Director: Hiroyuki Kitakubo
Screenplay: Katsuhiro Otomo
Voice Cast: Chisa Yokoyama (as Haruko Mitsuhashi); Shinji Ogawa (as Takashi Terada); Chie Satō (as Nobuko Ohe); Kōji Tsujitani (as Mitsuru Maeda); Hikojiro Matsumura (as Kijuro Takazawa)
Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles
I'll openly admit my love for Roujin Z. The story of student nurse Haruko and her elderly client being used as a guinea pig for a nuclear powered, intelligent and multi-purpose nursing bed is one of the least conventional plots you could have for an animated feature film, even when there're still robots and explosions involved, and that's something I can immediately adore. The mark of how imaginative and playful this anime is, as were many from this era or so, is that the title is shown in a black-and-white live action scene of a hand painting it in Japanese kanji on scroll paper with a brush. For only over seventy minutes, you get a fully formed and interesting story as Haruko with her friends and a trio of elderly computer hackers attempt to rescue her client Kijuro Takazawa from the research project, only for the bed to develop an intelligence of its own, taking on the personality of its occupant's late wife and deciding to take him to the beach regardless of the police or military trying to stop her.
A factor revisiting the film for the blog is that I now work, while in the office, for a care organisation for the elderly. Roujin Z has not dated at all in its concerns and they have a greater emotional reference for me now because of my occupation, the bed created by the Ministry of Public Welfare to deal with the increasing grey population that needs to be cared for. Japan, as my college geography lessons taught me, has suffered from low birth rates and an increasingly aging population as medicine and technology has allowed people to live longer in first world countries. Other reading points out that many Japanese women would rather have careers than marry, with gender bias still problematic especially in the work place, the amount of births as a result effected. This theme of an aging populous is an international issue as well, as the elderly live longer in countries like my own in Britain, myself working in a care function which could provide a service even up to a whole twenty four hours for one person. Neither is the idea of a bed which feeds, exercises and washes a person, and has everything from communications and games on it obsolete now. Only that the technology has advanced so much and is considerably smaller in size differs from this film's original hypothesis and the rest can be seen as an intentional broad interpretation of the dangers of this technology if mishandled.
Great sci-fi has three options to create something that stands out, all of which can come up in the anime I cover for the blog. Number 1, like Roujin Z you deal with real life and ask an uncomplicated "what-if" like how the future would deal with the elderly crisis; number 2, you make it as exaggerated and out-there as possible, like Osamu Dezaki's Space Adventure Cobra (1982), to the point the notion of datedness means nothing; or number 3 like Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-6), the sci-fi tropes are there to reinterpret and bring out the most important factor, the emotions and characters, of a story. As the purveyor of number 1, Roujin Z is still relevant and the concern Haruko has of the coldness of the experimental bed feels more president in general about technology for me. It dangerous puts me close to being a luddite who yet enjoys his iPod, but my hesitance with simple small boxes which give people all their entertainment and house functions are enhanced especially by how mobile phones and the internet have effect how people interact with each other. The dangers of full dependency on single pieces of technology, especially when they're dictated by organisations, may sound paranoid but when this includes the protection and preservation of life, this takes a greater magnitude, as does the concerns of how technology can make people emotionally cold despite the paradox of it allow them to interact from afar. Especially in a care function, such as treating the elderly to the point of cleaning up bladder incontinence and potential embarrassing situations, human interaction is even more of an issue. Plus, as the Ministry of Public Welfare in this film learns when its too late, as many institutions in anime and cinema fail to realise before its too late, giving a test machine advanced biomechanical A.I. and the ability to move, in this case somehow becoming a transformer to their horror, is going to be disastrous.
And Roujin Z is fun mashing of sci-fi action and a comedy as well. The briskness of the film prevents it from becoming sluggish, an energy that practically gallops as the experimental bed escapes its pursuers and absorbs various objects into itself to get to its destination. The film is incredibly animated, with quite a few star names who worked on the project. Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo has already been on the blog for what was sadly his last directorial work, (blog entry #2) Blood: The Last Vampire (2000); someone with a clear talent, his filmography is very small but also very diverse, the work he would go to next a sex comedy series called Golden Boy (1995). Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo wrote the screenplay, and the late Satoshi Kon worked as the art designer. Beyond this the film is incredibly kinetic when it fully gets going, scenes such as the bed scaling along an aerial monorail with both invention and exceptional detail to them. That this is all done for a metaphor about the treatment of the elderly is peculiar, as a military conspiracy is involved and a spider robot like a Masamune Shirow design makes an appearance, but that in itself gives the film a heart as well in its centre. The message being even more relevant now helps exceptionally, and it never conveys it with a heavy handedness, instead the humour spreading the content evenly out. From the zest of the elderly hackers, who have utter disregard to acting their age, to the doomed chivalrous attempts by a suitor of Haruko's who keeps getting frisked by the cops to save her, the characters in the film are all memorable and add personality to the central ideas. The humanity goes as far as to include the bed itself as a character, turned by accident into a loving figure who only wants to protect the frail old man held within it. How the film manages to make its explosions and action scenes fit around such a serene and peaceful the great success of Roujin Z.