Roujin Z (1991)

Screenshot 2020-08-02 at 11.02.47

I was first introduced to this film through, believe it or not, a Vaporwave song called PARIS by RITCHRD, which used clips from it in the youtube video by yotsu to add to its already nostalgic aesthetic and tone (It’s all watched without a context, so potential spoilers aren’t really spoilers).  When I realised some of the powerhouses who worked on it…it had to be seen.  This is Roujin Z

I mentioned that powerhouses made this; here are the 1s I know best:  Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Director of Blood: The Last Vampire) as Director, Katsihiro Otumo (creator, mangaka and director of Akira) as script writer, Satoshi Kon (director of Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent and Paprika) as key animator, and Hisashi Eguchi (renown illustrator, mangaka and Perfect Blue Character Designer) as Character Designer.  Among others who worked on some of the best anime films and OVAs over the last 30 years.

So what is Roujin Z about?  Well, ‘Roujin’ is Japanese for Old Person which prepares you a little bit for what happens next…or not (So, it’s technically “Old Man Z”..I just realised the pun there and wonder if it was intended).  Set in a version of the early 21st century as imagined from the perceptive lens of artists living in 1991, our story revolves around 2 characters; Kiyuro Takazawa, an 87 year old widower who can barely move, and for the most part, Haruko Mitsuhashi, a young medical student volunteering to be his nurse for home visits.  When a group of scientists, along with the Ministry of Public Welfare create a robotic bed that would allow “Old people to be looked after while young people focus on their own lives” Takazawa becomes the first “patient” of this bed, to the dismay of Haruko, who sees this as a flashy and shallow substitute for real nursing.  From here, things get very interesting, as the bed ends up having, not only a mind of its own..but seemingly untapped military potential.  Leading to a journey on Takazawa’s part, and both the aid and chase of Haruko, who is concerned for his well-being.

Now to talk about the components of his machine:

I love the Art style.  It is very much a product of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but it is still really pretty.  Eguchi’s character designs are among my favourite in the industry.  Realistic, yet within the borderline of what ‘qualifies’, at least stereotypically, as the anime or manga style.  The colours are very bold, and the line work is strong.  The background art is also beautifully presented.

The Animation is up there as purely fantastic.  It’s better than most anime that you’ll see, even today.  Reason?  It goes above and beyond in its presentation of destruction, change and character interaction.  It is created with the mentality “with animation, you can create anything”, and that is shown throughout the film.  Facial expressions and body languages convey so much in this that at times that they’re as good as actors, if not better.  And on top of that, this is an anime created with traditional, hand-made cel-shading techniques.  It’s more or less a dying or niche art at this point, but I still love seeing it.

The Voice Acting is strong, especially in the Japanese Voice Over.  It’s lively, and suits every design.  The elderly voices are particularly likeable and amusing.  The english voice over is good.  Very similar to what you would hear from older anime dubbing – it comes across as more over the top and fast than lively, but that’s fine.  It was still a good job, and I still prefer the Japanese version.

The Characters are brilliant.  They’re lively, colourful, funny and relatable, even if they’re only on screen for about 80 minutes.  Haruko could be seen as quite stereotypical in terms of female Japanese protagonists – I think she is simply a great nurse, and a vision of vocational aspiration…any underrated characters?  Yes…the Cat.

The Story is more interested in being plot-driven and funny, while at the same time expressing an element of chaos that turns it into a thriller.  The ending is like experiencing a really good punchline to a joke, I haven’t laughed that hard at an ending in a very long time.

The Music by Bun Itakura incorporates a fair amount of neo-jazz and funk, giving it a kooky edge.  Truth being told, there isn’t too much music here outside of a few choice scenes.  But it’s still very characteristic.  Even though Itakura didn’t create too many other anime or film works – his sound can be seen as influential to the work of other creators, in particular Satoshi Kon.

The Themes focus on 3 things in particular, but mostly it’s about a social condition; 1 that asked “what if looking after the elderly was a waste of time for the youth?  What if the youth could live their lives the way they want while the elderly are taken care of and (supposedly) have all of their needs met?”  Others involve the usual balance between traditional and “the future”, and then there’s the political 1 which could suggest a certain political leaning attempting to re-militarise Japan, even though military projects hadn’t been a priority in the country in over 40 years.  It’s a classic Sci-Fi thesis.

Would I recommend Roujin Z?  Yes!  This film is a sleeper hit and it needs to be seen and enjoyed by anybody who watches anime.  It’s especially good if your sense of humour is a little on the dark side.  Why this anime doesn’t have the recognition of many other anime from its time, I might never know.  It deserves recognition.

Art style: *****

Animation: *****

Voice Acting: ****1/2 (Japanese) ***1/4 (English)

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Themes: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/2


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