A treasure hunter who lives in the countryside of Gunma in Japan is pure and kind, but stubborn in mind and has no communication skills. His sole friend is his co-worker and one day the friends find a robot. A bond is formed when the robot desires to stay with the men, and because of that bond, the men resolve to change their lives.
Adapted to film from Takashi Imashiro’s manga series “Hado Koa Heisei Jigoku Burazazu” comes the bitterly human comedy Hard-Core, a film written and directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita. Throw in some darkness, throw in some humor, throw in some fighting spirit, and out comes this science fiction adventure. Starring two socially awkward (and that’s putting it lightly) friends and a surprisingly durable robot, Hard-Core is a blast!
Living out a lonely existence, Ukon (Takayuki Yamada) struggles to connect with or even understand his fellow human beings, who he finds morally reprehensible. The only human he seems to be able to tolerate is his equally socially inept – and possibly intellectually challenged friend and neighbor – Ushiyama (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa) with whom he works and goes out with. The dynamic duo spends their time trying to get Ushiyama laid (for once!), and make ends meet by digging for the lost gold of the shogun deep in the woods for measly pay with a mining team. Meanwhile, his younger, attractive, and smarter brother Sakon (Takeru Satoh) lives an outgoing life and worries about his older hotheaded brother, though is minutely jealous of his carefree lifestyle. One day, a robot falls into their possession out of nowhere, clunky but still in operation. To their luck and relief, people mistake the robot for a cosplayer going as a “tokusatsu” hero character from a television show, so the duo and their new capable friend are able to walk amongst the living. When they bring in Sakon, he finds that he can update its software and make him capable of speech, and they soon find that the robot is not only more operable than one would assume from its shoddy appearance but that it is miraculously bonded to them. The robot, whom they call “Robo-o” comes to their rescue in many ways as the two friends find themselves and purpose in life.
It’s like The Iron Giant (1999)… but for adults… and set in Japan.. and live-action. I feel like this movie lightly touches on Japan’s growing “hikikomori” and “otaku” issues, wherein there is a growing epidemic of people existing inwardly and often experience extreme loneliness because of lack of social skills. While displaying this sad lifestyle with sly and dry humor, director Yamashita sheds some light on the downside of human behavior; people that turn inwardly as well as how poorly humans act socially. In Hard-Core, main character Ukon’s moral fortitude seems to be the cause of his social aversion, and for his pal Ushiyama, his lack of social experiences stems from his unfortunate intellectual incapabilities. These characters are so human and 3 dimensional that it hurts to watch what them go through unrequited lust and love, be shot down when they reach out for human connection, and live aimless and insignificant lives. But Hard-Core is nowhere near a melodrama, it sits at a point where mystery, adventure, and dark comedy converge.
This movie is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious! It has the dark and taboo humor I find so often in Japanese and Korean cinema, and I was not disappointed with any aspect of this film. Hard-Core certainly has its own style to it, which might have something to do with it being based off of a manga; some of the shots and framing were reminiscent of comic book panels, so that may have been intentional. Though I haven’t read any of the manga source material, the movie had its own morbidly dark comedy that gave the story a life of its own. The Robo-o character seems to be done as a suit-mation, with an actor dawning a robot costume that looks cumbersome to operation, but aesthetically for the movie it brought humor and realism. I appreciated how special effects graphics were used sparingly with the robot’s capabilities, playing even more into the film’s realistic nature with such a premise that could have become silly in a heartbeat. However, Yamashita tempered the film’s unhinged instances with poignant moments.
The movie has a heartfelt if not bittersweet ending, having these two somewhat unlikable but relatable characters come full circle and fully realize their human condition through their friendship with a robot. Robo-o may just be one of my favorite movie automatons of recent years, for his fairy godmother like presence in the characters’ lives and him seemingly being able to feel human emotions despite being a piece of hardware. Silly at times but brutally honest reflection of life and love, Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Hard-Core is one sci-fi with a fresh and slightly comic book-y feel both about separation and how to overcome that to find a connection.