Godaizer (Singapore-2011; short [18:43 min.]; dir. Hillary Yeo)
Reviewed by Robert Hood
Mecha is one of the most popular sub-categories of anime and has produced some of the best and longest-running animated sci-fi series ever. Though quintessentially Japanese when considered in terms of this genre, mecha’s tropes and central characteristics have also been adapted across cultural borders. Godaizer, a luminous, 18-minute animated film made by an independent creator, comes from Singapore. Producer/director Yeo plays upon the genre’s Japanese heritage in many different ways, not just via signage.
Godaizer is not the kind of frenetic anime that is all action and noise, certainly during its opening third. In some ways it is more suggestive of Miyazaki’s cinematic style (not so much visually as in general ambiance). Its opening sequence, showing the start of what is obviously another typical day, is slow and contemplative, as the youthful main character, awoken by a bedside clock, looks out upon the morning and the chooks, pushes open rusting gates and then pulls switches to start up the vast repair shop in which he lives. The roof slides back to let in the sun, service gates grind open and lights come on.
A wealth of information, both situational and emotional, is conveyed in this initial sequence, all without words. As the boy shuffles through a vast workshop, we see that it is full of large robots of various kinds, from toy-like to militarist: a virtual history of giant robot design. This robot construction and repair shop has clearly seen better days, however, and its staff – the boy and an old man he finds asleep under one of the machines – are to an extent just going through the motions. The glory days are past.
Mecha anime features huge robots created for military purposes and most typically controlled by youthful pilots. Sometimes the relationship between human and machine is simply that of pilot and aircraft. But the nature of the bond can also be metaphysical, as in Neon Genesis Evangelion, or based on deliberate physical and mental imprinting. Often, the particular human pilot is the only one able to effectively control the giant machine.
In Godaizer, it becomes clear that the boy is the pilot of the workshop’s ultimate robot – the largest most impressive in the building – and to do so effectively, mental discipline is required. But both he and his robot have seen little action for some time and the air of ennui he exudes resembles a “holding pattern”. Yeo gives us a glimpse into the past through the simple device of a wall covered in newspaper clippings and a photograph of a youthful pilot and his family – clearly the boy’s father with wife and young son. The implied tragedy is never elaborated upon. However, the emotional significance is clear. Can the boy live up to the past and the expectations of his grandfather? Will he be given a chance to do so?
As a genre, mecha crosses over into daikaiju (or “giant monster”) territory, as the giant machine becomes Earth’s only effective defense against monstrous giants and gargantuan alien invaders. In the 70s and 80s in particular several television series tried to exploit the immense popularity of Ultraman by taking this approach, as in, for example, the 1972 series Iron King. Such is also the case in Godaizer. After the opening sequence, the film cuts to a modern scientific laboratory just as an experiment is taking place. As a result of the experiment a huge creature awakens and breaks out of its confinement, heading off to engage in the kind of rampage through city streets and countryside that Godzilla and his friends made famous. So our young protagonist is required to don the uniform and put aside self-doubts to face the challenge.
Godaizer embraces the dynamics of daikaiju conflict as thoroughly as it exploits the tropes of the human/machine dynamic lying at the heart of the genre. It is a superb work of animation – lacking the “clean” lines of both traditional cel animation and modern CG imaging, but replacing them with a luminous, painterly quality that emphasises brush strokes and texture. It comes over as an animated painting, beautifully rendered, colours vibrant and surfaces finely textured. This enhances the story, what there is of it, very effectively indeed. In some ways, this artistic execution is more important than the plot.
A mecha/daikaiju classic in miniature, Godaizer may be short, but what it lacks in direct narrative complexity it makes up for in attention to suggestive detail. Everything is there, conveyed through beautifully rendered visuals (by Ray Toh), an artist’s attention to emotional detail, and an effective soundtrack that may be wordless but is not lacking in suggestiveness. The film is truly cinematic in the sense that it is the imagery and the atmosphere created by the art and the sound effects that carry the narrative and emotional meaning — by implication rather than through dialogue. Though it doesn’t exactly work like a film from the early silent era, it has adopted the visual essence that is the soul of cinema – and the result is both entertaining and accurate to its genre.
See it when it comes to a festival near you – or when it appears on DVD. You won’t regret it.
- Film website: www.godaizer.com