Roujin Z (Rojin Z)
Chief Director – Hiroyuki Kitakubi, Screenplay/Story/Mechanical Design – Katsuhiro Otomo, Music – Bun Itakura, Animation Director – Fumio Iida, Art Direction – Hiroshi Sasaki. Production Company – Tokyo Theater Co/The Television Co/Rosico Ltd/TV Asashi/Sony Music Entertainment.)
Kindly young student nurse Haruko befriends the aging, bedridden Mr Takazawa. He is then chosen to be used in a corporation’s experiment where he is hooked up to a revolutionary new hospital bed that tends to all the patient’s medical, food, ablutory and exercise needs, plus providing entertainment channels and a computer that allows the patient to paint. The bed is even armoured and capable of withstanding attack. When Haruko finds Mr Takazawa crying “Help me,” she gets a friend to hack into the protein chip inside the bed and create a simulation of Mr Takazawa’s wife. However, the Mrs Takazawa personality develops a life of its own, taking over the bed and crashing out onto the street. As the corporation bring in the military to stop it, the bed accumulates junk until it becomes an unstoppable colossus.
Roujin Z was an amusing film from Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira (1988). Katsuhiro Otomo started the film but withdrew as director before production began. The director role was inherited by Hiroyuki Kitakubi who had previously made the A Tale of Two Robots segment of Robot Carnival (1987) and later went onto make the celebrated short film Blood: The Last Vampire (2000).
Roujin Z is almost intended as a parody of the school of Transformer robots, which was of course originally created in Japan. The film’s central vision of a barely-sentient octogenarian stumbling through Tokyo in his hospital bed smashing bulldozers and the like aside, taking on military robots, all the while turning into a larger and larger, more ramshackle Transformer, simply because he is unable to sweep the junk out of the way, is an amusing one – although the film is a little too straight-faced to function as an out-and-out parody. There are a few jumps in credibility – like how Mrs Takazawa’s voice can be simulated merely from her photo and how the voice simulation can somehow then becomes an entire artificial intelligence – but the film is rather well done.
Many of the preoccupations of manga and Japanese fantastic cinema run throughout the film – more replayings of the city-destroying apocalypse; the resourceful but innocent and virtuous heroine set against the vast swathe of destruction; technology gone wildly out of control – in this case, a vast Tetsuo (1989)-like semi-sentient, constantly accumulating junkpile with a human at the centre of it. All that is missing are the customary scoops of ultra-violence and wild sex. For all the apocalyptic destruction it is set against, Roujin Z is a surprisingly gentle and innocent film.