Review: Roujin Z (1991) / by Chris Tang

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Hands up who thinks an anime about a young nurse and the care for her elderly patient sounds like an exciting prospect...

Anyone? Me neither. Yes, it could be an interesting story, but exciting? I'm not so sure.

Then how about this then? An action-packed story of two robots powered by super-computers funded by the military fight it out in a battle for one man's dying wish.

That's more like it!

Well, in the case of “Roujin Z”, both of these descriptions are true, and come together to make quite an entertaining story. It's written by Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of “Akira”, directed by that film's key animator Hiroyuki Kitakubo, who later went on to direct "Blood: The Last Vampire" and with art design from Satoshi Kon, who went on to bring us classic anime like "Millennium Actress", "Perfect Blue" and "Tokyo Godfathers". It starts off as a film satirising the healthcare system in Japan and the problems they face in caring for the elderly, and then escalates into a full-on mecha versus mecha action film.

Mr. Takazawa is an elderly gentleman who is confined to his bed; he is regularly visited by a student nurse Haruko, who washes, feeds and cares for him. Then, one day he is taken from his home, in order to be a test subject for an revolutionary new state-of-the-art robotic bed, the Z-001, which does everything to care for it's patients, from bathing, feeding, and exercising, to even taking care of toilet functions!

The bed is run by a super-intelligent, self-aware computer that is so advanced, it can adapt to care for it's patient in any situation.

Of course, this robotic bed was never going to just do it's job, with no problems at all. When Mr. Takazawa somehow sends Haruko a distress call on her computer, she and a group of friends set out to rescue him.

Haruko later enlists the help of some elderly computer hackers to help communicate with Mr. Takazawa via his bed's computer, by synthesising the voice of his now deceased wife, Haru. It is here that the bed seems to take on a life of it's own, imbuing the personality of Haru. We find out that Mr. Takazawa's last wish is to spend a day at the beach with his wife. From here on, the action unfolds... Add to that the interference of the government, and their military prototype, the Z-002, we have a recipe for carnage.

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Roujin Z was going to be Otomo's follow up to "Akira", but instead he provided the story and mecha designs, leaving Hiroyuki Kitakubo to direct. Although Otomo didn't direct this film, it does share certain themes and ideas with "Akira", such as technology gone wrong, political conspiracy, anti-authoritarian students and scenes where robots assimilate nearby machinery which aren't unlike the transformation that Tetsuo goes through in the aforementioned "Akira".

The film doesn't have the visual flair of "Akira", and it perhaps looks quite dated by today's standards, but what it lacks in visual trickery, it makes up for in it's characters, and sense of fun, as the movie moves at pace towards it's conclusion. The film also pokes fun at society and as a satire, it still has relevance today.

Initially, I think some would find it difficult to want to see this, given the subject matter, but if you give it a chance, you might just enjoy it! Although an anime about the healthcare of the elderly might not be high up on the average anime fan's list of things to watch, I definitely would recommend giving it a go, as ultimately it's a quite an enjoyable and rewarding film.