1991, PG-13, 80 min. Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo. Starring Allan Wenger, Toni Barry, Barbara Barnes, Adam Henderson.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., April 5, 1996
In the 21st century, scientists have found the perfect solution to dealing with elderly invalids: the Z-001, a high-tech “Superbed” that mechanically cares for the physical and emotional needs of the aged, and thus removes that bothersome responsibility from selfish friends, family, and doctors. But what happens to these people as they become increasingly shut off from all human contact and grow closer and closer to the machine with which they are forced to share their every moment? These are a few of the intriguing, thoughtful ideas behind Roujin-Z, an almost seamless combination of cynical humor and slick sci-fi action that proves to be both enlightening and entertaining. The story -- which follows the attempts of a plucky student nurse to free one of her patients from the ungodly contraption -- is the brainchild of Katsuhiro Otomo, a fellow best known as the writer and director of Akira, the standard against which all anime imports are most likely to be judged. Only credited here with writing the screenplay and creating the animation designs, Otomo has turned the directorial reins over to the talented Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Black Magic M-66), and while the resulting product may not be quite as stylish as Otomo's previous work, Kitakubo does manage to stage a number of rousing chase sequences, in addition to expertly walking a delicate line between dark satire and goofy comedy. The animation, supervised by the masterful Fumio Lida (The Wings of Honneamise), is of the excellent quality fans have come to expect, especially during the incredible finale, with dueling robots, lashing steel tentacles, and pulsating brains all rendered in remarkable detail. However, even with all its high-tech thrills and laughs, Roujin-Z is obviously far more interested in people than machines, and that alone sets it apart from the steadily increasing number of anime imports currently finding their way to these shores. Briskly paced, intelligent, exciting, and darkly funny, just about the only thing Roujin-Z doesn't have going for it is its silly English dubbing; but let's not nitpick. A witty, highly original bit of futuristic satire, Kitabuko's film should prove to be a real treat for sci-fi and animation buffs alike.