After reviewing some excellent new titles of anime, especially CG epics and pristine Blu-ray releases, it can be a challenge to re-tune my eyes to older animes, although if you allow yourself to sit back and just watch, you will be thoroughly rewarded and Roujin Z is no exception.
Roujin Z (old man Z) was first bought to us on good ol’ VHS in 1991 from acclaimed Akira director and writer Katsuhiro Otomo, which this re-release definitely capitalises on.
An old widower, Kijuro Takazawa, who is lovingly looked after by a young student Haruko Mitsuhashi and is very much in need of full time care, has been ‘selected’ to be a test subject in a governmental healthcare project where a nuclear powered, robotic medical bed prototype may take over the 24/7 care of Japans rising elderly population, instead of nurses and full time carers, thus, in theory, relieving the strain of an almost overstretched medical service.
Z-001 (the bed in question) seems almost flawless; being able to not only bathe, change, feed and entertain its users, but can also see when medicine is required and record with incredible detail, the patients heart rates, blood sugar levels and has direct links to the authorities to alert them of when a patient has sadly passed on.
The first thing I noticed with this show is the social mirror it holds up to the audience. Although Z-001 is an incredible feat of technology, containing a brand new processing chip (which becomes more important as the film progresses), it lacks the most basic of emotions needed to care for a human, and the art work very cleverly mimics the ideals that human to human care can never be recreated, with almost every scene containing Takazawa and Z-001 being washed out in a melancholy grey, with him groaning and genuinely unhappy, where other patients in human care are chirpy, joking and colourful; so much so that they all happen to be expertly minded and, in once certain scene, still full of testosterone!
Z-001 is incredibly intrusive on its patients, which when you turn around and think about it, is a horrible and twisted irony, as it was created to offer its patients potentially more dignity and less stress to their care.
With a lot of good things, we see the bad as this show punches on, with a twist that is rather sickening where, to one person, machines are more important than humanity.
I do believe that I can sometimes read into things a little too much, but the Z-001 is a nuclear powered machine, built to help people which turns out to achieve the absolute opposite, and although this film focuses on a time almost 15 years in the past, the re-release has come at a time of national panic in Japan with the last nuclear power plant closing its doors in May of this year, after the devastation caused by the tsunami and the fears of electrical shortages and what they might imply.
The show is only 80 minutes long, but what an 80 minutes they are, and in true style, every single scene is a stepping stone to the next, thickening the story and creating strong bonds between viewer and character. The real strength of this show is the trust it places in the hand of humanity and the hope it instils that there are wonderful people who genuinely want to help others, not just because its a money paying job, but a massively rewarding career which can really mean the world to people and give them true happiness in situations they may otherwise feel very alone and vulnerable in.
Although an old title the transition to DVD (there is a Blu-ray edit as well which i haven’t watched yet!) was seamless and is very pretty to watch, with lovely moments hinting back to Akira, but Roujin Z for me stands on its own wonderfully and doesn’t need to be coated in the post Akira banner that its has. An incredibly poignant film which really instils an powerful message of hope and unconditional love that a machine just cannot understand.
– Jimi Hart