Issue #243        HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES           December 20th, 2004

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(1989; Toho International Co./Sunrise Inc/Bandai Co. Ltd./Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co. Ltd/Imagica Corp.)

Japanese: Ganheddo

RATING: 5/10


Early in the 21st century, an unparalleled super computer called Kyron 5 (which was created to supervise the production of giant Gunhed fighting robots on a remote island) tried to destroy the human race. Sometime later, a group of scavengers arrive on the now-desolated island in order to gather Gunhed parts, computer chips, and other valuables left behind. Unluckily for them, Kyron 5's security system is still in working order and most of the party is soon dead. Sole survivor Brooklyn (Masahiro Takashima) and stranded Texas Air Ranger Nim (TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT’s Brenda Bakke) must somehow get topside, but they are several hundred levels below the surface and have little defensive capability. Their chances improve when tech wiz Brooklyn is able to partially repair and re-activate an abandoned Gunhed. They also meet up with two young orphans (Yujin Harada and Kaori Mizushima) who have managed to survive and know where necessary supplies can be found.

Masahiro Takashima Brenda Bakke Yujin Harada

Like the hugely popular Transformers, the Gunhed has many advanced functions, including the ability to fold itself into an impressive looking tank, providing the impetus for some terrific miniature battles against Kyron 5's similar Aerobot. There are also some fabulously detailed sets and, while the debt to Hollywood pictures like BLADE RUNNER, THE TERMINATOR, and ALIENS is obvious, the execution remains unique enough that the film does not seem like an unabashed imitation. A key reason for this is the shrewd decision to have the characters speak their native language and be effortlessly understood by all, an approach no American movie would be bold enough to attempt. Another aspect that separates GUNHED from Western competition like ROBOT JOX and ROBO WARRIORS is the movie’s deliberate ambiguity in regards to what would seem to be key story points (eg. Brooklyn and Nim fight each other for possession of a metallic object, the importance of which is never really made clear). This is a common aspect of Japanese genre fare and the degree to which you are willing to go with the flow often depends on just how engrossing the movie is. GUNHED works when dazzling us with its robotic marvels, but the storyline never amounts to much and the cardboard characters are right out of a third-rate video game (though the tough and sexy Bakke still manages to make a positive impression).

Kaori Mizushima Masahiro Takashima Brenda Bakke (left), Masahiro Takashima

Side Note: As mentioned, the original version of the film offers a mix of Japanese and English dialogue, with subtitles in the latter language where appropriate. That edition is offered on the DVD, but there is also a solely English language track that ADV created for the film’s release on VHS a few years back. Director Masato Harada was reportedly unhappy with this alteration, so his credit was removed and replaced by the infamous Director’s Guild of America pseudonym, Alan Smithee. As the DVD offers both versions, it retains the onscreen Smithee credit; the case lists Smithee and James Bannon as co-directors, though the latter apparently just co-authored the screenplay. Brenda Bakke went on to appear in SOLAR CRISIS, a Japan/US co-production, where the director (Richard C. Sarafian in this case) also ended up going the Alan Smithee route.


I have not seen ADV’s VHS edition of the film, but many complained that it was so dim, much of the movie was difficult to follow. As the transfer is not 16:9 (despite ADV’s claims to the contrary on the packaging), the DVD may be derived from the same master. Given the film’s setting and approach, the murkiness is partially conceptual and the additional resolution of DVD helps enough that the film never seems dark enough to provoke distraction. The original sound mix is perfectly good for a film from this era (in addition to its poor revoicing, the English dub is much flatter). Extras consist of the very short Japanese trailer (which seems more like a TV spot), a reversible cover, and promos for six other ADV titles. 14 chapters are programmed, but no menu or insert guide is provided. There is, however, an insert featuring Gunhed schematics.

This DVD is available at ADV .

Images in this review courtesy of ADV Films. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • ADV Films #DGN/001
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Original Sync Sound Japanese/English and Dubbed English Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 14 Chapters
  • 4:3 Letterbox (1.75:1)
  • 101 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: M 15+
  • Great Britain: 15
  • Quebec: G
  • Singapore: PG
  • West Germany: 16
  • Contains mild violence and some coarse language


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful