(aka Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Disco Club Layla, Mikadroid)
The “Heisei era” at Toho studios — the revival of Godzilla in the late Eighties and Nineties — was a rather strange era, during which Toho seemed to be struggling to figure out where they were going next. Following the release of Godzilla 1985 in 1984, one finds them turning out a number of standalone monster and SF efforts. One notes the SF/Japanese Fable hybrid, Princess from the Moon, in 1987; Gunhed ( 1989), a cyberpunkish giant mecha film based on the proposed Godzilla treatment that lost out to Godzilla Vs. Biolante; and Yamato Takeru (1994), a Harryhausen-esque, creature-laden fantasy film based on Japanese legend. And sandwiched in the middle is this film, a cyborg run amok movie made for the direct to video market, with the American slasher market firmly in mind.
In 1945, the firebombing of Tokyo buries what’s left of the Japanese army’s enhanced super soldier program, but not before they could create one metal encased cyborg warrior, which has remained buried beneath Tokyo for 45 years. Naturally, when it wakes up, it starts murdering everyone in the parking garage beneath a huge building (which houses the discotheque mentioned in the American title of the film).
The two other soldiers enhanced (but not armor-plated) in the program realize it has awakened, and go to do battle with it.
The body count is surprisingly low, although two of the earliest kills are over the top absurd, not so much for the gore as for the presentation. Overshadowing most of the film is the specter of the War, with one of the two survivors of the supersoldier program referring to it as “The Holy War.”
This is one of those things that keeps showing up in Toho’s monster movies, although it is often edited out of the American versions of the film. The attitudes expressed toward the war in these films are complex and changed dramatically over the years. One notes, for example, in Atragon, that the team of veterans which has secretly developed and built the super sub to resume the war against the US ultimately decide that their true mission is to protect Japan.
Here, the war is tragic, and to the younger characters, almost inexplicable because things have changed so much. I suppose American audiences might accuse them of an overdose of pathos, intended to make the movie seem more serious, but it seems an integral part of this film, and feels quite sincere. Even 45 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many of scars left by the war had never fully healed and even in a film like this, the pain seems real.
This one has a bit of a cult following — although many of the critics tend to be hostile. I find myself somewhere in the middle: this is an interesting little monster film with some nice touches. I particularly like the constant squeaking sound the rusty old cyborg makes as it moves, and the miniatures of the underground base are impressive (although I’ll confess I’m just a touch disappointed that the giant supertank never gets used. I’d hoped we’d see them fire its monster cannon at the cyborg. Oh well). The silly moments don’t quite fit in with the rest of the film, and one wishes we’d seen those spider arms in action at the end (although I’ll bet they didn’t have the money for that) but those are minor complaints.
If you’re into Japanese film, and particularly Toho’s monster movies, then you should enjoy this one.
Just don’t be afraid of it because it is subtitled!