One of the films that fans of action and sci-fi films are looking forward to in 2013 is Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming movie Pacific Rim, which chronicles the efforts of human-operated robots defending Earth against monsters from the deep. It’s a big budget action romp that pays tribute to Japanese sci-fi.
The Plot of Pacific Rim is described as follows: “When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from the sea, a war begins that will take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon is devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes—a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi)—who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse.”
Due out on July 12 2013, Pacific Rim stars Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus, and the TV series Luther), Rinko Kikuchi (The Brothers Bloom), Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy). It’s expected to be a big money-maker, although it will probably not be remembered at Oscar time.
The Robot vs. Monsters premise of the movie is a popular staple of Japanese Cinema and television. In fact, the name of the rampaging monsters in Pacific Rim are called “Kaiju”, which is the name of a popular genre of monster films in Japan, including the Godzilla films. Kaiju means “Strange Beast” but has come to refer to giant beasts. Kaiju and giant robots have a rich history in Japan, which del Toro is tapping into for the source of his new movie. Pacific Rim can be seen as a homage to the classic Japanese style of sci-fi.
The Kaiju monsters have been well represented in Japanese movies. We’ve all see Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gamera and all the other classic beasts of Japan’s cinema. As for the robots, they have been better utilized on Television. The following is a partial list of some of the most popular Giant Robot series from Japan.
Tetsujin 28 (Iron Man 28) AKA “Gigantor”. (1963)
Created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama in 1956 as a manga (comic book), it was turned into an anime series in 1963. This influential and beloved show was the first series to feature a giant robot as the main attraction of the story. The plot: During the last days of World War II, the Japanese military was developing a Super-Robot intended to win the war for the Japanese. After 27 failures, Dr. Kaneda creates a three-story high, remote-controlled giant robot named Tetsujin 28 or “Iron Man 28”. (“Gigantor” in the American version). The war ends, however, and Dr. Kaneda dies of a heart attack shortly afterward. Rather than letting it become a military weapon, the robot is claimed by Kaneda’s partner Prof. Shikishima (Dr. Brilliant in the American Version). Tetsujin 28 is given to Dr. Kaneda's ten-year-old son, Shotaro (Jimmy Sparks in the American version), a boy genius prodigy. Shotaro lives with Prof. Shikishima, who is his godfather. Under young Shotaro's direct control, and helped by Shikishima’s wise guidance, Tetsujin 28 is put to good use stopping criminals and terrorists who have their own giant robots.
Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot (1967)
Based on a manga by ‘Gigantor’ creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama, the Johnny Sokko saga first aired as a live action series in 1967 and was later animated in a 1992 revival. The Plot: Young Johnny Sokko finds himself the master of a voice-controlled giant flying Robot commanded via a wrist-watch radio. Johnny aids the law-enforcement agency ‘Unicorn’ in the fight against a high-tech terrorist organization called the ‘Gargoyle Gang’, who use their own giant robots for criminal purposes.
This popular live-action series from the 1960s introduced the iconic eponymous character, which became a pop-culture phenomenon in Japan. The Plot: In the near future, nasty aliens and giant monsters constantly attack Earth. The organization charged with handling this crisis is the Science Special Search Party, or SSSP, a global police force equipped with high-tech weapons and vehicles. (This organization is called the Science Patrol in the English-dubbed US version.) Led by Captain Toshio Muramatsu, the Science Patrol protect the Earth from rampaging monsters, but sometimes they run into a creature they can’t handle. When the situation becomes too much for them, agent Shin Hayata--the Science Patrol's greatest agent—uses an object called the "Beta Capsule," to transform himself into the super-powered Red & Silver giant cyborg who becomes known as Ultraman. Ultraman remains until the threat is neutralized and then reverts back to Hayata.
This anime show starred Mazinger-Z, a giant robot constructed from an indestructible metal called Super-Alloy Z,, which is forged from a new element called Japanium, which is mined from the sediment of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Mazinger-Z was built by Professor Juzo Kabuto as a weapon against the power of the evil Mechanical Beasts of Dr. Hell.
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
This was a popular anime series. The main story revolves around the cybernetic ‘Mobile Suits’ and their pilots who are fighting a war. Set in the future, the Principality of Zeon, declares a war of independence against the Earth Federation. Although smaller in number, Zeon has the upper hand because of a new type of armored weapon called Mobile Suits. The series has since spawned a multi-media franchise, including television series, animated movies, direct-to-video films, a manga, (comic book) novels and video games.
This was another very popular anime series. Created in 1982 by Shōji Kawamori, the story follows the fictional history of humanity after 1999, which changes due to the scientific advances discovered in an alien starship (Super Dimension Fortress - One Macross) that crashed on Earth. With this technology, humans were able to create ‘mechas’ called Variable Fighters, a transformable mechanical fighter able to transform into jet/space fighters, a humanoid robot and a hybrid of the two modes. One day a space war fleet from an alien race of giants called the Zentradi arrives in our solar system and identifies the SDF Macross as a battleship once used by their ancient enemies. When the Zentradi war fleet is repelled, a war begins. The Macross franchise consisted of three TV series, four movies, six direct-to-video films, one novel and five manga series.
Voltron is the titular giant super-robot in this Japanese anime series about a team of humans, known as the Voltron Force. The team member’s individual vehicles can unite to form the giant super-robot Voltron, which they use to defend the galaxy from a variety of evil forces.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993)
The plot of this live-action series revolved around an evil alien and her army of space creatures, who are intent on conquering the nearest planet, which happens to be Earth. The wise, technically advanced sage Zordon orders his robot assistant Alpha 5 to select five "teenagers with attitude" to become protectors of the Earth. Zordon gives the five teens chosen the ability to transform into super heroes known as the Power Rangers. Zordon provides them with an arsenal of weapons to utilize, including huge battle robots called Zords, which can combine into the colossal Mega-Zord.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
This is a Japanese anime franchise which revolves around the efforts by the Earth paramilitary organization NERV to fight hostile beings called Angels. NERV uses giant humanoid-shaped robots called ‘Evangelions’ which are piloted by specially selected teenage pilots.
Big Guy & Rusty the Boy Robot (1999)
This anime series was a homage to earlier cartoons, particularly Gigantor and Astro Boy. The plot revolves around the newly constructed ‘Rusty’, the most advanced android ever built, complete with a ‘human emotional grid’ and super powers. The purpose for creating Rusty is so that he could replace’ the Big Guy’, a giant battle robot which is Earth's main defender against all types of threats, alien or Earth-born. The Big Guy is supposed to be decommissioned but Rusty proves too naïve and untrained to stand on his own, therefore the Big Guy is pulled out of the mothballs to mentor Rusty. Rusty idolizes the Big Guy as “the greatest robot ever”, not realizing that the Big Guy is actually just an oversized battle-suit piloted by a human named Lt. Dwayne Hunter. The Big Guy's secret is kept from Rusty because the truth could overload Rusty's emotional grid, and also because naïve Rusty has trouble keeping secrets.
This is an incomplete list, of course. There are many other good giant robot shows. With the recent rumors of a possible American Gigantor movie, let’s see if del Toro’s Pacific Rim starts a trend of Robot films based on some of these classics.