprised if it killed off the Toei Super Hero Fair entirely.
(As a side note, I remember Roy Ware mentioning to me once back when this was all contemporary that there were rumors of an updated HENSHIN NINJA ARASHI for the 1996 Toei Super Hero Fair that never happened. Was this ever anything more than just a rumor? Did it get to any kind of design stage? I'd personally love to see Amemiya's sketches for a mid-90s Arashi.)
Artistically, HAKAIDER has endured and even thrived in a manner its more kid-friendly predecessors ZO and J have not. Which isn't to say that any of the trio fails, but HAKAIDER got much more of a release outside of Japan. Amemiya was a hot property, and HAKAIDER fits in well with the rest of his filmography and doesn't involve the all-important "Kamen Rider" name. HAKAIDER got more than one release as a standalone entity, while ZO got incorporated into Saban's MASKED RIDER. It doesn't take a genius to figure out which of the two will be better remembered in the States as a result.
(Yes, I know there was also a ZO game. I believe it was mentioned in the very first letter I ever received from Lewis Smith!)
One of my personal favorite aspects of HAKAIDER is the tagline. This may seem weird, especially since I didn't even know as much Japanese in 1995 as I do today (and I'm no master linguist now). Yet, it was not only stirring, but the translation was so perfect that both Lewis and I decided we should rip it...er, "homage" it in Return of Jetman. I am working from the Japanese Wikipedia here, so excuse me if I get this slightly wrong. But the tagline was:
Literally, this is "Kisama ga Seigi nara, ore wa...Aku da!!!" The translation I have seen (and love) is the one in the title of this entry: "If you are Justice, then I am...Evil!!!" Really, that sums up the movie's viewpoint very nicely.
I stumbled across something interesting last night while reading about HAKAIDER, and it's the main reason I was motivated to write about it. Now, it's well-known among tokusatsu fans that there are often layers of meaning that casual viewers might never catch. Like, for example, the fact that Space Sheriff Gavan is named for French actor Jean Gabin. Well, you can thank Google Translate for pointing out an obscure example of this to me in HAKAIDER.
If you've watched HAKAIDER, rife with its symbolism, you could probably guess that the character of "Michael" is named for the archangel Michael. That doesn't change even if you prefer the HAKAIDER character's name to be "Mikhail". The katakana is ミカエル, so whatever makes you happy. The part I hadn't realized was that his boss in the movie is named for a real person.
The Wikipedia entry for MECHANICAL VIOLATOR HAKAIDER gives this character's name as Gurjev. I will assume this comes from a translated version of the film. But I noticed something in reading the translated Japanese page - it spelled his name グルジェフ as "Gurdjieff." This seemed oddly specific to just be a flaw, and it rang a bell for me anyway. As it should have - it's based on the name of George Gurdjieff. I don't know if Amemiya or screenwriter Toshiki Inoue is responsible for this, but it's a nice touch.
Oh, and for the record, I just noticed someone mentioned this on the MECHANICAL VIOLATOR HAKAIDER Wikipedia talk page back in November. Unsurprisingly, nothing has been done with this information.