One of my favorite scenes in Pacific Rim didn't involve robots or monsters. It involved a brief exchange in Japanese.
Spoilers follow for Pacific Rim.
I saw Pacific Rim for a second time last weekend. I'd worked my way into an advance press screening a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to come back and see it again alongside the opening weekend crowds. I also hadn't seen it in IMAX, and I wanted the robots to be as humongous as possible. (IMAX did not disappoint in this regard.)
I was surprised to find that as (literally) awesome as the Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights were the second time around, I actually liked all the human drama a lot more than I did the first time through. On my first viewing, I was distracted by how thin the characters were, how Charlie Day shouted all his lines, and how cheesily Top Gun-meets-Evangelion the interpersonal conflicts felt.
The second time around? I bought into all of it, probably because I knew what was coming. I could look past the hurried, broad-strokes character development and focus on how optimistic and surprisingly humanistic the movie is, despite the fact that it's a blockbuster CGI-fest starring a bunch of giant mechs.
I was also struck by how respectful Pacific Rim is of its roots. When Metal Gear maestro Hideo Kojima wrote of it, "Who are you, if you are Japanese and won't watch this?" he was almost surely reacting to the film's underlying respect for its origins. "I hope you would accept this inspirational love letter that had traveled across the Pacific," Kojima wrote.
That respect is summed up in an early scene in the film: Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) introduces fallen hero Raleigh to his eventual co-pilot, Japanese prodigy Mako Mori, played wonderfully by Rinko Kikuchi. Mako sizes Raleigh up and voices her disappointment to Pentecost in Japanese. Sick Burn! But Raleigh grabs her attention and wryly asks if he's not what she was expecting… also in Japanese.
It's a great moment, both for the characters and for the film. As Raleigh surprises Mako by demonstrating that he's taken the time to learn Japanese, director Guillermo Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham do a quick bow to all the Japanese films that came before them. In two lines of dialogue, Pacific Rim conveys that it isn't just another dumbed-down, westernized take on Japanese Kaiju movies—this film takes its cultural genealogy very seriously. It's a small but lovely show of respect, and a perfect encapsulation of Pacific Rim's welcome global sensibility.
Toward the end of the movie, Pentecost sacrifices himself to give Raleigh and Mako one last chance to get a bomb into the rift, thereby sealing the dimensional gateway and, y'know, canceling the apocalypse. We knew Pentecost wasn't going to survive the moment he stepped into the Jaeger, but his death was still affecting—surprisingly so, given all the clanging and robot-punching that was going on.
Just before her protector and adoptive father blows himself up, Mako cries one last goodbye into her radio. It's in Japanese, and it's left untranslated and without a subtitle.
Pacific Rim screenwriter Travis Beacham translated the line on Twitter, for those of us who guessed the gist but weren't quite sure of the particulars:
Oh, man... What Mako says is —— Travis Beacham (@travisbeacham) July 15, 2013
"Sensei, I love you."— Travis Beacham (@travisbeacham) July 15, 2013
Aw. See you in the drift, Stacker.
Here's some great Mako fanart by Quillery, also via Beacham: