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Roujin Z PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 13 June 2012 00:00
How to look after the elderly is a common question these days, with the costs of doing so causing more than a few headaches for politicians. When my time comes, I hope they've come up with a better idea than the Z-001...

Welcome to a very near-future Japan, where in an effort to cut the costs associated with looking after the elderly, scientists working for the Ministry of Public Welfare have developed a high-tech, nuclear-powered and computerized hospital bed capable of serving all the needs of the patient: the Z-001. It can do everything from dispensing food and medicine to bathing and exercising its occupant, removing the need for any kind of interaction with doctors or nurses. Kiyuro Takazawa, who would normally be cared for by young nursing student Haruko, is the Z-001's first test patient - but shortly after being installed in the bed, the Z-001 mysteriously begins relaying Takazawa's thoughts to Haruko's personal computer, emitting what appears to be a cry for help. And when the personality of Kiyuro's late wife Haru is installed in the bed by some ageing hackers, things get even more out of hand...

A bit of a blast from the past, this one. A one-off OVA originally released back in 1991, it's a title that never seems to have had a huge following - but with an ever-topical issue as its subject matter and a few well-known names involved in the production including the late Satoshi Kon (responsible here for art design and key animation) and Akira writer Katsuhiro Ohtomo, it's perhaps more than just an historical curiosity.

The story is almost pure farce - we're supposed to buy that handing the elderly over to high-tech beds that contain minature nuclear reactors and the world's most sophisticated computers is somehow the "cheap" option; that hackers can recreate the voice and personality of the dead from nothing more than an old photograph of them; and a few other unbelievable points besides. The need for "suspension of disbelief" is strong with this one, and that may be an issue for some. But if you can get back that, and once Z-001 and Kiyuro begin their mechanised rampage through the streets of Japan in search for the nearest beach, it becomes an action romp that sites somewhere between Akira and Project A-Ko in tone, and it's a huge amount of fun.

Contributing to the fun of the action side of the series is a decent cast. Haruko comes across as a dedicated nurse who genuinely wants to do the best for the patients she has to look after, while her med school friends provide good backup for her when events start to get out of control. The geriatric hackers in the hospital are great fun, with very little respect for authority and no real interest in standing on niceties - they just have their own little crusades to go on, and their l33t ski11z get put into good use supporting them. Terada, the man from the Ministry of Public Health, genuinely believes he's found the solution to a major problem, but is blind to the fact that he's being taken for a ride by corporate interests. Kiyuro may not get to do much other than lie there and mutter the odd incoherent sentence, but you can almost feel what he's going through. Put them all together and the results are impressive, for while the events they're caught up in are well into the unbelievable, the ways they all respond to those events is pretty much spot on.

All that fun also has a serious message, though, and Roujin Z takes care to make sure that that message gets across. Old age is already a time where dignity is lost, it says - and yet here's technology to make life "easier" on those tasked with caring for the elderly, all the while removing whatever dignity they have left. Is this really a route that mankind wants to go down? How would you feel if you were in Kiyuro's bed, robbed of whatever fleeting human contact you had in favour of the care of a cold, unfeeling machine? We're invited to think about such things, as we see Kiyuro subjected to the mechanical bed's "tender care", which is really anything but. Unlike some shows with a social message, this isn't one that we're bludgeoned over the head with, but instead one that simply complements the rest of the show.

The end result is somethat that works on two levels: if you just want some mindless mecha action, you'll get plenty of that here, but there's also plenty to think about if you want to take more out of it. It works well on both levels, too, to create a movie that's funny and heartwarming. Old it may be, but Roujin Z doesn't suffer for it, and is an easy recommendation.

Rating - ****

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