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Andrew Osmond considers a good rimming


As Pacific Rim hits UK homes in Blu-ray, DVD and UltraViolet formats, let’s look back at Guillermo del Toro’s movie monument to mecha-v-monsters. (Spoiler alert: we’ll be talking about some plot details, though not the ending.) Pacific Rim has gone through some surprise twists, involving box-office rather than kaiju. You may have heard it was one of the summer’s blockbuster flops. Actually, it underperformed in America but it made a mint of money elsewhere. Its world gross was $400 million, though you need to set that against a budget approaching $200 million.

Ah, we hear you say wisely, it must have been Japan that saved the film’s bacon. No, it was China. In Japan, the film fared disappointingly, trounced by zombie flesh-eaters on one side (World War Z) and Miyazaki airplanes on the other (The Wind Rises). In China, though, Pacific Rim topped cinema charts and earned more than $100 million. That’s a quarter of its world take!

And to think that Pacific Rim seemed to have ‘Japanese market’ written all over it. Not only was the film steeped in the traditions of Japan’s movie monsters and mecha, but it had a Japanese heroine, the lionhearted Jaeger girl pilot Mako, played by Rinko Kikuchi. Before Rim, Kikuchi was known for playing the troubled deaf teenager in Babel, but the actress has anime connections too. She voiced the imperious base commander in Mamoru Oshii’s The Sky Crawlers and appeared in a lesser-known live-action Oshii film, 2009’s Assault Girls. She’s not the only familiar Japanese face. The little girl Mako who appears in a terrifying flashback is nine year-old Mana Ashida; her credits include the adopted waif in the live-action Bunny Drop film and the child victim in the shocking Confessions.

Pacific Rim also enjoyed Japanese endorsements by some of the biggest names who’d helped inspire the film. Go Nagai, arguably the creator of the mecha anime genre, said he was “overwhelmed” by the monsters v robot battles. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Evangelion’s character designer, described the film as a huge feast. Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear game franchise, went further. He called Pacific Rim “the ultimate otaku film that all of us had always been waiting for. Who are you, if you are Japanese and won’t watch this?”

But as Japanese film pundit Mark Schilling pointed out in his measured report, neither pro testimonials nor local actors had the clout of, say, Brad Pitt (the star of World War Z, who travelled to Japan to promote his film). Schilling also noted that Japanese monster movies may be beloved by fans, but they’re greatly diminished from their glory days. Even a decade ago, when Godzilla died “for good” in Godzilla: Final Wars, the kaiju films were playing to a niche market. In that context, let’s give a shout-out to the forthcoming Attack on Titan anime, based on a popular manga where humans fight man-eating giants. A neo-kaiju epic, Titan might revive the genre in Japan where Pacific Rim failed.

As of writing, we don’t know what the extras will be on the Pacific Rim U.K. home edition. However, it would be fascinating if the Japanese dub was included. The hero, Raleigh Beckett, was voiced by Tomokazu Sugita, best-known to anime fans as Kyon in the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. Sugita was also hapless Hideki in Chobits and the policeman protagonist in the current TV anime, Samurai Flamenco. Idris Elba’s granite-solid Jaeger commander was voiced in Japan by Tessho Genda, formerly the dreaded Violence Jack, Spy D in the Project A-Ko film and Transformers’ Optimus Prime in cartoons and Michael Bay’s juggernauts.

The really odd thing, though, is that Rinko Kikuchi was also dubbed in Japan, giving us a Japanese actress dubbed by another Japanese actress! In fact, the Mako character was dubbed by the queen of anime actresses, Megumi Hayashibara, who’s voiced everyone from Evangelion’s Rei to Ranma of Ranma 1/2. Presumably Kikuchi was too busy on the whirlwind interview circuit to dub her character herself, or too exhausted.

It’s worth reflecting on Mako’s character arc, and its contrast with kaiju films of yore. Pacific Rim has an on-screen dedication to two monster pioneers: Ray Harryhausen, who needs no introduction, and Ishiro Honda, who directed the dead-serious original Godzilla in 1954. In that film, there’s a scene when Tokyo is burning from the monster’s attack and a mother and her children are trapped by the flames. The mother tells her kids, “We’ll be joining Daddy soon.” Think about it a moment. It’s a very barbed line, considering when the film was made. Daddy, we can presume, was one of the millions of Japanese soldiers who fell to the Allied Forces in World War II, whose carnage is recreated by Godzilla.

Now consider what we learn about Mako in Pacific Rim. When she was little, her Japanese city was destroyed by a kaiju. Her family was killed, but she was saved from the terrible monster by a British giant-robot-piloting soldier (the Idris Elba character), who then raises her as his own daughter. As an adult, Mako ends up falling for the younger American hero. If Mako ‘represents’ Japan, you could see her arc as a Hollywood counter-fantasy of postwar history, where the West liberates Japan from its oriental barbarism. Okay, it’s hard to believe del Toro had that in mind, especially as he’s described Pacific Rim as an “airy and light” antidote to Chris Nolan-style broodbusters. But remember that del Toro also made Pan’s Labyrinth, which centred on a baby who must grow up innocent of his country’s sins…

In fact, Mako has provoked fan discussions of a very different kind. They’re about her significance as an Asian woman in a Hollywood blockbuster, and her hero’s journey to avenge her family, even over the orders of her adopted dad. There’s some argument over how progressive Mako is, but also enthusiasm over how much she gets right. Some fans even claim that Mako expands the definition of an “empowered” heroine. For a very interesting discussion of the subject, see here.

Whether Mako will influence other heroines, or if Pacific Rim will have a wider influence or a sequel – remains to be seen. (It’s already prompted a cartoon parody and at least one Z-grade rip-off.) A sequel may depend on how well Pacific Rim does on home formats; the Jaegers’ biggest battle could be to come.

But let’s hope that the film also gets return visits to the cinema. We want to see del Toro’s skyscraper creations at full size! If there’s a film designed to be rolled round the eyeballs on the biggest screen possible, it’s Pacific Rim. It’s a film for anyone who looked curiously at those cheesy-yet-awesome “suitmation” Japanese titans of the 1960s and 1970s. We’d see them duking it out in photos in horror film books, or in graveyard slots on late-night TV. If you wondered what these god-monsters would look like “for real,” then Pacific Rim is a dream come true.

Pacific Rim is in UK video stores.

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