“That’s great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, and aeroplanes… Lenny Bruce is not afraid”… ? … hold on a minute, is this like the end of the world as we know it, the end times, the apocalypse? Kind of and do I feel fine?… I don’t think so if that’s the case and yet from all endings throughout time they are also become new beginnings. Combine the ultimate disaster scenario with an invading evil presence from the far side of the universe and what do you get?, BIG trouble. In the year of 1983 I could sum this up with the title of a movie that was a box office hit in Japan. Let me guess is it Total Armageddon? Nope, more like Harmagedon.
Heroes unite! The evil Genma has made his way through the universe, bringing terror and destruction to every world he touches. Not bad for a large cloud like red skull? He is now set on Earth to claim as his own except he runs into a little problem. He has to face a squad of people who hail from all around the world, from different backgrounds, nationalities and races who happen to have psionic powers… almost sounds like a variation of Cyborg 009 in a way. And it should as the original source material, and title of the film, was known as Genma Taisen (The Great Battle, or War of Genma) a cooperative effort between Kazumasa Hirai and Shotaro Ishinomori (009’s creator). Genma Taisen even had it’s origins in the 1960s too! The first half of Harmagedon, and it’s a long half, showcases only a trio of our heroic cast: a psychic princess from Transylvania (really!), a resurrected robot warrior and our main protagonist, a young Japanese man named, Jo, who is having a very bad day. First he finds out he is not on the baseball team, then he gets dumped by his girlfriend and finally he ends up being chased by some strange robot in an alley that keeps shooting at him. Talk about a rough day!
Another take on ‘Heroes unite!’ as we now look at another group of people, those who were responsible for the making of this mammoth of a film. First is Haruki Kadakawa who is not a name I often equate with anime often, except when I see his name plastered at the beginning of any opening credit sequence with that beautiful phoenix like logo. He was the executive producer and a high roller at that who made it loud and clear that he was the one funding this project! Let us next move to the powerhouse studio known as Madhouse and one of it’s best directors, the amazing Rintaro. Love him or hate him, his work is monumentally visual which sometimes looses a little depth in terms of story, or character. Next in line is our character designer who was a young manga artist that would get his first shot in the anime world. He would become ultra famous for a movie from 1988 known as Akira, but in 1983 he was just plain and simple Katsuhiro Otomo. And finally we need some music, so who could fill this roll? We need someone big, bombastic and different! How about Keith Emerson? Whoa really like from Emerson, Lake, Palmer? The guy who brought a massive Moog synthesizer on tour and had a reputation for stabbing knives into Hammond organs, amongst other things. Yeah we’ll take him! “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”
Many often poo poo Harmagedon as a film, particularly here in the west. In Japan it was a huge blockbuster at the theaters and popular. Did you see the reference in Project A-Ko for instance? We of course did not have much exposure to the original Genma Taisen sources that had been around for decades in Japan. That and the over emphasis of action and the visuals make Harmagedon a feast for the eyes, but awkward in terms of plot. You really have to know and have a passion for Genma Taisen to really love it, or just see Harmagedon as an example of an arthouse action film. And anyway, aren’t many blockbuster action films just visual spectacle. Yes, but not on the level of artistic beauty that Harmagedon exudes. Plus the emphasis of more realistic designs for both Tokyo and Otomo’s characters, as well as Rintaro’s touch, gives Harmagedon an edgy look that was not seen often in anime at that time. Don’t quote me on that, I heard this from many sources and they are so right!
Several themes are brought to the surface, but one that draws a good amount of attention is some very open racism, which eventually resolves itself from understanding and compassion. Compassion is a great word to use I would say as an overall theme of this movie as we as humans need to respect the diversity of who we are and take care of this beautiful green world we live on which is not separate from us, but is a part of us. Our protagonist Jo also has his own feelings to resolve, all stemming from anger towards himself, the death of loved ones and even getting dumped and feeling not up to playing for the high school baseball team. Transforming anger into compassion, hate into love and believing in yourself is for me the major theme of Harmagedon. I understand this very well as this is a core issue I have been dealing with personally. And as of this writing in 2020, who can not say there is a lot of anger and frustration in our collective world? Jo would rise above his hate and is it me, or does this film also remind you in a way to Otomo’s Akira? In that movie we see the destructive power of personal hatred affecting each and every one of us. Both films end in total destruction and yet in both films there is a glimmer of hope that we can start again because being with people you love and that in turn believe in you, no matter the circumstances, can show a way toward one’s next season in life.
… I apologize as this one went a little longer than normal, but then again this movie’s running time feels like it runs longer than normal… maybe it was destined to be this way?