Roujin Z

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment / Kazé

BBFC Certificate:  15

Suggested Retail Price (SRP): Ł19.99 (DVD), Ł24.99 (BR)

Length:  80 minutes (approx.)

Audio:  English, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish

Subtitles:  English, French, Italian, German, Dutch

Release Date:  11th June 2012

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

Every now and again a distributor will surprise you.  Roujin Z was one of the many films that Manga Entertainment released on VHS in the UK in the '90's in the wake of Akira's success, it's intelligent sci-fi penned by Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo, and it's been out of print in the UK for well over a decade.  Retro releases have a poor track record here, big name films generally sell well but Roujin Z is not a well known title nowadays so Kazé's decision to re-release it, and on Blu-Ray no less, seems like something of a gamble.

Roujin Z is a thought-provoking sci-fi film set in a near-future Japan where an increasing elderly population is threatening to overwhelm the health service.  With nursing services stretched to breaking point the ministry of Welfare leap at the chance to test out a computer controlled bed which its developers claim will take care of all of the patient's needs, boasting built in bathing and toilet facilities, medical systems and even exercise and entertainment functions.  The bed is controlled by a cutting edge 4th generation computer, which has the ability to learn and tailor its services to the individual patient, but as far as the trainee nurse Haruko is concerned the bed can never take the place of real human care.  Haruko's patient, the bedridden widower Mr Takazawa, has been chosen as the test subject for the bed but shortly after he's hooked up to it Haruko begins to receive strange messages to her computer which appear to be coming from him.  Fearing that he's in distress Haruko enlists the help of her fellow trainees and a trio of geriatric computer hackers to try and find him, installing a simulation of his late wife into the bed in attempt to comfort and communicate.  However, what no-one is expecting is how good the computer is at fulfilling its patient's desires - when Mr Takizawa, thinking he is speaking to his late wife, says he wants to go to the beach the bed is going to oblige, and it won't let anything stand in its way...

Back in the '90's Roujin Z's release probably owed a lot to the fact it was written by Katsuhiro Otomo, but the film has good pedigree beyond the Akira helmer, boasting input from the late Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika) and Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Blood The Last Vampire).  Despite the talent involved Roujin Z isn't a major film, but as you would expect it's certainly an interesting one.  The film's central premise of an ageing population which is putting strain on the care and medical industries is as much of a fear to Japan today

 as it was when this film was made, and although the levels of strain depicted in the film have yet to be reached it remains somewhat topical.  The film is refreshingly multi-layered, with a seemingly farcical story about a runaway bed-mecha piloted by an unknowing geriatric hiding a deeper satire about agencies trying to absolve themselves of their responsibilities and a military who see the bed as an opportunity to test their hardware.  At the heart of it all though is a very human drama, and it's this which really makes Roujin Z worth watching.

The film shows the elderly treated as a problem to be solved, a burden to the not only the welfare agency but also the person's family.  The bed is both a tool intended to improve patient care and a convenient way to stop looking after them with a clean conscience.  The elderly themselves aren't consulted, Mr Takazawa's family agree for him to be the bed's test subject and from this point he is treated almost like a lab animal, stripped and bathed in public at a press conference and hooked up to machines and monitoring devices in a sterile lab.  The bed can cater for his physical needs, but not for his emotional ones and Mr Takazawa's message for Haruko come partly from distress and partly from the need for human contact.  Haruko is the only person who recognises Mr Takazawa as a human being, and she's the only one who wishes nothing more than to continue to care for him and treat him with a degree of dignity.  She's the human heart of the film, and whilst everyone else proclaims they want to do what's best for the patient, she's the only one willing to ask him what he actually wants.  In Roujin Z society has ignored and marginalised the elderly, whether the geriatric hackers who are skilled enough to break into the highest level military computers or the bedridden Mr Takazawa, who only wishes to go to the beach, but society's attempts to wash their hands of the elderly completely through technology actually make them impossible to ignore.  In the second half the film becomes almost a mecha-actioner as the bed takes its elderly passenger out of the hospital in an attempt to take him to the beach, rampaging through Tokyo and assimilating useful machinery as it goes, but despite this it never loses the humanity at its heart, and it has some quite funny moments too.

Despite the strength of the story I am surprised to see this film come to Blu-Ray.  It may have been made in the early '90's but seems far older.  I suspect that it had a much lower budget than many of the more familiar films from that era and it does show, particularly in HD.  Films like Akira or Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind may have come out several years earlier but the level of detail in the art and the composition of the visuals is streets ahead of that in Roujin Z.  In the Blu-Ray version in particular the film looks primitive,

with animation which sometimes seems separate to the simplistic backgrounds - almost as if there's a gap between the background and the moving elements on screen.  Simply put, the visuals have not dated well, and whilst it's great to be able to see the original hand-drawn art in all its glory, the difference between this and Manga's other recent Blu-Ray releases is hugely noticeable.  I have no problem with cel animation, in fact I feel like a bit of a traitor to my old Manga VHS tapes just by mentioning this, but the first bite is taken with the eye in a visual medium like anime, and whilst this film is truly one of the most intriguing to come out in the UK it just looks old.

Roujin Z is a film which puts me in something of a dilemma review-wise.  I personally like the film, I feel it has an interesting premise, a strong story which is both satirical and thought-provoking, and gets across its point very well.  However, it really does not make use of the Blu-Ray format, with the high definition visuals just serving to make it look very dated and a disappointing lack of special features which makes it hard to recommend the Blu-Ray over the DVD.  Similar themes of human care being supplanted by computer were touched on in the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society film, but although Roujin Z looks very rough and ready in comparison it is nonetheless every bit as intriguing in every other aspect.  The film is complex but not in a confusing way, on the surface its a fun, satirical and sometimes farcical story about a giant robot 'piloted' by a bed-ridden geriatric, whilst underneath it's quite a dark satire and critique of the public's view of the elderly.  As far as concepts go it's certainly a unique one, and it's got an interesting and thought-provoking plot.  However, there are many better looking sci-fi anime out there that suit the Blu-Ray format far more than this one does.  I would recommend people look beyond this at the content beneath, as Roujin Z is an excellent sci-fi film which succeeds in putting the story first and like the very best sci-fi uses an imagined future to turn the spotlight on current attitudes and society.  The look may have dated but the messages have not.


None.  Although the Blu-Ray version does have a few trailers on the French language menu.


Game:   Extras: N/A


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